The one concession I have been willing to make to the fine chunking characteristic of many DITA implementations is that it was a boon to translation. Apparently not so, according to a recent blog post on Content Rules.
The problem is that fine chunking tends to obscure context, making the content impossible to translate reliably. And the real kicker in this problem is that even if the translator is given the means to see the content in the current context or contexts, the source may be reused in new contexts later without the translator being involved again or ever seeing the content in its new context. (This is where the savings are realized, after all.)
There is significant debate about the context issue in the comments on the post. Some argue that if you are doing it properly, the issue of context should not arise because the chunks should be context free. The problem I see with this is that systems like DITA (any system that allows authors to chunk freely) relies on the author of every chunk, and the authors who subsequently reuse that chunk, to ensure that it is actually context free for purposes of translation.
That is a really tough thing for an author to do. It requires a great deal of forethought, a knowledge of translation issues that the author is unlikely to have, and a degree of prescience to work out how this chunk might reasonably be reused in the future. The person doing the reusing, similarly, has to consider if they are using the content in a way and in a context, that it was intended to be used.
All that is overhead. It is writer time overhead, and it generally will involve content management overhead as well. And it is overhead that contributes nothing to the writer meeting their individual goals and deadlines. Which means, of course, they won’t do it.
Reuse is sold as a means to reduce overhead. But the more people do reuse, the more we find that it creates an overhead of its own that can eventually outweigh the savings it was supposed to create. Unwilling to pay the overhead in their current schedule, people put it off. It becomes a form of deficit spending, one that accumulates a growing content management debt, and as the debt mounts, and debt service charges mount, eating into current expenditures, the only options seem to be to borrow more heavily. At lot of pubs organizations, I fear, are turning themselves into the next Greece or Portugal.
Building systems that give people enough rope to hang themselves will inevitably lead to gallows. We need to start taking a more long-term, systems-oriented approach to how we manage content.