Just back from JoAnn Hackos’ CMS/DITA conference, where it became clear that even in a conference dedicated to a topic-based authoring methodology, most people are still writing books. Certainly, they are writing them in the form of topics, but then stitching them together into books. The fundamental product is still a book.
Were I asked to characterize the human condition in a sentence, I might choose this: to be human is to make decisions with too little information. All our decisions, great and small, are taken without adequate information: getting married, buying real estate, having children (this especially), saving for retirement, choosing the best route for a journey, taking a job, or hiring an employee. We don’t know nearly as much as we would like to in making any of these decisions.
My daughter use to eat pizza one ingredient at a time. She would patiently sit and take her slice apart, making separate piles of pepperoni, green peppers, olives, cheese, and crust. She would then eat each ingredient in turn. I am reminded of the bizarre (and short-lived) practice when I see how many people do topic type design (or at least, how they talk about it).
Designing topic types, I read in many articles and presentations, is about dividing information up into different types. The number of types proposed varies, but the principle always seems to be the same: there are distinct types of information, and the goal of topic design is to pick them out of your content and make separate neat piles of them.
The defining characteristic of the the modern reader is impatience. This is not a matter of moral or intellectual decline in the Internet age; it is simply a matter of supply and demand. No one willingly treks down to the village well with buckets in their hands once they have indoor plumbing.
Organizing information is no longer the responsibility of the writer.