Single Source scratchpad

Pondering the next articles in the Single Source series I’m publishing at Coko. I’m working it out as I go…

The series so far looks (at the moment) like this:

  1. intro – the problem (done)
  2. single source – single output & single source – multiple output (multichannel)
    • disambiguate
    • wordpress example
  3. fashions for solving single source
  4. the web as infrastructure
    • HTML is not HTML
    • the web + JSON, CSS, JS -> HTML
  5. Single Source vs Automated Typesetting
    • disambiguate
  6. Conjecture

Fauxpen Publishing Platforms

There are a couple of issues in this sector that have been bothering me a bit. The first is a case of possible fauxpen source, the second is just a pet peeve.

The term fauxpen source or just ‘fauxpen’ has been around for many years and generally refers to projects that state they are open, but when you dig down you discover some funky stuff. Fauxpen source projects have a number of different approaches and I’ve seen almost all of them. Some say things like “we will open the source code” or “the source code isn’t good enough yet to release” … and then they keep that line going in perpetuity. Statements that point to an intended future open state are actually a good give away. In my experience these promises seldom materialize. Fortunately these cases of fauxpen are the most common and pretty easy to spot. I don’t think the folks that land these lines know just how common these kinds of statements are and how transparent they are. When I hear things like the above I lose interest in the project and I often tell them directly to come and talk to me when it is open.

Other fauxpen strategies are more difficult to spot and you may need some deep info to work it out. The use of licenses that they claim to be open but are not approved by the OSI is one example. For this you will need to understand a bit about licensing – which is not a fun or easy topic to come to grips with. For example, there has been some controversy about this with Elastic Search recently regarding their change to a fauxpen source license.

Then there are the cases when you just get a feeling from folks that something is funky. Something just doesn’t add up. This is a subjective reading I know, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this feeling when talking to folks and over time its turned out to be right. It is an ikky feeling, I get all clammy and claustrophobic and tend to move away from them. I can’t help myself. I guess because at its heart fauxpen is an attempt to instrumentalize the good will generated by being known as open but with no real commitment to the idea. It feels very bad faith-y and at its core I guess it is nothing more than a pure, and rather cynical, branding play.

Recently my fauxpen radar was re-awakened by this This came on my radar as a result of some folks that approached us that didn’t want to use pubpub because of the reasons that follow.

Essentially the above is a discussion that highlights that Pubpub requires firebase, a closed source dependency. It also strongly suggests using CloudAMQP, Mailchimp & Mailgun, AWS – all closed. This might be ok if they supported folks to do without these dependencies – but it appears they do not.

The reply to the comment on ‘self-installs’ [sic] states that “Thanks for the interest in running PubPub! We’re still not at a place where we’re really supporting self-installs, as that’s just not our growth focus at the moment.”.

The comment on missing install docs in the same thread is also a little concerning. It is not unusual for install docs to be out of date or incomplete, but in this context it has me wondering.

In other words, this looks to me to be a deliberate *business decision* by Pubpub not to support anyone other than their own installation. I imagine because (in their minds) that would make the “others” competitors. So beware of installing PubPub for your own use – it appears they will probably see you as competitive to their interests.

If core tech is closed AND they don’t support anyone to install the platform then what is ‘open’ other than a type of branding exercise? I’m not the only one that has picked up this oddity, I’ve been approached by a number of folks that have also sensed this issue regarding pubpub.

This in my mind, makes Pubpub a fauxpen (false open) platform. If you use proprietary core, and you don’t want anyone to use your code – then what else can we conclude?

I think this could be solved by disentangling the closed core (which might been quite a bit of dev work actually), and offering assistance to others wanting to install pubpub. Simple really. Some massaging of the messaging on their site (mission etc) to be more direct, and less marketing speak would also help. Pubpub is a good platform, but these issues are (I believe) being noticed by folks less picky than me. IMHO the folks at Pubpub should do something about it as it isn’t a good look and seems to be turning some folks off.

Another issue, but separate to the above, is PressBooks reliance on Prince – a closed source PDF renderer (otherwise, PB is based on WordPress which is all open source). It is a pity that the PDF renderer is closed – it actually means PB incurs a cost that they must pass on to their users…given the mission to help resource OER (who typically have few expendable resources) folks that seems a little strange. To make it worse, the output from prince doesn’t look much better than what you can get from open source products that have been around for 20 years – eg wkhtmltopdf. If you look at the PressBooks guide ( in PDF, tell me what is different to this book published in 2007 using wkhtmltopdf –

I mean … seriously…. why use a proprietary app? Absolutely no reason. It is a little bewildering. Why choose a closed app when there is no need, passing the cost on to your under-resourced users for a critical part of your tool chain? I don’t get it.

Maybe it is part of their business plan too. I don’t know. I can’t really work out why they would do this. The best guess might be that by using a proprietary app they have to pay for they can then justify charging for PDF creation + their own overhead. This might be true because the PDF are generated automatically – so not really any hard costs involved a part from the license cost of prince. I believe PB charges $100 ( for PDF generation while a server license for prince is $3200 for a server or the academic discount is $1900 ( Given that, the $100 PB charges for PDF feels pretty inflated. Another odd business decision if their model is to support the under-resourced.

I don’t think many people (unlike the pubpub issue above) notice this issue, it probably doesn’t effect anyone’s sense of what Pressbooks is trying to achieve and the good work they are doing in OER, but it annoys me a lot as I can’t see why they have to use a closed source renderer when plenty of open ones are available (disclaimer, yes yes I founded pagedjs. They are welcome to use it, but if not I’m also not bothered. I’m more bothered that they are using prince in the first place. What can I say? After years of working in open source these things annoy me). To be clear, I don’t think PB are playing fauxpen games. They used to do this – for a long time PB did not release its source code (despite being based on WordPress which was already open source). That was annoying. But to their credit they do release their source now, and they do call out in their readme that they use a closed source app as part of their PDF toolchain. So I don’t see PB as playing fauxpen games currently, I’m just annoyed by their unnecessary choice of a closed source component for this (important) part of their app.

These are two issues that kind of taint the landscape of open in publishing IMHO. They shouldn’t really bother me but occasionally things like this irk me enough to spend a few mins jotting it down here…


The following article is written by a chap (Mike Shatzkin) who I find very little to agree about when it comes to publishing. Oddly he just wrote this article that argues for ‘enterprise publishing’ as a force for change, and an important trend. As it happens this thinking, which I argued for many times over the years, is how Book Sprints has been operating within for the past 14 years. As it also happens, folks like this author have been pretty dismissive of these arguments in the past which makes it interesting that the tone of some of them is changing. Mike Shatzkin positions himself as a kind of leader of the mainstream, so I’m interested in who picks up on the opinions reflected in the article he wrote.

However, what the author of the below article doesn’t quite get yet, is how this trend changes the process of producing books. As I stated in 2014

“issues of voice, of knowledge production, of collective ownership and participatory workflows and concepts will come up in future discussions.”

I’m more of the opinion that this movement isn’t just a placing of publishing ‘somewhere else’ as suggested by the below article, but there is a lot of opportunity to deconstruct publishing and authorship and right the many wrongs (capital P) Publishing has maintained when it comes to the proprietorship of knowledge, its construction, and its authority. I doubt the author would arrive at this as they are a pretty mainstream commentator. Nevertheless, the following is an interesting read.