Editoria Feature Proposals

Proposals now closed. Below is the synopsis of each proposal, cut and pasted from GitLab. Titles link to the GitLab issue. I didn’t copy across  any images, so where you see a reference to an image, please check the original item.

All items can be found in GitLab also of course:


Create an account here: https://gitlab.coko.foundation/

1. Feature Proposal: Color code tracked changes by user

Feature request: Please display tracked changes in different colors by user.

The request originates from UCP for Editoria, where only three users are expected to be within a given book/chapter editing at any given time.

Suggest retaining the tooltip, too, but adding this additional ‘at a glance’ feature to allow editors to quickly see who entered which tracked change within a longer book where checking each change by tool tip would become time consuming.

2. Feature Proposal : enable “read only” chapter mode

Org: Book Sprints

User story: As an author, I want to review a chapter while someone else is editing it.

To do this, I’d like to click on a read-only link for each chapter in the book builder. It doesn’t matter about the layout of the content, it just needs to be readable so that I can read it without having to render the entire book. No edit tools or comment tools are necessary, just a read-only version. As many people as needed should be able to click on the read-only view. Ideally, the read-only link should appear next to the edit button, and be permanently available (no permissions necessary).

3. Feature Proposal : Indenting chapters in book builder

Org: Book Sprints

User story : As an author, I want to be able to see the difference between parts and chapters at one glance.

To do that, it would be great to indent the chapters more so that the difference is more easily visible.

4. Feature Proposal : Configure book builder to omit blue buttons

Org: Book Sprints

User story: As an author in a Book Sprint, I want the book builder to look as much as a table of content as possible. We do not upload word files in a Book Sprint, so we have no need for the blue buttons showing the upload status, therefore this UI element is unnecessary and distracting.

We would like to have the option to omit the blue buttons.

5. Feature Proposal: Autocomplete for adding book team roles

punctum books proposes an autocomplete feature when typing in names for book team roles (see attached image)

For example, when one of the possible users is Vincent it would be great if when I type Vinc it already suggests the rest of the name. Especially with large teams, this can be useful because you may not remember the exact spelling of each team member.

6. Feature Proposal: List User Roles under Users

In the overview of Users under the Users menu include the different roles these users fulfill in the different Books

For example, under Username Vincent I would see Production Editor of followed by a list, Author of followed by a list, etc. This allows a quick review of which Users are involved in which Books.

7. Feature Proposal: Error message when uploading incorrect file format

punctum books proposes: an error message when you try to upload a file format that is not DOCX (such DOC) rather than XSweet trying to process it and then crashing.

8. Feature Proposal: Toggle invisible characters in Wax

punctum books proposes a toggle for invisible characters in the Wax editor.

This would allow quick discovery of double spaces, returns instead of enters, correctly inserting em/en spaces, weird tabs, and so on.

9. Feature Proposal: Author Style

punctum books proposes: An additional Wax paragraph style “author.”

10. Feature Proposal: Automatic typographer’s quotes in Wax

punctum books proposes that Wax automatically uses typographer’s quotes (for now, until there is proper language control).

When typing single or double quotes in Wax, they are not formatted as typographer’s quotes

11. Feature proposal: Always show chapter name

punctum books proposes a feature that makes sure that the chapter name is always shown somewhere on the top of the page, so you know where you are.

12. Feature Proposal: Usernames allowed with special characters

punctum books proposes that usernames with underscores, periods, etc. are allowed.

Currently, it appears that no such usernames, such as “John_Doe” or “Paul.Smith” are allowed. When you try to create them, you get a 400 error without any further explanation.

13. Feature Proposal: Ask for first name and surname on sign up

punctum books proposes that new users are asked for first name and surname on signup.

Currently the only way to distinguish users is by username, and this becomes quickly problematic as the number of total collaborators on all book projects increases, especially if at some point users will start to make their own usernames which may not be directly comprehensible to Production Editors.

Registering first names and surnames allows for a better way of organizing users on the Users page.

14. Feature proposal: Kill automatic numbering in numbered list style

Proposed by University of California Press

Adding sequential numbers to text styled as a numbered list would be helpful if one were authoring in Editoria. However, authors who want a list numbered submit it that way in .docx files, so the automatic numbering feature in this style adds a duplicate set of numbers to list items.

15. Feature proposal: Front- and backmatter styles

Proposed by University of California Press

To move to the next stage of testing and put a whole book through Editoria, we need styles for frontmatter components and a few more backmatter ones.

I’d like a separate section each for front- and backmatter styles in the vertical styling toolbar, with the former at the top and the latter at the bottom. There do not need to be too many styles in each of these lists, since the styles in the other sections (display, general text, lists) should be context-sensitive (e.g., for backmatter level-head, use Heading 1).

Because the front- and backmatter styles are rarely used in body components, it would be great if those style lists could be collapsed. They should still be available because there are instances where one might want one of those styles in a body component (e.g., in an edited volume, you might have bibliographical listings at the end of a chapter).

FRONTMATTER Here are the (most of the) styles we need that are not currently accounted for in the other lists (I am not including toc styles–that’s coming in another feature request):

Half Title Title Subtitle Author [if Barbara’s proposal of adding an author style is implemented, I assume it would be in Display, and we could just use that] Publisher

Series Title Series Editor Series List

Copyright Page


Frontmatter Signature

For the rest of the elements in frontmatter, we could use styles in other sections (on output, the system would impose the frontmatter versions of these elements):

BEP Book Prose Epigraph —> Epigraph: Prose

BEPSN BEP Source Note —> Source Note

BEPO Book Poetry Epigraph —> Epigraph: Poetry

BEPOSN BEPO Source Note —> Source Note

FMH Frontmatter Head —> Title

FMAU Frontmatter Author —> Author

FM1 Frontmatter 1 Head —> Heading 1

FMTXT Frontmatter Text —> General Text

FIL Frontmatter Illustration List —> Numbered list

FAB Frontmatter Abbreviation List   --->  Hoping we can add Abbreviations as a List style

BACKMATTER Here are the (most of the styles we need that are not currently accounted for in the other lists:

Bibliography Glossary Contributor list Index

For the rest of the elements in backmatter, we could use styles in other sections (on output, the system would impose the backmatter versions of these elements):

Appendix Number —> Number [assuming we add a number style to Display]

Appendix Title —> Title

Appendix Subtitle —> Subtitle

Backmatter Head —> Title

Backmatter 1 Head —> Heading 1

Backmatter 2 Head —> Heading 2

Backmatter 3 Head —> Heading 3

Backmatter Text —> General text

Backmatter Prose Extract —> Extract: Prose

Backmatter prose extract Source Note —> Source note

Backmatter poetry —> Extract: Poetry

Backmatter poetry Source Note —> Source note

BM Numbered List Extract —> List / Bulleted

BM Unnumbered List Extract —> List / Unnumbered

BM Bulleted List Extract —> List / bulleted

Chronology —> Hoping we can add Chronology as a List style

Backmatter Abbreviation List —> Hoping we can add Abbreviations as a List style

I realize there’s a lot here. Please let me know if clarification or rethinking is needed. Thanks!!

16. Feature proposal: Automatically generated table of contents

Proposed by the University of California Press

Although authors usually provide a toc with their manuscripts, we would like one to be generated from the book components. I do think a placeholder needs to be present in the book builder so it can be specified for pagination. It could say something like “Table of Contents will be generated on final output.”

For frontmatter, toc should include every component that follows the toc and use text with the style Title.

For body text, toc should list chapter number and text styled as Title, Subtitle, and (if there is one) Author.

For backmatter, toc should include every component and use text with the style Title.

When a book has backnotes (most of our titles), it is sometimes a little tricky to figure out where they go (they could be preceded in the backmatter by appendixes, abbreviation lists, etc.), so maybe the easiest thing to do is add a placeholder component to the backmatter with the heading Notes styled as Title and boilerplate language saying something like “Backnotes will be gathered here on final output.” That way, we could specify placement, pagination, and the title could pull into a generated toc.

17. Feature Proposal: Toolbar button to change case

Proposed by University of California Press

Authors often format display type in all caps. If the design specifies title case, we need to specify how letters are treated (e.g., articles and prepositions lowercased)–it is an editorial decision, not one that can be automated. Right now, the only option seems to be to retype text to remove cap formatting. It’s time-consuming and a chance for introducing errors. Word’s options are uppercase, lowercase, sentence case (first letter only capped), and title case (first letter of all words capped–gets you most of the way there).

18. Feature proposal: No global italics in BookBuilder component listings

Proposed by University of California Press

Display component names in Book Builder in roman, not italic, type (italic type really shouldn’t be used unless there is a reason). Allow italic type to be within the name. See, e.g., in UCP deployment Wickes / Bible and Poetry** chapter 1 title: Ephrem’s Madrashe on Faith in Context.

19. Feature proposal: Allow toggle to turn off reveal of spaces in record changes

Proposed by University of California Press

The revealed spaces between words make longer sections of inserted text difficult to read. Could we have a toggle to show these or not?

20. Feature Proposal—Media Library/Asset Manager

This is a placeholder feature proposal. Right now, Editoria expects camera-ready artwork to be placed inline in order to become a part of the book. At the moment, a caption can be included with the inserted artwork, but no additional metadata about the image. This feature would allow a user to insert artwork from a media library. The media library would be similar to WordPress’s media library and allow for media to be uploaded and inserted inline in a book via the Wax editor, which would then become part of the media library, or to be added directly to the media library. The media library would allow for some basic media editing as well. It should be a “media” library rather than an image library because ultimately Editoria should be able to support multimedia in addition to static images.

21. Feature Proposal—CSS Book Page Template Gallery

This is a placeholder feature request for a CSS template gallery that would allow users to select from a gallery of page templates that can be rendered to PDF using Editoria’s CSS/javascript-based automated typesetting process. These templates would include the following variables:

  • Page dimensions (translates to book trim size)
  • Display and text fonts
  • One or two-column designs
  • Various other differences

22. Feature Proposal—Epubcheck EPUB Output Validation

This is a placeholder feature request for Editoria to validate EPUBs produced by the system using the open source Epubcheck validation tool to validate the EPUB output for adherence to the EPUB standard.

23. Feature Proposal—Book-level (and perhaps chapter-level) metadata

This is a placeholder feature request for a mechanism to add a book and/or chapter-level metadata data entry mechanism to Editoria. This could be achieved either by integration with an API or export-drive feed from a publisher’s existing title management system or by adding a form to Editoria that would allow for the entry of this metadata. In some cases, this metadata will need to be added to create a valid EPUB file, so an MVP could include just those metadata elements necessary to create a valid EPUB. This would also be useful for output and distribution to other systems (e.g. a publisher’s digital asset management system).

24. Feature Proposal—Accessibility Validation and Tools

This is a placeholder feature proposal to develop tools for validating EPUB outputs against accessibility guidelines as codified by the W3C and other standards organizations. This could include anything from validating the inclusion of alt-text and alerting users to missing alt-text for images/media to validating whole book files against API-driven accessibility validation services such as those being developed by the DAISY consortium.

25. Feature Proposal: Allow components to move from body to front- or backmatter and vice versa

Longleaf Services proposes that component types be changeable. Currently, it’s possible to change the order of components within each type, but it is not possible to change the component type without deleting a file and reloading it. For example, Introductions are often moved from the main text into the front matter, and abbreviations lists are moved from front matter to the back matter. Being able to use the drag-and-drop function would be more efficient.

26. Feature Proposal: Add more information to the “Books” dashboard and make it sortable

Longleaf Services proposes that author name(s), team member names and roles, author name, and current status be visible for each project, and that the page be sortable.

Currently only the title of a project is visible, and projects are listed alphabetically. Team members tend to think of projects by author, not title, so being able to see the author will be helpful. Being able to see the other team members for each project, and what stage the project is in, will help in managing the work. Finally, as the number of projects increases, it’ll be useful to be able to sort out those that are complete from those still in progress. Being able to sort on other attributes, such as series or imprint for example, will also be helpful.

In the interest of conserving space, a user could click on the project title and the list of team members could appear, as it does when one clicks on “Team Manager” on the individual page for each project.

27. Feature Proposal: Provide a larger text box for inputting figure captions

Longleaf Services proposes the caption text box be enlarged. Currently only a limited amount of the caption text is visible; a larger text box would make reviewing/editing the text easier. If there is a total character count limit, it would be helpful to provide the number of characters remaining.

Additionally, perhaps we could encourage accessibility/alt-friendly caption or descriptive entry? Maybe above the text box there could be a suggestion such as, “Consider providing a caption that is accessibility/alt-text friendly.”

28. Feature proposal: Export parts of a book

punctum books proposed the option to export only parts of a book.

Currently, only an entire book can be exported through paged.js. It would be great if you could select on or more chapters for export, which again would be very useful for edited collections.

29. Feature proposal: discretionary hyphens

punctum books proposes an additional special character: a discretionary hyphen.

Foreign names such as Nietzsche are often broken off erroneously by automatic hyphenation, for example Niet-zsche. A discretionary hyphen is an invisible character that shows paged.js where to properly hyphenate a word or name.

30. Feature proposal: Inline semantic markup

punctum books proposes inline semantic markup in Wax.

Currently, there is an asymmetry between paragraph styles, which have semantic values (Title, etc.), and character styles, which have typographical values (italic). Especially with an eye on future export to InDesign formats, it’s important that italics for emphasis and italics for book title, for example, are separated.

At the same time, authors are usually not familiar with this type markup and it might cause confusion. I’m not entirely sure how to solve this practicality.

31. Feature Proposal: Language control

punctum proposes a language control feature.

I guess this is a big one, and not an enormous priority for us, but something that needs to exist in the future because we often work with multilingual books. There needs to be a way to signal that an entire chapter of part of a chapter is written in a certain language in order to properly control hyphenation (upon export) and interpunction, such as the type of quote marks (curly, fishhook), non-breaking spaces before colons/semicolons (in French etc.), writing direction (Arabic/Hebrew), etc.

32. Feature Proposal: Tag what you want in Wax

punctum books proposes a features that allows you to “tag what you want” in Wax.

This proposal is in line with (and expansion of) our proposal on inline semantic markup. The current number of standard paragraph and character styles is limited, and should remain so. However, there are frequently books that require custom definitions.

I suggest that in Wax you can add a new paragraph or character style by means of (+) button, prompting you to give the style a name (New Fancy Style), from which a slug is generated (new_fancy_style) that you can then define in CSS, and a simple display format in Wax (italic, bold, indent, etc.). The display format doesn’t have even to be matching or fancy, as long you can then control the tagged words/paragraphs in CSS.

33. Feature Proposal: Indexing tool

This is a proposal for an indexing tool, written from the perspective of an indexer, not a production editor. It would be great to have some feedback from the production side. I do not know what happens to an index after it is submitted to a press.

Ideally, Editoria should accommodate, or improve on, the two most common professional back of the book indexing methods:

  1. Writing and editing an index using the final page proofs. This method has multiple approaches, which includes a) marking the page proofs, then entering the headings and page numbers into an editor, and b) displaying the page proofs on a monitor, and entering the headings and page numbers directly into the indexing software/editor, which simplifies many aspects of the editing process and automates all of the formatting specifications, which can vary by publisher and or text.
  2. Embedded indexing, where an indexer can create an interactive/XML index by marking up/tagging the text during the production process for exporting with the final page proofs. While I’m not as familiar with embedded indexing, I am aware that there is a general sentiment among indexers that they do not produce the quality well-structured analyzed indexes desired for scholarly monographs. However, publishers cite benefits to the workflow. For example, first page proofs will be of the entire book, including a fully set index in page form; overall schedule time should be shorter; they have a fully usable index in whatever form the content is published in, now and in the future. Few indexers are trained in this method. If Editoria could simplify (GUI interface required) the process of compiling and editing a quality index during the production process, rather than as the final task before the book goes to press, it would be adopted widely. I’ve discovered a new commercial effort that claims to do this, but I haven’t used or seen it demonstrated, Index Manager.

METHOD 1, TRADITIONAL INDEXES Most indexes are created by professional freelance indexers (using one of the three highly sophisticated indexing software programs, Sky, Cindex and Macrex), who are hired by the authors. Freelancers may submit the final index file to the author or the production editor. Indexes are generally submitted to the press/author as a double-spaced single column file, with the requisite detailed formatting Feature_proposal-indexing_tool.docxSample_Index.RTF requirements. I do not know what production editors do with the index once it is received from the indexer, or how that process could be simplified for them.

  • Editoria should allow for an indexer to write and edit an index within Editoria using the final page proofs AND allow an indexer, or team manager, to submit into Editoria an RTF file of an index generated from the final page proofs

METHOD 2, EMBEDDED/XML INDEXES Any automated XML indexing tool should be able to handle these very basic and common indexing practices:

  • To create multiple index styles automatically – indented and run-on (examples can be supplied if necessary).
  • To create main headings and subheadings, including words and phrases that do not appear in the text.
  • To alphabetize all headings and subheadings and choose between letter-by-letter and word-by-word alphabetizing order.
  • To designate stop/ignored words in alphabetizing.
  • To create and auto-format cross reference style and placement, See and See also.
  • To indicate how page ranges should be handled (e.g., simple, aggressive, aggressive 2, Chicago, Chicago 2; examples of effects can be supplied if necessary).
  • To indicate the character to use between page numbers, hyphen or en dash.
  • Punctuation placement (commas, semicolons, colons) should be automated.
  • To indicate how many columns the index will be.
  • To generate an introductory note to describe special features of the index.

As mentioned above these are basic practices. Fine tuning some of the more complex aspects of constructing and editing an index would be an ongoing effort. They concern what occurs after completing the rough index, when an indexer edits it for structure, clarity and consistency, formats it to specifications, and proofreads it. Anything to simplify the XML-index editing and output process in Editoria would be an improvement over the current complex and time-consuming options that indexers currently have for XML-indexing that is not compatible with their indexing software programs.

I’ve attached a Word file of the proposal and a sample index, submitted to Cambridge.

34. Feature Proposal: Alert team members when workflow status changes

Longleaf Services proposes a function that allows team members to be notified when the status of a project changes—For example, “File _____ is available for editing”

I’d think an email alert would be best, as it doesn’t require the person to be logged into Editoria to see the notification: An author, for example, wouldn’t necessarily bother logging in unless they knew the file was ready for them.

If feasible, development-wise, it would be useful to let the Production Editor decide who (that is, which team member) should get the notifications for a project. There are instances in which one user (generally the PE) performs multiple functions, such as also being the copyeditor, and wouldn’t want/need the notification that a file is ready to edit.

35. Feature Proposal: Configurable archive options for completed / abandoned books

Attaching our sketch and some notes from the community meeting:

Completed / abandoned books need a long-term archiving solution, and users probably won’t want these titles cluttering up their Books Dashboard, so we propose a new ‘archive’ option on the Books Dashboard that would spawn a modal with options for where to send the archive and what to do with the dashboard entry. These options could be configured by an admin to connect to various preservation solutions (e.g. LOCKSS, Portico, FTP).

There was also some debate regarding whether this functionality made more sense at the Book Dashboard level, or at the final export step; though export is something that – at least while it’s functioning as a preview, which it is now – is used repeatedly, while archiving likely happens once.

… of course there might be cases where an archived book comes back to life, so there would need to be a way to enabled that, and / or perhaps a clone / fork feature (e.g. for a future edition).

36. Feature Proposal: Add a “Print” option

Longleaf Services proposes that the option to print be available.

Our pilot project requires that a print version of the final file be available to participating authors/presses to satisfy tenure committees, reviewers, and awards committees that don’t yet accept digital versions. Would it be possible to provide the option to download a project’s pdf version, next to the option to download the epub?

Article :”New advances in open source infrastructure support”


How can open source infrastructure support a modernized, accelerated book production workflow? The California Digital Library, the University of California Press and the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation collaborated to design a new platform – Editoria – to do exactly this, following a new user-driven design method to result in a simple, people-centric interface. This case study details the main problem facing publishers who are restrained by outdated, print-oriented production platforms, the ‘reimagining’ exercise and the iterative design process that has resulted in new technology which can be adopted, adapted and integrated by publishers.


Hindawi launches its Journal system today built on Coko PubSweet tech!!!

This week, Hindawi is releasing a new peer review system that will debut on Bioinorganic Chemistry and Applications. The new platform is open source, developed as part of Hindawi’s collaboration with the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation (Coko). This release is a first step towards a network of open publishing infrastructure that Hindawi, Coko, and collaborating organisations will develop and share with the research community.


This is major news for the Coko Community.


You need to know about these folks..



PrePostPrint is a laboratory and research group for alternative free publishing workflows. We are specifically interested in the creation of hybrid and printed publications with web technologies.

PrePostPrint gathers those working with experimental publishing techniques and helps to make their projects and tools more accessible. We share the desire to re-think all links in the chain of publishing. We want to forego the classical DTP programs and turn to technologies that are more accessible and sociable, and that can evolve and adapt for each given project. Coding becomes a design tool that permits to reinvent the editorial process, and allows to continuously question and re-invent publishing forms and formats.

Open Source and Scholarly Publishing

Please share! (by me)


There are many misconceptions about open source and scholarly publishing that often overshadow the enormous potential it has to lead organizations to modernized, efficient workflows and to allow them to innovate sustainably. Let’s take a first look at some commonly asked questions…

Rethinking Workflow

I spent an awesome session at UCP with Dan Morgan and Alison O’Connell discussing workflow. We were working through ideas of Journal workflows and how they would be encapsulated in a single system, namely xpub-collabra. It was a super interesting discussion and I think we have some solid concepts that rethinks how systems can capture multiple workflows in such a way they avoid endless configuration options and hardcoded prescriptive paths. We will be creating some narrative around this to get out here for people to think on and feedback…

dsc01046 dsc01047 dsc01049 dsc01050

What is xPub?

So, there are a lot of product names at Coko – PubSweet, Editoria, XSweet, INK, xPub etc etc etc… so becoming tricky to track, but I wanted it seems there are quite a few people interested in xPub right now.

xPub is not really a product as such, it’s more a group of products – each of which relates to Journal workflows. The names for each product indicyae those relationships: xpub-collabra, xpub-elife, xpub-faraday (Hindawi) and xpub-epmc

Each of these is a platform, so yip, you read it right – there are actually no less than 4 journal platforms being developed in the Coko community, not including the Micropublications platforms (of which there are two – one developed with Wormbase, and the other with the Organisation for Human Brain Mapping).

So, right from the get go our ‘offer’ is not standard. We don’t offer one platform to rule them all – there are many journal platforms in production. All of these are built on top of PubSweet… PubSweet is a kind of ‘headless’ publishing platform….it’s more or less the backend brains in that it is a kind of framework that ‘thinks like a publishing system’ but has not determined a workflow for you. So, each of the xpub-* platforms are actually publishing platforms built to meet a specific workflow and built on top of PubSweet…

Here is a crappy diagram (drawn in haste) to get the basic idea across:


In the above, you see a PubSweet platform (eg. xpub-elife). PubSweet itself is the whole app – it sort of ‘encapsulates’ everything. Really though, you get the PubSweet core and then extend it with front-end components to meet your workflow needs. A typical front-end component might be a login screen, or a dash, a submission info page, a reviewer form etc.

You can also extend PubSweet on the back end as well (eg to enable integration with external services etc). The following is a more accurate but slightly techy architectural overview (you can skip this image and the following paragraph if you want to avoid the slightly techie part of this article).


In case you are wondering – everything is written in Javascript. Why did we choose JS? It was a deliberate choice to go with a language that was prolific. Almost every dev around these days needs to know some Javascript (it’s the most popular language by far on Github), this makes finding a developer to work on your project is as easy as we could possibly make it. JS is also a phenomenal language these days. Fast, sophisticated and more than capable of supporting large-scale publishing requirements. I mean, if it’s good enough for Paypal, Netflix, Linkedin, Uber and ebay, then it is good enough for you.

So each PubSweet platform has its own collection of front and back end components to meet the workflow of someone’s dreams… the idea is that to achieve the platform of your dreams you can reuse what others have already built and then just build what isn’t already available. In a sense, you can ‘assemble’ your platform from existing parts.


The nice thing about this is that each of the organisations building Journal platforms are sharing the following:

  1. the same back end/framework (PubSweet)
  2. various front (and back) end components
  3. lessons learned…

Each organisation has a vision of their ideal Journal workflow. They then design and build this on top of PubSweet, but as they do, they build various components (either page-based components such as a dashboard, or smaller UI components we call atoms and molecules) and they share these components with everyone. Hence, you should check the list of components before you start building in case the component you need already exists.

We have various agreed-upon ways to build and share components (see this as an example). These best practices are continuously evolving but you can read some of the latest discussions about this approach here – https://gitlab.coko.foundation/pubsweet/pubsweet/issues/408

Of course, all code is reusable in the Coko community because it’s all open source. The best practices are there to make the code easy to reuse.

All agreements as per above are made by consensus by the community. It is actually a pretty snappy process – don’t believe every crappy thing you read about how open source is built. Open source community processes can be elegant and fast, and the resulting code can beautiful. Coko is a good example of this – a community of professionals collaborating together to make fantastic open source software.


So… back to the xPub story. To make these decisions on how to share components etc, we have regular meetings with various workgroups (we keep the numbers in each group small so we can move fast), and we also have quite a few in-person meetings. Not only do we have PubSweet community meetings where all of these organisations meet, but we have various get-togethers on various topics if required. For example, we met in Cambridge recently to discuss Libero (the eLife delivery product), before that EBI there was an onboarding session in Athens, next month we have a special designers workgroup in-person meet, anbd so on. All this helps us keep in contact with each other, which helps build trust, but also turns out to lift energy levels and boost production. These meetings are fun.


Also at these meetings, we learn from each other. One of the big problems in this sector, and one of the reasons people ask ‘why are publishing platforms so hard to build?‘ (after a number of high profile failures), is that there has not been a focused effort to share experiences on how to build publishing platforms. So, that is what we are doing – at each meeting we talk about what we have learned, how we are thinking about things, and show each other what we have done. The last meeting, for example, each xPub platform gave a deep dive to everyone in the group in a process known as speed geeking (it wasn’t so speedy as each table had 25-30 mins to go through their platform).



So, xPub isn’t a single platform, it’s more the community that is building journal platforms on top of PubSweet and sharing learnings and components. It is a very cool thing.

As a community, we also produced a book entitled ‘PubSweet – how to build a publishing platform’. You can get this for free here – https://coko.foundation/books/

I can also send you a print copy (they look great!) if you send me a postal address.


The book covers many things – a whole lot of technical documentation for how to build and share components etc, as well as some information about to think about workflow and how to map this into a PubSweet system. Personally, I don’t think the technology is very hard when it comes to building platforms – we knew what we wanted from the beginning with PubSweet and went about and built it (not to downplay the extraordinary job Jure Triglav has done in leading this effort). But the real hard stuff is actually thinking about workflow – not many publishing orgs have had the opportunity to think about designing their workflow to meet exactly what they want (rather than shoe-horning it into an existing system), and so we have had to beat this track for other to follow. It has been quite a journey but the book pretty effectively outlines how to think about workflow (which of course is a process that can be accelerated using Workflow Sprints which is a process I designed to facilitate a publisher to design their own workflow and PubSweet platform in one day).


In that book you can see some high level ‘architectures’ of each of the xPub platforms such as the following (xpub-collabora):


Or this (xpub-epmc):


So, you might be asking…. at what stage of development  are each of these platforms? … I’ll leave it to each of the teams to say exactly, but it has been shocking to see how fast things have come along. I mean, the xPub community only really got together for the first time mid-last year, and building started for most late last year and early this year. It looks like we will have a lot of platforms landing by the end of this year. In this sector that is lightning fast. EBI are particularly impressive – they started two months ago and are almost ready to go – if it weren’t for the fact we are all replacing the under-the-hood data model we designed together at the last PubSweet meet, they would be good to go already. They can achieve such speed because they are reusing a lot of the components that the other teams built before them (and because EBI are just very good 🙂 ).

I can speak a little more about xpub-collabra since that is the platform Coko is building for and with the Collabra Psychology Journal. It’s looking pretty nice. We have some work tidying up the UI, replacing the data model and a few other things, but it’s looking rather good. We are also putting some time into making it a generic platform since the Collabra workflow follows a fairly ‘plain vanilla’ model. So we are building in some management interfaces and various bits and pieces to make it more widely useful – for example, Giannis just built in a Submission Info builder – enabling a Journal admin to build their own submission forms. It requires some hand-holding to use right now, but we’ll shape it to be very usable by your general journal adminy-type. We also have to integrate ORCID and DOIs, extend the range of submission file types etc… but it’s pretty close.

Below is a video showing xpub-collabra in action. It is a a version from some months ago, but you can see the workflow pretty well in this demo.

I think most of the xpub community is going to offer their new platforms to the market in various ways. This will be interesting as there are very different approaches at play. Hindawi, for example, is looking to make their platform a multi-tenant platform, eLife will put JATS at the centre of the workflow etc… So look for more news on that also. For our part, Coko will offer xPub through a partnership with a hosting provider – probably with the same organisations we will work with for Editoria hosting services. Since everything we do is open source, we will also be supplying all the Docker, Helm and Kubernetes scripts so that you can set up your own commercial hosting service if that is your cup of tea (or you can extend your offering should you already be a hosting provider). Coko is pretty close to getting our first hosting partnership set up, so look for news of that soon!

One last thing – because of the modular nature of any platform built on top of PubSweet, it is possible to take any of the xPub platforms and customise it to meet your needs. No need to start building from zero. Additionally, the modularity means you can extend the systems with your own interesting new innovation – finally a place for innovation to call home in the publishing platform world….

So… there is a lot going on in the xPub world….we look quite different to the rest of the market because we are not building one platform – we have instead focused on building a community to support the development of multiple platform solutions for journal workflows. You can pick and choose which one you want, or build something else, reusing as much of the other systems as you can to reduce your development costs (we also spend a lot of time onboarding new folks and supporting them as much as we can).

But it’s not just about improving the game today – supporting the optimisation of workflows is one part of what we are trying to do, the other is to support future innovations.

If you want to know more, feel free to jump into the Coko community channel and chat – https://mattermost.coko.foundation

Come and join the party. We are happy to support you and happy to learn from you…. not-for-profit or commercial we don’t care, build a better journal platform on PubSweet than the rest of us and we’d be happy!  We are in it for the mission – come to talk to us! no preciousness here 🙂

Its all about workflow…

In the last 2 years, I have been very privileged to see inside the workflows of many publishers (book, journal, micropubs), aggregators, and preprint servers.

As a system designer, or one that facilitates others to design their own systems, this provides incredible insights into common struggles all of these organisations have. Recently this has given me pause to think about the system design process. So below is a little emergent theory of the importance of mental models in the process of workflow design….

  1. Who better to ask about an organisation’s workflow than the publishing staff themselves?
    There isn’t anyone better! Publishing staff are experts in what they do and they know every nook cranny of their workflow. They know the broken parts *intimately* since they live the pain on a day to day basis. They also know what works and what cannot be sacrificed.
  2. Publishing staff are the best placed to know how to improve their workflow (if given the chance)
    In order to be able to improve a workflow you need to first know it intimately. As above, there is no one better to do that than the publishing staff themselves. If you want to solve the problems, publishing staff need to be at the core of the design of solutions. By publishing staff I mean the actual people doing the publishing work.
  3. Publishing staff don’t design their own solutions
    This may seem like an oxymoron, but hear me out. In order to design an improved workflow you need a *perfect* mental model of the current workflow and what needs to be done. You need the first so you make sure you aren’t missing anything, you need the later so you know exactly what you can miss (what can be left out, what needs to stay)… Often I have seen one person given this job, and that person comes in from outside the org, or they are from within the organisation but have never done the publishing work directly. That leads to an imperfect mental model and pure speculative theory as to where and how the flow can be improved. It simply doesn’t work but it is the way it is done everywhere.

So… the heart of what I am trying to get at here are these three questions that lead on from the above which I am currently asking myself – why it is we don’t involve the publishing staff intimately in the design of better workflows? What is this mental model stuff and why is it so important? Why do I have this growing gut feeling that it’s all about workflow?

So… as a first, rather rough and quick response to myself on the above three issues…

  1. why it is we don’t involve the publishing staff intimately in the design of better workflows?
    Ok… I might actually sound rather nutty when I say this out loud. I believe the problem lies in the history of software development… First of all, these days we conflate workflow with software. They are not the same thing, but we make the mistake of equating the solution to workflow as software. This is far from the truth… but it is what it is…so, this is where the problem starts. To compound the problem, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think software dev today, including ‘Agile’ and Lean etc… repeat the same mistakes as older methodologies like, for example, ‘Waterfall’ and Xtreme Programming etc… That mistake is simple – the solutions providers are outsiders to the problem. I have at times, to be sure, been that person in the past. So I’m not pointing any sticks here…well at least, if I am its also at a past me. Waterfall treated the ‘users’ as research objects. That will only give you an outsider’s solution. Agile (etc) make me a little crazy because they try and cross that divide with tricks like ’empathy maps’ and creating avatars (which is, literally, a process of drawing pictures of the ‘users’ and guessing what they want). It’s no good. Why use avatars when you can actually just ask a real, living, experienced, member of the publishing staff? I have a lot more to say on this…but I’ll leave it here for now, suffice to say these problems situate the ‘end user’ at the end of the process ie. when the software is designed and / or delivered.
  2. What is this mental model stuff and why is it so important?
    This is a new insight for me. In a former life, I was a Book Sprint facilitator, and I own Book Sprints Ltd (though I have little to do with the operations). Recently the staff there have been pondering how to communicate the value of Book Sprints and interviewing people that love the process. One such interviewee hit so many deep points I was astounded (I’ll ask if I can share her name and credit her here). Her core point was this – Book Sprints, as a highly immersive collaborative model for book production where the experts (usually programmers) write the book together  — [in this paarticular case we are talking about corporate documentation of highly complex software systems], gets to a shared mental model of the complex system exceedingly fast – less than 2-3 days. This is shared as a book so others can ‘get inside’ that mental model. If the same company hires an experienced tech writer to do the same thing, they will take at least 6 – 8 months to arrive at the same level of understanding. It will take them that long to develop the same mental model of the system. That’s the point. (Also, the collaborative effort will simply pull in more nuance, at a deeper level of understanding, that the lone contractor can, arguably, ever do).That is quite an insight, and when I heard it, I recognised the truth in it right away. The same is true for our workflow design processes. If you want the best workflow design you first need a perfect mental model of the problem. It is critical. So, get the staff involved, and if you want to save money and get the quickest design process possible, get them involved early.
  3. Why do I have this growing gut feeling that it’s all about workflow?
    Well… because publishing is not about technology, nor is it about formats, nor is it about a confused lexicon that we all think is stable (how many different types of Editor roles are there? what do you mean by peer review?). Publishing is about none of this. It is about how you get a document, how you improve it, and how you get it to others. That’s it. And that is all about workflow…

Pondering A Publishing Event

I used to do lots of events back in the day. The last big one I was really involved in was called net.congestion when I lived in Amsterdam around 2000… it was about the use of streaming media in art and activism. It actually turned about to be a huge, and timely, event.

So… now I’m pondering maybe putting something together around publishing…in the last year or so I have been fascinated by workflow in publishing. It seems to me to be a rich topic and pretty much publishing is all about workflow… if you would like to collaborate to make it happen let me know…its in the ponder stage at the moment…

Aperta Halted

A part of my personal history is a platform called Aperta which was previously called Tahi. It was a PLoS project and I was hired to design and build it. I quit when the PLoS Board decided to close the repositories, effectively making it a closed project. The repos remained closed, and as far as I know, are still closed today. Ironically after I left, they renamed the project ‘Aperta’ – Italian for ‘open’. A really silly marketing move to reassure everyone that despite what they may have heard, the project was still open…that was perhaps true, albeit (ironically and literally) in name only.

Now, it seems, the platform dev has been halted. Feels good to me. From what I heard (and I didn’t hear much), PLoS didn’t take the project in a good technical direction and generated a significant amount of bad faith and market confusion while trying to develop it behind closed doors.

To quote the new CEO Allison Mudditt (who I respect very much, Coko worked with Alison when she was at UCP):

Part of this initiative will involve changes around the workflow system – Aperta™ – we set out to develop several years ago with the goal to streamline manuscript submission and handling. At the time we began, there was very little available that would create the end-to-end workflow we envisioned as the key to opening research on multiple fronts. But the development process has proved more challenging than expected and as a result, we’ve made the difficult decision to halt development of Aperta. This will enable us to more sharply focus on internal processes that can have more immediate benefit for the communities we serve and the authors who choose to publish with us. The progress made with Aperta will not be wasted effort: we are currently exploring how to best leverage its unique strengths and capabilities to support core PLOS priorities like preprints and innovation in peer review. This will be part of our planning for 2018.


I hope that PLoS releases the technologies that have been developed for Aperta (there was a lot more than just the submission system) into the open… with both open repositories and open licenses AND, more importantly, an open heart. Collaboration and openness is more to do with how people are than what open license they choose and several of the practices, including asking potential collaborators to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) before getting a demo of the system, were ridiculous and ungenerous.

Having said that, it would be awesome to see all that work released into the open, in open repos with open licenses, and no more blurring of the word ‘open’. Afterall the systems developed that included Tahi were all paid for by researchers. The PLoS Article Processing Charges fuels PLoS and they committed some of this revenue to the development of Tahi. When I was there, no external funding was secured for developing the system. Pedro Mendes made a good point in response to the announcement:


There is some merit to this, but I do applaud PLoS for being adventurous, and if it had worked then the result would have been APCs could be lowered, not just for PLoS, but for any Journal out there reliant on expensive and dysfunctional Manuscript Submission Systems. Allison also notes this in a discussion below the post mentioned above:

…the original idea was that Aperta would allow us to eliminate or speed up the slowest steps between a finished work and its publication in order to reduce the cost of our publishing services

That is true, and it was an admirable goal. However, whatever the journey was between then and now, the project should have always have been out in the open as a public asset. Open for science, open for access, open for source, open for all – and the fact researchers paid for it but it was turned into closed project mid-flight is reprehensible and in the end it worked against PLoS, in particular, it severely weakened PLoS claims to supporting all things open. What a mess.

But, it can’t be ignored that Tahi is about 5 years old now, which is old in software years. A entire generation of technologies that are better suited to solving these problems has arisen in that time. The system is now not much more than a still (just) relevant but outdated approach. That is the risk you take when you develop things behind closed doors. By the time you release it (or don’t in this case), it is out of date. That said, it would still be good to release it, but there are better technologies and approaches out there now.

So I look on with interest to see what will happen next.  I sincerely hope PLoS can return to cutting a path through publishing and exploring and enabling a viable Open Access model that others can follow. With Allison at the helm I am betting things are going to take a much needed turn for the better, not just with this project, but on all counts.

As for me, I learned a lot from designing Aperta (I prefer to call it Tahi). The design process was an introduction to scientific journal publishing for me. I learned a great deal. Tahi gave me, at the time, an unencumbered dream time to imagine something new. It had a lot of interesting innovative approaches and if I had stayed with the project it would have ended up close to where PubSweet is now as I wanted to completely decouple the ‘spaces’ (a concept important to Tahi). It would not have been as good as PubSweet at doing this as a complete ‘decouple’ really has to be imagined from the start, and isn’t as clean if retrofitted. Still, the system would have been a lot more flexible and reusable.

But that wasn’t to be. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think Tahi was the perfect platform, but it was a pretty good starting point with some significant innovations. At the time, I was looking forward to shaping Tahi with use and to mature it into an excellent system. The good news is, the next platform you design is always better.  I took a lot of what I learned (I have now been involved in instigating around a dozen publishing systems) to my next development, and worked hard to re-conceptualise a new system that avoided some of the mistakes I made with Tahi, and took some of the good parts a whole lot further. That new project is PubSweet and it is looking awesome, and leverages modern technologies and approaches to the max – mainly thanks to the bunch of amazing folks working on it within the Coko team (particularly Jure Triglav) and also now, increasingly, from the collaborators we work with (at this stage mainly eLife, YLD, Hindawi and ThinSlices). Also a huge thanks to the Shuttleworth for backing me, especially because it was at a time (I had just quit PLoS) when it was very much needed. Their backing meant Coko was possible, and consequently, PubSweet and everything else we have done.

Anyways… it was past time PLoS moved on too from Aperta and congratulations to Allison for making the right call, especially given that it would have been a difficult one given the cultural forces at play inside of PLoS.