A trip through memory lane

Years ago, around 1996 or so I managed BFM, New Zealand’s largest independent radio station. Before I left for Oz, I put together a compilation album as a tribute to NZ band the Clean. God Save the Clean was an awesome album released as a CD on Flying Nun.

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I thought it was more or less lost to history, but I just discovered many of the videos of the tracks, including some from the launch party, are online… so, here ya go!…

Head Like A Hole..

HDU…

Alastair Galbraith…

Pavement…

Guided By Voices

Chris Knox…

Graeme Downes

A full track listing can be found here – https://www.discogs.com/Various-God-Save-The-Clean-A-Tribute-To-The-Clean/release/1283278

PagedMedia Initiative

PagedMedia.org is launching a new community-led development at MIT Press on January 9, 2018. The project will develop a suite of Javascripts to paginate HTML/CSS in the browser, and to apply PagedMedia controls to paginated content for the purposes of exporting print-ready or display- friendly, PDFs from the browser.

This will be an Open Source initiative, appropriately licensed with the MIT license.

The January meeting will be the first meeting of the project and attending will be:

  • Adam Hyde (Coko/PagedMedia.org/Shuttleworth Fellow)
  • Dave Cramer (Hachette/PagedMedia.org/W3C Publishing Work Group)
  • Nellie McKesson (Hederis/W3C PWG)
  • Terry Ehling (MIT Press)
  • Erich van Rijn (University of California Press)
  • Kathi Flectcher (OpenStax/Shuttleworth Fellow)
  • Hugh McGuire (PressBooks/W3C PWG)
  • Arthur Attwell (Fire and Lion/Shuttleworth Fellow)
  • Tzviya Siegman (Wiley/W3C PWG)
  • Travis Rich (pubpub)
  • Fred Chasen (PagedMedia.org/Future Press/W3C PWG)
  • Julie Blanc (PagedMedia.org)
  • Phil Schatz (OpenStax)
  • Julien Taquet (Coko/PagedMedia.org)
  • Ned Zimmerman (PressBooks)
  • Carly Strasser (Coko)
  • Wendell Piez

For further information please contact: adam@coko.foundation

PagedMedia.org is funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation.

Also posted here – https://www.pagedmedia.org/paged-media-open-source-initiative/

Hanging with the Peppers, checking out Northland

My buddy Pepper and her awesome hubby Pete just got a piece of land up north (NZ). I went to check it out – the land is amazing. They have a classic  caravan on it at the moment and doing it up…really cool…

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Then I hit up north to check out the beaches over the weekend and camped out.

tip

spirits

paki

dusk

car

camp

And finally, while up north on the beach I saw Killer Whales and Santa on the same day! I didn’t manage to get a pic of the Orca, so you have to trust me on that, but I did get a pic of santa…

santa

Release now…

I come across a lot of projects (especially in the academic realm) that don’t like releasing ‘open source’ code until the code is all nice and pretty. Some also want to get governance structures etc in place before doing anything…

It is almost once or twice a month that I find myself in discussion with a project about this. They are usually very nice people, well meaning, but don’t really have a good handle on how open source works.

Firstly, there is a well-known mantra in software development that is true in general, but particularly true for open source:

Release early, release often

In the open source world, there are very special reasons why this is a best practice and baseline premise.  First, it tells people that are watching, the people that will want to use and/or contribute to your project, that you are serious about open source. If instead, you hold back the code, it sends the signal that you ‘don’t really get it’. I can’t recall a single conversation with an open source advocate that argued for holding back the code until it’s all nice and neat.  So, you’re sending out a signal that you don’t really understand how open source works, and that is a bad look.

This is especially true if there is anyone among your potential target collaborators/partners that have been around the open source block a few times as they will be extremely wary of anyone saying ‘we will release it’…or (worse) ‘it is open source, but we haven’t released it yet’… you might be stating this because you ‘know’ it to be true… but from the ears of the listener (especially and old hand) there is nothing different between what you are saying (which you consider fact) and a promise of sorts. You are asking people to trust you to do this sometime in the future – and people like me, who have heard this a lot, will automatically tend not to believe you. Not because we don’t think you believe this to be true, not because we are inherently distrustful people, but because we have heard so many, many, people say this that have not gone ahead and done it.

If you say it is open source, prove it by handing out the repo URL. Otherwise, don’t expect anyone to believe you or trust you  – and trust, as it happens, is the most important ingredient in successful open source communities. If you wrong foot it at the start, you have just created yourself an unnecessary uphill battle to rebuild trust when (if) you finally do release the code…

Secondly, open source models are all about adoption…. that is the entire market-killing model of open source. Adoption. Open source can kill proprietary products just simply because the threshold for adoption is lower (ie, free to try, free to install, free to use etc). If you wait until everything is in place, then you have just killed one of the most important moments to build interest and adoption – early stage development. Interested orgs/individuals can download the code and see what is about as soon as they hear about it… that way they can see where you are going, and if it is the right direction for them, they may decide to adopt the product (even in early stages) and/or contribute to the project. It is very good if this happens as these early adopters will be the product’s main advocates, drawing in the next layer of interested parties… they become the project’s salespeople. They will be especially good at doing this because they have been in there from the beginning, following and (hopefully) participating in all the discussions and decisions, and so they understand the project in detail and can talk to it with authority. That is invaluable.. .why wait? Don’t wait…if you do, the threshold for getting involved is going to be a lot higher (since there is more to understand) and the burden of helping people understand the project, and ‘selling’ it,  will fall entirely on your shoulders rather than being nicely distributed upon the shoulders of the early adopters…

Lastly… all open source projects grow organically and respond to the needs of the moment. So don’t wait to build governance structures etc before putting the code out there. This is not only bad for the reasons discussed above, but in the early phases of the project, there is nothing to govern…  It is just you (you, literally, or your org)… so first build the community and then look at what infrastructure you need to put in place to run that community. That is what governance is all about ..running the community. So, why not wait and see who shows up, and then decide what the governance structure (etc) should look like.  Also, as a last word, make sure your community is involved in discussing and deciding the shape of the governance…

anyways…just a few thoughts on this from Rarawa beach!

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.

http://blogs.plos.org/plos/2017/12/ceo-letter-to-the-community-mudditt/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+plos%2FBlog+%28Blogs+-+PLOS%29

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:

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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.