Pondering Editors

Editors are a hard problem. I don’t mean editors-the people… although that might also be true ūüėČ … I mean the technology you use to write and edit WYSIWHAT?documents. Its tough stuff. Over the years I’ve bet on several of them starting when I first replaced the native wiki-markup editor in TWiki with TinyMCE… and then later CKEditor…and so on with FLOSS Manuals..

The point with editors is that they are like racehorses… you put your money on the best one available at the time. They will win for a while, but no horse lasts forever.

After I abandoned TWiki and we started building Booki, which was later to become Booktype, I brought a bunch of people together in Berlin at an event called WYSIWHAT? to choose the best horse. Which is funny to me, looking back at it, as I had forgotten that over the years I’ve been involved in trying to build community around several different editors.

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I had gone into the WYSIWHAT meet thinking it might be the Mercury Editor which was an extremely innovative editor at the time… but the community chose Aloha Editor (see also Kathi Fletcher’s notes from the meeting). So we built that into Booktype. Aloha has since been left behind, although at the time it was the right choice. Funny thing is with these things I still hear people saying “jeez…you chose Aloha, and it wasn’t the best choice”…well… big news… it was the right choice a the time but if you haven’t looked at a clock lately then you might need to be reminded that times change… I wouldn’t pick Aloha today, nor would I pick TinyMCE… you got to go with what is the best choice at the moment.

Then, I chose the Wikipedia Visual Editor for the Tahi/Aperta project. Which was complex, but the right choice at the time.

So, through this history, I have learned some stuff… In my mind, there are several things to consider when choosing an editor, or the underlying libs for building an editor (which is what we are doing now with the Wax editor at Coko). Essentially they come down to:

  1. will itdo what you want it to do technically?
  2. is there good documentation?
  3. is there good community?

It goes without saying that I am talking only about Open Source options. And, just to point out the obvious, with closed source options you might do well on (2) above for user (but not API) documentation, but fail on 1 (because you can’t see the code) and 3 (because closed source isn’t about a development community).

Anyways… now we are somewhat down the road with what we are doing at Coko, we know a lot more about community and why it’s important. For that reason, the above would have once been my order of priority a few years ago, but today it looks more like this:

  1. is there good community?
  2. will it do what you want it to do technically?
  3. is there good documentation?

You can go a long way with community support if the tech isn’t quite there – either with help to work out ways to do things in ways you hadn’t considered, or by eventually getting features you need into the core code. In essence, a good community plays a supporting role (as¬†a good community member you should reciprocate) and a good community listens to what it is that you need…

Although docs are very important, and every project should have them, a functioning community can also help a great deal if the docs are lacking.

That’s not to say that the ideal solution doesn’t check all the boxes (community, tech, docs)… just to say that an open source project with community ranks miles above one without. It is going to be more fun and get you where you need to get quicker. Also, and perhaps most importantly, an open source project with community is substantially less risk for you going forward. The more active the community the less chance the project will die if any one individual decides to leave or change direction.

So… back to the races…

The Road to PubSweet 1.0

We are pretty close to our PubSweet 1.0 with the RFC now out for PubSweet 2.0, and a PubSweet dev site release next week.

pubsweet

It has been an amazing effort, particularly by Jure Triglav, the lead dev for PubSweet at Coko, but also fantastic work from Richard Smith-Unna, Alf Eaton, Yannis Barlas, and Christos Kokosias. Also more recently some great contribution from Alex Georgantas.

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So, we are pretty much there and I’m presenting in San Francisco this week as part of a small Coko event to reflect on the future of the framework and discuss the RFC. For this purpose I’d thought I’d write a post to help me think through the thinking that got us here.

So…the thinking behind PubSweet started when I came back from Antarctica around 2007 or so (I was there setting up an autonomous base for artist-scientist collaborations).

5jan2007-2

I decided I wanted to give up the art world and try something new. The something new turned out to be FLOSS Manuals Рa community writing free manuals about free software. I started it when I was living in Amsterdam somewhere around 2007. In order to execute on this mission I needed to get a couple of things sorted. Namely, learn how to build community, work out processes for rapid book production, and work out the tooling.

The tooling started with me scratching around with TWiki. A wiki written in Perl that happened to have the best plugins for rendering PDF. I scratched around, writing some Perl and cutting and pasting a whole lot more, and added some crazy .htaccess URL rewriting to produce a basic system for producing books. It was pretty scratchy but it actually worked. Later a buddy helped extend the system and later still I was able to pay him and others to extend it.

At the time it pretty much comprised a page (per book) for creating a table of contents.

developed_blog_chapterlist

and an interface to edit the content (chapters). I ripped out the native wiki markup editor and replaced it with a WYSIWYG editor, I think it was TinyMCE…

developed_fm_farsi

As you can see Right-to-Left content (in this case, Farsi) was also supported. There were also some basic things in place for keeping track of the status of a chapter, the version number, side by side diffs, side by side translation interfaces, and, later, dynamic table of contents organisation and edit locks.

Coupled with some basic PDF rendering stuff and a way to push the content from the ‘draft’ to the publishing front end and we were away.

flossmanuals-1

It actually had some other pretty cool stuff, such as side by side translation interfaces…

flossmanuals-howtotranslate-sideby-en

Remix

..a built in live chat for talking with collaborators…

booksprints-remotecontrib-chat-en

and even a way to send books between different instances (eg for sending a book from the FLOSS Manuals French community site to FLOSS Manuals Finnish for translation)….

flossmanuals-xchange-xchange_1-en
We could even render book formatted PDF and push to the lulu.com print on demand services. I just now checked and some of the books are still there!

Not bad for a Perl-based system, built on top of a wiki that wasn’t supposed to do this kind of thing, and built very with very few resources. The TWiki extensions were contributed back upstream to the TWiki repo and it was all open source but it was pretty hard to rebuild and no one¬†I knew actually had a similar use case.

After this, I embarked on a journey to replace the system with a custom built solution specifically for book production. I can’t remember exactly when this started, maybe 2008 or 2009 or something. It was originally called Booki…

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…which later became¬†Booktype. Booki (and later Booktype)¬†replaced the FLOSS Manuals tooling, although you can still see the working old tool here. That ole Perl code is still¬†functional with no maintenance after 10 years, I can hardly believe it. The docs on how to use it also still exist.

Booki was built with Django (python) and pretty much had all the same stuff. Although the look and feel was changed quite a bit in the transition. There aren’t too many images around of Booki although I did find these screenshots of Booki taken by someone using it on the OLPC XO! (FLOSS Manuals did all the docs for OLPC/Sugar OS etc).

readingandsugar-booki-en

readingandsugar-booki5-en

It was hard to get financial support for it. Internet Archive gave us $25,000 at the time which seemed like a fortune. The evolution of Booki to Booktype represented me taking the project to a buddy’s in Berlin (I was living there at the time) based org (Sourcefabric) and parking it there so I could get more resources to build it out.

Booki/Booktype pretty much had, and has, the same stuff as the FLOSS Manuals system, just purpose built. So it had, a table of contents manager

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And a book (chapter) editor…

booktype_version_2_editor_screenshot

…chat…

booktype_2-0_edit_communication_tabs_chat

And the other stuff. Perhaps the only new features (compared to the FLOSS Manuals system) were a dashboard…

booktype_1-6-1_my_dashboard_740x429_1

…groups…

all_groups

and an interesting way to have Twitter-like messaging to pass snippets from chapters to other users.

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Before I left Sourcefabric I wanted¬†to get some other innovations built¬†but didn’t get there. I did build some prototypes though. There was a task editor…

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…and live in-browser book design…

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Booktype is still going strong, now it is its own company (based in Berlin) and they also run the Omnibook commercial service using the software.

I left because John Chodacki and Kristen Ratan from PLoS invited me to come work for PLoS to design a new web-based journal submission system. I agreed…

But, before I leave the book story behind for a bit..I had set up Book Sprints as a company and put a small amount of my own money into building two new book production systems somewhere between leaving Sourcefabric and starting at PLoS. These two systems were PHP-based and Juan Gutierrez built them over some months.

juan

I wanted to do this because I was a little frustrated by Booktype not moving forward and also the platform was becoming more difficult to use. We¬†were using it for Book Sprints but after I left the product took a new UI direction and I was finding Book Sprints participants were not enjoying using the system. So I built a Book Sprints specific system called… PubSweet… the namesake of the current Coko system which has eventually turned into something of a prototype for the new PubSweet… this new system was¬†a lot simpler and easier to use than Booktype. It was initially meant to be modular but I think we lost that somewhere along the way. Cleanly modular systems take a lot of extra effort and time to produce so we gave in for speed of development’s sake.

The old PubSweet had a dashboard….

screenshot-from-2017-07-15-18-37-13

..table of contents manager…

ps1

and editor. Just like before!

screenshot-from-2017-07-15-18-40-08

We also introduced some new innovations including visualisations of the book production process…

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Plus annotation (using Nick Stennings annotator software)…

screenshot-from-2017-07-15-18-48-01

 

and other stuff…I think threaded discussions, outline views, review page, an in-browser book renderer, book stats and I can’t remember what.

Anyway …I also built a platform¬†on top of this old PubSweet for the United Nations Development Project. It was called Lexicon. Lexicon was pretty interesting as it opened my mind for the first time to the idea that an editor is not an editor is not an editor. Different content types (in a book) may require different editors or production environments.

Lexicon was produced to collaboratively produce a tri-lingual (Arabic, French, English) lexicon of electoral terms for distribution in Arabic regions.

screenshot-from-2017-07-15-19-09-11

Lexicon had all the same stuff as the old PubSweet but with one major innovation, you could create chapters that were WYSIWYG based, or you could create a chapter which enabled you to add and sort individual terms and provide translations.

screenshot-from-2017-07-15-19-09-34

It was a pretty interesting idea and we were able to make a really cool book which the UNDP printed and distributed across many Arabic-speaking countries. I still have the book on my bookshelf.

The other interesting thing was that the total cost for building this on top of the old PubSweet was $10,000 USD. This was mostly because we could leverage all the existing stuff and just build the difference…interesting¬†idea!

Ok, so then I dropped book production systems around 2013 or so for a while and went to work for PLoS on a system that¬†was called Tahi and then became Aperta. The name Tahi came from the name of the street I was living on¬†in New Zealand before I had a US work visa and was designing the system – Reotahi Road (cool road). Reotahi means ‘one voice’ and ‘tahi’ means ‘one’ in Maori. It was built on Rails with Ember. Essentially the front end and backend were decoupled although it was really pushing the technology at the time to do this. I designed the system and moved to San Francisco to manage the team to build it.

Tahi (Aperta) had a dashboard (surprise!) and editor, just like the book production systems but I introduced two major innovations – Cards, and card-based workflow management interfaces. Unfortunately, while I was asked to come and build an open source system, things went a little weird at PLoS and they closed the repos, effectively making it a closed platform. So I quit. That also means I don’t have any screenshots to show you. Pity. If you sign an NDA with PLoS I believe they might show it to you.

However, you can picture it a little – imagine something like Trello, or Wekan – these are card based kanban systems. But imagine if you could custom make cards to do¬†anything. Effectively cards¬†were first class citizens of the platform and could access the db, perform system operations, make external calls, do validations, whatever you wanted. In hindsight, I think they¬†were as close to an idea of an ‘app’ that you could have in a browser platform, although that wasn’t the way I thought about them at the time. Additionally,¬†cards were¬†imported into the system since each card was actually a gem file. This meant any publisher could custom make their own cards to do whatever they wanted and place them within the kanban-like workflow space (task manager). Pretty neat.

So, cards could be surfaced and used anywhere in the system. We used them for authors to enter submission data, but also for production staff to perform operations, for reviewers etc etc etc. They could also be placed on a kanban board to make a workflow. Cards could be moved around the workflow and deleted or new ones added at any time.

To manage all this my other idea was to let these cards flow through a TweetDeck-like interface. So you could sort cards, per role, per user, at volume.

Tahi essentially had four spaces – a dashboard, a submission page (which displayed the manuscript in an editor, and submission data could be¬†entered through cards), a task manager (workflow for the article, using cards as tasks), and a ‘flow manager’ (the TweetDeck-like interface for sorting all your cards across all your articles). While the FLOSS Manuals, Booki and Booktype platforms were pretty much monolithic systems, the old PubSweet was sort of modular. However, Tahi did decouple the front end and back end¬†but I wanted to also break these four spaces into discreet components. That would have given the system enormous flexibility but unfortunately I wasn’t able to do this before I left.

Anyways, Tahi/Aperta is a little old now but it was pretty cool. I don’t know what happened to Aperta but I believe it is now being used for PLoS Biology.

After I left PLoS I was offered a Fellowship by the Shuttleworth Foundation to continue on the mission to reform publishing. So I started Coko with Kristen Ratan¬†(who was the publisher at PLoS)….

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So there are some themes from building the past 7 or 8 publishing systems (depending on how you count it… there were also some other interesting experiments in between). First, the next system you build is always better. That is for sure. It’s an important thing to realise because when I developed the FLOSS Manuals system I thought that was¬†it.¬†Nothing could be better! But I was wrong. Then Booki/Booktype and I felt the same thing. I was so proud of it and nothing could be better! haha… you get the picture. The reason why it’s important to understand this is because I think it gives someone like me a bit of freedom. I can take some risks with systems knowing you get some stuff right, you get some stuff wrong. But the next system will get that bit you got wrong,¬†right. Taking this attitude also takes the pressure off and you can have more fun which is good for your¬†health, the team you are working with, and the system.

As far as technical lessons learned… well… after looking back at all these systems when we started Coko, I realised that the idea of independent ‘spaces’ for publishing workflows had a heap of currency. How many systems did I have to build with baked in dashboards, task managers, editors, table of content managers, etc etc etc before I could realise it doesn’t make sense to do this over and over. I wanted to take the idea of these kinds of spaces forward and not have to build them again¬†and again… so some kind of system where you could include whatever spaces/components you wanted would be ideal… This would have two very important¬†side benefits:

  1. I could learn so much because if the next system you build is always better, what about a framework that would allow you to easily build a whole lot of systems at once! Or build a lot quickly over a short amount of time… just imagine how much you could learn…
  2. It would open the door for others to innovate. I have since given up the idea that¬†my system¬†(so to speak) was the best ever and no one could top it. That’s just the testosterone talking. I’m kinda over it (sorta). I want other people to be able to make¬†better stuff than what I have¬†produced so far, to bring in innovations I never thought of. I want to make that¬†easy for them and now I understand a whole lot better how publishing workflows actually work I’m in a very good position to do that.

That was a lot of the thinking behind the new PubSweet – PubSweet 1.0. But there is some other stuff too. Through my time at PLoS, I came to understand just how many variables affect workflow choices in journal publishing¬†and¬†that each publisher has slightly different conditions and roles that affect this. That means that the access control is complex. We might think there are various roles – author, editor, reviewer etc that shepherd an article through a process but it’s not that simple. Any number of conditions can affect who gets to see or do what and when. So we need to have a very sophisticated way to set and manage this.

There was a lot of other stuff to take into account to but I mention these two specifically because recently when I was talking to Jure (lead PubSweet dev) about PubSweet 1.0 and reflecting on how far we came he nailed it, he identified the two major innovations of the system being:

  1. reusable/sharable components (spaces)
  2. attribute-based access control

I agree entirely. I think I might add another:

  • developer experience

It is pretty easy, and getting easier, for developers to develop publishing platforms/workflows (call them what you will) with PubSweet. I think it is pretty astonishing and I think these 3 characteristics put together enable us to build multiple publishing systems fast and in parallel (with small teams) as well opening the door for other to do the same and huge opportunities for innovation.

If we are successful at building community this will be a huge contribution to the publishing sector.

In a future post, I’ll break PubSweet spaces / components down in more detail. There were also a lot of other similar stories regarding¬†technical innovations on the way (eg Objavi->iHat->INK), but¬†I’ll break them down into posts on another day.

I meant to also talk about Editoria here, the monograph production system built on top of PubSweet, and xpub – the PubSweet-based Journal system.

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They are both pretty amazing and leverage so much more than the previous systems identified above.

Login page for our first Journal platform.

I think the main thing with them is that we are working extremely closely with publishers using the method I developed – the Cabbage Tree Method.

Editoria Design Session

This means that I am no longer involved in building, what I would call,¬†naive publishing systems. Naive in the sense that publishers could¬†use, for example, Booktype, but it’s not really built for publishers. It’s a general book production system built by someone who didn’t know much about publishing at the time. That’s great of course, there is a place for it. However,¬†Editoria is¬†not a naive system. It is designed by publishers for publishers and the difference is enormous.

But I will leave a longer rant about this for another post.

I do however, want to say that I didn’t, of course, build any of the above systems by myself. There were many people involved and I have credited them elsewhere in this blog. I’m not going to do another roll call here except for Jure Triglav.

Jure and I sat down just over 18 months ago to discuss some of the lessons I learned as explained above. We jammed it out over post-its, whiteboards, coffee, and food in Slovenia and you can read a little more about that process in the PubSweet 2.0 RFC. But Jure trusted me, and I trusted him, and he took these ideas and, with a small team in very good speed, made them a reality. As a result, I think PubSweet is an exciting system and will only get better. Congratulations Jure, you deserve special thanks and recognition for the absolutely amazing job you have done.

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Being in Competition with Yourself

With Coko, I am involved in producing book (Editoria) and journal platforms (xpub). As it happens, two of the main competitors for these platforms are a book platform I founded (Booktype, about 8 years ago or so) and a journal platform I designed (Aperta, about 5 years ago or so).

Booktype and aperta are good platforms. However, what I’m involved with now -Editoria and xpub – are just so much more rockn ūüôā Turns out you learn something (a lot!) each time you make a platform and the next one¬†is always better. But competition is a great thing. It helps us all do better. It’s just …it is a little existentially weird to think I’m in competition with past versions of myself ūüôā

Using Editoria to Write CTM

We used two systems to write the Cabbage Tree Method book – Booktype and Editoria.

Editoria was created using the Cabbage Tree Method. The following are some screenshots of Editoria with the book in production:

Editoria Dashboard showing the (only) book
Editoria Dashboard showing the (only) book
The Book Builder interface showing all chapters and parts plus workflow tools
The Book Builder interface showing all chapters and parts plus workflow tools
Detail
Detail
Introduction Chapter loaded in the Editor
Introduction Chapter loaded in the Editor
Chapter with the chapter structure display (right)
Chapter with the chapter structure display (right)
tc2
Demonstrating Annotations in Action
Demonstrating Track Changes
Demonstrating Track Changes

and finally…

Kate and Cindy (UCP production staff) designing their system (Editoria)
Kate and Cindy (UCP production staff) designing their system (Editoria)

Booki to Booktype, BookJS and beyond…

Many years ago I was the Product Manager and Project Lead for Booktype at Sourcefabric. We developed many interesting technologies including Booktype itself, Objavi, StyleJS, BookJS, Booktype Renderer, and Booktype Designer, amongst others.

Booktype is still going very well and has also spawned the very interesting Omnibook service. Due to the recent interest in this project, I revisited this old video which documents some of the exploratory thinking I had when leading the Booktype team at Sourcefabric. It was recorded May 2012 at #dev8ed in Birmingham, UK. At the time I was leading a small team, having just migrated Booki (FLOSS Manuals) to Booktype (at Sourcefabric).

I found the video really interesting as it covers my thinking at the time, (developed over many years of experimenting in this area) over many issues, including rendering books in the browser and using the browser as a design environment for books. There are some nice quotes which accurately reflect how I was thinking then which are interesting:

“there is no one taking responsibility for designing environments where you can target both flowable text as an output like Kindle or EPUBS, and at the same time, target fixed page outputs like paper books. So we are trying to work this out at the moment. How do you deal with this?¬†.[…] We are trying to work out how can you possibly find a paradigm that fits both flow-based, and fixed page, design” [36min 25s]

and

“what we want to see [in the browser] is when you are outputting to book-formatted PDF, we want to see like you see in Google Docs – exactly the page dimensions that you are going to get when you output the PDF. Google Docs does some sort of magic where that is possible, we haven’t yet cracked it¬†ourselves, but for fixed page design we think it is quite important that what you see in the HTML page is what you would eventually get in the PDF. [41min 37s]

“…how do you actually render one to one representation of a book-formatted PDF in a browser?” [49min 49s]

“…we can have JavaScript playing a role in rendering elements of pages for book-formatted PDF.” [16min 58s]

“…we take the Booktype content as HTML, HTML as the base format, and Objavi formats that into one long HTML page for which we have specific CSS rules to structure the book in a specific way. Then we run WKHTML over the top of it, and a number of other tools, and we assemble a book out of it, book-formatted PDF” [18min 38s]

“Thats because WKHTMLTOPDF is webkit, the browsing engine behind Chrome and Safari, … so you can use CSS, and JavaScript and everything from webkit, and turn it into a PDF” [19min 50s]

“…the advantage of using webkit as part of the rendering environment, as webkit is a browser, [is that] if you design in the browser you have a one to one co-relation between content creation environment and output environment” [33 min 49sec]

To be clear, we were already using browser engines to make books for quite some time, and Douglas Bagnall, a friend who also worked with me at¬†FLOSS Manuals,¬†even investigated collaborating with the Gecko (Mozilla layout engine) developers to add widows and orphans controls¬†and the CSS page-break control (which we needed for books), in 2010 or so. Actually, it was pretty cool because Douglas, myself and Robert O’Callahan (Mozilla layout engine dev) were all New Zealanders. But FLOSS Manuals¬†had been making books for many years with browser engines since Behdad Esfahbod advised me to explore this, many years earlier. We knew browsers could be used for producing book-formatted PDF and we had been doing it for years.

However, as I have learned over the years,¬†there is an important¬†role for¬†vision, experimentation, and theoretical exploration prior to developing good software.¬†Hence, I was now exploring how you could take these positions¬†further to design books in the browser client. Rendering PDF was one part of the story, the other was working out the tools to take book design to the browser. This was what Adobe was also after, I believe, when they implemented CSS Regions in webkit and started on their Adobe Edge¬†Reflow line of products that leveraged the browser as a ‘design surface’. They were interesting times.

But back to the Booktype story. The video is a demo in May 2012, about a month before I hired anyone (in June) to start on what eventually became BookJS. It took us a while to get there but after much discussion, further experimentation, and some months of development, I was able to introduce BookJS in Oct 2012 on the Sourcefabric blog.

Terrible profile pic of me!
Terrible profile pic of me!

While BookJS didn’t quite get to be the design environment I was (and still am) after, it was still a good tool.¬†In an attempt to get to a design and rendering¬†solution in the browser, we later took the Booktype Designer (demonstrated in the video) ideas to a JavaScript prototype called StyleJS¬†for integrating with BookJS but, unfortunately, it didn’t make it to production. StyleJS enabled a kind of ‘WYSIWYG’ tool for styling a page live. Which is¬†an interesting prototype for future in browser book production exploration.

Work continued on BookJS and it has had a useful life despite some quirky turns in the road. During this time, the Booktype team worked with several people on the development of BookJS and received good advice and contributions from Mihai Balan (from the Adobe CSS Regions team), Phil Schatz (from Connexions), Maria Fraser (University College London) and others. As with many software projects, contributions like this deserve a lot of credit, as I have written elsewhere, since these contributions are not always preserved in the code.

Another quirk that happened is that the Google team, in an unexpected move which surprised many people and turned into a bit of a CSS heavy hitters¬†‘discussion’, removed CSS Regions from Blink.¬†Many people were pretty shocked. This, I think (but I don’t know the inside story), spelled the end for Adobe’s vision of the browser as a design surface using CSS Regions, and the Adobe Edge Reflow product has been discontinued.

In the Booktype world, Juan Gutierrez (who worked on BookJS at Sourcefabric, and now works with me at Coko) extended BookJS to support the CSS Regions polyfil. It is still in use now with Book Sprints for rendering books. Consequently, we are still very grateful that Booktype and Sourcefabric kept the BookJS product AGPL after I left the project so we could extend it. Hurray for Open Source!

It is good to see Booktype going strong, Sourcefabric still invested in Open Source, and a growing interest around Omnibook. I know the team there, Micz Flor¬†(co-founder of Sourcefabric and Managing Director of Booktype) being an old friend, and Julian Sorge¬†also makes a great Booktype Managing Director. They have brought their own vision to the Booktype products, pushing them in new directions, and it is really great to see. I’m hoping they will continue to go from strength to strength.

In summary, these were interesting, productive times. Sourcefabric provided the opportunity for Booktype to grow, and I¬†experimented a lot, as I had done at FLOSS Manuals (and continue to do now), with new ideas and approaches. There was some great software,¬†books, and ideas that came out of that period. Some of the books we made I have even kept with me through my travels. In the video, for example,¬†I demonstrate the Booktype Designer.¬†We built the Designer before and during the Sandberg Institute workshop I led in Amsterdam¬†and used it in the same month as I did the presentation to create this wonderful artist’s book. I carried it with me all over the world and still have it on my bookshelf now!

Waag Society/Remko Siemerink 2012. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Waag Society/Remko Siemerink 2012. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Nice to find this old vid.

Original url for the video: https://vimeo.com/43591376

Review: http://devcsi.ukoln.ac.uk/2012/05/29/dev8ed-workshop-booktype/

 

Some publishing systems I have developed

developed_floss

I recently went over some publishing systems with Yannis and Christos from Coko. We looked at various systems and discussed them. As we did this, I realised that I’d actually built quite a few! Although we weren’t just talking about those I had built, I began to think through what I had done right and wrong when building those earlier systems. Each development is a learning process and you will always get things both wrong and right at the same time. The trick is to get less wrong the next time round…

In the ten years that I have been building these systems, I have worked with some pretty talented people, including Luka Frelih, Douglas Bagnall, Alexander Erkalovic, Johannes Wilm, Remko Siemerink, Juan Gutierrez, Lotte Meijer, Fred Chasen, Michael Aufreiter, Oliver Buchtala, Nokome Bentley, Andi Plantenberg, Mike Mazur, Rizwan Reza, Gina Winkler and many others including the entire team of Coko – the most talented bunch of them all. Coko team:

Kristen Ratan – CoFounder, San Francisco
Jure Triglav – Lead PubSweet Developer, Slovenia
Richard Smith-Unna – PubSweet Developer, Kenya
Yannis Barlas – PubSweet Frontend Developer, Athens
Christos Kokosias – PubSweet Frontend Developer, Athens
Charlie Ablett – INK Lead Developer, New Zealand
Wendell Piez – XSL-pro, East Coast USA
Julien Taquet – UX-pro, France
Henrik van Leeuwen – Designer, Netherlands
Kresten van Leeuwen – Designer, Netherlands
Juan Guteirez, Sys Admin, Nicaragua

Alex Theg – Process, San Francisco

All systems except, unfortunately, one (see below) are open source.

FLOSS Manuals

top_read

The first publishing system I designed and built didn’t have a name really. It was the glue behind the FLOSS Manuals English site. FLOSS Manuals was, and is still, a community focussed on building free manuals about free software. I started the development in English but the system needed to be useful to a number of different language communities, of which Farsi was the most interesting. Today, only the French and English communities are still operational.

I built the FLOSS Manuals system in Amsterdam in about 2006. It was based on TWiki, an open-source Perl-based wiki. I chose TWiki because back then it was the only wiki around that had good PDF-generation support – I think this came from some of its plugins. TWiki had a good plugin and template system and I came to think of it as a rapid prototyping application – it was pretty malleable if you knew how. I was a crap programmer so I cut and pasted my way to a system that became usefully functional.

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I leveraged the account creation and permission systems of TWiki, and ripped out the wiki markup editing and replaced it with an HTML WYSIWYG editor (I think it was TinyMCE). So in wiki world terms I had committed something of a crime. Throwing out wiki markup at the time was unheard of in the post-2004 euphoria of Wikipedia. But JavaScript WYSIWYG editors were coming along just fine, and I thought wiki markup no longer made any sense (in fact it had been invented to make making HTML easier than writing raw HTML). But y’know… wiki markup was no easier than using a WYSIWYG editor, despite the sacred status of Wiki markup in the Wikimedia community. And despite my heresy,the Wikimedia did give me a barnstar for my efforts, which was nice of them:)

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After I reached the limit of my coding skills, a friend, Aco (Alexander Erkalovic), helped build the next bits. I found some money to pay him and that is when things started to move forward. I can’t remember all parts of the system, although it’s still in up and running for some FLOSS Manuals language sites. The core of the system was the manual overview page. This contained a list of all chapters in a manual. You could also set the status, add new chapters, view overall progress etc. from this one page. We had a separate mechanism for creating an ordered table of contents (index) for a manual.

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Index builder, essentially a dynamic drag and drop mechanism for arranging chapters

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The overview page

Essentially, you added a chapter on the overview page and then opened the index builder and arranged the chapters. When saved, the (refreshed) overview page displayed the correct (new) order of chapters. We had to do it like this because back then, in the era of the ‘page refresh,’ it wasn’t possible to synchronise dynamic elements across multiple clients. So we couldn’t have one ‘shared’ index builder that would dynamically update all user sessions simultaneously. Nevertheless, it worked pretty well.

From the overview page, you could choose a chapter to edit. When you did so, you locked the chapter and, through some JS trickery Aco cooked up, we wereable to do this across multiple clients so everyone could see in real time who was editing what.

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When editing a chapter, you could save the document and then, when ready, publish it. This way you could have an ‘in progress’ state of a chapter and a published state. At publish time the chapter was copied across to the system’s web delivery cache.

We also added chapter status markers, as you can see from the above image. It was pretty basic but nifty.

Next I hacked in a live chat, initially using IRC (freenode) for a global FLOSS Manuals-wide chat:

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Then I hacked a fancy AJAX script into the chapter edit interface so each manual could have its own chat with the interface present while you were editing a chapter. It also looked a little nicer than the IRC channel. From the beginning, I tried to make everything look like it was meant to be there, even if it was a fiddly hack.

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FLOSS Manuals also had a lot of other interesting goodies. We had federated content, for example. This was established so one language site could import an entire manual from another and set up a translation workflow.

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We also had a simple side-by-side editor set up for translation that worked pretty well for translators.

developed_fm_metaphorIn addition, we had a remix system for generating new versions using mixed content from other manuals. This was useful for workshops and for making personal manuals, for example.

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One of the cool things about the remix is that you could output in many formats such as PDF and zipped HTML, add your own styles through the interface, PLUS you could embed the remix in your own website ūüôā The embed worked similarly to methods used today to embed YouTube or Vimeo videos in websites (by cut and pasting a simple snippet). The page delivery was ‘live,’ so any updates to the original manual were also displayed in the embed. I thought that was pretty cool. No one used it of course ūüôā

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The system also had diffs so you could compare two versions of a chapter. It was good for seeing what had been done and by whom. In addition, it was possible to translate the user interface of the entire system to any language using PO files and a translation interface we custom built:
developed_translateBut by far the most interesting thing for me was building FLOSS Manuals to support Farsi. It was interesting because, at the time, no PDF-renderer I could find would do right-to-left rendering. Behdad Esfahbod advised me to just use the browser to do it. Leslie Hawthorn from Google Open Source Programs Office introduced me to him after I went on a naive search in the free software world for ‘someone that knew something about RTL in PDF’. I was very lucky. The guy is a generous genius. He just suggested an approach a new way to think about it and later I worked with Douglas Bagnall (see below) to work out how to do it. The basic idea being that HTML supported RTL and the PDF print engines rendered it nicely…so…it was my first realisation that the browser could be a typesetting engine.

Implementing RTL in the FLOSS Manuals system was so very tricky, and I was unfortunately on my own for working out Farsi regex .htaccess redirects and other mind-numbing stuff. Just trying to think in right-to-left for normal text did my head in pretty fast, but somehow I got it working.

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Outputs of all language books were PDF and HTML, later also EPUB. I initially used HTMLDoc for HTML-to-PDF conversion. It was pretty good but didn’t really think like a book renderer needs to. This was my first introduction to the overly long wait for a good HTML-to-PDF typesetting engine. Later I found some money and employed Luka Frelih and then Douglas Bagnall to make a rendering engine separate from the FLOSS Manuals site (see Objavi below). Inspired by my chats with Behdad (above) Douglas introduced some clever PDF tricks with the Webkit browser engine to get book formatted PDF from HTML. I can’t remember exactly how he did it but essentially he used xvfb frame buffer to run a ‘headless browser’. In short, and for those that don’t know those terms, he came up with a very clever way to run a browser on a server to render PDF. It did it by rendering HTML to PDF in pages (using the browser PDF renderer) and then rendered another set of slightly larger blank PDF with page numbers etc and embedded one within the other. Wizard. Hence we were able to make PDF books from HTML. It also supported RTL ūüôā I think I need to say here that this whole process was immensely innovative and we did it on a dime. Also, because we refused to use proprietary systems we were forced to innovate. That was a very good thing and I welcomed the constraint and the challenge.

Later we also used WKHTMLTOPDF to make PDF. It worked and we worked with that for a long time. I even tried to start a WKHTMLTOPDF consortium with Jacob Trulson, the founder of the project, it got some way but not far enough (I am very happy WKHTMLTOPDF is still going strong!).

I played a lot with Pisa and Reportlab for generating PDF and finally cracked it when I started book.js (more on this below). Actually, when it comes down to it I think I used everything that wasn’t proprietary to make book formatted PDF from HTML. It was the start of a long love affair with the approach. I promoted this approach for a long time, even calling for a consortium to be formed to assist the approach:
http://toc.oreilly.com/2012/10/the-new-new-typography.html
http://toc.oreilly.com/2012/11/gutenberg-regions.html

As it happens, all this time later I’m still doing the same thing ūüôā
http://www.pagedmedia.org

We integrated FLOSS Manuals with the Lulu API (now defunct). This allowed us to generate books automatically from HTML using Objavi (below) and they would be automagically uploaded to the Lulu print-on-demand marketplace for sale…that was amazing! Ah…but also no one used it. Lulu shut down the API as soon as they realised no one was using it.

We made many many manuals with this setup. Many of them printed from the auto-PDF magic and were distributed as paper books. Many of the books were in Farsi. The One Laptop Per Child community even built a FLOSS Manuals app that was distributed on all OLPC laptops with the documentation made with FLOSS Manuals.

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The system produced loads of manuals and printed books about free software. All free content.

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The FLOSS Manuals platform didn’t have a name. It was a hack of TWiki. While you could get all the plugins online, it would have been a nightmare to deploy. I did deploy it many times but I essentially copied one install to another directory and then cleaned out all the content and user reg etc. and went to town rewriting all the .htaccess redirects. It sounds stupid now, but I spent a lot of time doing URL redirects to ditch the native TWiki URLs (which were extremely messy) and make them readable. Hence the system was a pain to deploy or maintain. It was feeling like we needed a standalone, dedicated, system….

Booki

Booki was the next step. It was clear we needed something more robust and also it was clear no web-based book production system existed, hence the hackery Twiki approach. So it was about time to build one. At the time, though, I remember it being very difficult to convince anyone that this was a good idea. I didn’t have access to publishers, and everyone else thought books were just soooo 1440. What they didn’t realise is that we were building structured narratives and that, IMHO, will have a lot of value for a long time. Call it a book or not. Anyway, we built Booki on Django (a Python framework) and the first time we used it was a Book Sprint for the Transmediale Festival in Berlin.

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Aco literally would be building the platform as it was being used in the Book Sprint – restarting when everyone paused to talk. It was an effective trick. We learned a lot working with the tool and building it as it was being used.

At the time I couldn’t imagine book production being anything other than collaborative. FLOSS Manuals collaboratively built community manuals. Book Sprints were short events building books collaboratively. So Booki was meant to be all about collaboration. Booki also was run as a website (booki.cc) which was freely available for anyone to use.

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Many groups used it which was cool.

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Booki.cc run from with the OLPC laptop

Booki had all the basic stuff the FLOSS Manuals system had and we advanced the feature set as our needs became more sophisticated, but the basics were really the same.

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The main differences were that we had a dynamic ‘table of contents’ where you could add and rearrange chapters etc and the updated ToC would be dynamically updated across all user sessions. Hence the ToC became a kind of ‘control panel’ for the book.

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We also experimented with data visualisations of book production processes.

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We did some cool stuff with the visualisations. For example, during the Open Web Book Sprint (also in Berlin) we worked in the Hungarian Embassy. They had a huge window that you could backwards project onto so people could see the projections on the street. So we made a visualisation of text from the book being overlayed as we wrote it. Below is an image shot with us standing in front of the projector…I mean..c’mon…how cool is that? ūüôā

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Booki also had federation. You could enter the target URL of a book from another install and Booki 1 would make a portable archive (booki.zip) and send it to Booki 2. Booki 2 then unpacked the zip and populated the book structure complete with images etc. I liked the idea very much of using EPUB instead as a transport technology instead and was later able to do so for Aperta and PubSweet 1 (see below).

In general, Booki didn’t advance much further from the FLOSS Manuals set up. It kind of did ‘more of the same’. I think the only stuff that went further than the previous system was the dynamic table of contents plus it was easier to install and maintain. Having groups was also new, but that wasn’t used much. It was in some ways just a slightly different version of the previous system.

Booki was also used for producing a tonne of books.

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Objavi 1 & 2

Alongside the development of the FLOSS Manuals system and Booki, I headed up the development of Objavi. Objavi is basically a separate code base that was used as a file conversion workhorse. Objavi 1 was a little bit of a hacky maze but it did a good job. It would basically accept a request and then pipe that through a preset conversion pipeline. It did a good job. What I found most useful from this is that each step left a dir that I could open in a browser to inspect the conversion results. So if the conversion needed several steps, this was very helpful in troubleshooting.

Objavi 2 was meant to be an abstraction. However I don’t think it really got there, and Booki, which later became Booktype, came to internalise these conversion processes after I left the project. I always thought internalising file conversion was a bad idea because file conversion is resource-intensive, making it better to throw it out to another external service. And having a separate conversion engine enables you to completely overhaul the book production code without changing the conversion code. Hence FLOSS Manuals could migrate to Booki but still use the same external conversion engine. This was a HUGE advantage. Further, all the FLOSS Manuals instances, as well as booki.cc could use a single Objavi install for their conversions.

Objavi was actually also the magic behind the federated content in both the FLOSS Manuals system and Booki. All content would be passed through Objavi for import and export so Objavi became the obvious conduit for passing a book from one system to another. This gave me a lot of ideas about federated publishing which I have written about elsewhere and archived here.

Booktype

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Booktype was really Booki taken to market. I was frustrated by not getting much uptake, so I took Booki to Sourcefabric in Berlin and headed up the development there. Booktype gained a UX cleanup. The editor was changed after an event I organised in Berlin called WYSIWHAT. The event was meant to catalyse energy around the adoption of a shared editor for many projects. It was of many things I did in pursuit of the perfect editor. At that event, we chose the Aloha contenteditable editor. I don’t think that was as useful a change as expected at the time, but back then contenteditable looked like the way to go despite there being few editors that supported it. Since then TinyMCE, CKEditor and others all have contenteditable support, further¬†econtenteditable became a bit of a lacklustre implementation in browsers.

Booktype was literally the same code as Booki but rebranded. So many of the same features persisted for quite some time until Booktype eventually took on a life of its own.

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Displaying ‘diffs’ (differences) between 2 different versions of a chapter

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Activity stream of a book

I prototyped some interesting things in Booktype but not much of it got built. For example, I was keen on editing content in the style of the final output. The example below is using the CSS layout of Open Design Now which I mentioned below with reference to BookJS.

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I also made a task manager prototype based on kanban cards but it was never integrated into Booktype.

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I think there are only really three parts of Booktype’s development that occurred while I was in charge of the project. First was the integration of a short messaging system into a user’s dashboard and into the editor. Essentially you could highlight text in a chapter, click on the msg widget and a short message could be sent with that text to whoever you wanted (in the system). It was intended for fact checking or editing snippets etc. The snippets were loaded into an editor to assist with this kind of use case.

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A good idea but seldom used.

In addition, Booktype supported groups, so users could form groups which were populated by users and books. The idea behind this was that you could form a group to work on a collection of books collaboratively.

Lastly, the renderer was integrated in a more sophisticated way so you had more control of the output from within Booktype. Essentially you could choose a number of output options and style them from within Booktype.

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These were all interesting additions, but in the end, Booktype was really only Booki taken a step further as a product without offering much that was new. I think we should have probably actually removed a lot of things rather than adding new things that didn’t get used.

Booktype developers added some interesting stuff after I left. I particularly like the image editor and the application of themes to the content.

The image editor enables you to resize and effect an image from within the chapter editor.

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The theme editor allows you to choose from an array of styles/themes and edit them.

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Booktype 2 has since been released. It has become a standalone business and is doing good work. Also, the Omnibook service is a ‘booki.cc’ online service based on Booktype 2.

Booktype has been used by many organisations and individuals to produce books.

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I think Booktype 2 is good software but I didn’t particularly like the direction of the Booktype UX after I left the project – it was becoming too ‘boxy’ and formal. ‘Good UX’ is not necessarily good UX. So I eventually developed another system with a much simpler approach, specifically for using with Book Sprints (but it has had other uses as well). More in this in a bit.

book.js

One innovation, and a further exploration of using the browser as a typesetting engine, that resulted from my time with Booktype is book.js. Essentially I had been looking for a new way to render books from HTML using the browser. I wanted to understand how Google docs could have a page in the browser and then render it to PDF with 1-to-1 accuracy. Surely the same could be done with books? However, no one could tell me how it was done. So I researched and eventually found out about the nascent CSS Regions that would allow you to flow text from one box to another in HTML. I worked with Remko Siemerink at a workshop in Amsterdam to explore PDF production from CSS. We made an interesting book with some of the Sandberg designers.

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After more research and breaking down what I thought could happen, Remko worked with CSS Regions (& js) to replicate the page design of a book called “Open Design Now.” It was amazing. He got the complex design down plus it was all just HTML and CSS, it looked like a page AND when printed from the browser it retained a 1:1 co-relation. Awesome.

The following summer I was able to employ someone for Booktype to work on the tech and I hired a developer (Johannes Wilm) to work on the PDF rendering. From there we eventually had BookJS that enabled in-browser rendering of books which could then be exported to print-ready PDF by just printing from the browser. Whoot!

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After time, BookJS (original site still available) could also formulate a table of contents etc. It was, and is, pretty cool and IMHO is the right way to do this. Unfortunately, Google Chrome decided to discontinue CSS Regions so if you now want to use BookJS you have to use a very old version of Google Chrome. However, better technologies have come along that support the same approach, namely Vivliostyle (which Johannes later worked on).

Github Editor

During the time with Booktype, I also did some experiments in other processes. One was using Github as the store for an EPUB and using the native zip export that Github offered to output EPUB (since EPUB is just a zip formatted in a specific way). Juan Gutierrez put together a quick demo and I published about it here:
http://toc.oreilly.com/2013/01/forking-the-book.html

Sadly the demo is no longer available but later a good buddy, Phil Schatz, adopted the idea and built something similar and (I think) much better:
http://philschatz.com/2013/06/03/github-bookeditor/

PubSweet 1

Since Booktype was going its own way, I wanted to develop a new, lighter, system for Book Sprints. Hence Juan and I worked out PubSweet, a simple PHP-based system. This would later be reformulated as a JavaScript system (see below).

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PubSweet was very simple. Essentially 3 components – a dashboard, a table of contents manager, and an editor. It would later evolve to include more features but it was really the same as the systems I had developed earlier, though simpler. I wanted to get to a cleaner interface and bare basic features. I also wanted to retain some book elements, hence the table of contents manager looks a little like a book table of contents (except the garish colors ;).

PubSweet 1 is still in use by the Book Sprints team and functions well. It uses BookJS for rendering paginated books and for PDF rendering straight out of the system. It can also generate EPUB directly. Apart from that, it is pretty simple and effective. I used a basic card-based task manager for this, based on an earlier prototype I made when working with Booktype. It was a simple kanban type board but we never properly integrated it.

We included annotation using Nick Stennings Annotator project:

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PubSweet 1 has been involved in producing more books than I can count, for everyone from OReilly books to Cisco, to the World Bank, UNECA, IDEA etc etc etc

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PleigOS

Somewhere along the way, I developed a simple system for creating Pleigos – one-page books created by folding a single piece of paper which has text and images. The system places text and images so that when you fold a single page after printing, a small book is formed. It was more an artistic experiment than anything but it was fun.
http://www.pliegos.net/

Note: the Pleigos project was by my good friend Enric Senabre Hidalgo, I just developed the initial Pleigos software.

Lexicon

The UNDP approached me to build software for developing a tri-lingual lexicon of electoral terminology. The languages to be supported were English, French, and regional Arabic. It sounded interesting so I used PubSweet as the basis for this.

The main difference between Lexicon and PubSweet was that you could choose to create a chapter from 2 different types of editor. Editor 1 (‘WYSI’) was a typical WYSIWYG editor. This was used for producing chapters with prose. The second type of editor (‘lexicon’) allowed you to create a list of terms, each with three different translations – English, French, and Arabic. This opened my eyes to the possibilities of having different types of editors for different content types, a strategy I hope to use again.

developed_lexiconThe ‘lexicon’ editor in action

The final print output looked pretty good:

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The system enabled a dozen or so people from different Arabic regions to discuss translations and work collaboratively through a list while at remote locations. We built a specific discussion forum for them as part of the system and had up and down voting etc. I liked this project a lot because it was very different from any other project I had worked on yet it employed many of the same strategies.

Aperta

Along the way I was approached by John Chodacki of PLOS to build a Journal system for them. I knew nothing about scientific journals, so I went through a process of re-education ūüôā It sounded interesting! I spent a year-and-a-half heading up a team to design and develop this system. This is pretty much the first time I wasn’t scraping together pennies to build a system.

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Journal systems aren’t that different from book production systems, in fact doing this project helped me realise that the production of knowledge, in general, follows a particular high-level conceptual schema:

  1. produce
  2. improve
  3. manage
  4. share

Each artifact (journal article, chapter, book, issue, legislation, grant application etc) follows its own kind of path, with its own unique processes, through these four stages. I have written more about this elsewhere in this blog so won’t go into more detail about it here.

Research articles, (Aperta wasn’t initially intended to deal with Journal Issues which are a collection of articles) come into a Journal as (predominantly) MS Word. They then need to follow a process of checks (eg. to make sure the article is right for the journal etc) before going through the hands of various editors (handling editors, academic editors, etc) and reviewers, including a back-and-forth with the author(s) and a final pass through a production team and/or external vendor to prep the files for publication. The biggest difference I found from my previous experience with book production systems is that there is more to-and-fro involved. Simply put, there is more workflow. So Aperta addresses this with a simple workflow engine based on the Trello/Wekan kanban card-based model.

Aperta was built in Rails with Ember JS. The front end was pretty much decoupled from the backend. It was pretty ambitious and we decided to use the Wikimedia Foundations Visual Editor at the heart of the project. It was the most sophisticated editor available at that moment. I have come to learn that you have to take what you have at the time and work with it. We committed to adopt it and make contributions. I hired the Substance.io chaps (Michael and Oliver) to work on the editor. They did a great job. (Subsequent development of their own editor libs has enabled us to work with them for Coko (more below). )

Aperta’s approach was to simplify the submission process that was managed by Aries Editorial Manager. We leveraged the OxGarage project for MSWord-to-HTML conversion and imported the manuscripts into Aperta. Then workflow templates could be set using kanban cards (as per above). These cards then enabled a flexible method for gathering information (submission data) from the authors at submission time. A lot of time was spent on getting good clean, simple, UX. The kanban card system was very modular – the cards themselves were their own applications, enabling anyone to build a card to their own requirements. This made the cards extremely powerful as they were essentially portable applications.

Further, I developed a model of sorting a lot of cards into columns much like Tweetdeck’s saved-columns model. It was all rather neat. A ton of innovation. Unfortunately, I don’t have any screenshots apart from what I see PLOS has on their website:
http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/s/aperta-user-guide-for-authors
http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/s/file?id=d45b/Aperta-Quickstart.pdf
http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/s/aperta-user-guide-for-reviewers

Aperta is in production now for PLOS Bio but unfortunately the code still isn’t available.

I think Aperta radically rethought how Journal workflows might be managed. I learned a lot through this process and it informed decisions and architecture for the next platform I was to work with – PubSweet 2, developed by Coko.

I also think taking a step into another realm where many concepts were transferable but the use case was different was very good for me. It helped me abstract a few notions. It was also good to build a sophisticated framework in another language and to have the resources to try things out. It was an excellent incubation period where I learned a lot while building a pretty good platform.

During this period I also developed a kind of Objavi 3 but I’m not sure now what it is called or if it is used.

PubSweet 2

The following systems are a result of a team of very talented people at Coko. This has been the first group of people that I have worked with that enable the systems to get close to what I believe is an ideal state for the problems at hand, the time we live in, and with the technology available. If I have learned one thing over the past years, it is that, generally speaking, development teams often prevent good solutions from happening. The Coko team is a rare case where the solutions can flourish and become what they need to be. I’m very lucky to be working with such people.

PubSweet 2 is not actually a publishing platform, it is a de-coupled JavaScript framework that enables the production of multiple publishing platforms.

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With all the other platforms I have been involved with I have always learned something. So the next platform is always better. Strangely enough, because when I look back I remember, for example, thinking that Booki was the best platform ever, and perhaps the best I could do. But not so. Each subsequent platform has been much better. So… why not build a framework that enables the rapid development of many platforms at once? good idea! Imagine what you could learn… Indeed!

Using PubSweet, we have developed two platforms to date. Science Blogger and Editoria. For the purposes of this blog post I’ll just focus on Editoria as Science Blogger is more of a reference implementation. However, all these front components can be developed independently of each other, and independent of the core framework. Hence we have released some PubSweet NPM modules (sort of like front end plugins) online:
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If you would like to read more about PubSweet check here:
http://slides.com/eset/ismte

Editoria

https://editoria.pub/blog/

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Editoria Book Builder component

What is interesting about Editoria is that I didn’t design it. I facilitated the staff at the University of California Press to design it. And what is really interesting is that it is a better book production software than any of the above that I did design…. That’s not to say that I finally realised I was a crappy designer ūüėČ , rather I came to realise that given the right guidance and parameters, the people with the problems can solve the problem with more deep understanding and nuance than I could as an outsider to their processes. It was a great thing to realise.

In general, Editoria follows the same model as PubSweet 1. It is a simple collection of 3 interfaces – dashboard, book builder (in PubSweet 1 we refer to it as a table of contents manager) and a chapter editor. Very similar to PubSweet 1 and also these components fit into the conceptual schema I mentioned above of:

  1. produce – this happens outside the system and we convert authored MS Word files to HTML
  2. improve – styling, editing, reviewing, all occurs in the editor component
  3. manage – basic workflow managed by the Book Builder component
  4. share – when done we export to book formatted PDF, and EPUB

Editoria is a very simple and elegant solution. It’s the only one of the systems I have worked with that is not in production but I’m looking forward to seeing it up and running soon.

It uses the Substance.io libraries to build a custom made and elegant editor. Finally with some real $ to spend on moving this field forward, and as part of my 2015 Shuttleworth Fellowship I committed $60,000 USD (10k a month) or so to Substance, Coko followed it by a similar amount, so they could focus on the development of their libraries to 1.0. Coko also put considerable effort into founding a consortium around Substance (although I’m not convinced it is really working well yet).
http://substance.io/consortium/

Editoria brings some nice implementations to the table including the use of Vivliostyle to render PDF from HTML. Plus MSWord-to-HTML conversion, front and back matter divisions plus body content. Pagination information (left/right breaking) etc. In addition, we are building into Editoria various tools in the editor including its own annotation system and a host of publisher-specific markup options for different styles (quotes, headings etc). Coko has employed Fred Chasen for some part time work to contribute to the Vivliostyle development (although we are still working out what we should work on).

In many ways, Editoria is the system I always wanted to be involved in. It is better than any other system I have seen or been involved in and this is a result of two critical factors:

  1. the technologies have matured, including Vivliostyle and Substance.io, that enable critical solutions to be solved
  2. the people who need the system have designed it

There is more to come from Editoria, so stayed tuned…

INK

INK is like Objavi on steroids. It is possibly an Objavi 4 ūüėČ but done the right way. INK is a Rails-based web service which is primarily built to manage file conversions. However, it can actually be used for the management of any job you wish to throw at it. These jobs are what we call steps, and steps can be compiled into recipes. For example, you might have a step ‘convert MS word to HTML’ and then a second step ‘Validate HTML’. Hence INK enables you to chain together these steps.

develop3ed_ink

Additionally, these steps are plugins written as Gems. A gem is a Ruby-based plugin architecture. Accordingly, you can develop gem steps and distribute them online for others to use. We hope in time there will be a free (as in beer) market around these steps.

Summary thoughts

I think I learned a lot from writing this personal ‘sense making’ piece. I didn’t realise just how strong some of the themes were that I pursued until a wrote them down…for example, I pursued collaborations from inter-organisational consortiums a number of times and none of them have worked. Huh. Interesting. I’ve also seen various practices evolve from an idea to being mature thoughts, prototypes, workable solutions and eventually, eventually, adopted. But over many more years than I expected. Also interesting.

It is also obvious that there are some big ticket technological problems that still need to be solved for good to really move forward. They are mostly there but still in need of work, the top two being:

  1. browser as typesetting engine
  2. sophisticated editor libraries

I add a third which I haven’t noted much in the above. I have worked on this since Aperta onwards and it is necessary only in the publishing world where content is authored in the legacy ‘elsewhere’ (ie MSWORD):

  • reusable, sensible, MSWord to HTML conversion

This has been solved many times but has not yet been solved well.

These all need to be open source solutions. At Coko we are trying to move all these on and we are making good contributions. We, as a sector, are nearly there. Although it would be good to work more together to solve these problems by either making contributions to the existing efforts, or using their technologies. This is really the only way things move forward.

Finally, in the tech world people sometimes quote ‚ÄúBeing too far ahead of your time is indistinguishable from being wrong,‚ÄĚ. I’m not sure who said it but when I look through the evolution of technologies I have written about above, seeing various things evolve from idea to a production implementation many years later, I’m also thinking that perhaps sometimes waiting might be indistinguishable from being right ūüôā

Projects

Some of my projects. As you can see, partially complete. Will add more and then make this a static page.

Publishing-related

Collaborative Knowledge Foundation

Current
The Collaborative Knowledge Foundation’s mission is to evolve how scholarship is created, produced and reported. CKF is building open source solutions in scholarly knowledge production that foster collaboration, integrity and speed.

CKF envisions a new research communication ecosystem that gives rise to wholly unique channels for research output.

CKF was founded in October 2015 with support from the Shuttleworth Foundation.

Shuttleworth Foundation

Current
I have just been awarded a Shuttleworth Foundation Fellowship. I’m deeply honoured to have been selected. I was awarded a second year of Shuttleworth Fellowship for my work on reformulating how knowledge is produced.

Recent Presentations

The Future of Text

Google Headquarters in Silicon Valley, Aug 2016
http://www.thefutureoftext.org/
Organised by friends and followers of Douglas Englebart, Adam was invited to present on collaboration and book production.

Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers

London, Sept 2016
http://www.alpsp.org/2016-Programme
Adam was invited to present at the annual ALPSP conference about ways that Open Source could change publishing.

International Society of Managing & Technical Editors

Brussels, Nov 2016
http://www.ismte.org/page/2016EuroConference
http://www.slides.com/eset/ismte
Adam was invited to present on Open Source tools for publishers at the Brussels edition of the 2016 IMSTE series of conferences.

Open Fields

Riga, Latvia, Oct 2016
http://rixc.org/en/festival/Open%20Fields%20Konference/
I was invited to speak about the intersection of art, science, and publishing at the cutting edge Open Fields festival.

Unlearning Collaboration

Berlin, Oct 2016
http://www.supermarkt-berlin.net/event/un-learning-networked-collaboration/
Adam was invited to facilitate a one day conference on collaboration and facilitation.


Development projects

PagedMedia

2016 – present
http://wwwpagedmedia.org
Founded the blog about paged media.

Substance Consortium

2016 – present
http://substance.io/consortium/
Foundational member of the Substance Consortium.

Book Sprints

2008 – present, New Zealand
http://www.booksprints.net/
Book Sprints is a methodology and a company I founded to rapidly produce books.

Nov 2016: ¬†transitioned from founder and CEO to the board. I appointed Barbara R√ľhling as CEO.

A Book Sprint is a collaborative process where a book is produced from the ground up in just five days. But even more important, this collaborative process captures the knowledge of a group of subject-matter experts in a manner that would be nearly impossible using traditional methods. The result at the end of the Book Sprint is a high-quality finished book in digital and print-ready formats, ready for distribution.

Book Sprints Ltd, is a team of facilitators, book-production professionals, and illustrators specialised in Book Sprint facilitation and rapid book production. Our organisation developed the original methodology and has refined it since 2008 through the facilitation of more than 100 Book Sprints. Topics have ranged from corporate documentation to industry guides, government policies, technical documentation, white papers, academic research papers, and activist manuals.

Book Sprints clients include Cisco, PLOS, F5, the World Bank, USAID, African Development Bank, Open Oil, Liturgical Press, Ausburg Fortress, Cryptoparty, OpenStack, European Commission, JISC CETIS, UNECA, Mozilla, IDEA, Engine Room, Heidy Collective, Transmediale, Google… to name a few.

"If Book Sprints did not exist, we would be forced to invent them, so powerful is the knowledge production paradigm."
 --Allen Gunn, Aspiration

"Book Sprints get more brilliant work out of bright people in 1 week than most project can evoke across many months."
 --Loy Evans, Cisco

"Writing a book through a Book Sprint turned out to be efficient, thorough and enjoyable; I can’t imagine a better outcome."
 --Phil Barker, JISC CETIS

faith

Aperta

2013 – July 2015. Public Libary of Science, San Francisco
In 2013, I designed a platform for the Public Library of Science (PLOS), originally called Tahi but renamed to Aperta. In 2014 I was asked to lead a team to build the platform. I led the 15 strong team to the production-ready 1.0 release of this multi-million dollar project to completion, on time and under budget in June 2015.

Aperta is an entire submission and peer review platform for multiple scientific journals housed within the single instance. The entire system is designed to be highly collaborative and concurrent. The platform includes a manuscript production interface, HTML and LaTeX document editing support, Word ingestion, a workflow management system, task management interfaces, admin interfaces, reports, and user dashboards. The platform was built in Ember-CLI, Rails, implements a highly customised Wikimedia Foundations Visual Editor, and uses Slanger for concurrency. It is an HTML-first system, has many innovative new approaches to journal systems, and solved many long-standing problems in this space. The project also involved a separate codebase named iHat that provides Aperta with an API service for queue-managed file conversions.

"At its core, this new PLOS editorial environment brings simplicity to the submission and peer review process by providing advanced task-management technology and a vastly improved user interface, which will enhance the publishing experience for our community of authors, editors, and reviewers." 
http://blogs.plos.org/plos/2015/07/publishing-initiatives-at-plos-a-look-back-and-a-look-ahead/

NB: I only work on Open Source systems. The sources are not yet available for this project.

PubSweet

2012 – present
PubSweet is a platform designed to assist the rapid production of books in Book Sprints. The platform is very simple to use, with very little overhead for new users. The system provides dashboards, publishing consoles, card-based workflow management (task manager), discussions, data visualisations of contributions, a dynamic table of content management, and support for multiple chapter types. PubSweet can produce EPUB and leverages book.js (see below) to produce print-ready PDF (paginated in the browser). PubSweet is written in PHP, using Node on the backend, and CKEditor as the content editor.
pubsweet_project

Lexicon

2012
Lexicon is a platform produced for the United Nations Development Project to collaboratively produce a tri-lingual (Arabic, French, English) lexicon of electoral terms for distribution in Arabic regions. Lexicon provided concurrent editing for chapters with multiple terms, sorting by language, discussion forums and voting. Lexicon was written quickly in php with Node.

"The Lexicon was created with the aid of an innovative collaborative writing tool customized to suit the needs of this project. This web-based software allowed the authors, reviewers, translators and editors to simultaneously input their contributions to successive drafts from their various countries. "http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2014/11/19/undp-launches-first-lexicon-of-electoral-terminology-in-three-languages.html

lexicon_panel

book.js

2012
book.js is a Javascript library that you can use to turn a web page into a PDF formatted for printing as a book. Take a web page, add the JavaScript, and you will see the page transformed into a paginated book complete with page breaks, margins, page numbers, table of contents, front matter, headers etc. When you print that page you have a book-formatted PDF ready to print.

book.js has given inspiration to a number of other JS pagination engines. See Vivliostyle, bookJS Polyfil, Pagination.js, simplePagination.js, and CaSSiuS.

2_bookjs

Booktype

2010 / 2012
Booktype is a book production platform. I brought this platform to Sourcefabric (Berlin) as ‘Booki’ in 2012. Booki was started in 2010. Booktype is written in Python (Django).

‚ÄúBooktype resolves challenging issues in collaborative knowledge production resulting in high quality print and ebooks.‚ÄĚ ‚Äď Erik M√∂ller, deputy director, Wikimedia Foundation

Google Summer of Docs

2011, 2012, 2013
The GSoC Doc Camp was an annual event over three years. It was a place for documenters to meet, work on documentation, and share their documentation experiences. The camp improved free documentation materials and skills in GSoC projects and helped form the identity of the emergent free-documentation sector.

The Doc Camp consisted of 2 major components – an unconference and 3-5 short form Book Sprints to produce ‘Quick Start’ guides for specific GSoC projects.

Each Quick Start Sprint brought together 5-8 individuals to produce a book on a specific GSoC project. The Quick Start books were launched at the opening party for the GSoC Mentors’ Summit immediately following the event.

gsoc

Bookimobile

2011
The Bookimobile was a a mobile print lab in a van – essentially a van that contained all the equipment necessary to create perfect bound books. It was designed to take the ideas of Booki to people and make real books that have been created in Booki. The first Bookimobile was based on the Internet Archives Book Mobile and we took it to several book fairs and events throughout Europe. It was sponsored by Mozilla, CiviCRM, Archive.org, Francophonie.org, Google Summer of Code, and iCommons.

bookimobile

Objavi

2008
Objavi is an API-software service originally written for Twiki Book (see below) but also serviced Booki and later Booktype.  Objavi converts books from their native HTML into PDF for printing. It also handled other file conversions (eg HTML to ODT, HTML to EPUB etc). I later produced a similar API-based conversion software for PLOS known as iHat. Objavi is written in Python.

TWiki Book

2006
TWiki Book didn’t have a real project name at the time. The project was the first publishing system I built. TWiki Books was created solely to meet the needs of FLOSS Manuals (see below) and it was built on top of TWiki, a Perl-based wiki. TWiki Book included book remixing features, side by side translation, table of contents building, publishing interfaces (I actually wrote a separate php-based system to manage this), edit notifications, versioning, diffs, live chats and many other features. It was a good system but reasonably difficult to extend and maintain since it re-purposed an existing wiki software (hence my approach to building purpose-built book production systems after this point).

FLOSS Manuals

2006
FLOSS Manuals was the project I founded in 2006 that got me started on this whole publishing thing. FM was, and is still, an active community of volunteers that creates free manuals about free software. There is now a foundation¬†and several language communities (notably French and English). The contributors include designers, readers, writers, illustrators, free software fans, editors, artists, software developers, activists, and many others. Anyone can contribute to a manual ‚Äď to fix a spelling mistake, add a more detailed explanation, write a new chapter, or start a whole new manual on a topic. The aim was produce high quality free works and we succeeded – creating many fantastic manuals in over 30 languages (and still growing).

‚ÄúIntroduction to the Command Line‚ÄĚ is at least as clear, complete, and accurate as any I‚Äôve read or written. But while there are countless correct reference works on the subject, FLOSS‚Äôs book speaks to an audience of absolute beginners more effectively, and is ultimately more useful, than any other I have seen.‚ÄĚ 
-- Benjamin Mako Hill, Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board, Free Software Foundation Board

Presentations about publishing

I am asked to talk about publishing from time to time. The following are some links to some of those presentations.

Choosing a document network
August 2015, Vancouver, Public Knowledge Project

Open Access and Open Standards
Oct 2014, San Francisco, Books in Browsers

Books are Evil
May 2014, Rotterdam,  Off the Press
Regional Lexicon Project
May 2014, San Francisco, I Annotate

Changing the Culture of Learning

May 2013, San Francisco, I Annotate

The Death of the Reader

Oct 2013, San Francisco, Books in Browsers

A Web Page is a Book
May 2012, Berlin, re:publica

Writings

I have been writing about publishing here and there. Since last year these efforts have been focused on this site. The following are some links to some of my other works:

Fantasies of the Library : After the Proprietary Model

Interview with me about the future models for publishing, published by k-verlag (Berlin).

Radar O’Reilly posts

When Paper Fails
What happens when books, ownership, authority and authors are all challenged by a network.

Visualizing Book Production
Why is no one visualising data on how we make books?

Zero to Book in 3 Days
A little bit about Book Sprints.

Forking the Book
When books are forked.

Over Thinking EPUB
Commentary on why EPUB might be confusing the issue.

Changing the Culture of Production
How to change the way we produce knowledge.

WYSIWYG vs WYSI
The evolution of the editor.

Math Typesetting
the sorry state of math typesetting.

InDesign vs CSS
Why HTML wins versus Desktop Apps.

The Blanche Dubois Economy
Why ‘Open API’ is really a silly idea.

Gutenberg Regions
Paginating in the browser.

Browser as Typesetting Engine
More commentary on the browser as a typeset engine.

The New New Typography
The evolution of Javascript Typesetting.


Other Projects

Seaweed

2008, Quarantine Island, New Zealand
This project was actually called ‘Intertidal’ but I like the name Seaweed better. Douglas Bagnall and I created a one-day community project to discover a new species of seaweed. We hosted this on Quaratine Island in the Dunedin Harbour and invited anyone to come work with us and a marine biologist from the local research center to search for a new species. The project was a community project and a reflection on the notions of species as an out-moded idea, and on taxonomy as a dying art. About 50 or 60 people – individuals, groups, and families – came out on the free boat (provided by the local sea scouts) and hiked across the island to participate on a coldish Dunedin day to search for and document seaweed. We possibly discovered a new species.

throwing into focus the ever-present potential for new knowledge. Drawing upon 19th century methods of species discovery, involving collecting, looking and drawing, their work formed questions around what we don't know.

seaweed

Geek-o-system

2008, Christchurch, New Zealand

Julian Priest, Dave Merritt and I drove about a tonne of old electronics 700km or so in an old landrover (top speed 35km/hr) from Daves warehouse in Wanganui to an art gallery in Christchurch, New Zealand. In the gallery, we served up the old electronics as a participatory art project and invited anyone to come and build new objects from the old. It took 3 days to get there. It was an adventure.

A Geekosystem was a participatory workshop based on a redundant technology collection created by David Merritt. Items were selected from the collection and packed into a Landrover and driven to The Physics Room in Christchurch. A call for participation was issued by The Physics Room and a group of geeks gathered to re-configure the technology into artworks. A workshop space was created and plinths were placed at once end of the gallery and populated with artworks made from the e-waste. The workshop was open to the public and continually added to during the duration of the show. Old technology books were formed into a library. Proprietary software manuals were shredded and mixed with coffee grounds. This was mulched into soil and silver beet seedlings were successfully germniated in floppy disk trays.

A Geekosystem was shown first at the Physics Room in Christchurch in 2008 and then at The Green Bench during the Whanganui Open studio week in 2008. The Geekosystem garden was transferred to a permanent location and produced vegetables for a number of years.

geekosystem2

Paper Cup Telephone Network

2006, Exhibited at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, Zero One Festival in San Jose, and many other venues.
This was a project I made with Matthew Biederman and Lotte Meijer. The Paper Cup Telephone Network (PCTN) was a free communication system and comment on how ‘simplicity’ in technical systems is trickery, and problematising the corporatisation and ever increasing individualisation of modern communications.

The PCTN was a network of paper cup telephones. Just like the games played by children, anyone could put a PCTN cup to their ear to listen, or to their mouth to speak. However, the difference between the PCTN and the original game is that the ‚Äústring‚ÄĚ is connected to the World Wide Web where your voice is streamed to all the cups on the network carrying it, blocks or even miles or a continent away. We built the entire system from free software telephony systems (asterisk and SIP phones), open and standards-based telephony protocols, cups, and string.

As simple as it was, it remains the most difficult technical project I have ever undertaken.

Wifio

2006, exhibited at the Waves exhibition in Riga, Latvia

Wifio was a project I did with Lotte Meijer and Aleksandar Erkalovic. Wifio was a comment on the naivety in which we broadcast our personal information. It was a hardware UI and software that allowed anyone to tune into the World Wide Web wifi traffic. If someone near you was browsing the web on a wifi network, you could simply tune in with Wifio by selecting the right channel and tuning into their IP address.

…but don’t worry, you don’t need to know what their “IP Address” is, in fact you don’t even need to know what an IP address is! Just move the dial until you hear their emails or what they are saying in chatrooms.

I was proud when Julian Oliver (an old buddy from NZ) referenced this project as inspiration for one of his works.

wifio

Sound Elevator

2007
r a d i o q u a l i a (see below) were commissioned to make a new work for Forte di Bard in Valle d’Aosta in Italy for “Cima alle stelle (Stars)”, a large exhibition showing historical works by major masters like Durer, Tintoretto and Guercino; contemporary artists such as Pierre Huygue, Olafur Eliasson and others; and astronomical instruments and writings by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Einstein.

We made a new site-specific sound installation inside two of the glass elevators which take visitors from the arrival area of Forte di Bard, to the gallery levels. Much of the elevator travel is external to the Forte (pictured below). Sound Elevator consisted of two linked sound environments inside the elevators. As the elevators ascended to the exhibitions halls, visitors experienced an auditory journey from the local celestial environment to the edges of the Universe. In the first elevator, visitors sonically travelled through the Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere, hearing our closest star, the Sun, interacting with our planetary atmosphere. The upward and outward journey continued in the second elevator, with sounds from our planetary neighbours, the sonic echo of distant stars, and finally the sound of the Big Bang itself.

sound_elevator

I-TASC

2006/2007 Antarctica
I did a 2-month residency in Antarctica at SANAE (South African Research Base) as part of I-TASC, ultimately a failed network of individuals and organisations working collaboratively in the fields of art, engineering, science and technology on the interdisciplinary development and tactical deployment of renewable energy, waste recycling systems, sustainable architecture and open-format, open-source media. But it was still a great experience.

The coolest thing about it, was the 2 weeks each way on the beautiful icebreaker the SA Agulhas (now decommissioned). I kept some diary pages on the Interpolar site. I also did a few other projects while there including Polar Radio (see below).

The worst thing about it¬†was that we shouldn’t have been there. There is no need for anyone to be in Antarctica. Most of the ‘science’ projects are strategic positioning for a land grab when the time comes. Some science might be justifiable… but arts projects?

Leaving Antarctica I cried my eyes out. It was just too much for me to deal with. Too amazing. After Antarctica, I gave up the art world. I couldn’t think of anything else the art world could do for me.

It was a conflicted but beautiful experience.

Polar Radio

2006/2007, Antartica
Polar Radio was a community radio project initiated by I-TASC and
r a d i o q u a l i a. The first prototype station began FM broadcasts on 29 December 2006 in the Dronning Maud Land sector of Antarctica, where South Africa maintains their base, SANAE IV. It was Antarctica’s first artist-run radio station. It was the first step towards establishing a permanent polar radio presence in Antarctica, which may eventually broadcast in between geographically dispersed Antarctic bases.

But y’know…I wish I hadn’t done it. When I first got to Antarctica I turned on a radio and went through many many frequencies… and I heard nothing… that was amazing. Where else in the world can you not hear anything on your radio? I then went ahead and polluted the spectrum. Darn. I regret it.

Polar Radio was part of a series of projects run by I-TASC – the Interpolar Transnational Art Science Constellation.

Mobicast

2005, Transiberian Express
Capturing the Moving Mind was a conference on board the Trans-Siberian train. It was about new forms of movement and control, war and economy, in the current situation. 50 international researchers, artists and activists participating in the mobile conference formed a mobile production unit aboard the train. For the audiovisual streams, Luka Princic and I developed a free software ‚Äėmobicasting‚Äô platform which enabled mobile transmission of material on the web from mobile phones on the train. Mobicast was initially developed during a residency I had at MAMA Media Lab (Zagreb, Croatia).

It was a great project but really really fragile. The tech of the time was not up to it. Mostly it ran on Puredata and some obscure bits of code from here and there. Still it worked. Best moments were hanging out on the train laughing at people trying to be ‘artists’ in real time… huh? …and getting sardonic with Dr Gillian Fuller – the world’s best queue hacker. Watching the train wind around the Gobi desert… also kinda cool.

mobicast was initially developed to overcome the problem of delivering live video from a moving train to the internet. Traditionally this is the domain of OB (Outside Broadcast) technologies or expensive vehicular satellite uplink hardware. However mobile phones are now very capable remote broadcast environments. Many modern phones record images, video, audio and allow the editing and transfer of these media through wireless data networks (eg. GPRS) with almost global coverage. The quality of these recorded media have generally been considered 'low-fi' but fidelity is increasing and importantly, the expectations of networked media are becoming more appropriate. Once upon a time there was a mythic "broadcast quality" threshold all media had to pass before being accepted by broadcast organisations and (theoretically) audiences. However, now there are active calls for content generated by "on the spot" accidental observers by large scale media organisations. The tide and scale of remote media is changing. The nature of experimental media on this type of platform is the intentional playground of mobicasting. With this emerging new type of media witness cultural forms are also emerging. Multiple networked media phones is in itself a platform for collaborative cultural development and opens interesting doors for experimental media.

ephemera_strip3 ephemera_strip2 ephemera_strip1

Images from Ephemera Journal

MiniFM and SilentTV

2001-2004, International
For many years I had a wonderful mentor – Tetsuo Kogawa. He is the father of MiniFM. I saw Tetsuo build a mini FM transmitter at the Next Five Minutes festival in Amsterdam. Sometime after that, I asked him if he would teach me how to make them too, and he very generously spent a good deal of time making sure I understood the ins-and-outs of the process. Together we designed a workshop and Tetsuo worked out even simpler ways to build the transmitters. For many years I travelled the world leading transmitter-building workshops and often Tetsuo would stream in from his studio in Tokyo to talk about the idea and give a quick demonstration before we started building.

Later Tetsuo and I created a project called SilentTV which was the same idea but using simple elements to broadcast TV.

I’m forever grateful to Tetsuo for his kindness and mentorship.

mini-fm-transmitter-1

re:Play

November 2003, South Africa
re:Play explored the world of the computer game. It featured an exhibition of artists’ computer games by Andy Deck, Josh On + Futurefarmers, Mongrel, Natalie Bookchin, the escapefromwoomera collective and Max Barry, and a programme of workshops and lectures. re:Play was a collaboration between the Institute for Contemporary Art, Cape Town and r a d i o q u a l i a. It launched at L/B’s – The Lounge at Jo’Burg Bar in central Cape Town, South Africa, and went on to be exhibited at Artspace and the Physics Room in New Zealand.

The games in the exhibition were not typical computer games. While all of them encouraged play, and involved a gaming objective, unlike regular computer games, they had a strong political dimension and explored how play, interaction and competition can be utilised in an artistic context.

The re:Play education programme included talks and workshops lead by Graham Harwood of Mongrel and r a d i o q u a l i a  at Cape Town High School, Fezeka Senior Secondary School in Gugulethu; the Alexandra Renewal Project, Johannesburg and at Wits School of Arts, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Free Radio Linux

2002, The World
Another project that got a lot of attention for  r a d i o q u a l i a,  most notably through being exhibited at the New Museum in NYC,  but it also at Banff and other places. I loved this project because it brought together several threads.

Formally, Free Radio Linux was an online and on-air radio station. The sound transmission was a computerised reading of the entire source code used to create the Linux Kernel, the basis of all distributions of Linux.

Each line of code was read by an automated computer voice – a speech.bot
utility I built for the work. The speech.bot’s output was encoded
into an audio stream, using the early open source audio codec, Ogg Vorbis, and was broadcast live on the internet. FM, AM and Shortwave radio stations from around the world also relayed the audio stream on various occasions.

The Linux kernel at that time had 4,141,432 millions lines of code. Reading the entire kernel took an estimated 14253.43 hours, or 593.89 days.
Listeners tracked the progress of Free Radio Linux by listening to the
audio stream, or checking the text-based progress field in the ./listen
section of the website (which is no longer up)…

Essentially this was all about how free radio and free software were wierdly the same. If you ever worked with free radio geeks, you will know they are nerdy technophiles who believe in the purity of what they are doing. Very much the same as Open Source geeks at the time. Most were interested in the tech and the political ideal of the respective mediums (radio and software). So, FRL was a comment on this. It was also a comment on how free radio was, ironically, very difficult to achieve on the internet unless serious attention was made to developing free codecs. But also FRL had two other elements going for it. The first was to (again) poke fun at the ridiculous hyperbole that surrounded the open source movement. People were expounding this ‘amazing new phenomenon’ and extrapolating how it would change the world (much as they did about wikis a short time after) when they had never come into contact with code or geeks. So this was an attempt to expose those people to the code…or what it sounded like. But also, at the time there was a lot of early talk about how to preserve digital media (a problem still not solved) and radio waves apparently never die… so by broadcasting the Linux kernel into space we were preserving it on the oldest medium ever, forever. Hehe…

I did, however, feel very sorry for the attendants at the New Museum who had to work 8-hour shifts listening to “one dollar sign dollar sign comma hatch four new line seven two dollar sign dollar sign…”

frl_radioqualia350x

Thing FM

2002, New York City
This was, in theory, a radio network but in reality, just a few transmitters got installed. Still, it was fun. Thing FM was based in NYC and built during a residency I did at the Thing in NYC. The same week that the Yes Men came into the office to film their ‘shit burger’ stunt. They came into the Thing and asked who wanted to go and I didn’t go! doh! Anyway, we built the network using internet audio (via wireless and wired connections) and miniFM. Each of the transmitters was about 0.1 W output and sourced their audio live from the internet using the Frequency Clock scheduling system I had built earlier.

This partly adopts the ethic of micro-radio as founded by Tetsuo Kogawa, where many low powered FM transmitters are coupled to create an effective broadcasting entity that ‘falls beneath the radar’ of the communication authorities. fm.thing.net combined this ethic with that of net.radio which was a relatively new phenomenon focusing on the use of the internet as a carrier signal, best illustrated by the practices of the Xchange network. By combining the net.radio and micro-radio we hoped to build an efficient radio network in New York that used the internet as a primary carrier of the audio for re-broadcasting on legal or almost legal microFM broadcasts.

Hanging with Ted Byfield and Jan Gerber was a highlight of this experience. Wolfgang Strauss was also pretty fun but I was so intimidated by him. He was just so cool. Also sharing a tenement apartment in Ludlow Street with 3 people (bath in the kitchen) was pretty fun.

thing_logo

Radio Astronomy

2001
Radio Astronomy was an art and science project which broadcasts sounds intercepted from space, live on the internet and on the airwaves. The project was a collaboration between r a d i o q u a l i a, and radio telescopes located throughout the world. Together we were creating ‘radio astronomy’ in the literal sense – a radio station devoted to broadcasting audio from our cosmos.

Radio Astronomy had three parts:

  • a sound installation
  • a live on-air radio transmission
  • a live online radio broadcast

Listeners heard the acoustic output of radio telescopes live. The content of the live transmission depended on the objects being observed by partner telescopes. On any given occasion, listeners may have heard the planet Jupiter and its interaction with its moons, radiation from the Sun, activity from far-off pulsars or other astronomical phenomena. Honor from rQ later made a TED Talk about it.

Dino, drummer from HDU, did the website design…thats gotta rate…

RT32

2001, Latvia
In 2001 I had the good fortune to be part of the Acoustic.Space.Lab project which started a long love affair with the RT32 radio telescope. Formerly a cold war device, this telescope was liberated when the Russian Army pulled out of Latvia. I worked with this telescope as an artistic device and with the generous scientists for many years after. The doco clip below introduces the explorations of the international Acoustic Space Lab Symposium which took place on the site of RT-32 in 2001.

Highlights of this period in Latvia included being evicted by Russian builders, getting a hernia, and being amazed Marc Tuters survived eating so many dodgy looking mushrooms he found in the forest.

Open Sauces

May 2001, Scotland and also later…
I have come to realise there is just too much stuff I have tinkered with to comment on. Open Sauces falls into that bucket. Google tells me this was 2001. Essentially I got sick of all the Open Source blah blah of the time.. everything was suffixed by OPEN and it got very tiring (Open Gov, Open Hardware, Open Society…). No critical reflection on the fact that geek methods are geek methods and they are not transportable – AND – OPEN processes, methods etc existed well before geeks came along and inherited the word. No geek invented openness. I’m still tired of this I have to say…still…. I created Open Sauces which was an open database of recipes… anyone that did a residency could add their favourite recipe and you could just tick all the ingredients you have in your fridge and get a recipe to suit… doesn’t sound too revolutionary but at the time this sort of thing didn’t exist. It was a comment on this abuse of the use of the word ‘open’ and how cooking way preceded sharing of ‘code’ / ‘instructions’ etc… and also how food is probably the most important part of any collaborative project, whereas unsocial nerdy talk is optional. Later Fo.am in Brussels were inspired by the idea and started an Open Sauces theme.

net.congestion

2000, Amsterdam
I’m particularly proud of this project. It came about when I was a very naive newly arrived resident of Amsterdam. I suggested to Geert Lovink this idea for a festival and he said to speak to Erik Kluitenberg. Both huge legends in my mind you understand… I mustered the courage up to suggest it to Erik who was a cultural curator at De Balie at the time. He said he would think about it and I thought I wasn’t very convincing. A week later he called me up and said let’s do it! Whoot!

The festival was held in Amsterdam in October 2000. Net.congestion was an intensive three-day celebration and critique of the new cultures that have arisen from all forms of micro-, narrow- and broad- casting via the internet, now collectively known as streaming media.

The event covered most of the interesting ground of the time for streaming media, from the transformation of issues surrounding intellectual property to the uses of streaming as a mobilisation tool for global resistance through to the more rarefied questions of aesthetics and how narratives are transformed when embedded in networks. The overwhelming experience of many visitors to Net.congestion was a sense of tools, networks and sensibilities being re-purposed, returning us, again and again, to a primary experience of the net as a social space.

Net.congestion occurred just months before dot.com bubble burst, exploding the ‘new economy’ and ‘the long boom’ with its fantasies of a world in which the economic laws of gravity had been repealed. There is no doubt that if the same event were to be held now, the atmosphere would be markedly different. It is not that Net.congestion was an industry event which depended on the hype for its existence, as the very title indicates that we mixed a healthy dose of skepticism with our festivities. But none of us, however critical, can entirely escape¬†the zeitgeist and there is no doubt that in those brief heady days Warhol’s aphorism was re-written; we could all dream of becoming billionaires, if only for 15 minutes. A strange historical phase when (particularly for anyone involved in streaming media) the normally fixed boundaries between business, art, technology, science fantasy and just plain bullshit temporarily blurred to create a moment of unique cultural hysteria. In that sense our timing was perfect.

netcongestion

The Theory Machine

2000
In an attempt to make theorists a little more funky, I made a software they could use to put their brainy thoughts to glitchy syncopation. It was mainly used by Eric Kluitenberg including one memorable performance at Club Otok in Dubrovnik.

HelpB92

1999, Amsterdam
I helped found an organisation during the Nato bombing of Serbia and Kosovo in 1999. The international support campaign for independent media in Yugoslavia, including the famous Radio B92 media centre, in operation between March and July 1999. We did some pretty cool things but mostly I was very happy to be involved in what must have been one of the web’s early large-scale¬†activist campaigns. It was also the start of my longish relationship with Amsterdam as XS4ALL offered me a job and I stayed for a few years. I still have a bike there somewhere.

What was tricky, though, is that I agreed to go to Skopje to assist an Albanian refugee radio station (Radio 21). It was kinda nerve wracking. There were literally bombs set to explode to take out as many Albanians as possible. Some kids lost their legs across the street from where I was working. I was a milk and cookies boy from NZ.. what was I doing here? Still, I stuck it out and we managed to set up quite an innovative way of getting radio transmissions out of the refugee camps to Radio Netherlands Shortwave.. .I’ll write that up when I get time.

helpb92_big-jpg

The Frequency Clock

1998 – 2004 or so, The World
This¬†was one of the earliest ¬†r a d i o q u a l i a ¬†projects and how I learned to program. To understand this project you have to understand the dark ages of the internet when video and audio hardly existed. Essentially we built a media scheduling system that allowed you to build archives of live and pre-recorded content, tag them, and then schedule them. All built in JavaScript… remembering these were these days when Javascript was very rudimentary.

The Frequency Clock was originally conceived as a mechanism to control FM transmitters over the internet. In essence it was a networked timetabling system, connecting globally dispersed FM transmitters so they could broadcast the same internet audio simultaneously. The original player was a popup window but we also built desktop apps to do the same thing using VisualBasic (Win) and RealBasic (Mac). All open source.

However… then we realised that video could also work… and we used it to control community TV channels in Amsterdam and Linz and we also controlled giant video billboards in Estonia and a whole lot of other things. It was exibited a lot, most notably at the Walker when Steve Dietz was still there. We even installed a transmitter in the roof of De Waag! It was a remarkable experiment for its time. Yes, yes, pre-Napster and YouTube and all those other toys… while writing this I found some kind of prototype online.

Sound Performances

1996 – 2008, the world.
Performing solo as ‘eset’ and with Honor Harger as ¬†r a d i o q u a l i a ¬†I did a lot of sound performances, most using sounds from space and either live performances in real space or on radio. Some stuff still exists online:
https://soundcloud.com/radioqualia

Or eg:

r a d i o q u a l i a

This was the project that liberated me from the south and the reason I moved to Europe with no money and no return ticket. My plan was to make coffee and do some arty stuff in London. Thankfully, Nato bombed Serbia (hoho) and everything changed.

What I really loved about this time, was that I felt part of a lovely international community of artists. We used to travel around and bump into each other in various crazy places. This group included people like Marko Pelijhan, Heath Bunting, Rachel Baker, James Stevens, Luka Frelih, the Mama crew, Lev Manovich, Steven Kovats, Matthew Beiderman, Giovanni D’Angelo, Zita Joyce, Adam Willetts, Rasa Smits, Raitis Smits and so many many others…it was an awesome time.

r a d i o q u a l i a was an artist project that consisted of myself and Honor Harger. I have described some of our exhibitions and performance projects above, and listed some below. There were many more.

In August 2004,  r a d i o q u a l i a  was awarded a UNESCO Digital Art Prize for the project Radio Astronomy. In September 2003, we were awarded the Leonardo-@rt Outsiders 2003 New Horizons Prize together with the participants of the Open Sky installation at the @rt Outsiders exhibition at the Museum of European Photography in Paris.

Selected r a d i o q u a l i a exhibitions and performances:

Lecture & performance at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
Work: Sonifying Space, as part of the Space Art conference

Exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, USA
Work: Free Radio Linux, as part of the OpenSourceArt_Hack exhibition

Exhibition at the NTT InterCommunication Centre, Tokyo, Japan
Work: Radio Astronomy, as part of open nature, a show curated by Yukiko Shikata

Online exhibition / commission / installation at Gallery 9, Walker Art Centre, USA
Work: Free Radio Linux

Exhibition at Arsenals Exhibition Hall, Riga, Latvia
Work: solar listening_stations, part of WAVES

Exhibition at HMKV, Dortmund, Germany
Work: solar listening_stations, part of Solar Radio Station

Exhibition at the Walter Philips Gallery, Banff, Canada
Work: Free Radio Linux, as part of The Art Formerly Known As New Media

Exhibition at Centre d’Art Santa Monica, Barcelona, Spain
Work: Radio Astronomy, as part of Sonar 2005

Performance at Tesla, Berlin, Germany
Work: from polar radio to solar wind

Performance, La Batie Festival, Geneva, Switzerland
Work: signals as part of signal-sever

Exhibition at Ars Electronica, Linz
Work: Radio Astronomy

Exhibition at ISEA 2004, Helsinki, Finland
Work: Radio Astronomy

Symposium & Performance, Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Centre, Latvia
Work: Acoustic Space: RT32: Orchestrating the Solar System

Broadcast on Radio New Zealand
Work: Revolutions Per Minute 1: Frequency Shifting Paradigms in Broadcast Audio

Broadcast on Radio New Zealand
Work: Revolutions Per Minute 2: Little Star

Exhibition at Small Gallery, Los Angeles, USA
Work: comma.data.space: 11 Ghz

Performance at the Moving Image Centre in Auckland, New Zealand
Work: comma.data.return :: 56:30 – 21:1

Performance at Version festival, Auckland, New Zealand
Work: listening_stations v0.3: langmuir waves

Exhibition at the Physics Room, Christchurch, New Zealand
Work: re:Play

Exhibition at Artspace in Auckland, New Zealand
Work: re:Play

Exhibition & education programme, South Africa
Work: re:Play

Exhibition at the Reg Vardy Gallery, Sunderland, UK
Work: Free Radio Linux, as part of the Art for Networks exhibition

Exhibition at Museum of European Photography/ Maison Europeenne de la Photographie, Paris, France
Work: listening_stations, as part of @rt Outsiders exhibition

Exhibition at the Physics Room, Christchurch, New Zealand
Work: data.spac.ereturn, as part of the Audible New Frontiers exhibition

Locative media Residency at K2, Karosta, Latvia
Work: Locative Media

Exhibition at Turnpike Galleries, Leigh, UK
Work: Free Radio Linux, as part of the Art for Networks exhibition

Exhibition at Fruitmarket Galleries, Edinburgh, UK
Work: Free Radio Linux, as part of the Art for Networks exhibition

Radio show on Resonance 104.4FM, London, UK
Work: r a d i o q u a l i a  on resonanceFM

Exhibition at the Generali Foundation, Vienna, Austria
Work: listening_stations as part of the Geography and the Politics of Mobility exhibition

Exhibition at Chapter, Cardiff, UK
Work: Free Radio Linux, as part of the Art for Networks exhibition

Performance & Broadcast, Ars Electronica, Linz Austria
Work: Radiotopia @ Ars Electronica

Radio Broadcasts on Austrian National Radio, Vienna, Austria
Work: i s o l

Exhibition at CCCB, Barcelona, Spain
Work: frequency clock – gallery installation – [sNr v.0.1]
Sonar 2001, Barcelona, Spain

Action & Broadcast, Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria
Work: Take Over Cultural Channel

Performance, Residency & Symposium at, Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Centre, Latvia
Work: Acoustic Space-Lab

Exhibition at Video Positive, Liverpool, UK
Work: Frequency Clock – gallery installation – [ vp00 v.0.0.3 ]

Workshop & Performance, Adelaide Festival of the Arts, Adelaide, Australia
Work: Closing the Loop 2000

Seminar & Performance at Lux Centre, London, UK
Work: Tuning the Net

Performance at the Stockton Festival, Stockton, UK
Work: transitions & undercurrents part of live-stock

Exhibition & Performance at OK Centrum, Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria
Work: pso.Net, as part of Sound Drifting

Exhibition at Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, Australia
Work: Frequency Clock – gallery installation – [ eaf v.0.0.2 ]

Exhibition at Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, Australia
Work: Illata

Exhibition at Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Work: e Q

Performance at LADA98 Festival, Rimini, Italy
Work: we are alive and well but terribly uncommunicative

Exhibition, Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria
Work: Frequency Clock – gallery installation – [ aec98 v.0.0.1 beta ]

Performance, Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria
Work: 56h LIVE!: Acoustic Space

Exhibition at Bregenz Festival, Bregenz, Austria
Work: gl^tch.bot

Performance and presentation at net.radio.days 98, Berlin, Germany
Work: self.e x t r a c t i n g.radio (.ser)

Online Project
Work: self.e x t r a c t i n g.radio (.ser)

Exhibition at the Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts, Tokyo, Japan
Work: The Qualia Dial

Exhibition at Fabrica New Media Art Institution, Italy
Work: Balance

more to do….

Streaming Suitcase

PliegOS

Re:mote

Low Res

Skint Stream

Open Source Streaming Alliance

Open Channels for Kosovo

self.extracting.radio

ovalmaschina

Gema

simpel