Why repositories are important

Booki is for free books only (at least if you use the installation at www.booki.cc). The idea we are trying to engender is that when you create a book in Booki, you are also contributing to a body of re-usable material that can help others make books. The practice of building re-usable repositories in this way is a well-known concept and it’s extremely powerful. However, it takes time to build a corpus that can actually work in this fashion. You really need a lot of material before re-use like this can start having a real affect. I recently saw the first substantial use of Booki materials like this just last week. It occurred  with the FLOSS Manuals implementation of Booki (http://www.flossmanuals.net) which is a repository for materials about how to use free

I recently saw the first substantial use of Booki materials like this just last week. It occurred  with the FLOSS Manuals implementation of Booki (http://www.flossmanuals.net) which is a repository for materials about how to use free software. Last week we had a Book Sprint on Basic Internet Security and we were able to import about 9 chapters from 3 other manuals totalling approximately 15,000 words that we did not have to create fresh. Of course, the material needed some work to fit the new context, but it was still a substantial time-saver and extended the scope of the book well beyond what we could have produced had we not had the material.

This was really quite amazing for me to see. The idea was imagined from the moment FLOSS Manuals was built but, 3 years later, this was the first real case of substantial re-use. It takes time to build up the materials to make sense of re-use in this way, however, after 3 or so years waiting for the moment, I took a great deal of pleasure in seeing it happen for the first time.

I have been working with a group of very interesting people over the last 3 days producing a book that can be used for generating campaigns about Internet Literacy. We generated texts on a large and varied range of topics. More on all this later. One very interesting issue that has been more clearly illustrated for me in this process is the necessity to understand the role of templates when generating content. When I talk of templates here I mean pre-configured templates that are meant to illustrate what the final product of a chapter or ‘content unit’ should look like.

I have always avoided using templates because I think it shuts down a lot of creative discourse about what the content could be and it kills those amazing surprises that can leap out of working in a freer manner. Perhaps even more importantly, templates can confuse people – Sprint participants need to first just create what they know or are energised by – forcing output immediately into templates is not helpful to this process. However, I can see there is a role for templates, not as structure for the final content but as tools that can help the process of generating content.

In this particular Sprint, we generated a very lightweight template before the Sprint. This is something I really dislike doing for the reasons stated above but the fear was, (and I think it is justified in this instance but I would want to be careful before advocating its usefulness in other contexts,) that we would float too far in conceptual territory without any boundaries. We wanted very much to glue the creative discourse and thinking during the Sprint to defined actionable campaigns. So for this purpose, after discussion with one of the initiators of the Sprint, we generated a very lightweight template that provoked only 7 points. Really just the ‘who, what, why’ material that campaigns need to address. This was then used as a process template – a template acting as a foundation for the Sprinters to define the context of their content – not a template that would become the structure for the final content.

It worked very well – enabling the participants to let their creative energies flow while providing a backdrop or context within which the content needed to rest. The ‘process templates’ also allowed those who think conceptually to ‘build up,’ so to speak, and those that thought in more concrete terms could also define their content. It provided a common scaffold for sprinters to build in the direction that most interests/energises them.

So while it does not change my mind regarding content templates, I think I have discovered a place for very lightweight process templates that can give some kind of framework for the participants to work with, refine, define, and fill.