This is a little photo thought. I am presenting at Science Europe in Brussels today and its a little, maybe a lot (I never know really what I’ll say until I’m under the lights) about notions of innovation.

I have found myself in the last years in something of a swingball relationship with innovation in scholarly publishing. Do you know swingball? Its a cool game from when I was a kid

Imagine me as the ball… trying to innovate in scholcomms. You probably already get the idea…

I came to schol coms from the future it seems. I was hauled into it by John Chodacki who had heard me speak a number of times about HTML as the publishing format of the future. I thought the idea was rather pedestrian as this was the reality I was living. I had made Booktype, and other softwares, that used HTML as a source file format for books, I had also then used these systems to make books in 2-5 days using the Book Sprints method that sprung (rather slowly and painfully ‘sprung’) from my stubborn head.

HTML as source file made sense to me. It still does. But, Im still telling the same thing to publishers as I was when John and I first met and there has been little movement in the sector.

I’ve tried a few times, and I’m still trying, but its slow going. I ain’t giving up, its not in me..unless of course I really get fed up with the extraordinarily low amount of surfing I’m doing… But I’m still at it now, and I’ve come to reflect, given this presentation today, as to why…why am I ok being the ball in a never ending game of swingball?

It seems to me its all about the native New Zealand bush. Bush, in NZ, if you are amercian (my spellcheck just listed ‘cameraman’ as the correct spelling for ‘american’!), is a another word for scrub, or woods, or the like.

Its kinda like this… I want to innovate. I would like to take the stuff I’ve seen through Book Sprints, or FLOSS Manuals, or Paged.js or Booktype (Editoria is the newest incarnation of the Booktype idea) and see these things take hold in the publishing world. I’d like to see publishing embrace collaboration. To see the web as a platform in which they collaborate, and leverage all that it has to offer, and understand also its real limits (rather than the pie in the sky limits I hear all the time). I’d like publishers, and I also include researchers here as the line between the two is really arbitrary, talk about collaboration using language than can finely delineate one kind of collaboration from 10,20,30,50 (whatever) other types of collaboration – to know the difference and choose one over the other depending on the needs of the context. I’d like to see MS Word die. I will be at it’s funeral with the party hat and tooter. I’ll probably act very drunk but be completely and ecstatically sober. For days.

I’d like to see projects like rule the earth. A truly wonderful project by buddy Nokome. I’d like to see now ancient concepts like ‘Explorable Documents’ by Brett Victor, part of the more mundane day to day or scholarly communications. I’d like to see manuscripts die and be buried alongside MS Word with nothing notable written on it’s grey, dull, uncommunicative tombstone. Except maybe ‘It shouldn’t have taken so long’.

But instead, I’m a ball on a string. Being bounced back and forth. Especially since I seem to be traveling backwards in time, from the future where books are made in 2 days, to the world of journals and manuscripts. I could go back to the future, and enjoy myself…what am I doing?

Well…back to the bush. I’ve come to realise that innovation needs a foundation (avoiding, but not very well, the need to say it needs the ‘!’)…  Its the foundation bit that is interesting… to get to the future we need to create a path…like I did recently at my home in NZ. Cabbage Tree Bay Rd.

I didn’t intend to make a path, I intended to make a outside work space. I found a relatively flat part of the bush and starting thinking about it…I even ran some prototype tests… with post it notes…


…yep….no need to say it out loud…

So, inorder to build this outside workspace I needed to cut out some ground. Make it flat, and inorder to do that I needed to start work…. the site for the outside workspace was pure bush, deep in pure bush. From the outside it kinda looked like this:


So, I started ferrying stuff down the hill…spades mostly. Also a table and chair so I could sit and ponder my future workspace. While carrying this stuff down the bush was, obviously, slowly trampled down by me and my to and fro-ing


After a while it looked like this.. a slow meandering path… as I used it more it has become more and more worn down and usable (like me!).

Now the path has advanced to the point where I recently even installed some lights so I could see my way down there at night


And now its a pretty functional path. In time I’ll cut it out a little, maybe add some steps. Who knows, maybe even add something to stop it getting muddy in winter. The possibilities are endless…

Anyways… this path is evolutionary. Its kinda the way that roads start. Roads are often mapping the same routes people walked before they had horses, horses walked, before we had cars, cars drove on gravel before we had tar roads, and then more cars drove before we had highways…etc…

This is the way infrastructure, to use a term being thrown around a lot in Schol Comms lately, is made. It happens slowly, and then added to over time.

The point is, if you want to get to the future – lets say, you are over my outside workspace already and you want to see  a small town at the back of my house, then you are going to have to do it bit by bit. You’ll have to solve the basic stuff first before you can get to the good stuff.

Thats not to say I think a town at the back of my house is ‘the good stuff’…that sounds truly horrific. But you get the idea…

The point is… I’ve come to realise that to get to the future of schol comms, we have to provide infrastructure that solves the (very boring) needs the sector has now. But also, its infrastructure that can, when its needed, be used to innovate us the hell out of here.

That is what I am doing with Coko and PubSweet. I’m building infrastructure that will solve our problems now, but I’m doing it because without it we don’t have the innovative future we all want. Without it, we literally have no path to get there.


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