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ideas & suggestions publishing on demand

crowdfunding publications

The estimable Alex Steffen, founder of Wordchanging.com, has recently announced a new project – Carbon Zero: A Short Tour of Your City’s Future – which he’s attempting to fund through the crowdfunding site kickstarter. This is a really interesting idea and something we’re keen to investigate ourselves, having had some small success with our own Alpha Club crowdfunding efforts. I wrote last year about investigating the ways in which crowdfunding could be linked to forms of rapid publishing like bookleteer’s short run printing service to make it even more accessible to people who just want to produce a small number of books without having to bear all the costs up front.

Alex’s project is on a bigger scale than this, and suggests a very different approach to the problem of funding the time required to research and write the books, not just print them. This has some obvious and interesting implications for publishing as a whole, and for other creative endeavours as well. The concept seems so simple – the people who want to read his book also pay for the writing of it – but which has some other subtle implications. Usually we buy books (or other media) after the fact of writing – the burden of supporting the artist or writer is usually absorbed through some form of patronage (via public grants or private sponsorship), or through the personal dedication and effort of the individual themselves. But asking the readers to pay for more than the cost of the book, to support the very effort of making is to ask people to become part of the process. It establishes the possibility of creative work being seen in dialogue with others, as a craft, not just as something which appears magically from an aloof and remote genius. More and more the previously mysterious and detached processes of creative people are being acted out in ways that allow others to take part in some way or be witness. It is an empowering and transformational process that I believe gives hope to others that their own forms of expression may also have value. This is not about the distinction between amateur and professional or high/low art – tired debates now – but about that scope for the craft, skill and impact of creative people to be seen in relation to the work of others and valued in new and meaningful ways.

bookleteer is part of a toolset we have been building for more than a decade for public authoring and to enable cultures of listening. These tools are sometimes techniques which we develop to help people combine other media, to figure out how to create their own tools as much as use ones we may have introduced them too. What Alex is demonstrating with this project is not only how to use such tools, but how to create a community around the process of making too. With our new programme of projects, Public Goods, which we start next month too, we are hoping to engage people in similar processes of taking part in the construction and sharing of cultures and cultural artefacts that they value. Our new series of City As Material events in towns across the UK and abroad will be an important part of setting the frame for this kind of dialogue and collaboration, and perhaps a way for us to explore crowdfunding in direct collaboration with the people who want to contribute and participate.

Alex is aiming to reach his goal or raising $10,000 by Earth Day, Thurs April 14th – he’s more than 50% of thew way there (at time of writing). I do recommend supporting him as the results (judging from the wonderful 2nd edition of the Wordchanging book just published) are bound to be great.

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examples ideas & suggestions publishing on demand

City As Material Set


We’ve just received the complete set of 10 City As Material books back from the printers and next week we’ll be designing and making the special slipcases to hold them together and collect them into their limited edition (50 copies). The set will go on sale from the 31st March 2011 via the proboscis online store.

We think this is a great way of showing how easy it is for individuals or groups to create and print multiple books in short runs (such as 50 copies) that can be collected together to make a beautiful publication. We will be aiming to add the ability to design and print out your own slipcases to bookleteer later this year, but in the meantime we’re happy to discuss designing and printing custom slipcases for your projects.

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case study education examples news publishing on demand

CCI’s Library of Traces


Back in September Frederik posted a case study of Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination‘s use of bookleteer. They’ve continued using it as a creative and documentary resource, and in doing so have created a Library of Traces – a series of eBooks which enable both participants in their professional development workshops, and others, to follow the traces of their experiences and share reflections and observations.

To help CCI widen the audience for their work we’ve posted 7 eBooks on our diffusion.org.uk library and will be making others available there as they are created. All are welcome to download and share eBooks from the Library of Traces.

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case study education inspiration publishing on demand sharing

Report from the field: eBooks in Sudan

A report by Julie Anderson, British Museum
In January, I returned from Sudan where my co-author Salah Mohamed and I distributed the eBook we produced last autumn. Frederik Lesage has previously written about the development of our eBook, which deals with the archaeological excavations conducted in Dangeil, Sudan, as a case study for eBook usage, in this blog.

students on their way to school

Salah and I have been excavating in Dangeil for more than 10 years. Over this period, we have lived in the community and have come to know our neighbours well. Every year many work with us in the excavations. The archaeological site is situated in the centre of the village and an increasing number of tourists, both Sudanese and foreigners, are visiting the ruins. There is also a large primary school situated along the northern edge of the site. Students cross the site daily on their way to and from classes. As a means of engaging further with the local community, school children and site visitors, we decided to create a resource which would help them to better understand the excavations, the ancient temple and its importance, and to place Dangeil in its historical context. We were also driven by a need to explain what we were doing and why, in an accessible fashion. The key was communication and the end result was the eBook.

So, what sort of reaction did the eBook receive? Simply put, its reception, both in Khartoum and in the rural farming village of Dangeil, exceeded expectations. We produced 500 English copies and 500 in Arabic, the local language. We ran out of the latter. In retrospect, we should have produced a greater number of copies in Arabic. Copies were given to the local school and arrangements were made so that every household in the village received a copy.

Unloading eBooks and textbooks at the school

Following the distribution of the eBook, teenagers began coming to our door in the village to ask questions about the site / archaeology / their own Sudanese history. In the past, usually they had wanted to have photographs taken, but now instead were connecting with their history as made possible through the booklet. It was astonishing. More surprising was the reaction people had upon receiving a copy. In virtually every single case, they engaged with the eBook immediately and began to read it or look through it. This occurred regardless of location or other business being conducted. Many of our workmen looked for images of things they themselves had helped to excavate and of people they knew, though the latter was true for almost everyone seeing the eBook.

Although our eBook takes the form of a more traditional and perhaps somewhat static publication, its impact cannot be underestimated. The Dangeil villagers, and indeed university students and antiquities staff in Khartoum, viewed the publication as written for them, about them, and in their own language. The eBook has served not only as an educational tool, but has empowered the local community and created a sense of pride and proprietary ownership of the ruins and their history.

Julie Anderson
Assistant Keeper
Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum

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news publishing on demand updates & improvements

bookleteer API

Just before Christmas we implemented a major new feature on bookleteer – an API (application programming interface) enabling eBooks and StoryCubes to be generated by users direct from their own web applications and stored in or downloaded from their bookleteer accounts.

Realising Tangible Souvenirs
This has been a long-cherished ambition for us – harking back to plans we made for linking the earlier Diffusion Generator to our Urban Tapestries public authoring and mapping platform in 2004 – where we imagined people being able to select or collate material on Urban Tapestries by theme or around a geographic place and outputting it in different paper formats (Diffusion eBooks, postcards and posters). This was the origin of our concept for creating tangible souvenirs from digital experiences – bridging different media (online/offline, digital/analogue) with the different capabilities that people have. Our experiences of working with local communities in social housing and other contexts showed us how important it is not just to be able to share things in many ways, but to tailor a range of modes of interaction to the capabilities and capacities of the people who had the knowledge and experience to share, but not necessarily the familiarity with web and mobile technologies to be engaged by the opportunities we saw them offering.

We’ve continued to develop our tangible souvenir concept through other projects – such as the Sensory Threads prototype – but the bookleteer API now represents a crucial milestone for us in building the links between our earlier work on public authoring and media scavenging and the current ecosystem of web technologies and public/open data initiatives. We hope to see lots of exciting ideas building on the first experiments – bookcubes – we commissioned from James Bridle last spring. Look out too for some forthcoming experiments by Simon Pope & Gordon Joly.

Accessing the API
Access to the API is limited for the time being to Alpha Club members and guest testers whilst we put it through its paces and explore how it can be used (our resources are rather limited for supporting it). We’re hoping to organise some events in 2011 where people can come along and explore what they might do with the API. In the meantime, if you’re taking part in Culture Hack Day this weekend (January 15th & 16th) then you can ask to test it out using the special account we’ve created for participants (ask the organisers for access details on the day).

If you do have an exciting idea for mashing up the bookleteer API with your own web service or public data please do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you and see how we can help.

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education events publishing on demand

First day at Soho Parish Primary School

When I heard I was going to be working on creative projects that combine art and publishing with year 5 and 6’s in a primary school is Soho, I was definitely excited about working with children on a project that sounded different, creative, and fun (both for the kids and adults involved!) However, hearing that I’d be working in a school in Soho, I thought I may have mis-heard – I had no idea that there were any primary schools in Soho! The school itself is small Church of England primary school tucked away on a narrow street just a stone’s throw away from Piccadilly Circus. Going into the school I was greeted warmly by staff and noticed how colourful the corridors were – adorned with bright paintings by the children and proud reminders of previous work. Soho Parish definitely had a welcoming ‘family feel’ about it. Walking around the school and peeking into the small classrooms, it was obvious that Soho Parish had a positive learning atmosphere.

After I was introduced to some of the teachers, a class of year 5 children quietly walked into the classroom where Giles would talk to them about how bookleteer and eBooks worked, and also how this would tie into their current project, a project based on Antarctica and the effects global warming. The children were curious about who we were and what we had to say, and as Giles began to explain that we were going to help publish their school project by turning them into eBooks, some of the children shouted ‘yay!’ and everyone seemed to became even more interested. After Giles demonstrated how eBooks were made, the children were more than ready to get going and make their own.

We then began to upload the children’s work onto bookleteer, with the children standing close-by, often asking us about how bookleteer worked and what they thought about their Antarctica project. After a few near glitches with the schools computers, we began to finish uploading and naming the year 5 eBooks. Almost immediately after we waved the children goodbye, year 6’s entered the classroom with the same amount of wonder as to why me and Giles were standing at the front of the classroom. This time around, however, uploading the children’s eBooks was much faster and easier to do after having uploaded year 5’s eBooks moments before. Then came the task of printing off and making up the children’s eBooks – (a skill that Giles was clearly much faster than me at!) After proudly handing all 32 eBooks to the children’s teachers, Claudia and Matt, our work at Soho Parish was done for the day.

some of the 32 eBooks created by Years 5 & 6, Soho Parish Primary

Following our work with with the children (and lots of help from the staff!) Giles and I had lunch with the head teacher, Rachel Earnshaw, discussing possible projects and ideas for the new term ahead. After how promising my first day was at the school, I can confidently say that I am looking forward to going back to the school after the Christmas holiday and collaborating on other creative projects with the children – and also exploring bookleteer in a school setting.

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publishing on demand

eBook Observer – It’s all about the data

I know that I last promised an update on my examination of the eNotebooks, but I’ve found it necessary to take a bit of a detour before doing this which means reevaluating the kind of frameworks that are required. In the meantime, I’ve been taking stock of some potentially relevant work.

Last April, I read an article by Gary Wolf in the New York Times Magazine about people who are “self-trackers” – that is, people who use new digital tools and services to produce data about themselves or their activities. The article stuck in my mind because it definitely fell into the category of “people who create information in unconventional ways” – a topic that I was (and still am) interested in. But I didn’t think much more of it at the time. Then on Monday morning, I came across this article on Slate by Michael Agger titled Data for a Better Planet where the Wolf articles came-up again. It gave me an opportunity to revisit the other article and the blog where Wolf and others write regularly.

What interests me in this type of research is how people who aren’t necessarily social scientists or other kinds of expert researchers use tools and methods inspired by these disciplines to produce information. What I found particularly frustrating about the Slate article was that it completely overlooked one of the fundamental points that Wolf was trying to make in the NY Times Magazine article. Agger’s interest in self-tracking seems to be limited to how it represents an opportunity for people to “improve society” by “sharing their data”. In other words, collecting this data about yourself and making it available to everyone and anyone is somehow necessarily going to lead to more information and a better state of affairs. But I don’t want to get into lofty critiques of certain versions of information society that assume that more information is necessarily better or about how this certainly leads to problematic issues of surveillance and bio-politics.

Rather, what I find particularly problematic is that Agger is basing his argument on a set of assumptions about how all of this data can be collected and fed into standardised information frameworks. Who decides what data is valuable and what isn’t? What is the benefit of my knowing how others self-tracked their work patterns if I don’t share the same values about what are good work patterns? After rereading the Wolf article, I realised that what had left an impression on me was that he highlighted the eccentricity of the way in which these self-trackers were gathering data. The point of collecting this data and turning into information about their day-to-day activities wasn’t to change the world but to devise situated tactics for a better understanding of their everyday lives. The value of self-tracking for these people wasn’t only the information that was produced but the opportunity to think differently about a particular aspect of their lives. Part of the conclusion that Wolf came to when examining his own self-tracking was that he was putting too much emphasis on a certain kind of metrics for measuring the quality of his work:

“I got nothing from my tracking system until I used it as a source of critical perspective, not on my performance but on my assumptions about what was important to track.”

For Wolf, self-tracking represented a great way to challenge existing standards rather than building new ones. This understanding of data gathering practices as critique is exactly the kind of thing that seems to be a part of the ongoing work at Proboscis with the eBooks. Of course, there are also some significant differences including the fact that the kind of work people are doing with eBooks that I’ve encountered to date is less focused on the ‘self’ and that the “capturing” people have described with the eBooks is quite different from the “tracking” that Wolf described.

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publishing on demand

eBook Observer – Diffusion categories

Now that I’ve had the chance to examine some of the eBook projects in greater detail, I thought I’d turn to an examination of the Diffusion website. To do this, I could provide you with a summary what is available on the Diffusion website and its history. Instead, I’ve found that the group of Proboscis related websites that include http://proboscis.org.uk , http://diffusion.org.uk , and http://bookleteer.com already have a good deal of information about these things already tucked away in all sorts of different sections of these websites.  For example, as I tried to get an idea of Diffusion as both a project and a website, I began searching through the various pages where information about Diffusion was available, here’s what material I found:

http://proboscis.org.uk/projects/
http://proboscis.org.uk/projects/diffusion/
http://diffusion.org.uk/?page_id=2
http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=2152
http://diffusion.org.uk/?p=202

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examples publishing on demand

Some Recent PPOD books

September was a busy month here at Proboscis and on bookleteer: we sent seven books to be printed via the PPOD service as well as 10 different StoryCubes. The range of publications was very broad, from books about exhibitions and art projects to a book in Arabic about a major archaeological excavation in Sudan and a special notebook for a symposium on digital engagement and another full of QR codes. The StoryCubes included an 8 cube ‘cube of cubes’ set by artists Joyce Majiski and Alice Angus on their Topographies & Tales project, a promotional cube about bookleteer itself and a cube by artist Melissa Bliss to promote her installation, Bird Song, at the b-side media festival in the Isle of Portland.

The photo above shows the various StoryCube and printed eBooks :

  • Excavations in the Temple Precinct of Dangeil by Julie Anderson & Salah eldin Mohamed Ahmed (in both English and Arabic versions)
  • In Good Heart; what is a farm? by Alice Angus
  • where it ends and we begin by Fian Andrews
  • Tales of Things: Objects, Stories & Voices from the BME Communities in Greenwich by TOTeM
  • Graffito by BigDog Interactive & Proboscis
  • Inspiring Digital Engagement Festival by Ann Light & Karen Martin
  • Bird Song by Melissa Bliss
  • bookleteer StoryCube by Proboscis
  • Topographies & Tales by Alice Angus and Joyce Majiski
  • Categories
    publishing on demand

    eBook Observer – some early thoughts

    A recurring concern that has come up in the three interviews to date is the question of feedback. In all three cases I’ve presented to date, respondents told me that it was difficult to collect feedback on how the eBooks were used once they were out of their hands and into the hands of the people for whom the eBooks were designed. So lets get into this idea of feedback in a bit more detail.

    I’m going to propose a first set of categories to distinguish how the eBooks are designed and used: eBooks are designed in some cases to capture knowledge and in other cases to publish information.

    Publishing information with eBooks seems to involve organising bits of information – texts such as interview transcripts and project reports as well as images including pictures and logos – using one of the eBook templates. This newly designed eBook is subsequently made available to people who might be interested in the information it contains. A good example is how Gillian’s Greenhill projects involve using the eBooks as part of an “end point” to summarise her research.

    The term “capturing” is used repeatedly by Proboscis and by some of the people who use the eBooks. It seems to be most often used to describe instances in which an eBook is used to codify some kind of event, experience or other tacit form of knowledge. I will therefore use “capture” to describe the cases where the eBook is designed and used as part of a process of generating information about something. A good example is when Ruth Sapsed describes how CCI uses the eBooks as part of workshops with teachers and other groups of people to see what they think about their own creative process. (Please note that some of the details of this work are not specifically detailed in the blog post presented.)

    Now someone might argue that publishing is the same thing as capturing. After-all, isn’t Michelle Kasprzak codifying a captured event when she publishes her interview with a curator as an eBook? The distinction I want to make with these two categories is that capturing involves creating information whereas publishing involves recreating information.  Michelle’s interview had already been codified: for example, she may have already recorded the interview with some kind of recording device before she then transcribed the interview into a written document. By the time that she produced the eBook, the information contained within it had already been produced in at least one other iteration.

    Publishing in the eBook format was a way to supplement the information it contained. In most cases, it was used to make that information more distinctive or special. It could also make that information more easily accessible as a printed document. Currently, the Bookleteer website does not seem to make a clear distinction between these two categories.

    Coming back to my initial discussion of feedback using the distinction between publishing and capturing, it seems that feedback is lacking in the cases of publishing: the publishers are wondering what happens after they’ve been downloaded or printed. The capturing process is, in most cases, a process of getting feedback from respondents.