Tell Dec. 6 DPLA hackfest what a good blog editor/creation tool should be like—to help libraries and patrons easily create their own stuff

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If only WordPress, Drupal and the like were as easy to use as Windows Live Writer (screenshot) or at least the less cluttered versions of Microsoft Word!

Inserting images and sizing and positioning them just right, for example, can be so much simpler with LW and Word. That’s why, here and here, I urged the Digital Public Library of America to come up with a good free blog editor, which in fact could be much more—a Swiss Army knife for all kinds of creation. Everything from high school term papers to heavily footnoted academic documents. You could still use WordPress, Drupal and other content management systems. But you’d do your actual writing with a Live Writer-simple editor from which you’d send the results to WordPress and so on.

Tomorrow, Thursday, December 6, I’ll be pushing the creation-tool cause at the DPLA’s hackfest at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. Even if you can’t come, you can use the comment area of this LibraryCity post to say what a good tool should be like (or use DPLA channels when they’re available). Or you can attend in person. The hackfest will benefit from feedback from people attending a concurrent event, a live-streamed workshop of the DPLA’s Audience and Participation Workstream. Check out an overall preview and the agenda/schedule. Breakfast starts at 9 a.m.

Dan-Cohen-PhotoI thank GMU’s Prof. Dan Cohen—host and a featured speaker at the conference along with Michael Colford of the Boston Public Library—for encouraging me to raise the creation-tool issue, which I expect to do at a morning hackfest session.

Sorry, but I can’t give an exact time for my comments, which are not part of the official hackfest program (in fact, anyone can speak up on pet projects: one of the basic and more attractive ideas behind the hackfest). Dan himself sees the potential of the right creation tool for use with the rather aptly named named PressForward project to improve scholarly communications on the Web. He has already been thinking along similar lines. Perhaps, then, the proposed tool could be a topic for an impromptu workshop at the conference.

As for chances of something actually happening in time, I’m optimistic, given the DPLA’s interest in helping libraries and their users be more “generative”—a fancy way of saying you should be able to build on existing content and create your own stuff.

While I personally believe that ultimately there should be two tightly intertwined but separate national digital library systems, one public and the other academic because of the different content and service needs of their respective patrons, I’m keen on common technology in cases where it will make sense. Mostly it will. In a bunch of ways, whether through interface options or add-on modules, the same basic creation app could help many disparate users, and it could run on scads of different machines of end users. Yes, there could be mobile variants for your Android tablet, iPhone or iPad. I’m especially keen on a good creation tool to rescue the GNU/linux world, not surprisingly dissed by Live Writer.

As a fan of Ubuntu, I’m endlessly dismayed by the lack of a truly stellar blogging editor—fit for techies and nontechies alike and able to run on this powerful and free operating system. The existing editors just aren’t in Live Writer’s league, and beyond that, I’d like the editor to be well integrated with DPLA tagging and so on.

The more unencumbered apps and content the DPLA can develop, the more bargaining power our libraries can enjoy with vendors. At the same time, I’m all in favor of standards allowing for-profit companies to offer their own DPLA-compatible alternatives to apps like the proposed creation tool, just so there are no gotchas—especially those obnoxiously linking content with proprietary technology.

What should the creation tool be like, beyond what I’ve mentioned so far? Here is a far-from-comprehensive wish list—feel free to add to it via the comments form of this post or a DPLA forum (not sure at this point about hashtags, etc.):

–The tool should fit the skill levels, routines and workflows of nonlibrarians and nonresearchers, not just researchers with sophisticated needs. That means an easy Word-style interface, just like Live Writer’s. Ideally the DPLA can include many many nontechnical library patrons—yes, users, not just librarians—in sessions to develop the final feature set. Same for beta testing.

–It should be a cinch to create unencumbered content with decent tagging and other metadata (if desired) and tie in with library and academic archives and plenty else, including conference records (in the spirit of PressForward). Here and in other cases, the fanciest features could be hidden from basic users but able to be switched on with ado by the more advanced ones.

–Images, video and audio should be also be easy to include in text.

–Format conversions ideally will be a snap—ideally the tool could even be used to create ePub-format e-books (WordPress, at least, offers some ePub export capabilities via add-ons such as this one).

–Yes, printing could be included, especially if the tool were based to an extent on LibreOffice’s Writer component, a better-Word-than-today’s-Word version of the Microsoft app.

–In addition, the app should help end users find and build on existing DPLA content or material elsewhere on the Web. Maybe discovery could happen through a split-screen capability available via an optional module–with better integration than the usual browser-based approach–for those wanting it.

–The app must be multilingual, highly localizable and otherwise useful outside the United States. From Africa to France, LibraryCity draws its share of visitors from overseas, and I’d welcome their suggestions, too, not just those of people in the States.

OK, what are you own wishes and priorities for a common but highly customizable creation tool beneficial to libraries and their patrons? Again, I can’t promise that the tool will be a reality, but if you speak up about your wishes, perhaps something can happen.

For an example of the possibilities of December 6 hackfest, as a place for your own pet apps, check out the projects from a siimilar DPLA event in Chattanooga, TN.

Of the latest hackfest, Dan himself has written: “Anyone who is interested in experimenting with the DPLA—from creating apps that use the library’s metadata to thinking about novel designs to bringing the collection into classrooms—is welcome to attend or participate from afar. The hackfest is not limited to those with programming skills, and we welcome all those with ideas, notions, or the energy to collaborate in envisioning novel uses for the DPLA.

“The Center for History and New Media will provide spaces for a group as large as 30 in the main hacking space, with couches, tables, whiteboards, and unlimited coffee. There will also be breakout areas for smaller groups of designers and developers to brainstorm and work. We ask that anyone who would like to attend the hackfest please register in advance via this registration form [1].

“We anticipate that the Audience and Participation Workstream and the hackfest will interact throughout the day, which will begin at 10am and conclude at 5pm EST. Breakfast will be provided at 9am, and lunch at midday.

“The Center for History and New Media is on the fourth floor of Research Hall on the Fairfax campus of George Mason University. There is parking across the street in the Shenandoah Parking Garage. For directions and a campus  map, please see

“[1] 12/6 Hackathon registration form:

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7 comments to “Tell Dec. 6 DPLA hackfest what a good blog editor/creation tool should be like—to help libraries and patrons easily create their own stuff”
7 comments to “Tell Dec. 6 DPLA hackfest what a good blog editor/creation tool should be like—to help libraries and patrons easily create their own stuff”
    • Thanks, Aram. Progress, but hardly a full newbie-friendly solution integrated with the DPLA. Keep us posted on other interesting stuff you find.


    • Hi, Brian–I’m glad you raised the topic. I’m terribly excited about PressBooks and have already suggested that my small-press publisher look into it. I’ll be trying it strictly experimentally. That said, I’m not sure if it’s truly the universal content creation tool I’d like to see. Meanwhile, however, Hugh has scored points with me by planning to make it open source–also one of the attractions of the DPLA’s own coding efforts. The fewer the closed tools publishers and other content creators must work with, the less chances of their becoming captives to Amazon and Apple and the like. And meanwhile small-fry like Hugh can deftly devise their own biz models building on their expertise.

      Happy NY,

  1. I know that PressBooks doesn’t necessarily meet all of your criteria today, but (as I’m fond of telling clients) tools don’t get better by not using them. We owe it to people like Hugh to support their work. Otherwise, the only tools out there will look and feel like Adobe Digital Editions.

  2. I agree, Brian, and that’s partly why I told my publisher to check out PressBooks. Perhaps one solution might be for the DPLA if need be to support or help support PressBooks or assist Hugh in getting funding elsewhere. If DPLA wants people to be able to release unencumbered content without gotchas popping up later on, then it ideally will care about these issues.

    Here’s one example of what the DPLA will be up against in various media: Microsoft drops importing/exporting support for .xls and .doc in Outlook 2013, an item on the site. Thing is, tech companies at times want to stir the waters to encourage updates—not the optimal approach from a library and archival perspective. As for books themselves, Microsoft is letting the .lit format die. And ePub? We know about the problem with proprietary DRM. And Apple’s limitations in its book-authoring tool.

    In the end libraries not only need their own content creation tools but also a decent ecosystem for library users (complete with private content lockers for items bought elsewhere). To diminish the permanence of books and other media is to lessen their value, as collectible and historical items and as link fodder.


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