When I wrote, “I met a lot of people,” the last time, I did not really know what that sentence actually meant 🙃 But hell, the past two weeks were crazy good days, somehow! Meeting people can be actually easy. I’ll just need some rest when we submit the grants proposal we’ve been working on.

I’ll finally have a chance to touch some code and draft some wireframes next week. I’m SO looking forward to that. But before that… here are three exciting bits from the past two weeks!

Black and white photo of a coffee.

This coffee is in front of me right now.

1. Baker Framework

A few weeks ago, I noticed a tweet about some publishing platform going down. And that’s how I found about Baker Framework. Few clicks into the rabbit hole, I discovered an article by Erin ‘Folletto’ Casali from 2013 that described… most of what I’ve been thinking about three years later, conceptualizing next-book. There’s a paragraph about the disparity between HTML5 and ePub3, an attempt to create a simpler book manifest (HPub!) and even the whole social thing about books:

“The basic action is of course reading, but immediately after we can see that reading is easily accompanied by the act of annotating. (…) These two actions are also the only two that are inherently private. All the others are, in one way or another, social. /But of course, the ecosystem doesn’t stop there.”

There are many differences, such as the focus on interaction methods or distribution: due to the iPad/tablet hype back then, the natural solution seems to be app-enclosed books. But! But— it’s so close! It’s been used for some time by many people.I immediately DM’d Erin, and she sent me some encouragement for our team to make next-book the new Baker.

So, Baker is dead, long live Baker! (And yeah, I’ll read everything about it.)

Screenshot of Baker’s website.

The original website is available only on archive.org now. But you can check their Github profile.

2. Next-book? What’s that?

I talk a lot about next-book, and it changes its shape every time. Sometimes I think it’s a framework — as it’s kinda similar to frontend frameworks that you just embed in a website. But it requires some content preparation, running a generator, even some cloud app soon. So is it a platform? A set of tools? Is it even legit to call it “technology”?

This is what I just filled into a grants proposal that called for “address probable objections against your proposal”:

Q: It’s just a website! Is this really an innovation?  A: Every next-book is an easily readable website—even when it’s very long. It’s a framework for book production and reading. It’s comparable to other web technologies (as varied as HTML5, React, or SASS)—all of those just allow a new way to work with the web interface, building on top of the established web platform.

But still… it’s probably a platform. And a set of tools. And yeah, it’s a framework. Sometimes there’s no straightforward clarification; there’s just a decision to go with one of those.

Which do you prefer?

3. Close to the Metal

“To be close to the metal, then, is considering the social implications of the code. Knowing what’s inside the tiniest of computer chips is no longer be a priority when beginning the work of deconstruction of large computational systems.”
— Emma R. Norton: Close to the Metal

I quite like Real Life, and I liked the idea of this article—but at the same time, it’s kinda sad. It means we’ve already lost. Computers became black boxes with inputs, outputs, and impenetrable mechanisms inside, and it cannot be helped. There’s too many layers.

I hope it’s not the case yet. Tech can be open, and as a society, we should demand it where it’s necessary. And at the same time, as the author notes, it’s really important to see the social side of using computers — when thinking about how we read books or when we see marginalized people being targeted by biased algorithms.

Screenshot from the article with this sentence highlighted: „This contemplation is about re-prioritizing the body over the computer, ensuring that the computer is something between bodies as opposed to in control of them. Like the reaching arms of the programmers in the 1940s, many of whom were women, the mouse can bring us back into our body as we learn to live with and through computers.“

Aaand that’s all for today! Next time, there’ll be a book to read included. A next-book, really.

Next time, I’ll send our newsletter from Reading in a Digital Environment – International Conference 2019 in Regensburg, Germany. If you’re going there, too, let’s meet up!

And yeah, when adding the team to our website, I put a marquee HTML element in there. Some things should not work, but they do. (Maybe it will even work as a friendly wink, maybe not.)

See you in two weeks!

Many thanks go to the colleagues from the University of Palacký in Olomouc with whom we’re preparing a grants proposal, and to all the people I met thanks to that effort. To Anna and Petra, with whom I discussed our legal founding as a registered association. And all three next-book team members who gathered this morning for the third time in our living room to attend our 3rd meeting. Thanks!