Academics Build Blog-to-eBook Publishing Tool in One Week

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I used to think that you couldn't do anything in the humanities in just one week, but maybe times are changing.

Last week, twelve scholars came together at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University to participate in the inaugural One Week, One Tool program. Supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, their mandate was to build something useful: they called it a barn raising, and the structure they built is Anthologize.org.

Anthologize is a Wordpress plugin that allows scholars, conference organizers, and bloggers to create eBooks out of websites. Its creators imagine it could be used by researchers to "sketch ideas, collaborate with co-authors, edit and develop research notes into arguments, publish conference proceedings, and engage in public scholarly communication without the typical barriers." Or perhaps teachers will turn their class blogs into custom publications.

So, what separates Anthologize from commercial blog-to-book services like Blurb or Lulu? (Both fantastic services, IMHO.) First, it's a Wordpress plugin, so if you're familiar with that tool (as many are), it should be easy to manipulate.

"Because it's open source, third-party developers can create translators and importers for other formats as well, and contribute them back," added Doug Knox, director of publication and digital initiatives at the Newberry Library, and part of the One Week, One Tool team. "Lulu and Blurb -- and others like FastPencil -- are focused on commercial blog-to-book publishing. They don't have as much flexibility in importing existing content, and they aren't as open to extending the range of output formats."

Anthologize doesn't currently support turning out actual printed books, but its PDFs could be uploaded to a Lulu.

I'm most impressed with the whole approach of the program. It's not just that they go a small team to do something (anything!) in seven days, but that they focused on scholarly infrastructure. They didn't just create an anthology, they created an anthologizer, and that seems worth applauding.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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