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We’ve got the tools. Let’s start using them.

Today's technologies used for tomorrow's content creation and development tools

Our industry has made significant investments in production systems over the years. We’ve all had to evolve from print-only to the various digital formats (e.g., PDF, mobi, EPUB, web, apps, etc.). I’m always amazed to think about how the emphasis has always been on the back end and yet most of us are still using the same authoring and editing tools today that we used 20 years ago. Sure, new versions of those tools have been released in that time but have they really evolved as much as our production systems have? I don’t think so.

O’Reilly’s Adam Witwer is one of the smartest production experts I know. His presentation at the recent Books in Browsers event focused on how we need to stop saying “we need new tools” and start leveraging the ones that already exist.

The example he presents focuses on the Atlas platform currently being developed at O’Reilly. It uses a variety of existing technologies such as git, a version control system. Some might say Atlas is an example of “O’Reilly being O’Reilly” and that it focuses on technology publisher needs rather than trade publisher needs. I disagree.

The technology publishing industry is often a canary in the coal mine for the larger trade publishing industry. The challenges we run into are likely to impact other publishers down the road. Collaborative authoring and editing tools will be useful to every publisher. Version control management is also something every publisher needs to understand. These are just two of the problems Atlas solves.

I encourage you to watch Adam’s presentation below to get a glimpse of how a front-end tool like Atlas could change the way you create, develop, and manage content.

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  • PressBooks, developed on a shoestring by Hugh McGuire and used to write, edit and publish directly to web, eBook and print formats. At Books in Browsers, Hugh announced that PressBooks will be releasing sourcecode to the world under an open source license in Q1 2013. Will O’Reilly do the same with Atlas?

    • Hi, Brian.  Great question — this is definitely on our radar, and there are already components of Atlas that we’ve open sourced, such as:

      * https://github.com/runemadsen/GitApi  — This is the main git server code that allows you to create and access the git repository over the web
      * https://github.com/oreillymedia/docbook2asciidoc  — this converts our docbook repos into asciidoc to make them more easily editable in atlas (or in any text editr, for that matter)
      * https://github.com/ajaxorg/ace — we contributed back the asciidoc syntax highlighter that Adam mentioned
      There will certainly be other parts to come as we get further along.  As Adam so eloquently put it, a lot of what we’ve been doing is putting together a puzzle for already existing software that anyone is free to use, and then contributing back the parts (like the git server, which itself is a wrapper on another projects) that are particularly critical for the project.

      • So you’ve taken open-source components and returned them to the creators. That’s not the same as providing the tool. But you know that.

        My point is simple: you’re promoting Atlas as a “tool”, but you’re also holding the assets. PressBooks was used top create “Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto”, an O’Reilly book, and it is available for anyone to use. If Atlas is not going to be made available, is the point of the post to advocate for better tools, or for us to use your tools?

        • The point I tried to make in the talk (and the point Joe made, too, I think) was that using tools that are not normally associated with “publishing” can lead to exciting possibilities. I wasn’t promoting Atlas as *the* tool to use.

  • bowerbird

    what a smug ass!  he’s hilarious!         :+)

    and calling o’reilly “advanced”?  classic!

    and, hey, i was advocating light-markup
    for _years_, and the idiots here at o’reilly
    scoffed at me.  yet now you use asciidoc!

    this is tremendously amusing to me…         :+)