If only WordPressDrupal 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 theDigital 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 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.

I 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 similar 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 click here.
♦ Click here to access the December 6 Hackathon registration form.

 Editor’s note: This article, which originally appeared on David Rothman’s LibraryCity.org, is Creative Commons-licensed content.

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  1. The interstices of these two National Public Libraries should be highly permeable as opposed to intertwined because, I think, we need to stress the fact that information must be able to pass between them as easily as water through good soil.
    Regarding the tools for content creation, I think that it would be more realistic and productive to focus not on a single application but, instead, on a single format, possibly an intermediary format that is ultimately expressed as HTML 5. Consider the simplicity of a tweet and then the number of applications that are focused on that very simple format. They are all viable to one degree or another because of the diversity of those who employ it.

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