For a while at JISC CETIS we’ve been keeping an eye on an open source platform called Booktype designed to help in the creation of books from print and electronic distribution in a range of formats.

As part of this weeks Dev8Ed Adam Hyde, who is the project lead on Booktype, gave an overview of the project highlighting some of the technical wizardry. Kirsty Pitkin has posted an overview on the session here. Because Dev8Ed was an ‘unconference event’ there was an opportunity for Adam to put one of his other hats on and talk about Booksprints.

A Book Sprint brings together a group to produce a book in 3-5 days. There is no pre-production and the group is guided by a facilitator from zero to published book. The books produced are high quality content and are made available immediately at the end of the sprint via print-on-demand services and e-book formats. - www.booksprints.net

You can read more about book sprints from the official site, but I thought it was worth sharing some of my notes and reflections on Adam’s session.

Who is already book sprinting?

Book sprints are already widely used by FLOSS Manuals, a community project to produce manuals for free and open source software.

Creating the right environment

Adam stressed that people should meet in a ‘real space’ for the duration of the sprint which is usually 3-5 days. The space is usually a shared house where people can work, sleep, prepare food and eat. As well as the physical space, mental preparation is designed to be light. Avoiding traditional publications models as a mindset appears to be key, also Adam mentioned that pre-preparing a structure can make the processes harder as more time is spent explaining this to team members than just collaboratively working on it in the first day. Something Adam also mentioned was that for each day you should start work at 9, finish at 5.


Table of contents (sometimes takes longer)Start with review, show text, discussInteractive process discuss, write move own. Switching roles (proof, tidy)Interactive process discuss, write move own. Switching roles (proof, tidy)Finish up layout
+critical point - getting people into the creative flow (finding chapter author key - looking what people are interested in)Interactive process discuss, write move own. Switching roles (proof, tidy)Finish writing new chaptersNo new contentFinish up layout


Picture copyright flossmanuals.net
Picture copyright Adam Hyde flossmanuals.net
[License: GNU GPL2]

Above is a rough timetable for a sprint. To elaborate slightly, first morningis spend all working together on a table of contents. Use post-it notes to write areas to cover, grouping, conflicting terms, what's missing, etc. Get people writing things as quickly as possible. Once this has been drafted the facilitator has a key responsibility in assigning the chapters to the the right people, using cues from the TOC session like people with particular knowledge dealing with a specific chapter. The facilitator has to have a strong hand - doesn't have to be topic specialist. They need to drive forward production. Chapters don’t have to be done in chronological order, the main thing to to get things rolling. The facilitator should encourage discussion, if someone is struggling with something move them on, but don’t pass partial chapters to other people as it slow things down.  At 5 all stop and relax.

Tuesday starts with a review. Text is shared and discussed. This iterative processes, which includes breaking tasks with switched roles, continues to the Wednesday. On Thursday no new chapters are written and existing work is tidied up. On Friday the focus is finishing and layout.

Adam mentioned one technique for removing structural roadblocks was printing chapters then laying them on the floor, giving people scissors and markers to let them do a manual cut’n’paste job.  In writing this post I found other tips, case studies and material here.

So book sprints look like a great way to get content out. At JISC CETIS we are in the early stages of planning our own book sprint, so hopefully soon I’ll be able to share my personal experiences of some rapid content development. One thing I’m interested to find out is if the technique suits particular disciplines. Do you think a small group of academics could publish a textbook on something like ‘introduction to microbiology’ in 5 days? Is this a way JISC should fund some content?

[Update: Some comment on this on Google+]

1 Comment

This morning I’ve managed to confuse myself over which are the best formats and ways to publish this blog. So in this post I review what I already use and show how you can embed ePub, mobi and Kindle links into your blog using the FiveFilters.org Kindle It service.

I’ve always been interested in discovering new ways to automatically publish in as many different formats. I can’t remember in which order these developments came about but there was:

  • HTML – simple rendering of WordPress posts in html which over the years have been wrapped in various themes include a mobile friendly WPTouch format
  • RSS – another out-of-the-box WordPress (and other blog/news site staple)
  • PDF (aka MASHezine) – this is newspaper format of my last 10 posts. Originally I used to use HP’s tabbloid service to get an emailed PDF of my RSS feed which I manually uploaded, then I developed a Make Tabbloid wordpress plugin which used their API to automatically do this. … until with no notice they pulled their API. In the end this was a good thing as I rewrote the plugin using the open source FiveFilters.org PDF Newspaper.
  • Email – at my time at the RSC when I was out and about it was very clear that a lot of people didn’t use or understand RSS feeds (commoncraft RSS in plain English). Aware of not wanting to overburden overworked academic staff with my ramblings I use the MailPress WordPress plugin to distribute a monthly digest wrapped in a custom theme. Here’s an example of last months. If you want to subscribe to this visit my blog (full not mobile) and there is a box half way down right-hand-side (as I’m no longer at the RSC I’m less caring towards overworked academics there is also an option for a by post email update ;)

This is where I start getting confused. As I’m not an ebook reader user I don’t really know the best way for you to consume my content. Maybe you use the free Calibre ebook management software to convert your favourite sites into ebook format and sync with your device? Maybe there is a Kindle service you use to do this?

I’ve gone through a couple of ebook services in the past. First there was FeedBooks which you could get a RESTful url to the latest posts from your RSS feed in mobi/ePub/Kindle formats (this feature was pulled by feedbooks). Then I experimented with NewsToEbook, but this takes you off site unless you manually update the links to the cached output. Recently I had quick look at dotepub.com which has a widget you can drop in to your website (or you could do something with the dotepub API), but you are limited to ePub format.

Instead I’ve returned to another FiveFilters.org offering called Kindle It. Here’s why:

  • As well as Kindle it can generate ePub and mobi
  • For ePub and mobi it looks like I can use a RESTful url (i.e. I enter it once and Kindle It does the rest of the work keeping the output up-to-date)
  • The service allows you to email a post straight to your kindle (Use case scenario I have in mind is: Jeff is browsing my blog, spots one of my verbose posts and wants to read it later. Clicking on Kindle It he is able to send it to his Kindle for reading on the train)

If you’d like to use Kindle It on your own site below is the snippet of code I used which automatically passes the current page url to Kindle It. Update: I've written this little widget which I can call with <script type="text/javascript" src="https://mashe.hawksey.info/script/kindle-it.js"></script>

So you ebook users does this option work for you or is there a better way?

Originally uploaded by

Apple have announced the ePub (one of the eBook formats) is now available on iTunes U. Users of iTunes have been able to view eBooks in ePub format for some time using the iBook app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, but users of iTunes U have been restricted to distributing text using PDF.

Brian Kelly has recently been questioning What Are UK Universities Doing With iTunesU? as well as iTunes U: an Institutional Perspective, which is a guest post by Jeremy Speller, Director of Web Services at UCL. In the later post Jeremy highlights that for many iTunes U is ‘PR fluff’, mainly used by institutions to market their brand over any educational benefit. Jeremy saying:

For some reason this view is quite prevalent among those who don’t use the system and in my opinion misses the point of iTunes U completely. Sure, there is publicity to be had and, in UCL’s case as a launch partner, was valuable. Of course general PR shorts can be provided. But the real assets should be educational and examples of your institution’s scholarship.

I have to put my hand up and say I’m in the ‘iTunes U is a PR tool’ camp, but can you blame me when the Open University’s VC Martin Bean highlights that 88% of their iTunes U traffic is from outside the UK and is perceived as free marketing.

There is undoubtedly a cost to making resources available, to the point that even one of the biggest players in this field MIT are considering an OER paywall. At the same time there are also benefits, if not educationally, as a marketing opportunity. This in itself has got to be a good thing, stimulating the sector to release content, even if it is just to grab headlines. Besides I’m quite enjoying iTunes U poker: I see your Shakespeare's First Folio joins iTunes U and raise you OU makes one hundred interactive eBooks available on iTunes U.

[And guess what if you need a tool to make ePub eBooks our Create&Convert tool can help.]

First Look Microsoft Office 2010 Microsoft Office 2010 isn’t due out until the 12th May and it will be some time more before it hits campus desktops. However, if you would like to get up to speed with the major changes in the new suite, the Microsoft Learning team have put together a free e-book, “First Look Microsoft Office 2010”. The book covers features which are directly relevant to education including broadcasting PowerPoint over the internet, and saving files ‘in the cloud’ via SkyDrive.

over it’s 186 pages it talks you through some of the most significant enhancements in the Office suite. I’m impressed with the collaboration that Office 2010 encourages, and have got very used to doing things like broadcasting PowerPoint over the internet, and the options to save my files to my SkyDrive on the web, rather than on my local hard disk.

Click here for your copy of 'First Look Microsoft Office 2010'

Screenshot showing the navigation column for RSC NewsFeed At the RSC we are always looking for new ways to distribute NewsFeed. Around this time last year we introduced a printable PDF digest as ‘RSC NewsFeed Tabloid Edition’. This document is automatically created by a free 3rd party web service, tabbloid.com, and added to our navigation column via the Make Tabbloid plugin.

With the growing interest in ebooks we have now added ‘RSC eBook Edition’. The eBook Edition is automatically generated by an external web service called feedbooks.com. As a single ebook standard is yet to emerge so NewsFeed is available in 3 different formats: EPUB, Mobipocket/Kindle and PDF. Permanent links to the latest edition of NewsFeed in these formats have also been added to our sites navigation column.

For more information on how to generate ebooks using feedbooks we used step-by-step instructions posted by Joss Winn at the University of Lincoln. If you need more help please post a comment below.


A couple of weeks ago I was interested to read Joss Winn’s blog post on  Creating a PDF or eBook from an RSS feed in which he highlights using the FeedBooks service. This was ideal timing as we are always looking for new ways to make RSC NewsFeed readable in as many formats as possible.

The post has generated a number of comments, in particular, James Kwak at baselinescenario mentioned that a limitation of FeedBooks was that it didn’t include the post author or date in the automatically generated eBook.

This is very easy to do using Yahoo Pipes. Here is my ‘feedbooks pipe’. You can either run this pipe entering the url of the RSS feed of your blog. This will let you get the RSS feed required for FeedBooks (step 4 in Joss’s instructions). Alternatively you can just enter http://pipes.yahoo.com/mashe/feedbooks?_render=rss&url={enter your blog rss feed url here}. Feel free to clone this pipe if you would like to experiment with other manipulations. I’ve already created this extended version for WordPress users to only include last months posts

feedbooks pipe[All this pipe is doing is taking the feed url, copying the pubDate (item publish date), then using Regex to edit some of the post items. The first regex replaces the long date format (e.g. Fri, 15 Jan 2010 10:03:54 +0000) by extracting the pattern ‘digits character digits’. The next 2 entries modify the post description by putting ‘the author {dc:creator} | the date {date} plus break return’ before the existing content]