Here is the original submission I made to THATCamp followed by some additional background ideas and thoughts:
Forget the philosophic arguments, I think most people at THATCamp are probably convinced that in the future scholarly manuscripts will appear first in the realm of the digital, I am interested in the practical questions here: What are born digital manuscripts going to look like and what do we need to start writing them? There are already several examples, Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence, Wark’s Gamer Theory, but I want to think about what the next step is. What kind of publishing platform should be used (is it simply a matter of modifying a content management system like WordPress)? Currently the options are not very inviting to academics without a high degree of digital literacy. What will it take to make this publishing platform an option for a wider range of scholars? What tools and features are needed (beyond say Comment Press), something like a shared reference manager, or at least open API, to connect these digital manuscripts (Zotero)? Maybe born digital manuscripts will just be the Beta version of some books which are later published (again i.e. Gamer Theory)? But, I am also interested in thinking about what a born digital manuscript can do that an analog one cannot.
So I should start by saying that this proposal is a bit self serving. I am working on “a book,” (the proverbial tenure book), but writing it first for the web. That is rather than releasing the manuscript as a beta version of the book online for free, or writing a book and digitally distributing it, I want to leverage the web to do things that cannot be accomplished in a manuscript form. It is pretty clear that the current academic publishing model will not hold. As I indicated in the original proposal above, I think that most participants at THATCamp are probably convinced that the future of academic publishing is in some ways digital (although the degree to which it will be digital is probably a point of difference). But, in working with this project I have come to realize that the tools for self digital publishing are really in the early stages, a pre-alpha release almost. Yes, there are options, primarily blogs, but for the most part these tend to mimic “book centered” ways of distributing information. To be sure there are examples of web tools which break from this model, namely CommentPress, but I am interested in thinking about what other tools might be developed and how can we integrate them. And at this point I think you have to be fairly tech savvy or have a “technical support team” to be able to do anything beyond a simple blog, or digital distribution of a manuscript (say as a downloadable .pdf). For me one of the early models we can look to is MacKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, but he had several people handling the “tech side.” For me I can get the tech help to do the things I cannot on my own, but is seems pretty clear that until the tools are simple and widely available digital publishing will either remain obscure or overly simple/conservative (just a version of the manuscript).
So, what tools do we need to be developing here? Should we be thinking about tools or about data structures and than developing tools around that? (I realize this is not an either or proposition.) I am imagining something like WordPress with a series of easy to install plugins that would open up web publishing to a much wider range of scholars. Perhaps a “publisher” could host these installs and provide technical support making it even easier for academics. I have a fairly good idea of what I personally want for my project, but am interested in thinking about/hearing about what other scholars, particularly those from other disciplines would need/want.