Manifold Preview!

Manifold is excited to announce the public launch of our in-progress demo next Tuesday, April 4th! In advance of that launch, we’re happy to offer a brief preview of some of the features of this intuitive, collaborative publishing platform for scholars, made possible by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Manifold provides an online, mobile-ready interface for reading and responding to texts. The demo version will be populated by University of Minnesota Press books and projects, but any press or other organization can install the open-source platform and upload their own texts for interactive reading and annotation. For technical details about the build, check out posts by our lead developer, Zach Davis of Cast Iron Coding.

Read on for your first sneak peek!

browse-splash_manifold-devices-1

Manifold

The Manifold homepage shows the Press’s library — the books and projects that it is offering through Manifold. Featured projects (those you have selected) stand beside the rest of the available titles, which you can browse or sort by category.

screen-shot-2017-03-30-at-4-41-00-pm

Projects

Manifold organizes around the idea of projects — a project includes both the text of the book and the array of materials the author chooses to publish with it. In addition to providing access to the reading interface and allowing readers to add projects to their reading lists, each project page links you to the Press’s print book, the project’s social media, and supplemental material.

Reading

The interface is made for readability and usability. You can change colors for higher-contrast, and adjust the margins of the text:

typograhy-view_optimized

Or adjust the typography.

typography-font_optimized

 

While reading a text, you also have the option to access supplementary materials and annotate both the text and ancillary materials, as well as add comments to other reader’s annotations that haven’t been made private. When you select text, a menu pops up with options for highlighting, annotation, citing, and sharing.

Annotating

You have the opportunity to comment on text in the reader interface right in your browser. While designing the platform, the Manifold team considered the expectations scholars have of digital texts. Blending personal reading habits, scholars’ wishlists, and successful aspects of comments in projects like the previous collaboration between the CUNY Graduate Center, Cast Iron Coding, the University of Minnesota Press — Debates in the Digital Humanities the team developed a user-centered annotation system. Moving beyond the sentence-level annotation of Debates in the Digital Humanities, Manifold lets you leave comments on any selection of text.

annotate02-optimized

 

Highlighting

As you read, you have the option to highlight passages with your cursor.highlight01-optimized

Sharing

Manifold also helps you share passages from the text via social media. Choosing “Share” from the dropdown links the passage in a post to your Facebook or Twitter accounts.

 

 share01-edited

These are only a few of the features of Manifold — get ready for filtering by categories, favorites, search, and more. We look forward to sharing the fruits of collaborative effort, thoughtful design, and hard work. 

Please check it out for yourself next Tuesday, April 4th! Stay tuned to the Manifold blog, sign up for our mailing list, and catch updates @ManifoldScholar.

 

 

Reading with Matthew K. Gold

mkgold-gc-15Before the holidays, I had the chance to chat with Manifold Co-PI Matthew K. Gold, who is Associate Professor of English and Digital Humanities and Executive Officer of the M.A. Program in Liberal Studies at the Graduate Center, CUNY. I have been lucky to work with Matt for a couple of years now, through seminars on digital humanities praxis and textual studies, on DH tool-building projects like DH Box, on the editorial collective of the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, and with the digital fellows of the GC Digital Initiatives. His widespread commitment to textual scholarship and digital innovation, his seemingly tireless support of his students and digital experimentation, and his humility (which he may not even let me mention) never cease to amaze me. I have spent a lot of time discussing Manifold with Matt, but I was glad to get the chance to ask him more specifically about his personal motivations for developing a hybrid publishing platform. 

What matters most to you about Manifold? I think it’s the overall excellence of the user experience. Our goal is to create a platform that will rival the reading experience of a commercial site like Medium but that is free and open-source. I’m excited to see how various people will use it — certainly our primary audience of university presses, but also a wider set of authors and publishers of all types.

Cool. That sounds like a pretty noble mission to me. I’m also excited about our team — we have the University of Minnesota Press, which is doing exciting experimentation on both its editorial and production sides —  it’s a Press that’s willing to take risks with the way it thinks about the future of publishing. Working with a partner like that — and with Doug Armato and his team in particular — is a lot of fun.. And then we are lucky to be collaborating with Cast Iron Coding– Zach Davis and his team are extremely talented and very much aware of the latest trends in web development. Manifold won’t feel like a typical piece of academic technology, thanks to the work of Zach and his team.

What’s your ideal reading experience? For me, print is still most important as a reading experience. But I’m never satisfied when I buy a printed book from a bookstore and then “that’s it.” I can’t carry all of my books with me when I go on a trip, so I really want both print and digital at the point of purchase. For me, if I’m going to read a book of theory or criticism, I’m going to be reading it in print, but I also want to be able to easily pull it up on my laptop or phone when I’m traveling or just happen to think of it during a meeting with a student, or I’m doing some writing and I want to refer to it. I want the materiality of the print book, but for access and reference, the online version.

And Manifold is precisely about achieving that hybrid experience. So we are producing print books, but we are also creating web-based interactive texts that open up new collective and social reading experiences.

What are you reading now? I am reading (and loving) Barbarian Days by William Finnegan. Somehow, reading about waves feels like the right thing in this post-election moment–an escape from politics but also a reminder of how to make our way among larger and sometimes brutal forces.

Who inspires your work? I tend to be inspired by my academic mentors. My first academic mentor was Robert D. Richardson, Jr., who is a biographer of Thoreau and Emerson (his biography of Emerson remains one of my favorite books). I’m still in awe of his erudition and research and writing skills. I’m also inspired on a daily level by my colleagues at the Graduate Center and across CUNY, especially by the students I work with.

After Matt answered all the questions, we had the chance to speak more broadly about Manifold and the features that specifically address readers’ needs. The design of the platform — from the icons, to commenting and annotation, to the reading interface — is the result of careful consideration by a team of careful readers. Moving forward, even as I share more about the creators of Manifold and the reading practices that influence its development, I will be adding a features series to outline the thinking that goes into the various components of Manifold.

Reading with Susan Doerr

While the seismic ruptures of the election have unsettled the ground beneath us, it feels necessary to continue working on projects that look beyond the next four years, that address the possibility of connecting people through ideas and through constructive debate. Last week, in the midst of national turmoil, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Doerr, University of Minnesota Press Assistant Director, Digital Publishing and Operations. During our phone call, I asked Susan a number of questions about her thoughts on reading and the Manifold platform.

I started by asking Susan what matters most to her about Manifold. She talked about the process of collaborating with the Manifold team on writing the grant proposal, and thinking about publishing books in the browser. Susan believes the real revolution of an epub or pdf ebook is the speed of distribution — instant access for a reader. Susan said, “ebook reading devices are siloed — a reader is stuck in an app or device.” What the Manifold team wanted to do was “break free from that constraint. Ebooks today are replications of print — active media that don’t do much more than the print edition of a book. And we wanted to do more.”

Publishing a book in the browser allows it to be dynamic — vs static. The more they thought about it, the more opportunity they saw for readers to follow a project as it evolve because Manifold can publish a project iteratively, that is, in pieces over time.

We could transform the process of how the author might publish. We started our work with definitions: What is a version? What is an iteration? What is a resource? We broke from the word “book” and moved to the broader term “project,” which we define as a work that is a combination of texts and resources.

Susan noted that other publishing tools offer these features — but Manifold also aims to “create an efficient workflow process available to be replicated by other publishers.”

Next I asked, what’s your ideal reading experience? This one took a moment. Susan said she had no single answer. It all depends on “What is it that you’re reading for? Why are you coming to the text?” For leisure reading, Susan reads paperbacks or on her ebook reader. Reading for work, though–she’s a note taker–means reading reading parts of a work over time and marking up a text. Her reading demands “different interactions depending on why I’m reading this text. Reading for information, you want the apparatus for notes and asking questions and linking to other pieces.” For her, when reading for escapism she wants to lose herself in the story. Manifold is not meant to serve all the reasons you read, rather “it is addressing something specific. It’s not meant to be a panacea of all publishing.” Susan went on,

Print is a funny thing — we’re used to it historically being the solution for sharing and distributing published work. The book object — front cover, open it and read, turn the page, is familiar, and that medium for a mode of expressing text and images to share information is really sophisticated — it evolved over hundreds of years. Manifold is a baby — we’re developing its first version. A book, the object, meets so many needs — and we’ve had years to adapt it to meet so many needs — it feels perfect, but it may just be familiar.

When asked what she is reading now, Susan described a reading practice that spans formats. The books she reads circle around subjects she never studied in school, such as medieval central Asia. She is currently reading Empires of the Silk Road, by Christopher Beckwith, after finishing The Lost Enlightenment by S. Frederick Starr and Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor. She also listens to audiobooks of cultural histories while she paints; she just finished The Art of Rivalry by Sebastian Smee, which she found after enjoying In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and Modernism in Paris 1900-1910, by Susan Roe. On her ebook reader, she says she reads mostly fiction — recently N. K. Jemisin’s The Obelisk Gate.

For the last question — who inspires your work? — Susan had quite an inspiring list.

  • Other university presses. She mentioned frontrunner work of National Academies Press. She follows publishing evolution — how they are adapting practices, not just around issues of open access. She appreciates learning from what works for others and what doesn’t.
  • Librarians. She mentioned the conversations and collaborations of librarians and publishers at the Charleston Conference.
  • Authors. By watching and talking to authors on social media, she sees how they figure out how to self-publish and work with publishers.

Ultimately, she finds inspiration in the process of art making.

Art – the process of art-making, creating and making; manifesting ideas as a physical thing — into text, fiber — if you’re making an art object — I find that riveting — that process, seeing the evolution of ideas through a work of art. If I’m able to go read about the ideas behind the artist’s work it changes my engagement with the art. Music is the same — one day while listening to Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue while in line at the bank in my car — I pulled out the pamphlet in the CD case and read about how the album was recorded, their process. It changed how I hear the music!

Throughout our conversation, I heard Susan’s excitement about the work she does and an attention to the ways she works and thinks. Susan gave me some good book recommendations, and we had the chance to discuss our hopes for scholarly communication and monographs. She generously shared her own experience, yet made clear that what matters most to her is serving her audience. A reassuring commitment in an unsteady time.

Thank you, Susan! 

 

Follow Susan @susanmpls.

Joining Manifold

Happy Halloween!

My name is Jojo Karlin and I am an English doctoral student and Digital Fellow at the Graduate Center, CUNY. I’ve joined Manifold this fall to help get the word out about what the team has been up to, and I am excited to investigate the generative potential built into this iterative, collaborative platform. I love the ways Manifold seeks to enrich scholarly publication by building communities of researchers engaged in collective annotation and networked reading.

When friends and acquaintances unfamiliar with the field hear I work in “digital humanities,” they often react with anxieties about the death of print. Skeptical bibliophiles lament the impact of screens on humanity as they cite popular science articles about babies swiping pages of print books.  Yet I remain a stalwart defender of books in their many forms. I grew up in a house lined with books and have a categorical weakness for library book sales and department book swaps; I also depend on my computer and smartphone as part of my reading practice.

Books, even print-only, are not single-use — people come to them and at them from different angles and at different times. I believe that the many ways we read books should be simultaneously available and that ideas deserve the full range of available outlets and expression. What I particularly love about Manifold is the way it bridges print and digital forms, giving presses and authors the opportunity to benefit from affordances of both — utilizing digital features while reinforcing the value of print-based scholarship.

Since joining Manifold, I have begun to see how the team approaches the transformations of text in recent years, the influx (sometimes numbing inundation) of social media, and the existing endeavors of numerous presses to engage scholarship digitally. “Building Manifold” gives me a sense of Manifold’s dual purpose– platform construction and conceptual restructuring — and Zach’s updates describe incremental decisions of development. By taking pains to publicly share the process of creating the tool, the Manifold team participates in the kind of transparent teamwork that the tool itself proposes. I look forward to sharing my perspective as well.

In the coming months, I will help to surface some of the exciting progress that the team has been making. I will post updates about design, interviews with team members, and reflections on some of the trickier conceptual decisions. Even jumping in now, I have found the whole team — Susan, Zach, Matt, Doug, Terence, Naomi, everyone!– to be wonderfully welcoming and warm. I am looking forward to learning more, and I hope you will share in my excitement.

If you have questions about Manifold, sign up for our newsletter, follow/star/love our git repository, follow @ManifoldScholar on Twitter, and feel free to get in touch.

Thanks and be well,

Jojo