Coming Soon – A Contribution not a Prediction for 2015

2015 has arrived and there’s a plethora of posts offering predictions, Top 10s, Year of _____, biggest trends etc etc etc. I’ve decided to do something different and talk about my contribution to the future rather than spruiking what it could be.

This year brings an opportunity for me to actively drive some innovation within our institution (in my new role as Online Learning Technology Leader), rather than simply react and respond to what’s happening outside. So I thought I’d seize on that and use this year to develop some new skills and explore some new ideas. So here’s a few things I’m hoping to work on.

Distributed systems

The anniversary of the web and the Snowden leaks that revealed the level and scale of surveillance has really put into perspective the need to re-discover distributed systems. The growing centralisation of the web has made surveillance easier but also made us too dependant or what are massive fail points. Concepts like Domain of Ones Own appeals to me in the sense that it empowers users rather than traps them. Data and information remains yours and in your control, not something that’s matter-of-fact-ly subsumed by a corporate interest. The start-up data trail is a particularly interesting thing to note – when a product fails commercially the one asset they can sell is user data. This kind of behaviour is something we should be paying attention to and beginning to actively avoid. The other big interest I have is to more fully explore the potential of the Federated Wiki. Having participated in the Happening I can see the massive potential this system has for authoring and creating (I’m still not sold on it being the best ‘publishing’ interface – but maybe that’s simply something to explore further).

Customising WordPress

I’ve been a user of WordPress for sometime now and as a blogging tool it’s been great. What I’ve really noticed over the last few years though is it’s slow evolution to highly adaptive and customisable CMS. It’s gone so far down that road that I’m personally thinking of swapping my blog over to Jekyll or something more light weight. But that CMS functionality could be deployed and utilised as an effective backend for a variety of systems. So I want to get in there and begin to use its plugin and theme structures as a development tool. To that end I’m keen to really explore custom posts and interfaces and how they can be utilised to create new content systems. One of the great things is that WordPress is one of the easiest technologies to rollout that fits a distributed model. Using a Domain of Ones Own or a Multisite installation you can really go to town on developing smaller distributed systems. I have some concerns of a lack of a proper API but an open and hackable system is an OK option.

Design Patterns

Mike Caulfield’s posts on design patterns got me thinking a lot and I believe there’s something significant in the concept. In my new role I specifically interested in the potential of patterns to be used to scale up and scale out good practice and innovation. One of the hidden themes at Ascilite 2014 was the power of good teaching. In fact I’d go as far as saying that effective innovation requires good teachers that capable of adapting good practice. The area I was thinking about was digitally mediated interaction as it’s something where I sense there’s a significant gap. It’s also an area that’s ill-defined and often ill-conceived so I think there’s something scholarly in there (maybe).


At the Ascilite Conference I co-facilitated a workshop with Kim Tairi and Joyce Seitzinger on the Networked Professional. I got a lot out of the day where we were as much participants as facilitators. I’d like to keep up that work over the year. Maybe running the workshop again – or maybe developing up some ongoing ‘events’ – TweetUps, Hangouts… something to keep that momentum and shared practice going.

I’m not sure if that aligns with anyones list or trends for 2015, but they’re areas where I CAN do something and make something happen.



The Content Lifecycle

As part of some work on digital publishing I thought I’d put together a content lifecycle to help explain the implementation and gaps in technology, workflows and practices. By mapping these elements to the lifecycle it hoped we can work towards identifying areas of concern and where attention needs to be focussed. I’d be interested in any feedback or if you notice anything I’m missing. Happy to put this one out under CC BY SA as I’d love to see how people use it, add to it and modify it. Love to see your work.

Stage Process Detail
Plan organise develop organisational model and content strategy
discover find existing content for re-use and/or re-purpose
structure define a structure for content to inhabit
responsibilities assign responsibilities for each stage of lifecycle
Develop author write new content
create record, capture and generate new media
collect collect and catalogue existing media
edit revise, modify, check and prepare for publication
Manage presentation attach presentation attributes
quality assurance procedural activity to ensure functionality, usability & objectives
workflow ensure content goes through defined approval, versioning
Deploy publish final generation of content as packaged artefact(s)
syndicate delivery of artefact(s) to appropriate platforms and channels
promote raising awareness and access
Evaluation metrics capture measurement data relating to access, hits, views
analytics develop analysis of performance, success, improvement
Preserve storage live location and access point of artefact
archive artefact is recorded and store for posterity
reuse content is reused in a different platform/channel
repurpose content is repurposed in a different artefact
dispose content is destroyed

Creative Commons License
Content Lifecycle by Tim Klapdor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at

My Reclaim Project

This weekend I’ve really begun to embark on a personal project that seeks to reclaim my digital content and presence in an attempt to establish an authentic “Digital Self”. I’ve spoken about this idea of the Digital Self a couple of times now but it’s something I believe in, and something I have to practice in order to preach. So why would you want to do this? Well I’m going to turn you over to Audrey Watters & Kin Lane to explain. They cover pretty much everything I would but in a way more interesting way (there’s even a few swears :-0 )and you get to look at that killer beard that Kin is sporting 🙂

So what does this whole process include? Well it’s pretty basic, but it is somewhat complex to lay the groundwork. The way I’ve approached it is:

  • Getting some server space over at Reclaim Hosting.
  • Getting your domain name sorted (you get a free one with your Reclaim plan but I had a couple of others floating around that needed consolidation).
  • Mapping out the services and components that I currently use.
  • Mapping out the services and components I want to use.

That’s what I’ve been worked on so far. Over the weekend, while battling with flu and toddler tantrums, I managed to start the next stage which is to begin to build and design my space to start migrating stuff to the server.

At the moment that looks like this:

  • A HTML landing page at where I’m putting links to all my current online spaces and places that I plan on keeping. Anything that needs migrating will go there once it’s done. Just modified one of the great templates from HTML5 Up
  • I installed WordPress Multisite on where I’ll be setting up a number of sites for different and specific purposes. This will give me some flexibility to change and migrate over time, and also not lump everything into a single mega site. I like the idea of this way of working and centrally managing WordPress means that plugin and theme deployment is simpler and easy. The great thing about cPanel and Installatron is that I can easily install a myriad of other software too – wikis etc – to suit whatever else I might need or want down the line.
  • I’ve set up one such site to take over all my curated bits and pieces from the web – Miscellanea. It’s using the ExpressCurate WordPress Theme & Plugin to provide the functionality and it comes with a Chrome Plugin so that the process can be quick and painless.
  • I have had a play with Digital Ocean as a cloud based server infrastructure for all this but to be honest it’s still a bit new for me. I can see a place for it, but am thinking I might use that as a Lab space – somewhere I can quickly spool up something to test on – anything running Node.js especially. At $5 a month it’s pretty good value.

The plan from here is to slowly work through developing solutions for:
– A Blog and moving from
– Quotes to collect all those wisdom – similar to this over on
– MicroBlog that will be a I/O for twitter – so that I have my own copy of everything I tweet (good and bad)
– And a richer personal Profile that includes: Resume, Portfolio, Badges, Publications and Presentations.

To augment my domain I still plan on utilising online services such as:
Dropbox – easy, interoperable and an offsite backup.
iTunes Match – my music backup in the cloud.
Evernote – I’m too far in at this point, and I still enjoy the experience – but I want Markdown support 😦
iCloud Drive – I’m still looking for a good backup solution for my Aperture library, and integration in next iOS will be a good thing for simplicity.

And to round things off I’m hoping to shift my use of other services to function merely as external publishers. So it means keeping an active profile – but looking at POSSE as a model to remain connected to Twitter, Google+, Flickr and Facebook.

It will be a bit of an ongoing project, but one I’m actually looking forward to tackling. I have a lot of debris scattered around the web after more than a decade so it’s a good opportunity to clean it up and give what I want to keep a bit of polish. I’m also enjoying doing some of the simpler things – like designing a bit of a logo and visual conceptual for myself. The banner image from is something I spent some time on over the weekend. I loved getting back into Illustrator and playing, creating and experimenting visually. I think I’ve got something I actually like – which for any designer is often the hardest thing! – and it will be able to work across pretty much every application I can think of. It also has flexibility built-in – meaning I can change colours and images to suit what I’m trying to do. Should be fun!

design ideas

Literacy and the Digital Self

I’ve been mulling two separate ideas over the last week – but I have a nagging feeling that they’re somewhat related.

The first is that “digital literacy” is a poorly defined concept and there’s a significant gap between the idea and the reality.

I’d suggest that there’s a significant difference between learning software and becoming literate in digital technology – yet the two are more often than not considered the same. One is said to signify the other but to me the way we learn to use technology is akin to learning to memorise a book rather than learning to read it. Learning to read requires us to learn the mechanics, vocabulary and grammar – it’s developing knowledge and understanding of the way things are constructed that allows us to become literate.

With technology we seem to just skip that process and in its place we memorise processes and technique that are specific to a certain circumstance (application, operating system, version) which aren’t transferable across contexts. Without an understanding of the mechanis every new technologies requires tremendous effort to learn, just as it would to memorise a book. However, if we become literate in digital technology – if we’ve learnt how to read – new applications, systems and software can become akin to picking a book off a library shelf and instantly being able to make sense of it. While the story, the character, even the way language is used might be different our literacy allows us to make sense of it. It’s not about homogenisation but rather the skills to adapt to complexity, variety and diversity.

I’m on board with the idea that digital literacy is something vital for 21st century society. I feel that it can equip us with the tools and knowledge to become active in determining our technological future rather than just responding and adapting to the technology placed in front of us. The big caveat here is that it requires effort – quite a lot. Becoming digitally literate requires a similar effort to learning to read – taking years to develop and improve through incremental exposure to new concepts and increasing complexity.

The other idea is that of creating a student centric technology ecosystem.

I’ve been toying with the idea since the end of last year and it came from thinking through the concept of transferring ownership and custodianship of data back to students. It’s been fuelled over the last month by the blog discussions from Jim Groom, Mike Caulfield and others collated in this post from Ryan Brazell. Their discussion and suggested frameworks are similar to what I had in mind for a system that would transfer ownership and control back to students in terms of their data and the content they generate as part of their studies. Think blog + LinkedIn + eportfolio + badge backpack rolled into one but managed by the student not a commercial entity looking to commercialise data. Think then about integration of this system into institutional systems (LMS, student admin etc) via APIs using profiles that the students have control over. They can decide levels of access institutions can have to their data as well as things like preferred communication channels and contact details. This kind of system could work with the traditional LMS but it would be transform it into an aggregator, returning it to the status of an actual management tool, rather than the source and container of all content. It would create a distributed ecosystem of self managed services performing a range of functions from identity management to online publishing, records of learning and displays of achievement. This would work just as well for staff within the education sector too – and could form part of establishing their digital literacies. Essentially it decouples the student from the confines of institutional systems while also supporting the institution in providing more seamless and collaborative offerings. It opens universities to new models of working, collaborating and the associated income streams possible.

But … (and in this case it’s a big one) … this system would require greater digital literacy to get off the ground than say an LMS, especially in terms of executive management. It’s a huge shift away from how digital technology has been sold and has worked in the past. It’s a move away from the control, concentrated resources, monolithic system and captive data that most institutions are used to (perhaps depend on) to something open, distributed, personal and fundamentally mobile. It’s a situation that this cartoon I retweeted sums up perfectly:

Perhaps what links these idea together is what I perceive as the mismatch between rhetoric and reality.

We want students and staff to be more digitally literate but that currently is equated to knowing software or performing rudimentary tasks not an understanding line mechanics of the digital environment. We want personalised learning but think that we can achieve this by containing students within the LMS rather than on the web and by measuring vast amounts of data rather than actually giving students the power to make their own informed decisions. The intended outcomes aren’t reflected in what is being done, even on a strategic level at most universities, let alone what happens in the majority of individual classes.

Putting this all down in this post is an attempt for me to come to terms with what I’ve been thinking. It’s not particularly clear – but it’s a description of events that I see as the come into focus. I’m not trying to be pessimistic – instead its my way of licking my finger, sticking it in the air and trying to see where the wind is blowing.

I’m not pessimistic on what lies ahead – far from it. The work that people like Jim Groom and the team behind Domain Of Ones Own have been doing actually fill me with hope – because someone out there is doing something. I’m also interested reading Mike’s posts because I can see at least someone is starting to develop a vision for what’s next. The work ahead is about trying to draw a line between the two!

Thanks to @jimgroom, @holden & @ryanbrazell for sharing your work so openly!

PC Age vs Mobile Age

I’ve used this table a couple of times over the last couple of weeks and a number of people have asked if they can use/borrow/build upon. The simple answer is yes! I’m happy to release the idea and the image under creative commons.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Feel free to use the image up on Flickr or Copy and paste the table below.

PC Age vs Mobile Age

PC Age Mobile Age
situated location mobile
static environment dynamic
slow speed of change rapid
separate technology embedded
formal structure organic
low level of convenience high
abstracted authenticity situated
centralised resources distributed

The idea behind the table was to use technology to explain the shift in thinking required to cope with the new age and environment we live, work and learn in. If you use the work I’d love to know where – so shoot me a tweet @timklapdor

Creative Commons License
PC Age vs Mobile Age by Tim Klapdor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Change comes in cycles & Innovation in waves

I have a dilemma. I can’t quite determine what innovation is. That’s combined with the struggle to understand when it occurs. I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions:

Is innovation actually different from progress or change?

Isn’t it often just evolution being applied outside of a biological and genetic setting?

Does innovation occur the first time, and only the first time, something is practiced? Or can innovation occur repeatedly?

Is it innovation when it happens in a local context – i.e. the first time I try a technology – or just in the global sense?

Is adoption an actual part of the innovation process at all?

Innovation seems to be one of those words that’s lost its sense of meaning because its being applied to everything! I chose a maroon shirt to wear – INNOVATION! I started using a bit of software – INNOVATION!

Innovation has got to point where it now needs to adopt quantifiers – disruptive or sustained – and apparently there are 10 Types or Four P’s depending on what/who you read.

Quantifying innovation seems like a interesting field.

…but to be honest that all seems wrong – it’s all too planned, managed and organised. I’m not necessarily saying this is all wrong – but it’s a daguerreotype – where we intellectualise the image of innovation that’s been created rather than the reality it came from – its true self.

When I sit down to imagine innovation I get real sense of chaos, of mischief, of mistakes & errors, of bending and breaking the rules – not of a neat little box, a graph and a clear category. It’s not something we can just prepackage and deploy – otherwise everyone would be doing it and the reality is that very few actually are really innovating at all. It’s just appeared in the lexicon of organisations with little sense if what it actually means. The neat little version we can categorise isn’t really the actual process of innovation – but what it looks like after the fact, the aftermath, just the concept itself divorced from the reality of getting there.

I’d like blame (and honour) David Jones for making me question what innovation really is:

According to historian Benoit Godin, for more than 2,500 years, the innovator was “a heretic, a revolutionary, a cheater.” Innovators brought little but trouble: They challenged the status quo and undermined the stability of the state. As late as the 1940s, innovation was seen as a form of deviant behavior — like crime or delinquency.

This quote stirred something in me and forced me to really question what innovation actually is. I don’t think it is simply change, progress or growth as they are all measurable and easy to define. Neither is innovation the implementation of something that already exists.

To me innovation is more chaotic and organic with the whole process being messy, contradictory and confusing. Innovation is about the process of thinking, doing, reflecting, tinkering and deconstructing the very foundations we base our ideas. Despite all of this chaos the end result, what is eventually created and formed, is often unrivalled in its clarity and vision. Innovation is a blend of both the destructive and creative.

Innovation is about saying goodbye to things as much as generating and creating new things. This is the hardest part of innovation – making space for the new. – Geoff Mulgan

After all that I’ve come to this: Change comes in cycles & Innovation in waves.

Cycle of Change

People, organisations and companies are all moving forward, changing and adapting to new environments – but is that actual innovation? It seems more evolutionary – a cycle of frequent and managed adaptions to broader and significant environmental and cultural developments.

Change isn’t something that stops because entropy is fundamental to the universe and as such we just have to come to terms with it as a constant. However, because it is a constant we can develop equations on how to deal with it. Change is really a cycle, as history repeats itself it just changes the actors and sometimes the outcomes.

Wave of Innovation

Innovation however is less predictable, seemingly random and quite rare. Over time it builds but at some point it always dissipates – whether that be through wide scale adoption or abject failure. Sometimes the waves can build up to a point that they destroy products, processes, positions and paradigms with them. Other times they are just a ripple we barely feel before it fades into nothing.

Many organisations that wish to be seen as innovative decide to just ride the wave but that isn’t a particularly safe or predictable path. No, if you’re looking for something safe you can’t really innovate, or even ride the wave, you have to wait for the change to be upon you.

If however you want to be an actual Innovator you have to make the waves. There is no choice in that. This is why innovation is truly rare and uncommon. You have to either make a big splash or be willing to put in the resources, time and support to build up momentum, acutely aware that it will all end and dissipate at some point. Sometimes it changes into something else or feeds back into the ocean to form another wave, but it always ends.

Change however is forever.

Something bigger

This way of thinking has made innovation seem more tangible and less of a label to me. It also prompts further thoughts about how change and innovation relate and interact. I was reminded of an image I created a couple of years ago when I first was putting some ideas about innovation – change creates innovation and innovation creates change.

Innovation Creates Change Creates Innovation

It’s a cycle of two unique and separate processes that interact and feed into each other. Which means there is a space between the two that needs further investigation – how innovation becomes change and change becomes innovation.

Innovation in the Organisation

It’s also made me understand more clearly what it is that organisations want when they say they want innovation. While they might want the experimental aspects of innovation to be part of their process, what they really want is to be better at change. They want to be more active and agile in their response to change. They want to be able to be part if that process earlier, to feed into it, rather than wait till their back is against the wall and they have to do it. But that’s just not innovation. That’s not being innovative but it is something more manageable and achievable because change is a defined process. It might require fundamental repositioning in terms of markets, staff, process and organisations structure (I never alluded to it being easy did I?), but it is achievable. It’s really not about innovation, it’s about change.

What’s Next?

This is a fairly recent way of thinking for me – as in the last three days – I want to mull through it some more. The more I think through it and unpack the real examples of innovation (the hothouse that is Apple for example) the more I think I’m onto something.

The Changing Context of Learning

In 2013 Charles Sturt University, my workplace, decided to develop a new project aimed at creating a space and forum to think through some of the issues, challenges, problems and opportunities we face as an institution. The Think Pieces Project was born and I was asked to contribute, which is a real honour. Initially I just needed a title so seeing as I was working on mobile learning I figured that “The Changing Context of Learning” sounded like a good fit.

When I actually came to sit, think and write-up the presentation it became a little harder than I thought. For starters there was a time constraint which I was determined to stay within. I needed to ensure I was concise and I was starting to realise I already had way too many ideas to stuff inside the presentation – the result being that everything was touched on but nothing was explored to any depth. I needed to think harder!

After a number of drafts, slide revisions and a lot of practice I really felt like I was getting to the heart of the problem – a single, simple idea that I think goes to explain some of the issues we face in Higher Education. My talk evolved into discussing the need to shift the perspective through which we view the context of learning – away from the campus and onto one more centred around the student. This reframing and changing of perspective allows us to rethink the role of the university and as well how we think about pedagogy, practice, content and technology. 

I would love to get some broader feedback – as hopefully it does provoke and prompt some thinking to occur! If it does, even if there is disagreement, debate and conjecture, I think I fulfilled the task at hand.

The Think Piece is available as a Slideshare with audio or as a video if you prefer. Feel free to share and comment here or on twitter @timklapdor

Adaptive Digital Publishing – Current Work & Ideas

This is my first post in an attempt to “work out loud” i.e. to be more open in my practice rather than just my output. It’s an attempt to log my current ideas and concepts around a topic to frame it, share it and reflect back at a later date.

One of the things I’ve been interested in over the last decade is the convergence of digital tools with traditional analogue publishing processes. Working in the design field I’ve been at that coalface and published my own fair share of both digital and analogue artefacts.

The last 5 years have seen a massive shift and a chance for digital to move into the analogue print space with viable and attractive alternatives. Smartphones and tablets (and everything in between) offer new opportunities and potential to fundamentally change publishing – how we see it and how we do it.

What’s become abundantly clear though is the lack of tools that can take it to the next level. Most of the popular tools have been co-opted from print and bring with them legacy concepts and constraints. While they may seem adequate they tend to lack the ability to realise the potential of a true digital publishing model.

As part of the mLearn project I’ve been heading up, we investigated what options we have as a university to transition our content to a mobile platform. The results weren’t pretty. Nothing was easy. Conversion was never precise and required manual manipulation to massage it into something viable. This is fine in individual cases but not for the scale we require at Charles Sturt University. What we want as an institution is a way to author once and publish out to many channels, so that our students get to choose how and on what platform they can consume our content. It’s a realisation that our students are diverse, with diverse needs and desires and a one-size-fits-all solution never really fits anyone.

So I’ve been thinking.

Beyond Text

The first big idea was the need to start thinking beyond text. Technically text is easy – if you get a properly marked up document you’re fine. Perhaps that ‘if’ is harder to come by in some cases, but what I’m trying to say is that text is not the problem. No, the sticking point is media. Media is all the other ‘stuff’ that’s possible to place in and around the text. The data tables, diagrams, images, video, audio, activities, quizzes – it’s everything else that’s possible with a digital medium. These are where the problems lie, the challenges and the break points. Media brings to the fore the inherent differentiation between print and digital and in many cases defines them as unique and different. However the goal is not to wipe out print and replace everything with digital. I’d rather see but cohabitation – working and publishing to both, to all forms, platforms and spaces – not adversarial but complementary and certainly not the death of analogue.

Converging Ideas

My skill set and knowledge is something I consider quite unique. I straddle the multiverse, working on the fringes of many realities – analogue & digital, offline & online, web & print, commercial & public. So it’s within this divergent conversation I have been able to pick up on common strands. Twitter has been immeasurably important in this process – allowing me to tap into many new fountains of knowledge and expose my brain to new ideas.

I pick up on the content strategy discussions, with particular resonance are those from Karen McGrane. The thinking around responsive design from Ethan Marcotte. The emergence of new ideas from Brad Frost. The process of Mobile First from Luke Wroblewski. The backend work by guys like Dave Olsen on creating better tools for adaption. The discussions around the Content Management Systems – their pros and cons and place in the new age. Ideas from Jason Grigsby struggling with responsive images that cope with retina and standard displays. The dynamic and active content concepts from Brett Victor.

What I’ve been working through is aligning those ideas. Cherry picking concepts that resonate with my work and trying to formulate those into something we can work on in the project, and I think I’ve got there.

Adaption Through Specialisation

A few weeks ago I had a light bulb moment. I was watching a documentary on metamorphosis and as the narrator described the process and it’s genesis it sparked a Eureka moment! I got pen and paper and started scrawling notes:

Metamorphosis means to change form. It’s an evolutionary model whereby there is conspicuous and abrupt transformation accompanied by changes in habitat or behaviour.

That concept, that idea, that process – I could see vividly how that related to what we want our publishing systems to do. Not just simply respond, but adapt to a specialised form uniquely suited the mode of delivery.

The next big question was how.

The Birth of the Adaptive Media Element

I struggled with this for some time, but the work done by those in the web field, particularly around images was extraordinarily helpful. This is what I came up with:

An Adaptive Media Element (AME) is in essence a meta-object, which contains self-referential information. It is not a single file per se but instead contains more detailed and expressive information that allows logic to be applied. For example an AME might contain a file type reference, the file itself, a weblink to an external source or library, source information of where it came from, reference information, alternative files or metadata, a title, a caption and a description. In the diagram below is an example of what a Video AME could look like – a single element in the authoring environment that links to a library of connected files and information:

This diagram shows how a single AME appears in the editor as well as all the individual components that could make up an AME.

This diagram shows how a single AME appears in the editor as well as all the individual components that could make up an AME.

This extra rich information allows logic to be applied and through a predefined profile, pull in and display only the relevant information into the final markup. In the case below I’ve used some the HTML to define the kind of markup that would be created. In this case the DIV would act as a container for the elements inside being written from the library:

The AME is replaced by the individual components relevant to the publishing output. In this example a video AME is converted into a DIV with the associated elements and attributes coming from the library.

The AME is replaced by the individual components relevant to the publishing output. In this example a video AME is converted into a DIV with the associated elements and attributes coming from the library.

To some extent this is possible through customised web solutions, but not to the mainstream, not directly linked to an authoring system and not across many channels and platforms outside the web environment.

… So back to some more thinking. How would this all work, how would it function, what would it look like? At the same time, as anyone who works in a large institution or on the web would know, you need a great acronym to get any traction. So in looking for one I looked up words containing A, D and P (adaptive digital publishing). Not many words but one stood out…

TADPOLE – The Adaptive Digital Publishing Engine

Developing a process based on metamorphosis and that’s a suggested word? C’mon that’s fate, amirite!

So TADPOLE is an attempt to envision a system that would allow you to author and publishing content out to many formats using Adaptive Media Elements. It consists of three elements:

  1. The Authoring Environment
  2. The Adaptive Media Elements Library
  3. The Transformation/Compiler Engine
Describes the three main theoretical components of the system.

Describes the three main theoretical components of the system.

While I had this initial model I needed some other voices and opinions and was able to bring in the team. Rob and Rod bought some structure and order to my very sketchy ideas. From there we were able to start to define the functionality of each component.

The authoring environment can look and function however one may see fit – but what it essentially creates is structured content. Text creates the narrative structure required for publishing. The AME Library operates as a database of all the individual components required for each element. Many different types of AMEs can be defined and each would have their own separate components listed. Adding content to the library would be similar to a form with predefined fields. The authoring environment would contain a tool to insert an AME into the narrative so that all elements were contextualised and embedded, rather than hanging off the side. The transformation engine is when the logic is applied (defined as “PHP magic” in our early discussions). It would scan through the document and find each of the AMEs and using a predefined profile insert the relevant components from the library into the markup. Profiles would be defined for each output required, so many could be developed and applied to one source to ensure specialised output. Our initial focus was on three – for print, eBook and Web – but these profiles could be customised and sub divided down much further. Profiles could be developed for specific media, platforms or content restrictions e.g. at CSU we have to deal with separate copyright restrictions depending on delivery via print or online. The compiler would then do the final render out and attach the presentation layer dumping out the finished files and folders.

Illustrates how the profiled markup then goes through the transformation and compiling process to output the finished files.

Illustrates how the profiled markup then goes through the transformation and compiling process to output the finished files.

So Why Do This?

What we tend to do at the moment is simply transcribe content from one format or file type to another. This is incredibly time-consuming and inefficient, and tends to focus resources on manual transcription of content rather than capitalise on the logic inherent in the machine. At the same time there is a drive to provide greater diversity in publishing options. We find ourselves in a quite untenable situation In quite broad terms the world has changed but the tools haven’t kept place. We need better tools and better processes.

Everything outlined above is possible today, but what is available form vendors seems to be either an overly simple authoring tool that lacks the depth required for publishing, or an overly complex authoring tool that alienates everyday users to gain powerful publishing functions. What we are proposing is something that doesn’t need to compromise for two reasons:

  1. Content is separate from presentation &
  2. Authoring is separate from publishing.

They co-exist within the same system but there is clear delineation to address quite different requirements. Content should be seen as liquid, but presentation is many faceted and required to conform to certain constraints. In much the same way authoring should be simple and intuitive but publishing needs to be complex and extensible. Through separation of form and function we can achieve a much smarter tool that capitalises on the inherent abilities of machine and human, rather than forcing one to compromise for the other.

What my team and I have tried to envision is an extremely adaptable system. One where:

  • content is developed neutral to the delivery method
  • shape and form comes from the narrative
  • is simple and intuitive for the author to use
  • provides complex output options
  • automation and logic do the heavy lifting, and
  • consolidate disparate production processes

This creates a future friendly system for publishing that will remain adaptable into the future. New components and AMEs can be added as needed and new profiles developed as new standards, formats and platforms are released. Instead of re-encoding, re-creating and translating content into each new format as they arise, the process can be automated and structured based on logic that can automatically be applied to all content. Authors can look after the creation and developers can look after the backend.

From here

At the moment we are only looking at developing a proof of concept, so at this stage we would adopt a static publishing model – so you would need to initiate the process rather than it being dynamic. This is to impose the rigor of form, and using the act of publishing to provides the temporal constraint of a beginning & an end. This minimises the complexity of the system as we won’t be required to maintain versions or host live content. Instead we will leverage our existing systems – a digital repository and LMS – which are far more capable in these areas. Our needs within the university are also centred around the temporal constraints of sessions and semesters, so we want something to remain static for their duration. That said we can envision that the model could be adapted further for use in a dynamic system.

So that’s where we are at the moment. I’ve started to sketch out some of the required AMEs that we need as well as looking at and scoping products are out there that can do what we are proposing. My feeling is that customising an existing CMS might be the way to go, but I am open to ideas.

If you would be interested in collaboration or finding out more please feel free to contact me.