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Submitted by Nara Kasbergen on Tue, 2013-06-04 12:39

Hui Soo asked me to look more into O'Reilly Atlas, the responsive publishing tool that we were introduced to at FluentConf 2013. Here's everything I know/my understanding of it:

  • The platform is based on Git (version control), but for text content. In other words, it uses all of the same processes that we developers use (eg. commits, reverts, branches, pull requests, etc.), but now it's intended to be used for written content instead of for code, to make it easier for writers to collaborate (or just to keep track of different drafts and revert to older versions of specific parts of the book as needed).
  • The platform includes a web-based text editor for editing the actual content of your book. You can either do all your writing in there, or copy-paste from Word, and apply formatting using their GUI or the mark-up language AsciiDoc. The mark-up is designed so that regardless of how you choose to apply your formatting, it can properly be converted to and should look good in all formats (print, e-book, desktop, and mobile).
    There are some screenshots of what the web editor looks like here.
  • Once you're ready to publish, the one source file for your book that you've been working on can generate a print book format, an e-book format, a desktop browser format, and a mobile-optimized browser format. What I'm not sure about is whether you're still responsible for the distribution of these various formats yourself (ie. you need to host the websites, secure a publishing deal, etc.) or whether O'Reilly and the platform also provide for that.
  • The project is currently in private beta; you need to request an invitation to begin using the platform.

Also, it turns out that the lead developer on the project is Rune Madsen, who is an ITP Alum who graduated a year before me, and so we know each other fairly well. Hui Soo suggested that we should bring him in for a seminar, which should be doable since he is based in New York.

The O'Reilly Atlas project was very clearly inspired by Rune's thesis, Versionize, which was a Git/version control for everything/everyone (not just for code/developers). I'm glad that he was able to continue to iterate on his idea, and to do it with funding and support from an organization as big and well-known as O'Reilly!

Nara Kasbergen Says:
Thu, 2013-06-06 08:22

UPDATE: O'Reilly also just recently revealed the consumption end of the platform here: http://chimera.labs.oreilly.com/

It is not clear to me whether all books published on Atlas will automatically be published there, or if the author also has the freedom to publish the content on their own server.

Kate Meersschaert Says:
Wed, 2013-06-05 13:07

Nara, thank you for sharing more info re: Atlas! I wonder if the platform could live on a site like NLT and offer multiple versions of the future of learning volumes Hui Soo & Gary are working on?

Pranav Garg Says:
Wed, 2013-06-05 10:38

amazing feat. Seems pretty interesting for an idea from conceptualization to production :)

Brian Hughes Says:
Tue, 2013-06-04 12:46

Thanks for sharing this, Nara! I love developments in publishing software that borrow ideas from other editing tools. Looking forward to giving it a try!