Medak, Mars & WHW
Public Library

Public Library

may • 2015
price 50 kn

This publication is realized along with the exhibition
Public Library • 27/5 –13/06 2015 • Gallery Nova • Zagreb
Izdavači / Publishers
Tomislav Medak • Marcell Mars •
What, How & for Whom / WHW
ISBN 978-953-55951-3-7 [Što, kako i za koga/WHW]
ISBN 978-953-7372-27-9 [Multimedijalni institut]
A Cip catalog record for this book is available from the
National and University Library in Zagreb under 000907085

With the support of the Creative Europe Programme of the
European Union

ZAGREB • ¶ May • 2015

Public Library

Marcell Mars, Manar Zarroug
& Tomislav Medak


Public Library (essay)
Paul Otlet


Transformations in the Bibliographical
Apparatus of the Sciences
(Repertory — Classification — Office
of Documentation)
McKenzie Wark


Metadata Punk
Tomislav Medak
The Future After the Library
UbuWeb and Monoskop’s Radical Gestures


Marcell Mars,
Manar Zarroug
& Tomislav Medak

Public library (essay)

In What Was Revolutionary about the French Revolution? 01 Robert Darnton considers how a complete collapse of the social order (when absolutely
everything — all social values — is turned upside
down) would look. Such trauma happens often in
the life of individuals but only rarely on the level
of an entire society.
In 1789 the French had to confront the collapse of
a whole social order—the world that they defined
retrospectively as the Ancien Régime — and to find
some new order in the chaos surrounding them.
They experienced reality as something that could
be destroyed and reconstructed, and they faced
seemingly limitless possibilities, both for good and
evil, for raising a utopia and for falling back into
The revolution bootstraps itself.
01 Robert H. Darnton, What Was Revolutionary about the
French Revolution? (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press,
1996), 6.
02 Ibid.

Public library (essay)


In the dictionaries of the time, the word revolution was said to derive from the verb to revolve and
was defined as “the return of the planet or a star to
the same point from which it parted.” 03 French political vocabulary spread no further than the narrow
circle of the feudal elite in Versailles. The citizens,
revolutionaries, had to invent new words, concepts
… an entire new language in order to describe the
revolution that had taken place.
They began with the vocabulary of time and space.
In the French revolutionary calendar used from 1793
until 1805, time started on 1 Vendémiaire, Year 1, a
date which marked the abolition of the old monarchy on (the Gregorian equivalent) 22 September
1792. With a decree in 1795, the metric system was
adopted. As with the adoption of the new calendar,
this was an attempt to organize space in a rational
and natural way. Gram became a unit of mass.
In Paris, 1,400 streets were given new names.
Every reminder of the tyranny of the monarchy
was erased. The revolutionaries even changed their
names and surnames. Le Roy or Leveque, commonly
used until then, were changed to Le Loi or Liberté.
To address someone, out of respect, with vous was
forbidden by a resolution passed on 24 Brumaire,
Year 2. Vous was replaced with tu. People are equal.
The watchwords Liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom, equality, brotherhood)04 were built through
03 Ibid.
04 Slogan of the French Republic,, n.d.,


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

literacy, new epistemologies, classifications, declarations, standards, reason, and rationality. What first
comes to mind about the revolution will never again
be the return of a planet or a star to the same point
from which it departed. Revolution bootstrapped,
revolved, and hermeneutically circularized itself.
Melvil Dewey was born in the state of New York in
1851.05 His thirst for knowledge was found its satisfaction in libraries. His knowledge about how to
gain knowledge was developed by studying libraries.
Grouping books on library shelves according to the
color of the covers, the size and thickness of the spine,
or by title or author’s name did not satisfy Dewey’s
intention to develop appropriate new epistemologies in the service of the production of knowledge
about knowledge. At the age of twenty-four, he had
already published the first of nineteen editions of
A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing
and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a Library,06 the classification system that still bears its
author’s name: the Dewey Decimal System. Dewey
had a dream: for his twenty-first birthday he had
announced, “My World Work [will be] Free Schools
and Free Libraries for every soul.”07
05 Richard F. Snow, “Melvil Dewey”, American Heritage 32,
no. 1 (December 1980),
06 Melvil Dewey, A Classification and Subject Index for Cataloguing and Arranging the Books and Pamphlets of a
Library (1876), Project Gutenberg e-book 12513 (2004),
07 Snow, “Melvil Dewey”.

Public library (essay)


His dream came true. Public Library is an entry
in the catalog of History where a fantastic decimal08
describes a category of phenomenon that—together
with free public education, a free public healthcare,
the scientific method, the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, Wikipedia, and free software, among
others—we, the people, are most proud of.
The public library is a part of these invisible infrastructures that we start to notice only once they
begin to disappear. A utopian dream—about the
place from which every human being will have access to every piece of available knowledge that can
be collected—looked impossible for a long time,
until the egalitarian impetus of social revolutions,
the Enlightment idea of universality of knowledge,
and the expcetional suspenssion of the comercial
barriers to access to knowledge made it possible.
The internet has, as in many other situations, completely changed our expectations and imagination
about what is possible. The dream of a catalogue
of the world — a universal approach to all available
knowledge for every member of society — became
realizable. A question merely of the meeting of
curves on a graph: the point at which the line of
global distribution of personal computers meets
that of the critical mass of people with access to
the internet. Today nobody lacks the imagination
necessary to see public libraries as part of a global infrastructure of universal access to knowledge
for literally every member of society. However, the
08 “Dewey Decimal Classification: 001.”,, 27 October 2014,


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

emergence and development of the internet is taking place precisely at the point at which an institutional crisis—one with traumatic and inconceivable
consequences—has also begun.
The internet is a new challenge, creating experiences commonly proferred as ‘revolutionary’. Yet, a
true revolution of the internet is the universal access
to all knowledge that it makes possible. However,
unlike the new epistemologies developed during
the French revolution the tendency is to keep the
‘old regime’ (of intellectual property rights, market
concentration and control of access). The new possibilities for classification, development of languages,
invention of epistemologies which the internet poses,
and which might launch off into new orbits from
existing classification systems, are being suppressed.
In fact, the reactionary forces of the ‘old regime’
are staging a ‘Thermidor’ to suppress the public libraries from pursuing their mission. Today public
libraries cannot acquire, cannot even buy digital
books from the world’s largest publishers.09 The
small amount of e-books that they were able to acquire already they must destroy after only twenty-six
lendings.10 Libraries and the principle of universal
09 “American Library Association Open Letter to Publishers on
E-Book Library Lending”, Digital Book World, 24 September
10 Jeremy Greenfield, “What Is Going On with Library E-Book
Lending?”, Forbes, 22 June 2012,

Public library (essay)


access to all existing knowledge that they embody
are losing, in every possible way, the battle with a
market dominated by new players such as Amazon.
com, Google, and Apple.
In 2012, Canada’s Conservative Party–led government cut financial support for Libraries and
Archives Canada (LAC) by Can$9.6 million, which
resulted in the loss of 400 archivist and librarian
jobs, the shutting down of some of LAC’s internet
pages, and the cancellation of the further purchase
of new books.11 In only three years, from 2010 to
2012, some 10 percent of public libraries were closed
in Great Britain.12
The commodification of knowledge, education,
and schooling (which are the consequences of a
globally harmonized, restrictive legal regime for intellectual property) with neoliberal austerity politics
curtails the possibilities of adapting to new sociotechnological conditions, let alone further development, innovation, or even basic maintenance of
public libraries’ infrastructure.
Public libraries are an endangered institution,
doomed to extinction.
Petit bourgeois denial prevents society from confronting this disturbing insight. As in many other
fields, the only way out offered is innovative mar11 Aideen Doran, “Free Libraries for Every Soul: Dreaming
of the Online Library”, The Bear, March 2014, http://www.!free-libraries-for-every-soul/c153g.
12 Alison Flood, “UK Lost More than 200 Libraries in 2012”,
The Guardian, 10 December 2012, http://www.theguardian.


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

ket-based entrepreneurship. Some have even suggested that the public library should become an
open software platform on top of which creative
developers can build app stores13 or Internet cafés
for the poorest, ensuring that they are only a click
away from the catalog or the Google
search bar. But these proposals overlook, perhaps
deliberately, the fundamental principles of access
upon which the idea of the public library was built.
Those who are well-meaning, intelligent, and
tactfull will try to remind the public of all the many
sides of the phenomenon that the public library is:
major community center, service for the vulnerable,
center of literacy, informal and lifelong learning; a
place where hobbyists, enthusiasts, old and young
meet and share knowledge and skills.14 Fascinating. Unfortunately, for purely tactical reasons, this
reminder to the public does not always contain an
explanation of how these varied effects arise out of
the foundational idea of a public library: universal
access to knowledge for each member of the society produces knowledge, produces knowledge about
knowledge, produces knowledge about knowledge
transfer: the public library produces sociability.
The public library does not need the sort of creative crisis management that wants to propose what
13 David Weinberger, “Library as Platform”, Library Journal,
4 September 2012,
14 Shannon Mattern, “Library as Infrastructure”, Design
Observer, 9 June 2014,

Public library (essay)


the library should be transformed into once our society, obsessed with market logic, has made it impossible for the library to perform its main mission. Such
proposals, if they do not insist on universal access
to knowledge for all members, are Trojan horses for
the silent but galloping disappearance of the public
library from the historical stage. Sociability—produced by public libraries, with all the richness of its
various appearances—will be best preserved if we
manage to fight for the values upon which we have
built the public library: universal access to knowledge for each member of our society.
Freedom, equality, and brotherhood need brave librarians practicing civil disobedience.
Library Genesis,, Monoskop, UbuWeb
are all examples of fragile knowledge infrastructures
built and maintained by brave librarians practicing
civil disobedience which the world of researchers
in the humanities rely on. These projects are re-inventing the public library in the gap left by today’s
institutions in crisis.
Library Genesis15 is an online repository with over
a million books and is the first project in history to
offer everyone on the Internet free download of its
entire book collection (as of this writing, about fifteen terabytes of data), together with the all metadata
(MySQL dump) and PHP/HTML/Java Script code
for webpages. The most popular earlier reposito15 See


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

ries, such as Gigapedia (later, handled
their upload and maintenance costs by selling advertising space to the pornographic and gambling
industries. Legal action was initiated against them,
and they were closed.16 News of the termination of
Gigapedia/ strongly resonated among
academics and book enthusiasts circles and was
even noted in the mainstream Internet media, just
like other major world events. The decision by Library Genesis to share its resources has resulted
in a network of identical sites (so-called mirrors)
through the development of an entire range of Net
services of metadata exchange and catalog maintenance, thus ensuring an exceptionally resistant
survival architecture., started by the artist Sean Dockray, is
an online repository with over 50,000 books and
texts. A community of enthusiastic researchers from
critical theory, contemporary art, philosophy, architecture, and other fields in the humanities maintains,
catalogs, annotates, and initiates discussions around
it. It also as a courseware extension to the self-organized education platform The Public School.17
16 Andrew Losowsky, “, Book Downloading Site,
Targeted in Injunctions Requested by 17 Publishers,” Huffington Post, 15 February 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.
17 “The Public School”, The Public School, n.d.,

Public library (essay)


UbuWeb18 is the most significant and largest online
archive of avant-garde art; it was initiated and is lead
by conceptual artist Kenneth Goldsmith. UbuWeb,
although still informal, has grown into a relevant
and recognized critical institution of contemporary
art. Artists want to see their work in its catalog and
thus agree to a relationship with UbuWeb that has
no formal contractual obligations.
Monoskop is a wiki for the arts, culture, and media
technology, with a special focus on the avant-garde,
conceptual, and media arts of Eastern and Central
Europe; it was launched by Dušan Barok and others.
In the form of a blog Dušan uploads to Monoskop.
org/log an online catalog of curated titles (at the
moment numbering around 3,000), and, as with
UbuWeb, it is becoming more and more relevant
as an online resource.
Library Genesis,, Kenneth Goldsmith,
and Dušan Barok show us that the future of the
public library does not need crisis management,
venture capital, start-up incubators, or outsourcing but simply the freedom to continue extending
the dreams of Melvil Dewey, Paul Otlet19 and other
visionary librarians, just as it did before the emergence of the internet.

18 See
19 “Paul Otlet”, Wikipedia, 27 October 2014,


M. Mars • M. Zarroug • T. Medak

With the emergence of the internet and software
tools such as Calibre and “[let’s share books],”20 librarianship has been given an opportunity, similar to astronomy and the project SETI@home21, to
include thousands of amateur librarians who will,
together with the experts, build a distributed peerto-peer network to care for the catalog of available
knowledge, because
a public library is:
— free access to books for every member of society
— library catalog
— librarian
With books ready to be shared, meticulously
cataloged, everyone is a librarian.
When everyone is librarian, library is

20 “Tools”, Memory of the World, n.d.,
21 See
22 “End-to-End Catalog”, Memory of the World, 26 November 2012,

Public library (essay)


Paul Otlet

in the Bibliographical Apparatus
of the Sciences [1]
Repertory — Classification — Office
of Documentation
1. Because of its length, its extension to all countries,
the profound harm that it has created in everyone’s
life, the War has had, and will continue to have, repercussions for scientific productivity. The hour for
the revision of the old order is about to strike. Forced
by the need for economies of men and money, and
by the necessity of greater productivity in order to
hold out against all the competition, we are going to
have to introduce reforms into each of the branches
of the organisation of science: scientific research, the
preservation of its results, and their wide diffusion.
Everything happens simultaneously and the distinctions that we will introduce here are only to
facilitate our thinking. Always adjacent areas, or
even those that are very distant, exert an influence
on each other. This is why we should recognize the
impetus, growing each day even greater in the organisation of science, of the three great trends of
our times: the power of associations, technological
progress and the democratic orientation of institutions. We would like here to draw attention to some
of their consequences for the book in its capacity

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


as an instrument for recording what has been discovered and as a necessary means for stimulating
new discoveries.
The Book, the Library in which it is preserved,
and the Catalogue which lists it, have seemed for
a long time as if they had achieved their heights of
perfection or at least were so satisfactory that serious
changes need not be contemplated. This may have
been so up to the end of the last century. But for a
score of years great changes have been occurring
before our very eyes. The increasing production of
books and periodicals has revealed the inadequacy of
older methods. The increasing internationalisation
of science has required workers to extend the range
of their bibliographic investigations. As a result, a
movement has occurred in all countries, especially
Germany, the United States and England, for the
expansion and improvement of libraries and for
an increase in their numbers. Publishers have been
searching for new, more flexible, better-illustrated,
and cheaper forms of publication that are better-coordinated with each other. Cataloguing enterprises
on a vast scale have been carried out, such as the
International Catalogue of Scientific Literature and
the Universal Bibliographic Repertory. [2]
Three facts, three ideas, especially merit study
for they represent something really new which in
the future can give us direction in this area. They
are: The Repertory, Classification and the Office of


Paul Otlet

2. The Repertory, like the book, has gradually been
increasing in size, and improvements in it suggest
the emergence of something new which will radically modify our traditional ideas.
From the point of view of form, a book can be
defined as a group of pages cut to the same format
and gathered together in such a way as to form a
whole. It was not always so. For a long time the
Book was a roll, a volumen. The substances which
then took the place of paper — papyrus and parchment — were written on continuously from beginning to end. Reading required unrolling. This was
certainly not very practical for the consultation of
particular passages or for writing on the verso. The
codex, which was introduced in the first centuries of
the modern era and which is the basis of our present
book, removed these inconveniences. But its faults
are numerous. It constitutes something completed,
finished, not susceptible of addition. The Periodical
with its successive issues has given science a continuous means of concentrating its results. But, in
its turn, the collections that it forms runs into the
obstacle of disorder. It is impossible to link similar
or connected items; they are added to one another
pell-mell, and research requires handling great masses of heavy paper. Of course indexes are a help and
have led to progress — subject indexes, sometimes
arranged systematically, sometimes analytically,
and indexes of names of persons and places. These
annual indexes are preceded by monthly abstracts
and are followed by general indexes cumulated every
five, ten or twenty-five years. This is progress, but
the Repertory constitutes much greater progress.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


The aim of the Repertory is to detach what the
book amalgamates, to reduce all that is complex to
its elements and to devote a page to each. Pages, here,
are leaves or cards according to the format adopted.
This is the “monographic” principle pushed to its
ultimate conclusion. No more binding or, if it continues to exist, it will become movable, that is to
say, at any moment the cards held fast by a pin or a
connecting rod or any other method of conjunction
can be released. New cards can then be intercalated,
replacing old ones, and a new arrangement made.
The Repertory was born of the Catalogue. In
such a work, the necessity for intercalations was
clear. Nor was there any doubt as to the unitary or
monographic notion: one work, one title; one title,
one card. As a result, registers which listed the same
collections of books for each library but which had
constantly to be re-done as the collections expanded,
have gradually been discarded. This was practical
and justified by experience. But upon reflection one
wonders whether the new techniques might not be
more generally applied.
What is a book, in fact, if not a single continuous line which has initially been cut to the length
of a page and then cut again to the size of a justified
line? Now, this cutting up, this division, is purely
mechanical; it does not correspond to any division
of ideas. The Repertory provides a practical means
of physically dividing the book according to the
intellectual division of ideas.
Thus, the manuscript library catalogue on cards
has been quickly followed by catalogues printed on
cards (American Library Bureau, the Catalogue or


Paul Otlet

the Library of Congress in Washington) [3]; then by
bibliographies printed on cards (International Institute of Bibliography, Concilium Bibliographicum)
[4]; next, indices of species have been published on
cards (Index Speciorum) [5]. We have moved from
the small card to the large card, the leaf, and have
witnessed compendia abandoning the old form for
the new (Jurisclasseur, or legal digests in card form).
Even the idea of the encyclopedia has taken this
form (Nelson’s Perpetual Cyclopedia [6]).
Theoretically and technically, we now have in
the Repertory a new instrument for analytically or
monographically recording data, ideas, information. The system has been improved by divisionary cards of various shapes and colours, placed in
such a way that they express externally the outline
of the classification being used and reduce search
time to a minimum. It has been improved further
by the possibility of using, by cutting and pasting,
materials that have been printed on large leaves or
even books that have been published without any
thought of repertories. Two copies, the first providing the recto, the second the verso, can supply
all that is necessary. One has gone even further still
and, from the example of statistical machines like
those in use at the Census of Washington (sic) [7],
extrapolated the principle of “selection machines”
which perform mechanical searches in enormous
masses of materials, the machines retaining from
the thousands of cards processed by them only those
related to the question asked.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


3. But such a development, like the Repertory before it, presupposes a classification. This leads us to
examine the second practical idea that is bringing
about the transformation of the book.
Classification plays an enormous role in scientific thought. If one could say that a science was a
well-made language, one could equally assert that
it is a completed classification. Science is made up
of verified facts which are organised in a structure
of systems, hypotheses, theories, laws. If there is
a certain order in things, it is necessary to have it
also in science which reflects and explains nature.
That is why, since the time of Greek thought until
the present, constant efforts have been made to improve classification. These have taken three principal directions: classification studied as an activity
of the mind; the general classification and sequence
of the sciences; the systematization appropriate to
each discipline. The idea of order, class, genus and
species has been studied since Aristotle, in passing
by Porphyrus, by the scholastic philosophers and by
modern logicians. The classification of knowledge
goes back to the Greeks and owes much to the contributions of Bacon and the Renaissance. It was posed
as a distinct and separate problem by D’Alembert
and the Encyclopédie, and by Ampère, Comte, and
Spencer. The recent work of Manouvrier, Durand
de Cros, Goblot, Naville, de la Grasserie, has focussed on various aspects of it. [8] As to systematics,
one can say that this has become the very basis of
the organisation of knowledge as a body of science.
When one has demonstrated the existence of 28 million stars, a million chemical compounds, 300,000


Paul Otlet

vegetable species, 200,000 animal species, etc., it is
necessary to have a means, an Ariadne’s thread, of
finding one’s way through the labyrinth formed by
all these objects of study. Because there are sciences of beings as well as sciences of phenomena, and
because they intersect with each other as we better
understand the whole of reality, it is necessary that
this means be used to retrieve both. The state of development of a science is reflected at any given time
by its systematics, just as the general classification
of the sciences reflects the state of development of
the encyclopedia, of the philosophy of knowledge.
The need has been felt, however, for a practical
instrument of classification. The classifications of
which we have just spoken are constantly changing, at least in their detail if not in broad outline. In
practice, such instability, such variability which is
dependent on the moment, on schools of thought
and individuals, is not acceptable. Just as the Repertory had its origin in the catalogue, so practical
classification originated in the Library. Books represent knowledge and it is necessary to arrange them
in collections. Schemes for this have been devised
since the Middle Ages. The elaboration of grand
systems occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries
and some new ones were added in the 19th century. But when bibliography began to emerge as an
autonomous field of study, it soon began to develop
along the lines of the catalogue of an ideal library
comprising the totality of what had been published.
From this to drawing on library classifications was
but a step, and it was taken under certain conditions
which must be stressed.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


Up to the present time, 170 different classifications
have been identified. Now, no cooperation is possible if everyone stays shut up in his own system. It
has been necessary, therefore, to choose a universal
classification and to recommend it as such in the
same way that the French Convention recognized
the necessity of a universal system of weights and
measures. In 1895 the first International Conference
of Bibliography chose the Decimal Classification
and adopted a complete plan for its development. In
1904, the edition of the expanded tables appeared. A
new edition was being prepared when the war broke
out Brussels, headquarters of the International Institute of Bibliography, which was doing this work,
was part of the invaded territory.
In its latest state, the Decimal Classification has
become an instrument of great precision which
can meet many needs. The printed tables contain
33,000 divisions and they have an alphabetical index consisting of about 38,000 words. Learning is
here represented in its entire sweep: the encyclopedia of knowledge. Its principle is very simple. The
empiricism of an alphabetical classification by subject-heading cannot meet the need for organising
and systematizing knowledge. There is scattering;
there is also the difficulty of dealing with the complex expressions which one finds in the modern terminology of disciplines like medicine, technology,
and the social sciences. Above all, it is impossible
to achieve any international cooperation on such
a national basis as language. The Decimal Classification is a vast systematization of knowledge, “the
table of contents of the tables of contents” of all


Paul Otlet

treatises. But, as it would be impossible to find a
particular subject’s relative place by reference to
another subject, a system of numbering is needed.
This is decimal, which an example will make clear.
Optical Physiology would be classified thus:
5 th Class
3rd Group
5th Division
7th Sub-division

Natural Sciences
Optical Physiology

or 535.7
This number 535.7 is called decimal because all
knowledge is taken as one of which each science is
a fraction and each individual subject is a decimal
subdivided to a lesser or greater degree. For the sake
of abbreviation, the zero of the complete number,
which would be 0.5357, has been suppressed because
the zero would be repeated in front of each number.
The numbers 5, 3, 5, 7 (which one could call five hundred and thirty-five point seven and which could
be arranged in blocks of three as for the telephone,
or in groups of twos) form a single number when
the implied words, “class, group, division and subdivision,” are uttered.
The classification is also called decimal because
all subjects are divided into ten classes, then each
of these into at least ten groups, and each group
into at least ten divisions. All that is needed for the
number 535.7 always to have the same meaning is
to translate the tables into all languages. All that is
needed to deal with future scientific developments

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


in optical physiology in all of its ramifications is to
subdivide this number by further decimal numbers
corresponding to the subdivisions of the subject
Finally, all that is needed to ensure that any document or item pertaining to optical physiology finds
its place within the sum total of scientific subjects
is to write this number on it In the alphabetic index
to the tables references are made from each word
to the classification number just as the index of a
book refers to page numbers.
This first remarkable principle of the decimal
classification is generally understood. Its second,
which has been introduced more recently, is less
well known: the combination of various classification numbers whenever there is some utility in expressing a compound or complex heading. In the
social sciences, statistics is 31 and salaries, 331.2. By
a convention these numbers can be joined by the
simple sign : and one may write 31:331.2 statistics
of salaries.01
This indicates a general relationship, but a subject also has its place in space and time. The subject
may be salaries in France limited to a period such as
the 18th century (that is to say, from 1700 to 1799).
01 The first ten divisions are: 0 Generalities, 1 Philosophy, 2
Religion, 3 Social Sciences, 4 Philology, Language, 5 Pure
Sciences, 6 Applied Science, Medicine, 7 Fine Arts, 8 Literature, 9 History and Geography. The Index number 31 is
derived from: 3rd class social sciences, 1st group statistics. The
Index number 331.2 is derived from 3rd class social sciences,
3rd group political economy, 1st division topics about work,
2nd subdivision salaries.


Paul Otlet

The sign that characterises division by place being
the parenthesis and that by time quotation marks
or double parentheses, one can write:
33:331.2 (44) «17» statistics — of salaries — in
France — in the 17th century
or ten figures and three signs to indicate, in terms
of the universe of knowledge, four subordinated
headings comprising 42 letters. And all of these
numbers are reversible and can be used for geographic or chronologic classification as well as for
subject classification:
(44) 31:331.2 «17»
France — Statistics — Salaries — 17th Century
«17» (44) 31:331.2
17th Century — France — Statistics — Salaries
The subdivisions of relation and location explained
here, are completed by documentary subdivisions
for the form and the language of the document (for
example, periodical, in Italian), and by functional
subdivisions (for example, in zoology all the divisions by species of animal being subdivided by biological aspects). It follows by virtue of the law of
permutations and combinations that the present
tables of the classification permit the formulation
at will of millions of classification numbers. Just as
arithmetic does not give us all the numbers readymade but rather a means of forming them as we
need them, so the classification gives us the means

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


of creating classification numbers insofar as we have
compound headings that must be translated into a
notation of numbers.
Like chemistry, mathematics and music, bibliography thus has its own extremely simple notations:
numbers. Immediately and without confusion, it
allows us to find a place for each idea, for each thing
and consequently for each book, article, or document and even for each part of a book or document
Thus it allows us to take our bearings in the midst
of the sources of knowledge, just as the system of
geographic coordinates allows us to take our bearings on land or sea.
One may well imagine the usefulness of such a
classification to the Repertory. It has rid us of the
difficulty of not having continuous pagination. Cards
to be intercalated can be placed according to their
class number and the numbering is that of tables
drawn up in advance, once and for all, and maintained with an unvarying meaning. As the classification has a very general use, it constitutes a true
documentary classification which can be used in
various kinds of repertories: bibliographic repertories; catalogue-like repertories of objects, persons,
phenomena; and documentary repertories of files
made up of written or printed materials of all kinds.
The possibility can be envisaged of encyclopedic
repertories in which are registered and integrated
the diverse data of a scientific field and which draw
for this purpose on materials published in periodicals. Let each article, each report, each item of news
henceforth carry a classification number and, automatically, by clipping, encyclopedias on cards can


Paul Otlet

be created in which all the results of international
scientific cooperation are brought together at the
same number. This constitutes a profound change
in the technology of the Book, since the repertory
thus formed is simultaneously a constantly up-dated book and a cooperative book in which are found
printed elements produced in all locations.
4. If we can realize the third idea, the Office of Documentation, then reform will be complete. Such an
office is the old library, but adapted to a new function. Hitherto the library has been a museum of
books. Works were preserved in libraries because
they were precious objects. Librarians were keepers.
Such establishments were not organised primarily
for the use of documents. Moreover, their outmoded
regulations if they did not exclude the most modern
forms of publication at least did not admit them.
They have poor collections of journals; collections
of newspapers are nearly nonexistent; photographs,
films, phonograph discs have no place in them, nor
do film negatives, microscopic slides and many other “documents.” The subject catalogue is considered
secondary in the library so long as there is a good
register for administrative purposes. Thus there is
little possibility of developing repertories in the
library, that is to say of taking publications to pieces and redistributing them in a more directly and
quickly accessible form. For want of personnel to
arrange them, there has not even been a place for
the cards that are received already printed.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


The Office of Documentation, on the contrary, is
conceived of in such a way as to achieve all that is
lacking in the library. Collections of books are the
necessary basis for it, but books, far from being
considered as finished products, are simply materials which must be developed more fully. This
development consists in establishing the connections each individual book has with all of the other
books and forming from them all what might be
called The Universal Book. It is for this that we use
repertories: bibliographic repertories; repertories of
documentary dossiers gathering pamphlets and extracts together by subject; catalogues; chronological
repertories of facts or alphabetical ones of names;
encyclopedic repertories of scientific data, of laws,
of patents, of physical and technical constants, of
statistics, etc. All of these repertories will be set up
according to the method described above and arranged by the same universal classification. As soon
as an organisation to contain these repertories is
created, the Office of Documentation, one may be
sure that what happened to the book when libraries
first opened — scientific publication was regularised
and intensified — will happen to them. Then there
will be good reason for producing in bibliographies,
catalogues, and above all in books and periodicals
themselves, the rational changes which technology and the creative imagination suggest. What is
still an exception today will be common tomorrow.
New possibilities will exist for cooperative work
and for the more effective organisation of science.


Paul Otlet

5. Repertory, Classification, Office of Documentation are therefore the three related elements of a
single reform in our methods of registering scientific discoveries and making them available to the
greatest number of people. Already one must speak
less of experiments and uncertain trials than of the
beginning of serious achievement. The International Institute of Bibliography in Brussels constitutes
a vast intellectual cooperative whose members are
becoming more numerous each day. Associations,
scientific establishments, periodical publications,
scientific and technical workers of every kind are
affiliating with it. Its repertories contain millions of
cards. There are sections in several countries02 . But
this was before the War. Since its outbreak, a movement in France, England and the United States has
been emerging everywhere to improve the organisation of the Book. The Office of Documentation has
been suggested as the solution for the requirements
that have been discussed.
It is important that the world of science and
technology should support this movement and
above all that it should endeavour to apply the new
methods to the works which it will be necessary to
re-organise. Among the most important of these is
the International Catalogue of Scientific Literature,
that fine and great work begun at the initiative of the
Royal Society of London. Until now, this work has
02 In France, the Bureau Bibliographique de Paris and great
associations such as the Société pour l’encouragement de
l’industrie nationale, l’Association pour l’avancement des
sciences, etc., are affiliated with it.

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


been carried on without relation to other works of
the same kind: it has not recognised the value of a
card repertory or a universal classification. It must
recognise them in the future.03 ❧

03 See Paul Otlet, “La Documentation et I’information au service de I’industrie”, Bulletin de la Société d’encouragement
de l’industrie nationale, June 1917. — La Documentation au
service de l’invention. Euréka, October 1917. — L’Institut
International de Bibliographie, Bibliographie de la France,
21 December 1917. — La Réorganisation du Catalogue international de la littérature scientifique. Revue générale des
sciences, IS February 1918. The publications of the Institute,
especially the expanded tables of the Decimal Classification,
have been deposited at the Bureau Bibliographique de Paris,
44 rue de Rennes at the apartments of the Société de l’encouragement. — See also the report presented by General
Sebert (9] to the Congrès du Génie civil, in March 1918 and
whose conclusions about the creation in Paris of a National
Office of Technical Documentation have been adopted.


Paul Otlet

Editor’s Notes
[1] “Transformations operées dans l’appareil bibliographique
des sciences,” Revue scientifique 58 (1918): 236-241.
[2] The International Catalogue of Scientific Literature, an enormous work, was compiled by a Central Bureau under the
sponsorship of the Royal Society from material sent in from
Regional Bureaus around the world. It was published annually beginning in 1902 in 17 parts each corresponding to
a major subject division and comprising one or more volumes. Publication was effectively suspended in 1914. By the
time war broke out, the Universal Bibliographic Repertory
contained over 11 million entries.
[3] For card publication by the Library Bureau and Library of
Congress, see Edith Scott, “The Evolution of Bibliographic
Systems in the United States, 1876–1945” and Editor’s Note
36 to the second paper and Note 5 to the seventh paper in
International Organisation and Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected Essays of Paul Otlet, translated and edited by
W. Boyd Rayward. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1990: 148–156.
[4] Otlet refers to the Concilium Bibliographicum also in Paper
No. 7, “The Reform of National Bibliographies...” in International Organisation and Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected
Essays of Paul Otlet. See also Editor’s Note 5 in that paper
for the major bibliographies published by the Concilium
[5] A possible example of what Otlet is referring to here is the
Gray Herbarium Index. This was “planned to provide cards
for all the names of vascular plant taxa attributable to the

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


Western Hemisphere beginning with the literature of 1886”
(Gray Herbarium Index, Preface, p. iii). Under its first compiler, 20 instalments consisting in all of 28,000 cards were
issued between 1894 and 1903. It has been continued after
that time and was for many years “issued quarterly at the
rate of about 4,000 cards per year.” At the time the cards
were reproduced in a printed catalogue by G. K. Hall in 1968,
there were 85 subscribers to the card sets.
[6] Nelson’s Perpetual Loose-Leaf Encylcopedia was a popular,
12-volume work which went through many editions, its
principle being set down at the beginning of the century.
It was published in binders and the publisher undertook to
supply a certain number of pages of revisions (or renewals)
semi-annually after each edition, the first of which appeared
in 1905. An interesting reference presumably to this work
occurs in a notice, “An Encylcopedia on the Card-Index System,” in the Scientific American 109 (1913): 213. The Berlin
Correspondent of the journal reports a proposal made in
Berlin which contains “an idea, in a sense ... already carried
out in an American loose-leaf encyclopedia, the publishers
of which supply new pages to take the place of those that
are obsolete” (Nelsons, an English firm, set up a New York
branch in 1896. Publication in the U.S. of works to be widely
circulated there was a requirement of the copyright law.)
The reporter observes that the principle suggested “affords
a means of recording all facts at present known as well as
those to be discovered in the future, with the same safety
and ease as though they were registered in our memory, by
providing a universal encyclopedia, incessantly keeping
abreast of the state of human knowledge.” The “bookish”
form of conventional encyclopedias acts against its future
success. “In the case of a mere storehouse of facts the in-


Paul Otlet

finitely more mobile form of the card index should however
be adopted, possibly,” the author goes on making a most interesting reference, “in conjunction with Dr. Goldschmidt’s
Microphotographic Library System.” The need for a central
institute, the nature of its work, the advantages of the work
so organised are described in language that is reminiscent
of that of Paul Otlet (see also the papers of Goldschmidt
and Otlet translated in International Organisation and
Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected Essays of Paul Otlet).
[7] These machines were derived from Herman Hollerith’s
punched cards and tabulating machines. Hollerith had
introduced them under contract into the U.S. Bureau of
the Census for the 1890 census. This equipment was later
modified and developed by the Bureau. Hollerith, his invention and his business connections lie at the roots of the
present IBM company. The equipment and its uses in the
census from 1890 to 1910 are briefly described in John H.
Blodgett and Claire K. Schultz, “Herman Hollerith: Data
Processing Pioneer,” American Documentation 20 (1969):
221-226. As they observe, suggesting the accuracy of Otlet’s
extrapolation, “his was not simply a calculating machine,
it performed selective sorting, an operation basic to all information retrieval.”
[8] The history of the classification of knowledge has been treated
in English in detail by E.C. Richardson in his Classification
Theoretical and Practical, the first edition of which appeared
in 1901 and was followed by editions in 1912 and 1930. A
different treatment is given in Robert Flint’s Philosophy as
Scientia Scientarium: a History of the Classification of the
Sciences which appeared in 1904. Neither of these works
deal with Manouvrier, a French anthropologist, or Durand

Transformations In The Bibliographical
Apparatus Of The Sciences


de Cros. Joseph-Pierre Durand, sometimes called Durand
de Cros after his birth place, was a French physiologist and
philosopher who died in 1900. In his Traité de documentation,
in the context of his discussion of classification, Otlet refers
to an Essai de taxonomie by Durand published by Alcan. It
seems that this is an error for Aperçus de taxonomie (Alcan,
[9] General Hippolyte Sebert was President of the Association française pour l’avancement des sciences, and the Société d’encouragement pour l’industrie nationale. He had
been active in the foundation of the Bureau bibliographique
de Paris. For other biographical information about him see
Editor’s Note 9 to Paper no 17, “Henri La Fontaine”, in International Organisation and Dissemination of Knowledge;
Selected Essays of Paul Otlet.

English translation of the Paul Otlet’s text published with the
permission of W. Boyd Rayward. The translation was originally
published as Paul Otlet, “Transformations in the Bibliographical
Apparatus of the Sciences: Repertory–Classification–Office of
Documentation”, in International Organisation and Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected Essays of Paul Otlet, translated and
edited by W. Boyd Rayward, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1990: 148–156.


Paul Otlet



public library


McKenzie Wark

Metadata Punk

So we won the battle but lost the war. By “we”, I
mean those avant-gardes of the late twentieth century whose mission was to free information from the
property form. It was always a project with certain
nuances and inconsistencies, but over-all it succeeded beyond almost anybody’s wildest dreams. Like
many dreams, it turned into a nightmare in the end,
the one from which we are now trying to awake.
The place to start is with what the situationists
called détournement. The idea was to abolish the
property form in art by taking all of past art and
culture as a commons from which to copy and correct. We see this at work in Guy Debord’s texts and
films. They do not quote from past works, as to do
so acknowledges their value and their ownership.
The elements of détournement are nothing special.
They are raw materials for constructing theories,
narratives, affects of a subjectivity no longer bound
by the property form.
Such a project was recuperated soon enough
back into the art world as “appropriation.” Richard
Prince is the dialectical negation of Guy Debord,

Metadata Punk


in that appropriation values both the original fragment and contributes not to a subjectivity outside of
property but rather makes a career as an art world
star for the appropriating artist. Of such dreams is
mediocrity made.
If there was a more promising continuation of
détournement it had little to do with the art world.
Détournement became a social movement in all but
name. Crucially, it involved an advance in tools,
from Napster to Bitorrent and beyond. It enabled
the circulation of many kinds of what Hito Steyerl
calls the poor image. Often low in resolution, these
détourned materials circulated thanks both to the
compression of information but also because of the
addition of information. There might be less data
but there’s added metadata, or data about data, enabling its movement.
Needless to say the old culture industries went
into something of a panic about all this. As I wrote
over ten years ago in A Hacker Manifesto, “information wants to be free but is everywhere in chains.”
It is one of the qualities of information that it is indifferent to the medium that carries it and readily
escapes being bound to things and their properties.
Yet it is also one of its qualities that access to it can
be blocked by what Alexander Galloway calls protocol. The late twentieth century was — among other
things — about the contradictory nature of information. It was a struggle between détournement and
protocol. And protocol nearly won.
The culture industries took both legal and technical steps to strap information once more to fixity
in things and thus to property and scarcity. Inter-


McKenzie Wark

estingly, those legal steps were not just a question of
pressuring governments to make free information
a crime. It was also a matter of using international
trade agreements as a place outside the scope of de­
mo­­cratic oversight to enforce the old rules of property. Here the culture industries join hands with the
drug cartels and other kinds of information-based
industry to limit the free flow of information.
But laws are there to be broken, and so are protocols of restriction such as encryption. These were
only ever delaying tactics, meant to shore up old
monopoly business for a bit longer. The battle to
free information was the battle that the forces of
détournement largely won. Our defeat lay elsewhere.
While the old culture industries tried to put information back into the property form, there were
other kinds of strategy afoot. The winners were not
the old culture industries but what I call the vulture
industries. Their strategy was not to try to stop the
flow of free information but rather to see it as an
environment to be leveraged in the service of creating a new kind of business. “Let the data roam free!”
says the vulture industry (while quietly guarding
their own patents and trademarks). What they aim
to control is the metadata.
It’s a new kind of exploitation, one based on an
unequal exchange of information. You can have the
little scraps of détournement that you desire, in exchange for performing a whole lot of free labor—and
giving up all of the metadata. So you get your little
bit of data; they get all of it, and more importantly,
any information about that information, such as
the where and when and what of it.

Metadata Punk


It is an interesting feature of this mode of exploitation that you might not even be getting paid for your
labor in making this information—as Trebor Scholz
as pointed out. You are working for information
only. Hence exploitation can be extended far beyond
the workplace and into everyday life. Only it is not
so much a social factory, as the autonomists call it.
This is more like a social boudoir. The whole of social
space is in some indeterminate state between public
and private. Some of your information is private to
other people. But pretty much all of it is owned by
the vulture industry — and via them ends up in the
hands of the surveillance state.
So this is how we lost the war. Making information free seemed like a good idea at the time. Indeed, one way of seeing what transpired is that we
forced the ruling class to come up with these new
strategies in response to our own self-organizing
activities. Their actions are reactions to our initiatives. In this sense the autonomists are right, only
it was not so much the actions of the working class
to which the ruling class had to respond in this case,
as what I call the hacker class. They had to recuperate a whole social movement, and they did. So our
tactics have to change.
In the past we were acting like data-punks. Not
so much “here’s three chords, now form your band.”
More like: “Here’s three gigs, now go form your autonomous art collective.” The new tactic might be
more question of being metadata-punks. On the one
hand, it is about freeing information about information rather than the information itself. We need
to move up the order of informational density and


McKenzie Wark

control. On the other hand, it might be an idea to
be a bit discreet about it. Maybe not everyone needs
to know about it. Perhaps it is time to practice what
Zach Blas calls infomatic opacity.
Three projects seem to embody much of this
spirit to me. One I am not even going to name or
discuss, as discretion seems advisable in that case.
It takes matters off the internet and out of circulation among strangers. Ask me about it in person if
we meet in person.
The other two are Monoskop Log and UbuWeb.
It is hard to know what to call them. They are websites, archives, databases, collections, repositories,
but they are also a bit more than that. They could be
thought of also as the work of artists or of curators;
of publishers or of writers; of archivists or researchers. They contain lots of files. Monoskop is mostly
books and journals; UbuWeb is mostly video and
audio. The work they contain is mostly by or about
the historic avant-gardes.
Monoskop Log bills itself as “an educational
open access online resource.” It is a component part
of Monoskop, “a wiki for collaborative studies of
art, media and the humanities.” One commenter
thinks they see the “fingerprint of the curator” but
nobody is named as its author, so let’s keep it that
way. It is particularly strong on Eastern European
avant-garde material. UbuWeb is the work of Kenneth Goldsmith, and is “a completely independent
resource dedicated to all strains of the avant-garde,
ethnopoetics, and outsider arts.”
There’s two aspects to consider here. One is the
wealth of free material both sites collect. For any-

Metadata Punk


body trying to teach, study or make work in the
avant-garde tradition these are very useful resources.
The other is the ongoing selection, presentation and
explanation of the material going on at these sites
themselves. Both of them model kinds of ‘curatorial’
or ‘publishing’ behavior.
For instance, Monoskop has wiki pages, some
better than Wikipedia, which contextualize the work
of a given artist or movement. UbuWeb offers “top
ten” lists by artists or scholars which give insight
not only into the collection but into the work of the
person making the selection.
Monoskop and UbuWeb are tactics for intervening in three kinds of practices, those of the artworld, of publishing and of scholarship. They respond to the current institutional, technical and
political-economic constraints of all three. As it
says in the Communist Manifesto, the forces for social change are those that ask the property question.
While détournement was a sufficient answer to that
question in the era of the culture industries, they try
to formulate, in their modest way, a suitable tactic
for answering the property question in the era of
the vulture industries.
This takes the form of moving from data to metadata, expressed in the form of the move from writing
to publishing, from art-making to curating, from
research to archiving. Another way of thinking this,
suggested by Hiroki Azuma would be the move from
narrative to database. The object of critical attention
acquires a third dimension, a kind of informational
depth. The objects before us are not just a text or an
image but databases of potential texts and images,
with metadata attached.


McKenzie Wark

The object of any avant-garde is always to practice the relation between aesthetics and everyday
life with a new kind of intensity. UbuWeb and
Monoskop seem to me to be intimations of just
such an avant-garde movement. One that does not
offer a practice but a kind of meta-practice for the
making of the aesthetic within the everyday.
Crucial to this project is the shifting of aesthetic
intention from the level of the individual work to the
database of works. They contain a lot of material, but
not just any old thing. Some of the works available
here are very rare, but not all of them are. It is not
just rarity, or that the works are available for free.
It is more that these are careful, artful, thoughtful
collections of material. There are the raw materials here with which to construct a new civilization.
So we lost the battle, but the war goes on. This
civilization is over, and even its defenders know it.
We live in among ruins that accrete in slow motion.
It is not so much a civil war as an incivil war, waged
against the very conditions of existence of life itself.
So even if we have no choice but to use its technologies and cultures, the task is to build another way
of life among the ruins. Here are some useful practices, in and on and of the ruins. ❧

Metadata Punk



public library


Tomislav Medak

The Future After the Library
UbuWeb and Monoskop’s
Radical Gestures

The institution of the public library has crystallized,
developed and advanced around historical junctures
unleashed by epochal economic, technological and
political changes. A series of crises since the advent
of print have contributed to the configuration of the
institutional entanglement of the public library as
we know it today:01 defined by a publicly available
collection, housed in a public building, indexed and
made accessible with a help of a public catalog, serviced by trained librarians and supported through
public financing. Libraries today embody the idea
of universal access to all knowledge, acting as custodians of a culture of reading, archivists of material
and ephemeral cultural production, go-betweens
of information and knowledge. However, libraries have also embraced a broader spirit of public
service and infrastructure: providing information,
01 For the concept and the full scope of the contemporary library
as institutional entanglement see Shannon Mattern, “Library
as Infrastructure”, Places Journal, accessed April 9, 2015,

The Future After the Library


education, skills, assistance and, ultimately, shelter
to their communities — particularly their most vulnerable members.
This institutional entanglement, consisting in
a comprehensive organization of knowledge, universally accessible cultural goods and social infrastructure, historically emerged with the rise of (information) science, social regulation characteristic
of modernity and cultural industries. Established
in its social aspect as the institutional exemption
from the growing commodification and economic
barriers in the social spheres of culture, education
and knowledge, it is a result of struggles for institutionalized forms of equality that still reflect the
best in solidarity and universality that modernity
had to offer. Yet, this achievement is marked by
contradictions that beset modernity at its core. Libraries and archives can be viewed as an organon
through which modernity has reacted to the crises
unleashed by the growing production and fixation
of text, knowledge and information through a history of transformations that we will discuss below.
They have been an epistemic crucible for the totalizing formalizations that have propelled both the
advances and pathologies of modernity.
Positioned at a slight monastic distance and indolence toward the forms of pastoral, sovereign or
economic domination that defined the surrounding world that sustained them, libraries could never
close the rift or between the universalist aspirations
of knowledge and their institutional compromise.
Hence, they could never avoid being the battlefield
where their own, and modernity’s, ambivalent epis-


Tomislav Medak

temic and social character was constantly re-examined and ripped asunder. It is this ambivalent
character that has been a potent motor for critical theory, artistic and political subversion — from
Marx’s critique of political economy, psychoanalysis
and historic avant-gardes, to revolutionary politics.
Here we will examine the formation of the library
as an epistemic and social institution of modernity
and the forms of critical engagement that continue
to challenge the totalizing order of knowledge and
appropriation of culture in the present.
Here Comes the Flood02
Prior to the advent of print, the collections held in
monastic scriptoria, royal courts and private libraries
typically contained a limited number of canonical
manuscripts, scrolls and incunabula. In Medieval
and early Renaissance Europe the canonized knowledge considered necessary for the administration of
heavenly and worldly affairs was premised on reading and exegesis of biblical and classical texts. It is
02 The metaphor of the information flood, here incanted in the
words of Peter Gabriel’s song with apocalyptic overtones, as
well as a good part of the historic background of the development of index card catalog in the following paragraphs
are based on Markus Krajewski, Paper Machines: About
Cards & Catalogs, 1548–1929 (MIT Press, 2011). The organizing idea of Krajewski’s historical account, that the index
card catalog can be understood as a Turing machine avant
la lettre, served as a starting point for the understanding
of the library as an epistemic institution developed here.

The Future After the Library


estimated that by the 15th century in Western Europe
there were no more than 5 million manuscripts held
mainly in the scriptoria of some 21,000 monasteries and a small number of universities. While the
number of volumes had grown sharply from less
than 0.8 million in the 12th century, the number of
monasteries had remained constant throughout that
period. The number of manuscripts read averaged
around 1,000 per million inhabitants, with the total
population of Europe peaking around 60 million.03
All in all, the book collections were small, access was
limited and reading culture played a marginal role.
The proliferation of written matter after the invention of mechanical movable type printing would
greatly increase the number of books, but also the
patterns of literacy and knowledge production. Already in the first fifty years after Gutenberg’s invention, 12 million volumes were printed, and from
this point onwards the output of printing presses
grew exponentially to 700 million volumes in the
18th century. In the aftermath of the explosion in
book production the cost of producing and buying
books fell drastically, reducing the economic barriers to literacy, but also creating a material vector
for a veritable shift of the epistemic paradigm. The
03 For an economic history of the book in the Western Europe
see Eltjo Buringh and Jan Luiten Van Zanden, “Charting
the ‘Rise of the West’: Manuscripts and Printed Books in
Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through
Eighteenth Centuries”, The Journal of Economic History 69,
No. 02 (June 2009): 409–45, doi:10.1017/S0022050709000837,
particularly Tables 1-5.


Tomislav Medak

emerging reading public was gaining access to the
new works of a nascent Enlightenment movement,
ushering in the modern age of science. In parallel
with those larger epochal transformations, the explosion of print also created a rising tide of new books
that suddenly inundated the libraries. The libraries
now had to contend both with the orders-of-magnitude greater volume of printed matter and the
growing complexity of systematically storing, ordering, classifying and tracking all of the volumes
in their collection. An once almost static collection
of canonical knowledge became an ever expanding
dynamic flux. This flood of new books, the first of
three to follow, presented principled, infrastructural and organizational challenges to the library that
radically transformed and coalesced its functions.
The epistemic shift created by this explosion of
library holdings led to a revision of the assumption
that the library is organized around a single holy
scripture and a small number of classical sources.
Coextensive with the emergence and multiplication of new sciences, the books that were entering
the library now covered an ever diversified scope
of topics and disciplines. And the sheer number of
new acquisitions demanded the physical expansion of libraries, which in turn required a radical
rethinking of the way the books were stored, displayed and indexed. In fact, the flood caused by the
printing press was nothing short of a revolution in
the organization, formalization and processing of
information and knowledge. This becomes evident
in the changes that unfolded between the 16th and
the early 20th in the cataloging of library collections.

The Future After the Library


The initial listings of books were kept in bound
volumes, books in their own right. But as the number of items arriving into the library grew, the constant need to insert new entries made the bound
book format increasingly impractical for library
catalogs. To make things more complicated still,
the diversification of the printed matter demanded
a richer bibliographic description that would allow
better comprehension of what was contained in the
volumes. Alongside the name of the author and the
book’s title, the description now needed to include
the format of the volume, the classification of the
subject matter and the book’s location in the library.
As the pace of new arrivals accelerated, the effort to
create a library catalog became unending, causing a
true crisis in the emerging librarian profession. This
would result in a number of physical and epistemic
innovations in the organization and formalization
of information and knowledge. The requirement
to constantly rearrange the order of entries in the
listing lead to the eventual unbinding of the bound
catalog into separate slips of paper and finally to the
development of the index card catalog. The unbound
index cards and their floating rearrangement, not
unlike that of the movable type, would in turn result in the design of filing cabinets. From Conrad
Gessner’s Bibliotheca Universalis, a three-volume
book-format catalog of around 3,000 authors and
10,000 texts, arranged alphabetically and topically,
published in the period 1545–1548; Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s proposals for a universal library
during his tenure at the Wolfenbüttel library in the
late 17th century; to Gottfried van Swieten’s catalog


Tomislav Medak

of the Viennese court library, the index card catalog and the filing cabinets would develop almost to
their present form.04
The unceasing inflow of new books into the library
prompted the need to spatially organize and classify
the arrangement of the collection. The simple addition of new books to the shelves by size; canonical
relevance or alphabetical order, made little sense
in a situation where the corpus of printed matter
was quickly expanding and no individual librarian
could retain an intimate overview of the library’s
entire collection. The inflow of books required that
the brimming shelf-space be planned ahead, while
the increasing number of expanding disciplines required that the collection be subdivided into distinct
sections by fields. First the shelves became classified
and then the books individually received a unique
identifier. With the completion of the Josephinian
catalog in the Viennese court library, every book became compartmentalized according to a systematic
plan of sciences and assigned a unique sequence of
a Roman numeral, a Roman letter and an Arabic
numeral by which it could be tracked down regardless of its physical location.05 The physical location
of the shelves in the library no longer needed to be
reflected in the ordering of the catalog, and the catalog became a symbolic representation of the freely
re-arrangeable library. In the technological lingo of
today, the library required storage, index, search
and address in order to remain navigable. It is this
04 Krajewski, Paper Machines, op. cit., chapter 2.
05 Ibid., 30.

The Future After the Library


formalization of a universal system of classification
of objects in the library with the relative location of
objects and re-arrangeable index that would then in
1876 receive its present standardized form in Melvil
Dewey’s Decimal System.
The development of the library as an institution of
public access and popular literacy did not proceed
apace with the development of its epistemic aspects.
It was only a series of social upheavals and transformations in the course of the 18th and 19th century
that would bring about another flood of books and
political demands, pushing the library to become
embedded in an egalitarian and democratic political culture. The first big step in that direction came
with the decision of the French revolutionary National Assembly from 2 November 1789 to seize all
book collections from the Church and aristocracy.
Million of volumes were transferred to the Bibliothèque Nationale and local libraries across France.
In parallel, particularly in England, capitalism was
on the rise. It massively displaced the impoverished rural population into growing urban centers,
propelled the development of industrial production and, by the mid-19th century, introduced the
steam-powered rotary press into the book business.
As books became more easily, and mass produced,
the commercial subscription libraries catering to the
better-off parts of society blossomed. This brought
the class aspect of the nascent demand for public
access to books to the fore. After the failed attempts
to introduce universal suffrage and end the system
of political representation based on property entitlements in 1830s and 1840s, the English Chartist


Tomislav Medak

movement started to open reading rooms and cooperative lending libraries that would quickly become
a popular hotbed of social exchanges between the
lower classes. In the aftermath of the revolutionary
upheavals of 1848, the fearful ruling classes heeded
the demand for tax-financed public libraries, hoping
that the access to literature and edification would
ultimately hegemonize the working class for the
benefits of capitalism’s culture of self-interest and
The Avant-gardes in the Library
As we have just demonstrated, the public library
in its epistemic and social aspects coalesced in the
context of the broader social transformations of
modernity: early capitalism and processes of nation-building in Europe and the USA. These transformations were propelled by the advancement of
political and economic rationalization, public and
business administration, statistical and archival
procedures. Archives underwent a corresponding and largely concomitant development with the
libraries, responding with a similar apparatus of
classification and ordering to the exponential expansion of administrative records documenting the
social world and to the historicist impulse to capture the material traces of past events. Overlaying
the spatial organization of documentation; rules
06 For the social history of public library see Matthew Battles,
Library: An Unquiet History (Random House, 2014) chapter
5: “Books for all”.

The Future After the Library


of its classification and symbolic representation of
the archive in reference tools, they tried to provide
a formalization adequate to the passion for capturing historical or present events. Characteristic
of the ascendant positivism of the 19th century, the
archivists’ and librarians’ epistemologies harbored
a totalizing tendency that would become subject to
subversion and displacement in the first decades of
the 20th century.
The assumption that the classificatory form can
fully capture the archival content would become
destabilized over and over by the early avant-gardist
permutations of formal languages of classification:
dadaist montage of the contingent compositional
elements, surrealist insistence on the unconscious
surpluses produced by automatized formalized language, constructivist foregrounding of dynamic and
spatialized elements in the acts of perception and
cognition of an artwork.07 The material composition
of the classified and ordered objects already contained formalizations deposited into those objects
by the social context of their provenance or projected onto them by the social situation of encounter
with them. Form could become content and content
could become form. The appropriations, remediations and displacements exacted by the neo-avantgardes in the second half of the 20th century pro07 Sven Spieker, The Big Archive: Art from Bureaucracy (MIT
Press, 2008) provides a detailed account of strategies that
the historic avant-gardes and the post-war art have developed toward the classificatory and ordering regime of the


Tomislav Medak

duced subversions, resignifications and simulacra
that only further blurred the lines between histories
and their construction, dominant classifications and
their immanent instabilities.
Where does the library fit into this trajectory? Operating around an uncertain and politically embattled universal principle of public access to knowledge
and organization of information, libraries continued being sites of epistemic and social antagonisms,
adaptations and resilience in response to the challenges created by the waves of radical expansion of
textuality and conflicting social interests between
the popular reading culture and the commodification of cultural consumption. This precarious position is presently being made evident by the third
big flood — after those unleashed by movable type
printing and the social context of industrial book
production — that is unfolding with the transition
of the book into the digital realm. Both the historic
mode of the institutional regulation of access and
the historic form of epistemic classification are
swept up in this transformation. While the internet
has made possible a radically expanded access to
digitized culture and knowledge, the vested interests of cultural industries reliant on copyright for
their control over cultural production have deepened the separation between cultural producers and
their readers, listeners and viewers. While the hypertextual capacity for cross-reference has blurred
the boundaries of the book, digital rights management technologies have transformed e-books into
closed silos. Both the decommodification of access
and the overcoming of the reified construct of the

The Future After the Library


self-enclosed work in the form of a book come at
the cost of illegality.
Even the avant-gardes in all their inappropriable
and idiosyncratic recalcitrance fall no less under
the legally delimited space of copyrightable works.
As they shift format, new claims of ownership and
appropriation are built. Copyright is a normative
classification that is totalizing, regardless of the
effects of leaky networks speaking to the contrary.
Few efforts have insisted on the subverting of juridical classification by copyright more lastingly than
the UbuWeb archive. Espousing the avant-gardes’
ethos of appropriation, for almost 20 years it has
collected and made accessible the archives of the
unknown; outsider, rare and canonized avant-gardes and contemporary art that would otherwise remained reserved for the vaults and restricted access
channels of esoteric markets, selective museological
presentations and institutional archives. Knowing
that asking to publish would amount to aligning itself with the totalizing logic of copyright, UbuWeb
has shunned the permission culture. At the level of
poetical operation, as a gesture of displacing the cultural archive from a regime of limited, into a regime
of unlimited access, it has created provocations and
challenges directed at the classifying and ordering
arrangements of property over cultural production.
One can only assume that as such it has become a
mechanism for small acts of treason for the artists,
who, short of turning their back fully on the institutional arrangements of the art world they inhabit,
use UbuWeb to release their own works into unlimited circulation on the net. Sometimes there might


Tomislav Medak

be no way or need to produce a work outside the
restrictions imposed by those institutions, just as
sometimes it is for academics impossible to avoid
the contradictory world of academic publishing,
yet that is still no reason to keep one’s allegiance to
their arrangements.
At the same time UbuWeb has played the game
of avant-gardist subversion: “If it doesn’t exist on
the internet, it doesn’t exist”. Provocation is most
effective when it is ignorant of the complexities of
the contexts that it is directed at. Its effect starts
where fissures in the defense of the opposition start
to show. By treating UbuWeb as massive evidence
for the internet as a process of reappropriation, a
process of “giving to all”, its volunteering spiritus
movens, Kenneth Goldsmith, has been constantly rubbing copyright apologists up the wrong way.
Rather than producing qualifications, evasions and
ambivalences, straightforward affirmation of copy­
ing, plagiarism and reproduction as a dominant
yet suppressed mode of operation of digital culture re-enacts the avant-gardes’ gesture of taking
no hostages from the officially sanctioned systems
of classification. By letting the incumbents of control over cultural production react to the norm of
copying, you let them struggle to dispute the norm
rather than you having to try to defend the norm.
UbuWeb was an early-comer, starting in 1996
and still functioning today on seemingly similar
technology, it’s a child of the early days of World
Wide Web and the promissory period of the experimental internet. It’s resolutely Web 1.0, with
a single maintainer, idiosyncratically simple in its

The Future After the Library


layout and programmatically committed to the
eventual obsolescence and sudden abandonment.
No platform, no generic design, no widgets, no
kludges and no community features. Only Beckett
avec links. Endgame.
A Book is an Index is an Index is an Index...
Since the first book flood, the librarian dream of
epistemological formalization has revolved around
the aspiration to cross-reference all the objects in
the collection. Within the physical library the topical designation has been relegated to the confines of
index card catalog that remained isolated from the
structure of citations and indexes in the books themselves. With the digital transition of the book, the
time-shifted hypertextuality of citations and indexes
became realizable as the immediate cross-referentiality of the segments of individual text to segments
of other texts and other digital artifacts across now
permeable boundaries of the book.
Developed as a wiki for collaborative studies of
art, media and the humanities, took
up the task of mapping and describing avant-gardes and media art in Europe. In its approach both
indexical and encyclopedic, it is an extension of
the collaborative editing made possible by wiki
technology. Wikis rose to prominence in the early
2000s allowing everyone to edit and extend websites running on that technology by mastering a
very simple markup language. Wikis have been the
harbinger of a democratization of web publishing
that would eventually produce the largest collabo-


Tomislav Medak

rative website on the internet — the Wikipedia, as
well as a number of other collaborative platforms. embraces the encyclopedic spirit of
Wikipedia, focusing on its own specific topical and
topological interests. However, from its earliest days has also developed as a form of index
that maps out places, people, artworks, movements,
events and venues that compose the dense network
of European avant-gardes and media art.
If we take the index as a formalization of cross-referential relations between names of people, titles
of works and concepts that exist in the books and
across the books, what emerges is a model of a relational database reflecting the rich mesh of cultural
networks. Each book can serve as an index linking
its text to people, other books, segments in them.
To provide a paradigmatic demonstration of that
idea, has assembled an index of all
persons in Friedrich Kittler’s Discourse Networks,
with each index entry linking both to its location
in the digital version of the book displayed on the archive and to relevant resources for
those persons on the and the internet. Hence, each object in the library, an index
in its own right, potentially allows one to initiate
the relational re-classification and re-organization
of all other works in the library through linkable
Fundamental to the works of the post-socialist
retro-avant-gardes of the last couple of decades has
been the re-writing of a history of art in reverse.
In the works of IRWIN, Laibach or Mladen Stilinović, or comparable work of Komar & Melamid,

The Future After the Library


totalizing modernity is detourned by re-appropriating the forms of visual representation and classification that the institutions of modernity used to
construct a linear historical narrative of evolutions
and breaks in the 19th and 20th century. Genealogical
tables, events, artifacts and discourses of the past
were re-enacted, over-affirmed and displaced to
open up the historic past relegated to the archives
to an understanding that transformed the present
into something radically uncertain. The efforts of in digitizing of the artifacts of the
20th century avant-gardes and playing with the
epistemic tools of early book culture is a parallel
gesture, with a technological twist. If big data and
the control over information flows of today increasingly naturalizes and re-affirms the 19th century
positivist assumptions of the steerablity of society,
then the endlessly recombinant relations and affiliations between cultural objects threaten to overflow
that recurrent epistemic framework of modernity’s
barbarism in its cybernetic form.
The institution of the public library finds itself
today under a double attack. One unleashed by
the dismantling of the institutionalized forms of
social redistribution and solidarity. The other by
the commodifying forces of expanding copyright
protections and digital rights management, control
over the data flows and command over the classification and order of information. In a world of
collapsing planetary boundaries and unequal development, those who control the epistemic order


Tomislav Medak

control the future.08 The Googles and the NSAs run
on capturing totality — the world’s knowledge and
communication made decipherable, organizable and
controllable. The instabilities of the epistemic order
that the library continues to instigate at its margins
contributes to keeping the future open beyond the
script of ‘commodify and control’. In their acts of
re-appropriation UbuWeb and are
but a reminder of the resilience of libraries’ instability that signals toward a future that can be made
radically open. ❧

08 In his article “Controlling the Future—Edward Snowden and
the New Era on Earth”, (accessed April 13, 2015, http://www., Elmar
Altvater makes a comparable argument that the efforts of
the “Five Eyes” to monitor the global communication flows,
revealed by Edward Snowden, and the control of the future
social development defined by the urgency of mitigating the
effects of the planetary ecological crisis cannot be thought

The Future After the Library



public library


Public Library

What, How & for Whom / WHW
Slovenska 5/1 • HR-10000 Zagreb
+385 (0) 1 3907261 •
ISBN 978-953-55951-3-7 [Što, kako i za koga/WHW]
Multimedia Institute
Preradovićeva 18 • HR-10000 Zagreb
+385 (0)1 4856400 •
ISBN 978-953-7372-27-9 [Multimedijalni institut]
Tomislav Medak • Marcell Mars • What, How & for Whom / WHW
Copy Editor
Dušanka Profeta [Croatian]
Anthony Iles [English]
Una Bauer
Tomislav Medak
Dušanka Profeta
W. Boyd Rayward
Design & layout
Dejan Kršić @ WHW
MinionPro [robert slimbach • adobe]

English translation of the Paul
Otlet’s text published with the permission of W. Boyd
Rayward. The translation was originally published as
Paul Otlet, “Transformations in the Bibliographical
Apparatus of the Sciences: Repertory–Classification–Office
of Documentation”, in International Organisation and
Dissemination of Knowledge; Selected Essays of Paul Otlet,
translated and edited by W. Boyd Rayward, Amsterdam:
Elsevier, 1990: 148–156. ❧
format / size
120 × 200 mm
Agrippina 120 g • Rives Laid 300 g
Printed by
Tiskara Zelina d.d.
Print Run
50 kn
May • 2015

This publication, realized along with the exhibition
Public Library in Gallery Nova, Zagreb 2015, is a part of
the collaborative project This Is Tomorrow. Back to Basics:
Forms and Actions in the Future organized by What, How
& for Whom / WHW, Zagreb, Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm
and Latvian Center for Contemporary Art / LCCA, Riga, as a
part of the book edition Art As Life As Work As Art. ❧

Supported by
Office of Culture, Education and Sport of the City of Zagreb
Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia
Croatian Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs
Creative Europe Programme of the European Commission.
National Foundation for Civil Society Development
Kultura Nova Foundation

This project has been funded with support
from European Commision. This publication reflects
the views only of the authors, and the Commission
cannot be held responsible for any use which may be
made of the information contained therein. ❧
Publishing of this book is enabled by financial support of
the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.
The content of the publication is responsibility of
its authors and as such does not necessarily reflect
the views of the National Foundation. ❧
This project is financed
by the Croatian Government Office for Cooperation
with NGOs. The views expressed in this publication
are the sole responsibility of the publishers. ❧

This book is licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution–ShareAlike 4.0
International License. ❧

Public Library

may • 2015
price 50 kn

Graziano, Mars & Medak
Learning from #Syllabus






The syllabus is the manifesto of the 21st century.
—Sean Dockray and Benjamin Forster1
#Syllabus Struggles
In August 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old boy living in Ferguson, Missouri,
was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson. Soon after, as the civil protests denouncing police brutality and institutional racism began to mount across the United
States, Dr. Marcia Chatelain, Associate Professor of History and African American
Studies at Georgetown University, launched an online call urging other academics
and teachers ‘to devote the first day of classes to a conversation about Ferguson’ and ‘to recommend texts, collaborate on conversation starters, and inspire
dialogue about some aspect of the Ferguson crisis.’2 Chatelain did so using the
hashtag #FergusonSyllabus.
Also in August 2014, using the hashtag #gamergate, groups of users on 4Chan,
8Chan, Twitter, and Reddit instigated a misogynistic harassment campaign against
game developers Zoë Quinn and Brianna Wu, media critic Anita Sarkeesian, as well as
a number of other female and feminist game producers, journalists, and critics. In the
following weeks, The New Inquiry editors and contributors compiled a reading list and
issued a call for suggestions for their ‘TNI Syllabus: Gaming and Feminism’.3
In June 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United
States. In the weeks that followed, he became the presumptive Republican nominee,
and The Chronicle of Higher Education introduced the syllabus ‘Trump 101’.4 Historians N.D.B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blain found ‘Trump 101’ inadequate, ‘a mock college syllabus […] suffer[ing] from a number of egregious omissions and inaccuracies’,
failing to include ‘contributions of scholars of color and address the critical subjects
of Trump’s racism, sexism, and xenophobia’. They assembled ‘Trump Syllabus 2.0’.5
Soon after, in response to a video in which Trump engaged in ‘an extremely lewd
conversation about women’ with TV host Billy Bush, Laura Ciolkowski put together a
‘Rape Culture Syllabus’.6


Sean Dockray, Benjamin Forster, and Public Office, ‘’, Hyperreadings, 15 February
Marcia Chatelain, ‘Teaching the #FergusonSyllabus’, Dissent Magazine, 28 November 2014,
‘TNI Syllabus: Gaming and Feminism’, The New Inquiry, 2 September 2014, https://thenewinquiry.
‘Trump 101’, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 June 2016,
N.D.B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blain, ‘Trump Syllabus 2.0’, Public Books, 28 June 2016, https://
Laura Ciolkowski, ‘Rape Culture Syllabus’, Public Books, 15 October 2016, https://www.



In April 2016, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe established the Sacred Stone
Camp and started the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the construction of
which threatened the only water supply at the Standing Rock Reservation. The protest at the site of the pipeline became the largest gathering of native Americans in
the last 100 years and they earned significant international support for their ReZpect
Our Water campaign. As the struggle between protestors and the armed forces unfolded, a group of Indigenous scholars, activists, and supporters of the struggles of
First Nations people and persons of color, gathered under the name the NYC Stands
for Standing Rock Committee, put together #StandingRockSyllabus.7
The list of online syllabi created in response to political struggles has continued to
grow, and at present includes many more examples:
All Monuments Must Fall Syllabus
Puerto Rico Syllabus (#PRSyllabus)
Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves
Syllabus: Women and Gender Non-Conforming People Writing about Tech
What To Do Instead of Calling the Police: A Guide, A Syllabus, A Conversation, A
It would be hard to compile a comprehensive list of all the online syllabi that have
been created by social justice movements in the last five years, especially, but not
exclusively, those initiated in North America in the context of feminist and anti-racist
activism. In what is now a widely spread phenomenon, these political struggles use
social networks and resort to the hashtag template ‘#___Syllabus’ to issue calls for
the bottom-up aggregation of resources necessary for political analysis and pedagogy
centering on their concerns. For this reason, we’ll call this phenomenon ‘#Syllabus’.
During the same years that saw the spread of the #Syllabus phenomenon, university
course syllabi have also been transitioning online, often in a top-down process initiated
by academic institutions, which has seen the syllabus become a contested document
in the midst of increasing casualization of teaching labor, expansion of copyright protections, and technology-driven marketization of education.
In what follows, we retrace the development of the online syllabus in both of these
contexts, to investigate the politics enmeshed in this new media object. Our argument


‘#StandingRockSyllabus’, NYC Stands with Standing Rock, 11 October 2016, https://



is that, on the one hand, #Syllabus names the problem of contemporary political culture as pedagogical in nature, while, on the other hand, it also exposes academicized
critical pedagogy and intellectuality as insufficiently political in their relation to lived
social reality. Situating our own stakes as both activists and academics in the present
debate, we explore some ways in which the radical politics of #Syllabus could be supported to grow and develop as an articulation of solidarity between amateur librarians
and radical educators.
#Syllabus in Historical Context: Social Movements and Self-Education
When Professor Chatelain launched her call for #FergusonSyllabus, she was mainly
addressing a community of fellow educators:
I knew Ferguson would be a challenge for teachers: When schools opened across
the country, how were they going to talk about what happened? My idea was simple, but has resonated across the country: Reach out to the educators who use
Twitter. Ask them to commit to talking about Ferguson on the first day of classes.
Suggest a book, an article, a film, a song, a piece of artwork, or an assignment that
speaks to some aspect of Ferguson. Use the hashtag: #FergusonSyllabus.8
Her call had a much greater resonance than she had originally anticipated as it reached
beyond the limits of the academic community. #FergusonSyllabus had both a significant impact in shaping the analysis and the response to the shooting of Michael
Brown, and in inspiring the many other #Syllabus calls that soon followed.
The #Syllabus phenomenon comprises different approaches and modes of operating. In some cases, the material is clearly claimed as the creation of a single individual, as in the case of #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus, which is prefaced on the project’s
landing page by a warning to readers that ‘material compiled in this syllabus should
not be duplicated without proper citation and attribution.’9 A very different position on
intellectual property has been embraced by other #Syllabus interventions that have
chosen a more commoning stance. #StandingRockSyllabus, for instance, is introduced as a crowd-sourced process and as a useful ‘tool to access research usually
kept behind paywalls.’10
The different workflows, modes of engagements, and positioning in relation to
intellectual property make #Syllabus readable as symptomatic of the multiplicity
that composes social justice movements. There is something old school—quite
literally—about the idea of calling a list of online resources a ‘syllabus’; a certain
quaintness, evoking thoughts of teachers and homework. This is worthy of investigation especially if contrasted with the attention dedicated to other online cultural
phenomena such as memes or fake news. Could it be that the online syllabus offers



Marcia Chatelain, ‘How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson’, The Atlantic, 25
August 2014,
Frank Leon Roberts, ‘Black Lives Matter: Race, Resistance, and Populist Protest’, 2016, http://
‘#StandingRockSyllabus’, NYC Stands with Standing Rock, 11 October 2016, https://



a useful, fresh format precisely for the characteristics that foreground its connections to older pedagogical traditions and techniques, predating digital cultures?
#Syllabus can indeed be analyzed as falling within a long lineage of pedagogical tools
created by social movements to support processes of political subjectivation and the
building of collective consciousness. Activists and militant organizers have time and
again created and used various textual media objects—such as handouts, pamphlets,
cookbooks, readers, or manifestos—to facilitate a shared political analysis and foment
mass political mobilization.
In the context of the US, anti-racist movements have historically placed great emphasis on critical pedagogy and self-education. In 1964, the Council of Federated Organizations (an alliance of civil rights initiatives) and the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC), created a network of 41 temporary alternative
schools in Mississippi. Recently, the Freedom Library Project, a campaign born out
of #FergusonSyllabus to finance under-resourced pedagogical initiatives, openly
referenced this as a source of inspiration. The Freedom Summer Project of 1964
brought hundreds of activists, students, and scholars (many of whom were white)
from the north of the country to teach topics and issues that the discriminatory
state schools would not offer to black students. In the words of an SNCC report,
Freedom Schools were established following the belief that ‘education—facts to
use and freedom to use them—is the basis of democracy’,11 a conviction echoed
by the ethos of contemporary #Syllabus initiatives.
Bob Moses, a civil rights movement leader who was the head of the literary skills initiative in Mississippi, recalls the movement’s interest, at the time, in teaching methods
that used the very production of teaching materials as a pedagogical tool:
I had gotten hold of a text and was using it with some adults […] and noticed that
they couldn’t handle it because the pictures weren’t suited to what they knew […]
That got me into thinking about developing something closer to what people were
doing. What I was interested in was the idea of training SNCC workers to develop
material with the people we were working with.12
It is significant that for him the actual use of the materials the group created was much
less important than the process of producing the teaching materials together. This focus
on what could be named as a ‘pedagogy of teaching’, or perhaps more accurately ‘the
pedagogy of preparing teaching materials’, is also a relevant mechanism at play in the
current #Syllabus initiatives, as their crowdsourcing encourages different kinds of people
to contribute what they feel might be relevant resources for the broader movement.
Alongside the crucial import of radical black organizing, another relevant genealogy in
which to place #Syllabus would be the international feminist movement and, in particular, the strategies developed in the 70s campaign Wages for Housework, spearheaded


Daniel Perlstein, ‘Teaching Freedom: SNCC and the Creation of the Mississippi Freedom Schools’,
History of Education Quarterly 30.3 (Autumn 1990): 302.
Perlstein, ‘Teaching Freedom’: 306.



by Selma James and Silvia Federici. The Wages for Housework campaign drove home
the point that unwaged reproductive labor provides a foundation for capitalist exploitation. They wanted to encourage women to denaturalize and question the accepted
division of labor into remunerated work outside the house and labor of love within
the confines of domesticity, discussing taboo topics such as ‘prostitution as socialized housework’ and ‘forced sterilization’ as issues impacting poor, often racialized,
women. The organizing efforts of Wages for Housework held political pedagogy at their
core. They understood that that pedagogy required:
having literature and other materials available to explain our goals, all written in a
language that women can understand. We also need different types of documents,
some more theoretical, others circulating information about struggles. It is important
that we have documents for women who have never had any political experience.
This is why our priority is to write a popular pamphlet that we can distribute massively and for free—because women have no money.13
The obstacles faced by the Wages for Housework campaign were many, beginning
with the issue of how to reach a dispersed constituency of isolated housewives
and how to keep the revolutionary message at the core of their claims accessible
to different groups. In order to tackle these challenges, the organizers developed
a number of innovative communication tactics and pedagogical tools, including
strategies to gain mainstream media coverage, pamphlets and leaflets translated
into different languages,14 a storefront shop in Brooklyn, and promotional tables at
local events.
Freedom Schools and the Wages for Housework campaign are only two amongst
the many examples of the critical pedagogies developed within social movements.
The #Syllabus phenomenon clearly stands in the lineage of this history, yet we should
also highlight its specificity in relation to the contemporary political context in which it
emerged. The #Syllabus acknowledges that since the 70s—and also due to students’
participation in protests and their display of solidarity with other political movements—
subjects such as Marxist critical theory, women studies, gender studies, and African
American studies, together with some of the principles first developed in critical pedagogy, have become integrated into the educational system. The fact that many initiators of #Syllabus initiatives are women and Black academics speaks to this historical
shift as an achievement of that period of struggles. However, the very necessity felt by
these educators to kick-start their #Syllabus campaigns outside the confines of academia simultaneously reveals the difficulties they encounter within the current privatized and exclusionary educational complex.


Silvia Federici and Arlen Austin (eds) The New York Wages for Housework Committee 1972-1977:
History, Theory and Documents. New York: Autonomedia, 2017: 37.
Some of the flyers and pamphlets were digitized by MayDay Rooms, ‘a safe haven for historical
material linked to social movements, experimental culture and the radical expression of
marginalised figures and groups’ in London, and can be found in their online archive: ‘Wages
for Housework: Pamphlets – Flyers – Photographs’, MayDay Rooms,



#Syllabus as a Media Object
Besides its contextualization within the historical legacy of previous grassroots mobilizations, it is also necessary to discuss #Syllabus as a new media object in its own
right, in order to fully grasp its relevance for the future politics of knowledge production and transmission.
If we were to describe this object, a #Syllabus would be an ordered list of links to
scholarly texts, news reports, and audiovisual media, mostly aggregated through a
participatory and iterative process, and created in response to political events indicative of larger conditions of structural oppression. Still, as we have seen, #Syllabus
as a media object doesn’t follow a strict format. It varies based on the initial vision
of their initiators, political causes, and social composition of the relevant struggle.
Nor does it follow the format of traditional academic syllabi. While a list of learning
resources is at the heart of any syllabus, a boilerplate university syllabus typically
also includes objectives, a timetable, attendance, coursework, examination, and an
outline of the grading system used for the given course. Relieved of these institutional
requirements, the #Syllabus typically includes only a reading list and a hashtag. The
reading list provides resources for understanding what is relevant to the here and
now, while the hashtag provides a way to disseminate across social networks the call
to both collectively edit and teach what is relevant to the here and now. Both the list
and the hashtag are specificities and formal features of the contemporary (internet)
culture and therefore merit further exploration in relation to the social dynamics at
play in #Syllabus initiatives.
The different phases of the internet’s development approached the problem of the
discoverability of relevant information in different ways. In the early days, the Gopher
protocol organized information into a hierarchical file tree. With the rise of World Wide
Web (WWW), Yahoo tried to employ experts to classify and catalog the internet into
a directory of links. That seemed to be a successful approach for a while, but then
Google (founded in 1998) came along and started to use a webgraph of links to rank
the importance of web pages relative to a given search query.
In 2005, Clay Shirky wrote the essay ‘Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links and
Tags’,15 developed from his earlier talk ‘Folksonomies and Tags: The Rise of User-Developed Classification’. Shirky used Yahoo’s attempt to categorize the WWW to argue
against any attempt to classify a vast heterogenous body of information into a single
hierarchical categorical system. In his words: ‘[Yahoo] missed [...] that, if you’ve got
enough links, you don’t need the hierarchy anymore. There is no shelf. There is no file
system. The links alone are enough.’ Those words resonated with many. By following
simple formatting rules, we, the internet users, whom Time magazine named Person of
the Year in 2006, proved that it is possible to collectively write the largest encyclopedia
ever. But, even beyond that, and as per Shirky’s argument, if enough of us organized
our own snippets of the vast body of the internet, we could replace old canons, hierarchies, and ontologies with folksonomies, social bookmarks, and (hash)tags.


Clay Shirky, ‘Ontology Is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags’, 2005,



Very few who lived through those times would have thought that only a few years later
most user-driven services would be acquired by a small number of successful companies and then be shut down. Or, that Google would decide not to include the biggest
hashtag-driven platform, Twitter, into its search index and that the search results on
its first page would only come from a handful of usual suspects: media conglomerates, Wikipedia, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, Reddit, Quora. Or, that Twitter would
become the main channel for the racist, misogynist, fascist escapades of the President
of United States.
This internet folk naivety—stoked by an equally enthusiastic, venture-capital-backed
startup culture—was not just naivety. This was also a period of massive experimental
use of these emerging platforms. Therefore, this history would merit to be properly
revisited and researched. In this text, however, we can only hint to this history: to contextualize how the hashtag as a formalization initially emerged, and how with time the
user-driven web lost some of its potential. Nonetheless, hashtags today still succeed in
propagating political mobilizations in the network environment. Some will say that this
propagation is nothing but a reflection of the internet as a propaganda machine, and
there’s no denying that hashtags do serve a propaganda function. However, it equally
matters that hashtags retain the capacity to shape coordination and self-organization,
and they are therefore a reflection of the internet as an organization machine.
As mentioned, #Syllabus as a media object is an ordered list of links to resources.
In the long history of knowledge retrieval systems and attempts to help users find
relevant information from big archives, the list on the internet continues in the tradition of the index card catalog in libraries, of charts in the music industry, or mixtapes
and playlists in popular culture, helping people tell their stories of what is relevant and
what isn’t through an ordered sequence of items. The list (as a format) together with
the hashtag find themselves in the list (pun intended) of the most iconic media objects
of the internet. In the network media environment, being smart in creating new lists
became the way to displace old lists of relevance, the way to dismantle canons, the
way to unlearn. The way to become relevant.
The Academic Syllabus Migrates Online
#Syllabus interventions are a challenge issued by political struggles to educators as
they expose a fundamental contradiction in the operations of academia. While critical pedagogies of yesteryear’s social movements have become integrated into the
education system, the radical lessons that these pedagogies teach students don’t
easily reconcile with their experience: professional practice courses, the rethoric of
employability and compulsory internships, where what they learn is merely instrumental, leaves them wondering how on earth they are to apply their Marxism or feminism
to their everyday lives?
Cognitive dissonance is at the basis of degrees in the liberal arts. And to make things
worse, the marketization of higher education, the growing fees and the privatization
of research has placed universities in a position where they increasingly struggle to
provide institutional space for critical interventions in social reality. As universities become more dependent on the ‘customer satisfaction’ of their students for survival, they
steer away from heated political topics or from supporting faculty members who might
decide to engage with them. Borrowing the words of Stefano Harney and Fred Moten,



‘policy posits curriculum against study’,16 creating the paradoxical situation wherein
today’s universities are places in which it is possible to do almost everything except
study. What Harney and Moten propose instead is the re-appropriation of the diffuse
capacity of knowledge generation that stems from the collective processes of selforganization and commoning. As Moten puts it: ‘When I think about the way we use the
term ‘study,’ I think we are committed to the idea that study is what you do with other
people.’17 And it is this practice of sharing a common repertoire—what Moten and
Harney call ‘rehearsal’18—that is crucially constitutive of a crowdsourced #Syllabus.
This contradiction and the tensions it brings to contemporary neoliberal academia can
be symptomatically observed in the recent evolution of the traditional academic syllabus. As a double consequence of (some) critical pedagogies becoming incorporated
into the teaching process and universities striving to reduce their liability risks, academic syllabi have become increasingly complex and extensive documents. They are
now understood as both a ‘social contract’ between the teachers and their students,
and ‘terms of service’19 between the institution providing educational services and the
students increasingly framed as sovereign consumers making choices in the market of
educational services. The growing official import of the syllabus has had the effect that
educators have started to reflect on how the syllabus translates the power dynamics
into their classroom. For instance, the critical pedagogue Adam Heidebrink-Bruno has
demanded that the syllabus be re-conceived as a manifesto20—a document making
these concerns explicit. And indeed, many academics have started to experiment with
the form and purpose of the syllabus, opening it up to a process of co-conceptualization with their students, or proposing ‘the other syllabus’21 to disrupt asymmetries.
At the same time, universities are unsurprisingly moving their syllabi online. A migration
that can be read as indicative of three larger structural shifts in academia.
First, the push to make syllabi available online, initiated in the US, reinforces the differential effects of reputation economy. It is the Ivy League universities and their professorial star system that can harness the syllabus to advertise the originality of their
scholarship, while the underfunded public universities and junior academics are burdened with teaching the required essentials. This practice is tied up with the replication
in academia of the different valorization between what is considered to be the labor of
production (research) and that of social reproduction (teaching). The low esteem (and
corresponding lower rewards and remuneration) for the kinds of intellectual labors that
can be considered labors of care—editing journals, reviewing papers or marking, for
instance—fits perfectly well with the gendered legacies of the academic institution.

Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, New York:
Autonomedia, 2013, p. 81.
17 Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, p. 110.
18 Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, p. 110.
19 Angela Jenks, ‘It’s In The Syllabus’, Teaching Tools, Cultural Anthropology website, 30 June 2016,
20 Adam Heidebrink-Bruno, ‘Syllabus as Manifesto: A Critical Approach to Classroom Culture’,
Hybrid Pedagogy, 28 August 2014,
21 Lucy E. Bailey, ‘The “Other” Syllabus: Rendering Teaching Politics Visible in the Graduate
Pedagogy Seminar’, Feminist Teacher 20.2 (2010): 139–56.



Second, with the withdrawal of resources to pay precarious and casualized academics during their ‘prep’ time (that is, the time in which they can develop new
course material, including assembling new lists of references, updating their courses as well as the methodologies through which they might deliver these), syllabi
now assume an ambivalent role between the tendencies for collectivization and
individualization of insecurity. The reading lists contained in syllabi are not covered
by copyrights; they are like playlists or recipes, which historically had the effect of
encouraging educators to exchange lesson plans and make their course outlines
freely available as a valuable knowledge common. Yet, in the current climate where
universities compete against each other, the authorial function is being extended
to these materials too. Recently, US universities have been leading a trend towards
the interpretation of the syllabus as copyrightable material, an interpretation that
opened up, as would be expected, a number of debates over who is a syllabus’
rightful owner, whether the academics themselves or their employers. If the latter interpretation were to prevail, this would enable universities to easily replace
academics while retaining their contributions to the pedagogical offer. The fruits of
a teacher’s labor could thus be turned into instruments of their own deskilling and
casualization: why would universities pay someone to write a course when they can
recycle someone else’s syllabus and get a PhD student or a precarious post doc to
teach the same class at a fraction of the price?
This tendency to introduce a logic of property therefore spurs competitive individualism and erasure of contributions from others. Thus, crowdsourcing the syllabus
in the context of growing precarization of labor risks remaining a partial process,
as it might heighten the anxieties of those educators who do not enjoy the security
of a stable job and who are therefore the most susceptible to the false promises of
copyright enforcement and authorship understood as a competitive, small entrepreneurial activity. However, when inserted in the context of live, broader political
struggles, the opening up of the syllabus could and should be an encouragement
to go in the opposite direction, providing a ground to legitimize the collective nature
of the educational process and to make all academic resources available without
copyright restrictions, while devising ways to secure the proper attribution and the
just remuneration of everyone’s labor.
The introduction of the logic of property is hard to challenge as it is furthered by commercial academic publishers. Oligopolists, such as Elsevier, are not only notorious for
using copyright protections to extract usurious profits from the mostly free labor of
those who write, peer review, and edit academic journals,22 but they are now developing all sorts of metadata, metrics, and workflow systems that are increasingly becoming central for teaching and research. In addition to their publishing business, Elsevier
has expanded its ‘research intelligence’ offering, which now encompasses a whole
range of digital services, including the Scopus citation database; Mendeley reference
manager; the research performance analytics tools SciVal and Research Metrics; the
centralized research management system Pure; the institutional repository and pub-

22 Vincent Larivière, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon, ‘The Oligopoly of Academic
Publishers in the Digital Era’, PLoS ONE 10.6 (10 June 2015),



lishing platform Bepress; and, last but not least, grant discovery and funding flow tools
Funding Institutional and Elsevier Funding Solutions. Given how central digital services
are becoming in today’s universities, whoever owns these platforms is the university.
Third, the migration online of the academic syllabus falls into larger efforts by universities to ‘disrupt’ the educational system through digital technologies. The introduction
of virtual learning environments has led to lesson plans, slides, notes, and syllabi becoming items to be deposited with the institution. The doors of public higher education are being opened to commercial qualification providers by means of the rise in
metrics-based management, digital platforming of university services, and transformation of students into consumers empowered to make ‘real-time’ decisions on how to
spend their student debt.23 Such neoliberalization masquerading behind digitization
is nowhere more evident than in the hype that was generated around Massive Open
Online Courses (MOOCs), exactly at the height of the last economic crisis.
MOOCs developed gradually from the Massachusetts Institute of Techology’s (MIT) initial experiments with opening up its teaching materials to the public through the OpenCourseWare project in 2001. By 2011, MOOCs were saluted as a full-on democratization of access to ‘Ivy-League-caliber education [for] the world’s poor.’24 And yet, their
promise quickly deflated following extremely low completion rates (as low as 5%).25
Believing that in fifty years there will be no more than 10 institutions globally delivering
higher education,26 by the end of 2013 Sebastian Thrun (Google’s celebrated roboticist
who in 2012 founded the for-profit MOOC platform Udacity), had to admit that Udacity
offered a ‘lousy product’ that proved to be a total failure with ‘students from difficult
neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in
their lives.’27 Critic Aaron Bady has thus rightfully argued that:
[MOOCs] demonstrate what the technology is not good at: accreditation and mass
education. The MOOC rewards self-directed learners who have the resources and
privilege that allow them to pursue learning for its own sake [...] MOOCs are also a
really poor way to make educational resources available to underserved and underprivileged communities, which has been the historical mission of public education.28
Indeed, the ‘historical mission of public education’ was always and remains to this
day highly contested terrain—the very idea of a public good being under attack by
dominant managerial techniques that try to redefine it, driving what Randy Martin

23 Ben Williamson, ‘Number Crunching: Transforming Higher Education into “Performance Data”’,
Medium, 16 August 2018,
24 Max Chafkin, ‘Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course’,
FastCompany, 14 November 2013,
25 ‘The Rise (and Fall?) Of the MOOC’, Oxbridge Essays, 14 November 2017, https://www.
26 Steven Leckart, ‘The Stanford Education Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever’,
Wired, 20 March 2012,
27 Chafkin, ‘Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun’.
28 Aaron Bady, ‘The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform’, Liberal Education 99.4 (Fall 2013),



aptly called the ‘financialization of daily life.’29 The failure of MOOCs finally points to a
broader question, also impacting the vicissitudes of #Syllabus: Where will actual study
practices find refuge in the social, once the social is made directly productive for capital at all times? Where will study actually ‘take place’, in the literal sense of the phrase,
claiming the resources that it needs for co-creation in terms of time, labor, and love?
Learning from #Syllabus
What have we learned from the #Syllabus phenomenon?
The syllabus is the manifesto of 21st century.
Political struggles against structural discrimination, oppression, and violence in the
present are continuing the legacy of critical pedagogies of earlier social movements
that coupled the process of political subjectivation with that of collective education.
By creating effective pedagogical tools, movements have brought educators and students into the fold of their struggles. In the context of our new network environment,
political struggles have produced a new media object: #Syllabus, a crowdsourced list
of resources—historic and present—relevant to a cause. By doing so, these struggles
adapt, resist, and live in and against the networks dominated by techno-capital, with
all of the difficulties and contradictions that entails.
What have we learned from the academic syllabus migrating online?
In the contemporary university, critical pedagogy is clashing head-on with the digitization of higher education. Education that should empower and research that should
emancipate are increasingly left out in the cold due to the data-driven marketization
of academia, short-cutting the goals of teaching and research to satisfy the fluctuating demands of labor market and financial speculation. Resistance against the capture of data, research workflows, and scholarship by means of digitization is a key
struggle for the future of mass intellectuality beyond exclusions of class, disability,
gender, and race.
What have we learned from #Syllabus as a media object?
As old formats transform into new media objects, the digital network environment defines the conditions in which these new media objects try to adjust, resist, and live. A
right intuition can intervene and change the landscape—not necessarily for the good,
particularly if the imperatives of capital accumulation and social control prevail. We
thus need to re-appropriate the process of production and distribution of #Syllabus
as a media object in its totality. We need to build tools to collectively control the workflows that are becoming the infrastructures on top of which we collaboratively produce
knowledge that is vital for us to adjust, resist, and live. In order to successfully intervene in the world, every aspect of production and distribution of these new media objects becomes relevant. Every single aspect counts. The order of items in a list counts.
The timestamp of every version of the list counts. The name of every contributor to

29 Randy Martin, Financialization Of Daily Life, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.



every version of the list counts. Furthermore, the workflow to keep track of all of these
aspects is another complex media object—a software tool of its own—with its own order and its own versions. It is a recursive process of creating an autonomous ecology.
#Syllabus can be conceived as a recursive process of versioning lists, pointing to textual, audiovisual, or other resources. With all of the linked resources publicly accessible to all; with all versions of the lists editable by all; with all of the edits attributable to
their contributors; with all versions, all linked resources, all attributions preservable by
all, just such an autonomous ecology can be made for #Syllabus. In fact, Sean Dockray, Benjamin Forster, and Public Office have already proposed such a methodology in
their Hyperreadings, a forkable plaintext document on GitHub. They write:
A text that by its nature points to other texts, the syllabus is already a relational
document acknowledging its own position within a living field of knowledge. It is
decidedly not self-contained, however it often circulates as if it were.
If a syllabus circulated as a HyperReadings document, then it could point directly to the texts and other media that it aggregates. But just as easily as it circulates, a HyperReadings syllabus could be forked into new versions: the syllabus
is changed because there is a new essay out, or because of a political disagreement, or because following the syllabus produced new suggestions. These forks
become a family tree where one can follow branches and trace epistemological
It is in line with this vision, which we share with the HyperReadings crew, and in line
with our analysis, that we, as amateur librarians, activists, and educators, make our
promise beyond the limits of this text.
The workflow that we are bootstrapping here will keep in mind every aspect of the media object syllabus (order, timestamp, contributor, version changes), allowing diversity
via forking and branching, and making sure that every reference listed in a syllabus
will find its reference in a catalog which will lead to the actual material, in digital form,
needed for the syllabus.
Against the enclosures of copyright, we will continue building shadow libraries and
archives of struggles, providing access to resources needed for the collective processes of education.
Against the corporate platforming of workflows and metadata, we will work with social
movements, political initiatives, educators, and researchers to aggregate, annotate,
version, and preserve lists of resources.
Against the extractivism of academia, we will take care of the material conditions that
are needed for such collective thinking to take place, both on- and offline.

30 Sean Dockray, Benjamin Forster, and Public Office, ‘’, Hyperreadings, 15 February



Bady, Aaron. ‘The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform’, Liberal Education 99.4 (Fall 2013), https://
Bailey, Lucy E. ‘The “Other” Syllabus: Rendering Teaching Politics Visible in the Graduate Pedagogy
Seminar’, Feminist Teacher 20.2 (2010): 139–56.
Chafkin, Max. ‘Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course’,
FastCompany, 14 November 2013,
Chatelain, Marcia. ‘How to Teach Kids About What’s Happening in Ferguson’, The Atlantic, 25 August
_____. ‘Teaching the #FergusonSyllabus’, Dissent Magazine, 28 November 2014,
Ciolkowski, Laura. ‘Rape Culture Syllabus’, Public Books, 15 October 2016, https://www.publicbooks.
Connolly, N.D.B. and Keisha N. Blain. ‘Trump Syllabus 2.0’, Public Books, 28 June 2016, https://www.
Dockray, Sean, Benjamin Forster, and Public Office. ‘’, HyperReadings, 15 February 2018,
Federici, Silvia, and Arlen Austin (eds) The New York Wages for Housework Committee 1972-1977: History, Theory, Documents, New York: Autonomedia, 2017.
Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, New York:
Autonomedia, 2013.
Heidebrink-Bruno, Adam. ‘Syllabus as Manifesto: A Critical Approach to Classroom Culture’, Hybrid
Pedagogy, 28 August 2014,
Jenks, Angela. ‘It’s In The Syllabus’, Teaching Tools, Cultural Anthropology website, 30 June 2016,
Larivière, Vincent, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon, ‘The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era’, PLoS ONE 10.6 (10 June 2015),
Leckart, Steven. ‘The Stanford Education Experiment Could Change Higher Learning Forever’, Wired,
20 March 2012,
Martin, Randy. Financialization Of Daily Life, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.
Perlstein, Daniel. ‘Teaching Freedom: SNCC and the Creation of the Mississippi Freedom Schools’,
History of Education Quarterly 30.3 (Autumn 1990).
Roberts, Frank Leon. ‘Black Lives Matter: Race, Resistance, and Populist Protest’, 2016, http://www.
‘#StandingRockSyllabus’, NYC Stands with Standing Rock, 11 October 2016,
Shirky, Clay. ‘Ontology Is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags’, 2005,
‘The Rise (and Fall?) Of the MOOC’, Oxbridge Essays, 14 November 2017, https://www.oxbridgeessays.
‘TNI Syllabus: Gaming and Feminism’, The New Inquiry, 2 September 2014,
‘Trump 101’, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 June 2016,
‘Wages for Housework: Pamphlets – Flyers – Photographs,’ MayDay Rooms,
Williamson, Ben. ‘Number Crunching: Transforming Higher Education into “Performance Data”’,
Medium, 16 August 2018,


This book documents an ongoing dialogue between developers and designers involved in the wider ecosystem of Libre
Graphics. Its lengthy title, I think that conversations are the
best, biggest thing that Free Software has to offer its user, is taken
from an interview with Debian developer Asheesh Laroia, Just
ask and that will be that, included in this publication. His remark points at the difference that Free Software can make when
users are invited to consider, interrogate and discuss not only
the technical details of software, but its concepts and histories
as well.
Conversations documents discussions about tools and practices
for typography, layout and image processing that stretch out
over a period of more than eight years. The questions and answers were recorded in the margins of events such as the yearly
Libre Graphics Meeting, the Libre Graphics Research Unit,
a two-year collaboration between Medialab Prado in Madrid,
Worm in Rotterdam, Piksel in Bergen and Constant in Brussels,
or as part of documenting the work process of the Brussels’
design team OSP. Participants in these intersecting events and
organisations constitute the various instances of ‘we’ and ‘I’ that
you will discover throughout this book.
The transcriptions are loosely organised around three themes:
tools, communities and design. At the same time, I invite you
to read Conversations as a chronology of growing up in Libre
Graphics, a portrait of a community gradually grasping the interdependencies between Free Software and design practice.
Femke Snelting
Brussels, December 2014


A user should not be able to shoot himself in the foot

I think the ideas behind it are beautiful in my mind

We will get to know the machine and we will understand
ConTeXt and the ballistics of design
Meaningful transformations

Tools for a Read Write World
Etat des Lieux

Distributed Version Control

Even when you are done, you are not done
Having the tools is just the beginning
Data analysis as a discourse

Why you should own the beer company you design for
Just Ask and That Will Be That
Tying the story to data

If the design thinking is correct, the tools should be irrelevant
You need to copy to understand
What’s the thinking here

The construction of a book (Aether9)
Performing Libre Graphics

The Making of Conversations






Free Art License


Larisa Blazic:


Computational concepts, their technological language and the hybridisation of creative practice have been successfully explored in Media Arts for a
few decades now. Digital was a narrative, a tool and a concept, an aesthetic
and political playground of sorts. These experiments created a notion of
the digital artisan and creative technologist on the one hand and enabled
a new view of intellectual property on the other. They widened a pathway
to participation, collaboration and co-creation in creative software development, looking critically at the software as cultural production as well as
technological advance.
This book documents conversations between artists, typographers, designers, developers and software engineers involved in Libre Graphics, an independent, self-organised, international community revolving around Free,
Libre, Open Source software (F/LOSS). Libre Graphics resembles the community of Media arts of the late twentieth Century, in so far that it is using
software as a departure point for creative exploration of design practice. In
some cases it adopts software development processes and applies them to
graphic design, using version control and platforms such as GitHub, but it
also banks on a paradigm shift that Free Software offers – an active engagement with software to bend it, fork it, reshape it – and in that it establishes
conversations with a developers community that haven’t taken place before.
This pathway was, however, at moments full of tension, created by diverging views on what the development process entails and what it might
mean. The conversations brought together in this book resulted from the
need to discuss those complex issues and to adress the differences and similarities between design, design production, Free Culture and software development. As in theatre, where it is said that conflict drives the plot forward,
so it does here. It makes us think harder about the ethics of our practices
while we develop tools and technologies for the benefit of all.
The Libre Graphics Meeting (LGM) was brought to my attention in
2012 as an interesting example of dialogue between creative types and developers. The event was running since 2006 and was originally conceived as an
annual gathering for discussions about Free and Open Source software used
in graphics. At the time I was teaching at the University of Westminster
for nearly ten years. The subject was computers, arts and design and it took
a variety of forms; sometimes focused on graphic design, sometimes on
contemporary media practice, interaction design, software design and mysterious hypermedia. F/LOSS was part of my artistic practice for many years,

Larisa Blazic:


but its inclusion to the UK Higher Education was a real challenge. My
frustration with difficult computer departments grew exponentially year by
year and LGM looked like a place to visit and get much needed support.
Super fast-forward to Madrid in April 2013: I landed. Little did I know
that this journey would change everything. Firstly, the wonderfully diverse
group of people present: artists, designers, software developers, typographers, interface designers, more software developers! It was very exciting
listening to talks, overhearing conversations in breaks, observing group discussions and slowly engaging with the Libre Graphics community. Being
there to witness how far the F/LOSS community has come was so heartwarming and uplifting, that my enthusiasm was soaring.
The main reason for my attendance at the Madrid LGM was to join
the launch of a network of Free Culture aware educators in art, music and
design education. 1 Aymeric Mansoux and his colleagues from the Willem
De Kooning Academie and the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam convened
the first ever meeting of the network with the aim to map out a landscape
of current educational efforts as well as to share experiences. I was aware of
Aymeric’s efforts through his activities with GOTO10 and the FLOSS+Art
book 2 that they published a couple of years before we finally met. Free
Culture was deeply embedded in his artistic and educational practice, and it
was really good to have someone like him set the course of discussion.
Lo’ and behold the conversation started – we sat in a big circle in the
middle of Medialab Prado. The introduction round began, and I thought:
there are so many people using F/LOSS in their teaching! Short courses,
long courses, BA courses, MA courses, summer schools, all sorts! There
were so many solutions presented for overcoming institutional barricades,
Adobe marriages and Apple hostages. Individual efforts and group efforts,
long term and short, a whole world of conventional curriculums as well as
a variety of educational experimentations were presented. Just sitting there,
listening about shared troubles and achievements was enough to give me a
new surge of energy to explore new strategies for engaging BA level students
with F/LOS tools and communities.
Taking part in LGM 2013 was a useful experience that has informed
my art and educational practice since. It was clear from the gathering that
Aymeric Mansoux and Marloes de Valk. FLOSS+Art. OpenMute, 2008.


Larisa Blazic:


F/LOSS is not a ghetto for idealists and techno fetishists – it was ready for
an average user, it was ready for a specialist user, it was ready for all and
what is most important the communication lines were open. Given that
Linux distributions extend the life of a computer by at least ten years, in
combination with the likes of Libre Graphics, Open Video and a plethora
of other F/LOS software, the benefits are manyfold, important for all and
not to be ignored by any form of creative practice worldwide.

Libre Graphics seems to offer a very exciting transformation of graphic design practice through implementation of F/LOS software development and
production processes. A hybridisation across these often separated fields of
practice that take under consideration openness and freedom to create, copy,
manipulate and distribute, while contributing to the development of visual
communication itself. All this may lease a new life to an over-commercialised
graphic design practice, banalised by mainstream culture.
This book brings together reflections on collaboration and co-creation
in graphic design, typography and desktop publishing, but also on gender
issues and inclusion to the Libre Graphics community. It offers a paradigm
shift, supported by historical research into graphic and type design practice,
that creates strong arguments to re-engage with the tools of production.
The conversations conducted give an overview of a variety of practices and
experiences which show the need for more conversations and which can help
educate designers and developers alike. It gives detailed descriptions of the
design processes, productions and potential trade-offs when engaged in software design and development while producing designed artefacts. It points
to the importance of transparent software development, breaking stereotypes and establishing a new image of the designer-developer combo, a fresh
perspective of mutual respect between disciplines and a desire to engage in
exchange of knowledge that is beneficial beyond what any proprietary software could ever be.
Larisa Blazic is a media artist living and working in London. Her interests range from

creative collaborations to intersections between video art and architecture. As senior lecturer
at the Faculty of Media, Arts and Design of the University of Westminster, she is currently
developing a master’s program on F/LOSS art & design.


While in the background participants of the Libre Graphics
Meeting 2007 start saying goodbye to each other, Andreas
Vox makes time to sit down with us to talk about Scribus,
the Open Source application for professional page layout.
The software is significant not only to it’s users that do design with it, but also because Scribus helps us think about
links between software, Free Culture and design. Andreas
is a mathematician with an interest in system dynamics,
who lives and works in Lübeck, Germany. Together with
Franz Schmid, Petr Vanek (subik), Riku Leino (Tsoots),
Oleksandr Moskalenko (malex), Craig Bradney (MrB), Jean
Ghali and Peter Linnel (mrdocs) he forms the core Scribus
developer team. He has been working on Scribus since
2003 and is currently responsible for redesigning the internal workings of its text layout system.
This weekend Peter Linnel presented amongst many other new Scribus features 1 ,
‘The Color Wheel’, which at the click of a button visualises documents the way
they would be perceived by a colour blind person. Can you explain how such a
feature entered into Scribus? Did you for example speak to accessibility experts?

I don’t think we did. The code was implemented by subik 2 , a developer
from the Czech Republic. As far as I know, he saw a feature somewhere else
or he found an article about how to do this kind of stuff, and I don’t know
where he did it, but I would have to ask him. It was a logic extension of the
colour wheel functionality, because if you pick different colours, they look
different to all people. What looks like red and green to one person, might
look like grey and yellow to other persons. Later on we just extended the
code to apply to the whole canvas.

Petr Vanek


It is quite special to offer such a precise preview of different perspectives in your
software. Do you think it it is particular to Scribus to pay attention to these kind
of things?

Yeah, sure. Well, the interesting thing is ... in Scribus we are not depending
on money and time like other proprietary packages. We can ask ourselves:
Is this useful? Would I have fun implementing it? Am I interested in seeing
how it works? So if there is something we would like to see, we implement
it and look at it. And because we have a good contact with our user base,
we can also pick up good ideas from them.
There clearly is a strong connection between Scribus and the world of prepress
and print. So, for us as users, it is an almost hallucinating experience that while
on one side the software is very well developed when it comes to .pdf export for
example, I would say even more developed than in other applications, but than
still it is not possible to undo a text edit. Could you maybe explain how such a
discrepancy can happen, to make us understand better?

One reason is, that there are more developers working on the project,
and even if there was only one developer, he or she would have her own
interests. Remember what George Williams said about FontForge ... 3 he is
not that interested in nice Graphical User Interfaces, he just makes his own
functionality ... that is what interests him. So unless someone else comes
up who compensates for this, he will stick to what he likes. I think that
is the case with all Open Source applications. Only if you have someone
interested and able to do just this certain thing, it will happen. And if it
is something boring or something else ... it will probably not happen. One
way to balance this, is to keep in touch with real users, and to listen to
the problems they have. At least for the Scribus team, if we see people
complaining a lot about a certain feature missing ... we will at some point
say: come on, let’s do something about it. We would implement a solution and
when we get thanks from them and make them happy, that is always nice.

Can you tell us a bit more about the reasons for putting all this work into
developing Scribus, because a layout application is quite a complex monster with
all the elements that need to work together ... Why is it important you find, to
develop Scribus?

I think the ideas behind it are beautiful in my mind


I use to joke about the special mental state you need to become a Scribus
developer ... and one part of it is probably megalomania! It is kind of mountain climbing. We just want to do it, to prove it can be done. That must
have been also true for Franz Schmid, our founder, because at that time,
when he started, it was very unlikely that he would succeed. And of course
once you have some feedback, you start to think: hey, I can do it ... it works.
People can use it, people can print with it, do things ... so why not make it even
better? Now we are following InDesign and QuarkXpress, and we are playing
the top league of page layout applications ... we’re kind of in a competition
with them. It is like climbing a mountain and than seeing the next, higher
mountain from the top.

In what way is it important to you that Scribus is Free Software?

Well ... it would not work with closed software. Open software allows you to
get other people that also are interested in working on the project involved,
so you can work together. With closed software you usually have to pay
people; I would only work because someone else wants me to do it and
we would not be as motivated. It is totally different. If it was closed, it
would not be fun. In Germany they studied what motivates Open Source
developers, and they usually list: ‘fun’; they want to do something more
challenging than at work, and some social stuff is mentioned as well. Of
course it is not money.
One of the reasons the Scribus project seems so important to us, is that it might
draw in other kinds of users, and open up the world of professional publishing to
people who can otherwise not afford proprietary packages. Do you think Scribus
will change the way publishing works? Does that motivate you, when you work
on it?

I think the success of Open Source projects will also change the way people
use software. But I do not think it is possible to foresee or plan, in what
way this will change. We see right now that Scribus is adopted by all kinds
of idealists, who think that is interesting, lets try how far we can go, and
do it like that. There are other users that really just do not have the money
to pay for a professional page layout application such as very small newspapers associations, sports groups, church groups. They use Scribus because
otherwise they would have used a pirated copy of some other software, or

another application which is not up to that task, such as a normal word processor. Or otherwise they would have used a deficient application like MS
Publisher to do it. I think what Scribus will change, is that more people
will be exposed to page layout, and that is a good thing, I think.

In another interview with the Scribus team 4 , Craig Bradney speaks about the
fact that the software is often compared with its proprietary competition. He
brings up the ‘Scribus way of doing things’. What do you think is ‘The Scribus

I don’t think Craig meant it that way. Our goal is to produce good output,
and make that easy for users. If we are in doubt, we think for example:
InDesign does this in quite an OK way, so we try to do it in a similar way;
we do not have any problems with that. On the other hand ... I told you a
bit about climbing mountains ... We cannot go from the one top to the next
one just in one step. We have to move slowly, and have to find our ways and
move through valleys and that sometimes also limits us. I can say: I want it
this way but then it is not possible now, it might be on the roadmap, but we
might have to do other things first.

When we use Scribus, we actually thought we were experiencing ‘The Scribus
Way’ through how it differences from other layout packages. First of all, in
Scribus there is a lot more attention for everything that happens after the layout
is done, i.e. export, error checking etc. and second, working with the text editor
is clearly the preferred way of doing layout. For us it links the software to a more
classic ways of doing design: a strictly phased process where a designer starts with
writing typographic instructions which are carried out by a typesetter, after which
the designer pastes everything into the mock-up. In short: it seems easier to do a
magazine in Scribus, than a poster. Do you recognize that image?
That is an interesting thought, I have never seen it that way before. My
background is that I did do a newspaper, magazine for a student group, and
we were using PageMaker, and of course that influenced me. In a small
group that just wants to bring out a magazine, you distribute the task of
writing some articles, and usually you have only one or two persons who are
capable of using a page layout application. They pull in the stories and make
some corrections, and then do the layout. Of course that is a work flow I am


familiar with, and I don’t think we really have poster designers or graphic
artists in the team. On the other hand ... we do ask our users what they
think should be possible with Scribus and if a functionality is not there, we
ask them to put in a bug report so we do not forget it and some time later
we will pick it up and implement it. Especially the possibility to edit from
the canvas, this will approve in the upcoming versions.
Some things we just copied from other applications. I think Franz 5 had no
previous experience with PageMaker, so when I came to Scribus, and saw
how it handled text chains, I was totally dismayed and made some changes
right away because I really wanted it to work the way it works in PageMaker,
that is really nice. So, previous experience and copying from another applications was one part of the development. Another thing is just technical
problems. Scribus is at the moment internally not that well designed, so we
first have to rewrite a lot of code to be able to reach some elements. The
coding structure for drawing and layout was really cumbersome inside and
it was difficult to improve. We worked with 2.500 lines of code, and there
were no comments in between. So we broke it down in several elements,
put some comments in and also asked Franz: why did you did this or that, so
we could put some structure back into the code to understand how it works.
There is still a lot of work to be done, and we hope we can reach a state
where we can implement new stuff more easily.
It is interesting how the 2.500 lines of code are really tangible when you use
Scribus old-style, even without actually seeing them. When Peter Linnel was
explaining how to make the application comply to the conservative standards of
the printing business, he used this term ‘self-defensive code’ ...
At Scribus we have a value that a file should never break in a print shop.
Any bug report we receive in this area, is treated with first priority.

We can speak from experience, that this is really true! But this robustness shifts
out of sight when you use the inbuilt script function; then it is as if you come
in to the software through the backdoor. From self-defence to the heart of the

It is not really self-defence ... programmers and software developers sometimes use the expression: ‘a user should not shoot himself in the foot’.



Scribus will not protect you from ugly layout, if that would be possible at
all! Although I do sometimes take deliberate decisions to try and do it ...
for example that for as long as I am around, I will not make an option to
do ‘automatic letter spacing’, because I think it is just ugly. If you do it
manually, that is your responsibility; I just do not feel like making anything
like that work automatically. What we have no problems with, is to prevent
you from making invalid output. If Scribus thinks a certain font is not OK,
and it might break on one or two types of printers ... this is reason enough
for us to make sure this font is not used. The font is not even used partially,
it is gone. That is the kind of self-defence Peter Linnel was talking about.
It is also how we build .pdf files and PostScript. Some ways of building
PostScript take less storage, some of it would be easier to read for humans,
but we always take an approach that would be the least problematic in a
print shop. This meant for example, that you could not search in a .pdf. 6
I think you can do that now, but there are still limitations; it is on the
roadmap to improve over time, to even add an option to output a web oriented .pdf and a print oriented .pdf ... but it is an important value in Scribus
is to get the output right. To prevent people to really shoot themselves in
the foot.

Our last question is about the relation between the content that is layed out
in Scribus, and the fact that it is an Open Source project. Just as an example,
Microsoft Word will come out with an option to make it easy to save a document
with a Creative Commons License 7 . Would this, or not, be an interesting option
to add to Scribus? Would you be interested in making that connection, between
software and content?
It could well be we would copy that, if it is not already been patented by
Microsoft! To me it sounds a bit like a marketing trick ... because it is such
an easy function to do. But, if someone from Creative Commons would ask
for this function, I think someone would implement it for Scribus in a short
time, and I think we would actually like it. Maybe we would generalize it a
little, so that for example you could also add other licenses too. We already
have support for some meta data, and in the future we might put some more
function in to support license managing, for example also for fonts.

because the fonts get outlined and/or reencoded


About the relation between content and Open Source software in general
... there are some groups who are using Scribus I politically do not really
identify with. Or more or less not at all. If I meet those people on the IRC
chat, I try to be very neutral, but I of course have my own thoughts in the
back of my head.

Do you think using a tool like Scribus produces a certain kind of use?

No. Preferences for work tools and political preference are really orthogonal,
and we have both. For example when you have some right wing people they
could also enjoy using Scribus and socialist groups as well. It is probably the
best for Scribus to keep that stuff out of it. I am not even sure about the
political conviction of the other developers. Usually we get along very well,
but we don’t talk about those kinds of things very much. In that sense I
don’t think that using Scribus will influence what is happening with it.
As a tool, because it makes creating good page layouts much easier, it will
probably change the landscape because a lot of people get exposed to page
layout and they learn and teach other people; and I think that is growing,
and I hope it will be growing faster than if it is all left to big players like
InDesign and Quark ... I think this will improve and it will maybe also
change the demands that users will make for our application. If you do page
layout, you get into a new frame of mind ... you look in a different way at
publications. It is less content oriented, but more layout oriented. You will
pick something up and it will spread. People by now have understood that
it is not such a good idea to use twelve different fonts in one text ... and I
think that knowledge about better page layout will also spread.


When we came to the Libre Graphics Meeting
for the first time in 2007, we recorded this rare
conversation with George Williams, developer of
FontForge, the editing tool for fonts. We spoke
about Shakespeare, Unicode, the pleasure of making beautiful things, and pottery.
We‘re doing these interviews, as we’re working as designers on Open Source

With Open Source tools, as typographers, but often when we speak to
developers they say well, tell me what you want, or they see our interest in
what they are doing as a kind of feature request or bug report.

(laughs) Yes.

Of course it’s clear that that’s the way it often works, but for us it’s also
interesting to think about these tools as really tools, as ways of shaping
work, to try and understand how they are made or who is making them.
It can help us make other things. So this is actually what we want to talk
about. To try and understand a bit about how you’ve been working on
FontForge. Because that’s the project you’re working on.


And how that connects to other ideas of tools or tools’ shape that you
make. These kind of things. So maybe first it’s good to talk about what
it is that you make.

OK. Well ... FontForge is a font editor.
I started playing with fonts when I bought my first Macintosh, back in the
early eighties (actually it was the mid-eighties) and my father studied textual bibliography and looked at the ways the printing technology of the
Renaissance affected the publication of Shakespeare’s works. And what that
meant about the errors in the compositions we see in the copies we have
left from the Renaissance. So my father was very interested in Renaissance
printing (and has written books on this subject) and somehow that meant

that I was interested in fonts. I’m not quite sure how that connection happened, but it did. So I was interested in fonts. And there was this program
that came out in the eighties called Fontographer which allowed you to create PostScript 1 and later TrueType 2 fonts. And I loved it. And I made lots
of calligraphic fonts with it.

You were ... like 20?

I was 20~30. Lets see, I was born in 1959, so in the eighties I was in my
twenties mostly. And then Fontographer was bought up by Macromedia 3
who had no interest in it. They wanted FreeHand 4 which was done by
the same company. So they dropped Fon ... well they continued to sell
Fontographer but they didn’t update it. And then OpenType 5 came out and
Unicode 6 came out and Fontographer didn’t do this right and it didn’t do
that right ... And I started making my own fonts, and I used Fontographer
to provide the basis, and I started writing scripts that would add accents to
latin letters and so on. And figured out the Type1 7 format so that I could
decompose it — decompose the Fontographer output so that I could add


PostScript fonts are outline font specifications developed by Adobe Systems for professional
digital typesetting, which uses PostScript file format to encode font information.
Wikipedia. PostScript fonts — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]

TrueType is an outline font standard developed by Apple and Microsoft in the late 1980s as a
competitor to Adobe’s Type 1 fonts used in PostScript.
Wikipedia. TrueType — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]

Macromedia was an American graphics, multimedia and web development software company
(1992–2005). Its rival, Adobe Systems, acquired Macromedia on December 3, 2005.
Wikipedia. Macromedia — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]

Adobe FreeHand (formerly Macromedia Freehand) is a computer application for creating
two-dimensional vector graphics. Adobe discontinued development and updates to the
program. Wikipedia. Adobe FreeHand — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]
OpenType is a format for scalable computer fonts. It was built on its predecessor TrueType,
retaining TrueType’s basic structure and adding many intricate data structures for prescribing
typographic behavior. Wikipedia. Opentype — wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]
Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and
handling of text expressed in most of the world’s writing systems.
Wikipedia. Unicode — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]

Type 1 is a font format for single-byte digital fonts for use with Adobe Type Manager
software and with PostScript printers. It can support font hinting. It was originally a
proprietary specification, but Adobe released the specification to third-party font
manufacturers provided that all Type 1 fonts adhere to it.
Wikipedia. PostScript fonts — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]


my own things to it. And then Fontographer didn’t do Type0 8 PostScript
fonts, so I figured that out.
And about this time, the little company I was working for, a tiny little
startup — we wrote a web HTML editor — where you could sit at your
desk and edit pages on the web — it was before FrontPage 9 , but similar to
FrontPage. And we were bought by AOL and then we were destroyed by
AOL, but we had stock options from AOL and they went through the roof.
So ... in the late nineties I quit. And I didn’t have to work.
And I went off to Madagascar for a while to see if I wanted to be a primatologist. And ... I didn’t. There were too many leaches in the rainforest.


So I came back, and I wrote a font editor instead.
And I put it up on the web and in late 99, and within a month someone
gave me a bug report and was using it.
(laughs) So it took a month

Well, you know, there was no advertisement, it was just there, and someone
found it and that was neat!

And that was called PfaEdit (because when it began it only did PostScript)
and I ... it just grew. And then — I don’t know — three, four, five years ago
someone pointed out that PfaEdit wasn’t really appropriate any more, so I
asked various users what would be a good name and a french guy said How
’bout FontForge? So. It became FontForge then. — That’s a much better
name than PfaEdit.


Used it ever since.

But your background ... you talked about your father studying ...

Type 0 is a ‘composite’ font format . A composite font is composed of a high-level font that
references multiple descendent fonts.
Wikipedia. PostScript fonts — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]

Microsoft FrontPage is a WYSIWYG HTML editor and Web site administration tool from
Microsoft discontinued in December 2006.
Wikipedia. Microsoft FrontPage — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]


I grew up in a household where Shakespeare was quoted at me every day,
and he was an English teacher, still is an English teacher, well, obviously
retired but he still occasionally teaches, and has been working for about 30
years on one of those versions of Shakespeare where you have two lines of
Shakespeare text at the top and the rest of the page is footnotes. And I went
completely differently and became a mathematician and computer scientist
and worked in those areas for almost twenty years and then went off and
tried to do my own things.

So how did you become a mathematician?
(pause) I just liked it.
(laughs) just liked it

I was good at it. I got pushed ahead in high school. It just never occurred
to me that I’d do anything else — until I met a computer. And then I still
did maths because I didn’t think computers were — appropriate — or — I
was a snob. How about that.


But I spent all my time working on computers as I went through university.
And then got my first job at JPL 10 and shortly thereafter the shuttle 11
blew up and we had some — some of our experiments — my little group
— flew on the shuttle and some of them flew on an airplane which went
over the US took special radar pictures of the US. We also took special radar
pictures of the world from the shuttle (SIR-A, SIR-B, SIR-C). And then
our airplane burned up. And JPL was not a very happy place to work after
that. So then I went to a little company with some college friends of mine,
that they’d started, created compilers and debuggers — do you know what
those are?

And I worked a long time on that, and then the internet came out and found
another little company with some friends — and worked on HTML.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory
The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, when the NASA Space
Shuttle orbiter Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its
seven crew members.
Wikipedia. Space Shuttle Challenger disaster — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]


So when, before we moved, I was curious about, I wanted you to talk
about a Shakespearian influence on your interest in fonts. But on the
other hand you talk about working in a company where you did HTML
editors at the time you actually started, I think. So do you think that
is somehow present ... the web is somehow present in your — in how
FontForge works? Or how fonts work or how you think about fonts?

I don’t think the web had much to do with my — well, that’s not true.
OK, when I was working on the HTML editor, at the time, mid-90s, there
weren’t any Unicode fonts, and so part of the reason I was writing all these
scripts to add accents and get Type0 support in PostScript (which is what
you need for a Unicode font) was because I needed a Unicode font for our
HTML product.
To that extent — yes-s-s-s.
It had an effect. Aside from that, not really.
The web has certainly allowed me to distribute it. Without the web I doubt
anyone would know — I wouldn’t have any idea how to ‘market’ it. If that’s
the right word for something that doesn’t get paid for. And certainly the
web has provided a convenient infrastructure to do the documentation in.
But — as for font design itself — that (the web) has certainly not affected
Maybe with this creative commons talk that Jon Phillips was giving, there
may be, at some point, a button that you can press to upload your fonts to
the Open Font Library 12 — but I haven’t gotten there yet, so I don’t want
to promise that.
(laughs) But no, indeed there was – hearing you speak about ccHost 13 –
that’s the ...


... Software we are talking about?

That’s what the Open Font Library uses, yes.

Open Font Library is a project devoted to the hosting and encouraged creation of fonts
released under Free Licenses.
Wikipedia. Open Font Library — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]

ccHost is a web-based media hosting engine upon which Creative Commons’ ccMixter remix
web community is built. Wikipedia. CcHost — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2012. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]


Yeah. And a connection to FontForge could change the way, not only
how you distribute fonts, but also how you design fonts.

It — it might. I don’t know ... I don’t have a view of the future.
I guess to some extent, obviously font design has been affected by requiring
it (the font) to be displayed on a small screen with a low resolution display.
And there are all kinds of hacks in modern fonts formats for dealing with
low resolution stuff. PostScript calls them hints and TrueType calls them
instructions. They are different approaches to the same thing. But that,
that certainly has affected font design in the last — well since PostScript
came out.
The web itself? I don’t think that has yet been a significant influence on
font design, but then — I’m no longer a designer. I discovered I was much
better at designing font editors than at designing fonts.
So I’ve given up on that aspect of things.
Mm-K, because I’m curious about your making a division about being a
designer, or being a font-editor-maker, because for me that same definition of maker, these two things might be very related.

Well they are. And I only got in to doing it because the tools that were
available to me were not adequate. But I have found since — that I’m
not adequate at doing the design, there are many people who are better at
designing — designing fonts, than I am. And I like to design fonts, but I
have made some very ugly ones at times.
And so I think I will — I’ll do that occasionally, but that’s not where I’m
going to make a mark.
Mostly now —
I just don’t have the —
The font editor itself takes up so much of time that I don’t have the energy,
the enthusiasm, or anything like that to devote to another major creative
project. And designing a font is a major creative project.
Well, can we talk about the major creative project of designing a font
editor? I mean, because I’m curious how — how that is a creative project
for you — how you look at that.

I look at it as a puzzle. And someone comes up to me with a problem, and I
try and figure out how to solve it. And sometimes I don’t want to figure out

how to solve it. But I feel I should anyway. And sometimes I don’t want to
figure out how to solve it and I don’t.
That’s one of the glories of being one’s own boss, you don’t have to do
everything that you are asked.
But — to me — it’s just a problem. And it’s a fascinating problem. But
why is it fascinating? — That’s just me. No one else, probably, finds
it fascinating. Or — the guys who design FontLab probably also find it
fascinating, there are two or three other font design programs in the world.
And they would also find it fascinating.

Can you give an example of something you would find fascinating?

Well. Dave Crossland who was sitting behind me at the end was talking
to me today — he sat down — we started talking after lunch but on the
way up the stairs — at first he was complaining that FontForge isn’t written
with a standard widget set. So it looks different from everything else. And
yes, it does. And I don’t care. Because this isn’t something which interests
On the other hand he was saying that what he also wanted was a paragraph
level display of the font. So that as he made changes in the font he could
see a ripple effect in the paragraph.
Now I have a thing which does a word level display, but it doesn’t do multilines. Or it does multi-lines if you are doing Japanese (vertical writing mode)
but it doesn’t do multi-columns then. So it’s either one vertical row or one
horizontal row of glyphs.
And I do also have a paragraph level display, but it is static. You bring
it up and it takes the current snapshot of the font and it generates a real
TrueType font and pass it off to the X Window 14 rasterizer — passes it off
to the standard Linux toolchain (FreeType) as that static font and asks that
toolchain to display text.
So what he’s saying is OK, do that, but update the font that you pass off every
now and then. And Yeah, that’d be interesting to do. That’s an interesting project
to work on. Much more interesting than changing my widget set which is
just a lot of work and tedious. Because there is nothing to think about.
It’s just OK, I’ve got to use this widget instead of my widget. My widget does


The X Window System is a windowing system for bitmap displays, common on UNIX-like
computer operating systems. X provides the basic framework for a GUI environment:
drawing and moving windows on the display device and interacting with a mouse and
keyboard. Wikipedia. X Window System — Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]


exactly what I want — because I designed it that way — how do I make this
thing, which I didn’t design, which I don’t know anything about, do exactly
what I want?
And — that’s dull. For me.

Yeah, well.

Dave, on the other hand, is very hopeful that he’ll find some poor fool
who’ll take that on as a wonderful opportunity. And if he does, that would
be great, because not having a standard widget set is one of the biggest
complaints people have. Because FontForge doesn’t look like anything else.
And people say Well the grey background is very scary. 15
I thought it was normal to have a grey background, but uh ... that’s why we
now have a white background. A white background may be equally scary,
but no one has complained about it yet.

Try red.

I tried light blue and cream. One of them I was told gave people migraines
— I don’t remember specifically what the comment was about the light
blue, but

(someone from inkscape): Make it configurable.

Oh, it is configurable, but no one configures it.

(someone from inkscape): Yeah, I know.

So ...

So, you talked about spending a lot of time on this project, how does that
work, you get up in the morning and start working on FontForge? Or ...
Well, I do many things. Some mornings, yes, I get up in the morning and I
start working on FontForge and I cook breakfast in the background and eat
breakfast and work on FontForge. Some mornings I get up at four in the
morning and go out running for a couple of hours and come back home and
sort of collapse and eat a little bit and go off to yoga class and do a pilates
class and do another yoga class and then go to my pottery class, and go to
the farmers’ market and come home and I haven’t worked on FontForge at
all. So it varies according to the day. But yes I ...

It used to have a grey background, now it has a white background


There was a period where I was spending 40, 50 hours a week working
on FontForge, I don’t spend that much time on it now, it’s more like 20
hours, though the last month I got all excited about the release that I put
out last Tuesday — today is Sunday. And so I was working really hard —
probably got up to — oh — 30 hours some of that time. I was really excited
about the change. All kinds of things were different — I put in Python
scripting, which people had been asking for — well, I’m glad I’ve done it,
but it was actually kind of boring, that bit — the stuff that came before was
— fascinating.


I — are you familiar with the OpenType spec? No. OK. The way you ...
the way you specify ligatures and kerning in OpenType can be looked at at
several different levels. And the way OpenType wants you to look at it, I
felt, was unnecessarily complicated. So I didn’t look at it at that level. And
then after about 5 years of looking at it that way I discovered that the reason
I thought it was unnecessarily complicated was because I was only used to
Latin or Cyrillic or Greek text, and for Latin, Cyrillic or Greek, it probably
is unnecessarily complicated. But for Indic scripts it is not unnecessarily
complicated, and you need all those things. So I ripped out all of the code
for specifying strange glyph conversions. You know in Arabic a character
looks different at the beginning of a word and so on? So that’s also handled
in this area. And I ripped all that stuff out and redid it in the way that
OpenType wanted it to be done and not the somewhat simplified but not
sufficiently powerful method that I’d been using up until then.
And that I found, quite fascinating.
And once I’d done that, it opened up all kinds of little things that I could
change that made the font editor itself bettitor. Better. Bettitor?

(laughs) That’s almost Dutch.

And so after I’d done that the display I talked about which could show a
word — I realized that I should redo that to take advantage of what I had
done. And so I redid that, and it’s now, it’s now much more usable. It now
shows — at least I hope it shows — more of what people want to see when
they are working with these transformations that apply to the font, there’s
now a list of the various transformations, that can be enabled at any time
and then it goes through and does them — whereas before it just sort of —

well it did kerning, and if you asked it to it would substitute this glyph so
you could see what it would look like — but it was all sort of — half-baked.
It wasn’t very elegant.
And — it’s much better now, and I’m quite proud of that.
It may crash — but it’s much better.

So you bring up half-baked, and when we met we talked about bread

Oh, yes.

And the pleasure of handling a material when you know it well. Maybe
make reliable bread — meaning that it comes out always the same way,
but by your connection to the material you somehow — well — it’s a
pleasure to do that. So, since you’ve said that, and we then went on
talking about pottery — how clay might be of the same — give the same
kind of pleasure. I’ve been trying to think — how does FontForge have
that? Does it have that and where would you find it or how is the ...
I like to make things. I like to make things that — in some strange
definition are beautiful. I’m not sure how that applies to making bread,
but my pots — I think I make beautiful pots. And I really like the glazing I
put onto them.
It’s harder to say that a font editor is beautiful. But I think the ideas behind
it are beautiful in my mind — and in some sense I find the user interface
beautiful. I’m not sure that anyone else in the world does, because it’s what
I want, but I think it’s beautiful.
And there’s a satisfaction in making something — in making something
that’s beautiful. And there’s a satisfaction too (as far as the bread goes) in
making something I need. I eat my own bread — that’s all the bread I eat
(except for those few days when I get lazy and don’t get to make bread that
day and have to put it off until the next day and have to eat something that
day — but that doesn’t happen very often).
So it’s just — I like making beautiful things.

OK, thank you.

That was very nice, thank you very much.

Thank you. I have pictures of my pots if you’d like to see them?
Yes, I would very much like to see them.

This conversation with Juliane de Moerlooze was recorded in March 2009.

When you hear people talk about women having more sense
for the global, intuitive and empathic ... and men are more
logical ... even if it is true ... it seems quite a good thing to
have when you are doing math or software?

Juliane is a Brussels based computer scientist, feminist
and Linux user from the beginning. She studied math,
programming and system administration and participates in Samedies. 1 In February 2009 she was voted
president of the Brussels Linux user group (BXLug).

I will start at the end ... you have recently become president of the BXLug. Can
you explain to us what it is, the BXLug?
It is the Brussels Linux user group, a group of Linux users who meet
regularly to really work together on Linux and Free Software. It is the most
active group of Linux users in the French speaking part of Belgium.

How did you come into contact with this group?

That dates a while back. I have been trained in Linux a long time ago ...
Five years? Ten years? Twenty years?

Almost twenty years ago. I came across the beginnings of Linux in 1995 or
1996, I am not sure. I had some Slackware 2 installed, I messed around with
friends and we installed everything ... then I heard people talk about Linux
distributions 3 and decided to discover something else, notably Debian. 4

Femmes et Logiciels Libres, group of women maintaining their own server
one of the earliest Linux distributions
a distribution is a specific collection of applications and a software kernel
one of the largest Linux distributions


It is good to know that with Linux you really have a diversity, there are
distributions specially for audio, there are distributions for the larger public
with graphical interfaces, there are distributions that are a bit more ‘geek’,
in short you find everything: there are thousands of distributions but there
are a few principal ones and I heard people talk about an interesting development, which was Debian. I wanted to install it to see, and I discovered
the BXLug meetings, and so I ended up there one Sunday.

What was your experience, the first time you went?

(laughs) Well, it was clear that there were not many women, certainly not. I
remember some sessions ...
What do you mean, not many women? One? Or five?

Usually I was there on my own. Or maybe two. There was a time that we
were three, which was great. There was a director of a school who pushed
Free Software a lot, she organised real ’Journées du Libre’ 5 at her school,
to which she would invite journalists and so on. She was the director but
when she had free time she would use it to promote Free Software, but
I haven’t seen her in a while and I don’t know what happened since. I
also met Faty, well ... I wasn’t there all the time either because I had also
other things to do. There was a friendly atmosphere, with a little bar where
people would discuss with each other, but many were cluttered together in
the middle of the room, like autists hidden behind their computers, without
much communication. There were other members of the group who like me
realised that we were humans that were only concentrating on our machines
and not much was done to make new people feel welcome. Once I realised,
I started to move to the back of the room and say hello to people arriving.
Well, I was not the only one who started to do that but I imagine it might
have felt like a closed group when you entered for the first time. I also
remember in the beginning, as a girl, that ... when people asked questions
... nobody realised that I was actually teaching informatics. It seemed there
was a prejudice even before I had a chance to answer a question. That’s a
funny thing to remember.
Could you talk about the pleasure of handling computers? You might not be the
kind of person that loses herself in front of her computer, but you have a strong

Journées du Libre is a yearly festival organised by the BXLug


relationship with technology which comes out when you open up the commandline
... there’s something in you that comes to life.

Oh, yes! To begin with, I am a mathematician (‘matheuse’), I was a math
teacher, and I have been programming during my studies and yes, there
was something fantastic about it ... informatics for me is all about logic, but
logic in action, dynamic logic. A machine can be imperfect, and while I’m
not specialised in hardware, there is a part on which you can work, a kind
of determinism that I find interesting, it poses challenges because you can
never know all, I mean it is not easy to be a real system administrator that
knows every detail, that understands every problem. So you are partially in
the unknown, and discovering, in a mathematical world but a world that
moves. For me a machine has a rhythm, she has a cadence, a body, and her
state changes. There might be things that do not work but it can be that
you have left in some mistakes while developing etcetera, but we will get
to know the machine and we will understand. And after, you might create
things that are maybe interesting in real life, for people that want to write
texts or edit films or want to communicate via the Internet ... these are all
layers one adds, but you start ... I don’t know how to say it ... the machine is
at your service but you have to start with discovering her. I detest the kind
of software that asks you just to click here and there and than it doesn’t
work, and than you have to restart, and than you are in a situation where
you don’t have the possibility to find out where the problem is.
When it doesn’t show how it works?

For me it is important to work with Free Software, because when I have
time, I will go far, I will even look at the source code to find out what’s
wrong with the interface. Luckily, I don’t have to do this too often anymore
because software has become very complicated, twenty years later. But we
are not like persons with machines that just click ... I know many people,
even in informatics, who will say ‘this machine doesn’t work, this thing
makes a mistake’

The fact that Free Software proposes an open structure, did that have anything
to do with your decision to be a candidate for BXLug?
Well, last year I was already very active and I realised that I was at a point
in my life that I could use informatics better, and I wanted to work in this

field, so I spent much time as a volunteer. But the moment that I decided,
now this is enough, I need to put myself forward as a candidate, was after a
series of sexist incidents. There was for example a job offer on the BXLug
mailing list that really needed to be responded to ... I mean ... what was
that about? To be concrete: Someone wrote to the mailing list that his
company was looking for a developer in so and so on and they would like
a Debian developer type applying, or if there weren’t any available, it would
be great if it would be a blond girl with large tits. Really, a horrible thing so
I responded immediately and than it became even worse because the person
that had posted the original message, sent out another one asking whether
the women on the list were into castration and it took a large amount of
diplomacy to find a way to respond. We discussed it with the Samediennes 6
and I though about it ... I felt supported by many people that had well
understood that this was heavy and that the climate was getting nasty but
in the end I managed to send out an ironic message that made the other
person excuse himself and stop these kind of sexist jokes, which was good.
And after that, there was another incident, when the now ex-president of
the group did a radio interview. I think he explained Free Software relatively
well to a public that doesn’t know about it, but as an example how easy it is
to use Free Software, he said even my wife, who is zero with computers, knows
how it works, using the familiar cliché without any reservation. We discussed
this again with the Samediennes, and also internally at the BXLug and than
I thought: well, what is needed is a woman as president, so I need to present
myself. So it is thanks to the Samedies, that this idea emerged, out of the
necessity to change the image of Free Software.

In software and particularly in Free Software, there are relatively few women
participating actively. What kinds of possibilities do you see for women to enter?
It begins already at school ... all the clichés girls hear ... it starts there. We
possibly have a set of brains that is socially constructed, but when you hear
people talk about women having more sense for the global, intuitive and
empathic ... and men are more logic ... even if it is true ... it seems quite a
good thing to have when you are doing math or software? I mean, there is
no handicap we start out with, it is a social handicap ... convincing girls to
become a secretary rather than a system administrator.

Participants in the Samedies: Femmes et logiciels libres (


I am assuming there is a link between your feminism and your engagement with
Free Software ...

It is linked at the point where ... it is a political liaison which is about reappropriating tools, and an attempt to imagine a political universe where we
are ourselves implicated in the things we do and make, and where we collectively can discuss this future. You can see it as something very large, socially,
and very idealist too. You should also not idealise the Free Software community itself. There’s an anthropologist who has made a proper description 7 ...
but there are certainly relational and organisational problems, and political
problems, power struggles too. But the general idea ... we have come to the
political point of saying: we have technologies, and we want to appropriate
them and we will discuss them together. I feel I am a feminist ... but I know
there are other kinds of feminism, liberal feminism for example, that do not
want to question the political economical status quo. My feminism is a bit
different, it is linked to eco-feminism, and also to the re-appropriation of
techniques that help us organise as a group. Free Software can be ... well,
there is a direction in Free Software that is linked to ‘Free Enterprise’ and
the American Dream. Everything should be possible: start-ups or pin-ups,
it doesn’t matter. But for me, there is another branch much more ‘libertaire’
and left-wing, where there is space for collective work and where we can ask
questions about the impact of technology. It is my interest of course, and I
know well that even as president of the BXLug I sometimes find myself on
the extreme side, so I will not speak about my ‘libertaire’ ideas all the time
in public, but if anyone asks me ... I know well what is at stake but it is not
necessarily representative of the ideas within the BXLug.

Are their discussions between members, about the varying interests in Free Software?
I can imagine there are people more excited about efficiency and performativity
of these tools, and others attracted by it’s political side.
Well, these arguments mix, and also since some years there is unfortunately
less of a fundamental discussion. At the moment I have the impression that
we are more into ‘things to do’ when we meet in person. On the mailing
list there are frictions and small provocations now and then, but the really
interesting debates are over, since a few years ... I am a bit disappointed in

Christophe Lazarro. La liberté logicielle. Une ethnographie des pratiques d’échange et de
coopération au sein de la communauté Debian. Academia editons, 2008


that, actually. But it is not really a problem, because I know other groups
that pose more interesting questions and with whom I find it more interesting to have a debate. Last year we have been working away like small busy
bees, distributing the general idea of Free Software with maybe a hint to the
societal questions behind but in fact not marking it out as a counterweight
to a commercialised society. We haven’t really deepened the problematics,
because for me ... it is clear that Free Software has won the battle, they have
been completely recuperated by the business world, and now we are in a
period where tendencies will become clear. I have the impression that with
the way society is represented right now ... where they are talking about the
economical crisis ... and that we are becoming a society of ‘gestionnaires’
and ideological questions seem not very visible.
So do you think it is more or less a war between two tendencies, or can both
currents coexist, and help each other in some way?

The current in Free Software that could think about resistance and ask
political questions and so on, does not have priority at the moment. But
what we can have is debates and discussions from person to person and we
can interpolate members of the BXLug itself, who really sometimes start to
use a kind of marketing language. But it is relational ... it is from person
to person. At the moment, what happens on the level of businesses and
society, I don’t know. I am looking for a job and I see clearly that I will
need to accept the kinds of hierarchies that exist but I would like to create
something else. The small impact a group like BXLug can make ... well,
there are several small projects, such as the one to develop a distribution
specifically designed for small organisations, to which nobody could object
of course. Different directions coexist, because there is currently not any
project with enough at stake that it would shock the others.
To go once again from a large scale to a small scale ... how would you describe
your own itinerary from mathematics to working on and with software?

I did two bachelors at the University Libre de Bruxelles, and than I studied
to become a math teacher. I had a wonderful teacher, and we were into
the pleasure of exercising our brains, and discovering theory but a large part
of our courses were concentrated on pedagogy and how to become a good
teacher, how to open up the mind of a student in the context of a course.
That’s when I discovered another pleasure, of helping a journey into a kind

of math that was a lot more concrete, or that I learned to render concrete.
One of the difficult subjects you need to teach in high schools, is scales and
plans. I came up with a rendering of a submarine and all students, boys as
well as girls, were quickly motivated, wanting to imagine themselves at the
real scale of the vessel. I like math, because it is not linked to a pre-existing
narrative structure, it is a theoretical construct we accept or not, like the
rules of a game. For me, math is an ideal way to form a critical mind.
When you are a child, math is fundamentally fiction, full stop. I remember
that when I learned modern math at school ... I had an older teacher, and
she wasn’t completely at ease with the subject. I have the impression that
because of this ... maybe it was a question of the relation between power and
knowledge ... she did not arrive with her knowledge all prepared, I mean it
was a classical form of pedagogy, but it was a new subject to her and there
was something that woke up in me, I felt at ease, I followed, we did not go
too fast ...
It was open knowledge, not already formed and closed?

Well, we discovered the subject together with the teacher. It might sound
bizarre, and she certainly did not do this on purpose, but I immediately felt
confident, which did not have too much to do with the subject of the class,
but with the fact that I felt that my brains were functioning.
I still prefer to discover the solution to a mathematical problem together
with others. But when it comes to software, I can be on my own. In
the end it is me, who wants to ask myself: why don’t I understand? Why
don’t I make any progress? In Free Software, there is the advantage of
having lots of documentation and manuals available online, although you
can almost drown in it. For me, it is always about playing with your brain,
there is at least always an objective where I want to arrive, whether it is
understanding theory or software ... and in software, it is also clear that you
want something to work. There is a constraint of efficiency that comes in
between, that of course somehow also exists in math, but in math when you
have solved a problem, you have solved it on a piece of paper. I enjoy the
game of exploring a reality, even if it is a virtual one.


In September 2013 writer, developer, freestyle rapper and
poet John Haltiwanger joined the ConTeXt user meeting in
Brejlov (Czech Republic) 1 to present his ideas on Subtext,
‘A Proposed Processual Grammar for a Multi-Output PreFormat’. The interview started as a way to record John’s
impressions fresh from the meeting, but moved into discussing the future of layout in terms of ballistics.

How did you end up going to the ConTeXt meeting? Actually, where was it?

It was in Brejlov, which apparently might not even be a town or city. It
might specifically be a hotel. But it has its own ... it’s considered a location,
I guess. But arriving was already kind of a trick, because I was under the
impression there was a train station or something. So I was asking around:
Where is Brejlov? What train do I take to Brejlov? But nobody had any clue,
that this was even something that existed. So that was tricky. But it was really a beautiful venue. How I ended up at the conference specifically? That’s
a good question. I’m not an incredibly active member on the ConTeXt
mailing list, but I pop up every now and again and just kind of express a
few things that I have going on. So initially I mentioned my thesis, back in
January or maybe March, back when it was really unformulated. Maybe it
was even in 2009. But I got really good responses from Hans. 2 Originally,
when I first got to the Netherlands in 2009 in August, the next weekend
was the third annual ConTeXt meeting. I had barely used the software at
that point, but I had this sort of impulse to go. Well anyway, I did not have
the money for it at that time. So the fact that there was another one coming
round, was like: Ok, that sounds good. But there was something ... we got
into a conversation on the mailing list. Somebody, a non-native English
speaker was asking about pronouns and gendered pronouns and the proper
way of ‘pronouning’ things. In English we don’t have a suitable gender neutral pronoun. So he asked the questions and some guy responded: The
Hans Hagen is the principal author and developer of ConTeXt, past president of NTG, and
active in many other areas of the TeX community
Hans Hagen – Interview – TeX Users Group., 2006. [Online; accessed 18.12.2014]


proper way to do it, is to use he. It’s an invented problem. This whole question is
an invented question and there is no such thing as a need for considering any other
options besides this. 3 So I wrote back and said: That’s not up to you to decide,
because if somebody has a problem, than there is a problem. So I kind of naively
suggested that we could make a Unicode character, that can stand in, like a
typographical element, that does not necessarily have a pronounciation yet.
So something that, when you are reading it, you could either say he or she
or they and it would be sort of [emergent|dialogic|personalized].
Like delayed political correctness or delayed embraciveness. But, little did I
know, that Unicode was not the answer.

Did they tell you that? That Unicode is not the answer?

Well, Arthur actually wrote back 4 , and he knows a lot about Unicode and
he said: With Unicode you have to prove that it’s in use already. In my sense,
Unicode was a playground where I could just map whatever values I wanted
to be whatever glyph I wanted. Somewhere, in some corner of unused
namespace or something. But that’s not the way it works. But TeX works
like this. So I could always just define a macro that would do this. Hans
actually wrote a macro 5 that would basically flip a coin at the beginning of
your paper. So whenever you wanted to use the gender neutral, you would
just use the macro and then it wouldn’t be up to you. It’s another way of
obfuscating, or pushing the responsibility away from you as an author. It’s
like ok, well, on this one it was she, the next it was he, or whatever.

So in a way gender doesn’t matter anymore?

Right. And then I was just like, that’s something we should talk about at the
meeting. I guess I sent out something about my thesis and Hans or Taco,
they know me, they said that it would great for you to do a presentation of
this at the meeting. So that’s very much how I ended up there.
You had never met anyone from ConTeXt before?


No. You and Pierre were the only people I knew, that have been using it,
besides me, at the time. It was interesting in that way, it was really ... I mean
I felt a little bit ... nervous isn’t exactly the word, but I sort of didn’t know
what exactly my positon was meant to be. Because these guys ... it’s a users’
meeting, right? But the way that tends to work out for Open Source projects
is developers talking to developers. So ... my presentation was saturated ...
I think, I didn’t realise how quickly time goes in presentations, at the time.
So I spent like 20 minutes just going through my attack on media theory in
the thesis. And there was a guy, falling asleep on the right side of the room,
just head back. So, that was entertaining. To be the black sheep. That’s
always a fun position. It was entertaining for me, to meet these people
and to be at the same time sort of an outsider. Not a really well known
user contrasted with other people, who are more like cornerstones of the
community. They were meeting everybody in person for the first time. And
somehow I could connect. So now, a month and a half later we’re starting
this ConTeXt group, an international ConTeXt users’ group and I’m on the
board, I’m editing the journal. So it’s like, it ...
... that went fast!

It went fast indeed!

What is this ‘ConTeXt User Group’?

To a certain extent the NTG, which is the Netherlands TeX Group, had sort
of been consumed from the inside by the heavyness of ConTeXt, specifically
in the Netherlands. The discussion started to shift to be more ConTeXt.
Now the journal, the MAPS journal, there are maybe 8 or 10 articles, two of
which are not written by either Hans or Taco, who are the main developers
of ConTeXt. And there is zero on anything besides ConTeXt. So the NTG
is almost presented as ok, if you like ConTeXt or if you wanna be in a ConTeXt
user group, you join the NTG. Apparently the journal used to be quite thick
and there are lots of LaTeX users, who are involved. So partially the attempt
is sort of ease that situation a little bit.
It allowed the two communities to separate?

Yeah, and not in any way like fast or abrupt fashion. We’re trying to be
very conscious about it. I mean, it’s not ConTeXt’s fault that LaTeX users
are not submitting any articles for the journal. That user group will always have the capacity, those people could step up. The idea is to setup a
more international forum, something that has more of the sense of support
for ... because the software is getting bigger and right now we’re really reliant on this mailing list and if you have your stupid question either Hans,
Taco or Wolfgang will shoot something back. And they become reliant on
Wolfgang to be able to answer questions, because there are more users coming. Arthur was really concerned, among other people, with the scalability
of our approach right now. And how to set up this infrastructure to support
the software as it grows bigger. I should forward you this e-mail that I
wrote, that is a response to their name choices. They were contemplating
becoming a group called ‘cows’. Which is clearly an inside joke because they
loved to do figure demonstrations with cows. And seeing ConTeXt as I do,
as a platform, a serious platform, for the future, something that ... it’s almost like it hasn’t gotten to its ... I mean it’s in such rapid development ...
it’s so undocumented ... it’s so ... like ... it’s like rushing water or something.
But at some point ... it’s gonna fill up the location. Maybe we’re still building this platform, but when it’s solid and all the pieces are ... everything
is being converted to metric, no more inches and miles and stuff. At that
point, when we have this platform, it will turn into a loadable Lua library.
It won’t even be an executable at that point.
It is interesting how quickly you have become part of this community. From being
complete outsider not knowing where to go, to now speaking about a communal
To begin with, I guess I have to confront my own seemingly boundless
propensity for picking obscure projects ... as sort of my ... like the things
that I champion. And ... it often boils down to flexibility.
You think that obscurity has anything to do with the future compatibility of

Well, no. I think the obscurity is something that I don’t see this actually
lasting for too long in the situation of ConTeXt. As it gets more stable it’s
basically destined to become more of a standard platform. But this is all
tied into to stuff that I’m planning to do with the software. If my generative
typesetting platform ... you know ... works and is actually feasible, which is
maybe a 80% job.

Wait a second. You are busy developing another platform in parallel?

Yes, although I’m kind of hovering over it or sort of superceeding it as
an interface. You have LaTeX, which has been at version 2e since the
mid-nineties, LaTeX 3 is sort of this dim point on the horizon. Whereas
ConTeXt is changing every week. It’s converting the entire structure of this
macro package from being written in TeX to being written in Lua. And
so there is this transition from what could be best described as an archaic
approach to programming, to this shiny new piece of software. I see it as
being competitive strictly because it has so much configurability. But that’s
sort of ... and that’s the double edged sword of it, that the configuration
is useless without the documentation. Donald Knuth is famous for saying
that he realises he would have to write the software and the manual for the
software himself. And I remember in our first conversation about the sort
of paternalistic culture these typographic projects seem to have. Or at least
in the sense of TeX, they seem to sort of coagulate around a central wizard
kind of guy.

You think ConTeXt has potential for the future, while TeX and LaTeX belong
... to the past?

I guess that’s sort of the way it sounds, doesn’t it?

I guess I share some of your excitement, but also have doubts about how far the
project actually is away from the past. Maybe you can describe how you think it
will develop, what will be that future? How you see that?

Right. That’s a good way to start untangling all the stuff I was just talking
about, when I was sort of putting the cart before the horse. I see it developing in some ways ... the way that it’s used today and the way that current,

heavy users use it. I think that they will continue to use in it in a similar
way. But you already have people who are utilising LuaTeX ... and maybe
this is an important thing to distinguish between ConTeXt and LuaTeX.
Right now they’re sort of very tied together. Their development is intrinsic,
they drive each other. But to some extent some of the more interesting
stuff that is been being done with these tools is ... like ... XML processing.
Where you throw XML into Lua code and run LuaTeX kerning operations
and line breaking and all this kind of stuff. Things that, to a certain extent,
you needed to engage TeX on its own terms in the past. That’s why macro
packages develop as some sort of sustainable way to handle your workflow.
This introduction of LuaTeX I think is sort of ... You can imagine it being
loaded as a library just as a way to typeset the documentation for code. It
could be like this holy grail of literate programming. Not saying this is the
answer, but that at least it will come out as a nice looking .pdf.

LuaTeX allows the connection to TeX to widen?

Yeah. It takes sort of the essence of TeX. And this is, I guess, the crucial
thing about LuaTeX that up until now TeX is both a typesetting engine and
a programming language. And not a very good one. So now that TeX can
be the engine, the Tschicholdian algorithms, the modernist principles, that,
for whatever reason, do look really good, can be utilised and connected to
without having to deal with this 32 year old macro programming language.
On top of that and part of how directly engaging with that kind of movement foreward is ... not that I am switching over to LuaTeX entirely at this
point ... but that this generative typesetting platform that was sort of the
foundation of this journal proposal we did. Where you could imagine actual
humanity scholars using something that is akin to markdown or a wiki formatting kind of system. And I have a nice little buzzword for that: ‘visually
semantic markup’. XML, HTML, TeX, ... none of those are visually semantic. Because it’s all based around these primitives ‘ok, between the angle
brackets’. Everything is between angle brackets. You have to look what’s
inside the angle brackets to know what is happening to what’s between the
angle brackets. Whereas a visually semantic markup ... OK headers! OK
so it’s between two hashmarks or it’s between two whatever ... The whole

design of those preformatting languages, maybe not wiki markup, but at
least markdown was that it could be printed as a plaintext document and
you could still get a sense of the structure. I think that’s a really crucial
development. So ... in a web browser, on one half of the browser you have
you text input, on the other half you have an real-time rendering of it into
HTML. In the meantime, the way that the interface works, the way that
the visually semantic markup works, is that it is a mutable interface. It
could be tailored to your sense of what it should look like. It can be tailored
specifically to different workflows. And because there is such a diversity
within typographic workflows, typesetting workflows ... that is akin to the
separation of form and content in HTML and CSS, but it’s not meant to be
... as problematic as that. I’m not sure if that is a real goal, or if that goal
is feasible or not. But it’s not meant to be drawing an artificial line, it’s just
meant to make things easier.

So by pulling apart historically grown elements, it becomes ... possibly modern?

Something for now and later.

Yes. Part of this idea, the trick ... This software is called ‘Subtext’ and at
this point it’s a conceptual project, but that will change pretty soon. Its
trick is this idea of separation instead of form and content, it’s translation
and effect. The parser itself has to be mutable, has to be able to pull in
the interface, print like decorations basically from a YAML configuration
file or some sort of equivalent. One of this configuration mechanisms that
was designed to be human readable and not machine readable. Like, well
both, striking that balance. Maybe we can get to that kind of ... talking
about agency a little bit. Its trick to really pull that out so that if you want
to ... for instance now in markdown if you have quotes it will be translated
in ConTeXt into \quotation. In ConTeXt that’s a very simple switch
to turn it into German quotes. Or I guess that’s more like international
quotes, everything not English. For the purposes of markdown there is
no, like really easy way, to change that part of the interface. So that when

I’m writing, when I use the angle brackets as a quote it would turn into
a \quotation in the output. Whereas with ‘Subtext’ you would just go
into the interface type like configuration and say: These are converted into
a quote basically. And then the effects are listed in other configuration files
so that the effects of quotes in HTML can be ...
... different.

Yes. Maybe have specific CSS properties for spacing, that kind of stuff. And
then in ConTeXt the same sort of ... both the environmental setup as well
as the raw ‘what is put into the document when it’s translated’. This kind of
separation ... you know at that point if both those effects are already the way
that you want them, then all you have to do is change the interface. And
then later on typesetting system, maybe iTeX comes out, you know, Knuth’s
joke, anyway. 6 That kind of separation seems to imply a future proofing
that I find very elegant. That you can just add later on the effects that you
need for a different system. Or a different version of a system, not that you
have to learn ‘mark 6’, or something like that ...
Back to the future ... I wonder about ConTeXt being bound to a particular
practise located with two specific people. Those two are actually the ones that
produce the most complete use cases and thereby define the kind of practise that
ConTeXt allows. Do you think this is a temporary stage or do you think that by
inviting someone like you on the board, as an outsider, that it is a sign of things
going to change?
Right. Well, yeah, this is another one of those put-up or shut-up kind of
things because for instance at the NTG meeting on Wednesday my presentation was very much a user presentation in a room of developers. Because I
basically was saying: Look like this is gonna be a presentation – most presentation are about what you know – and this presentation is really about
what I don’t know ... but what I do know is that there is a lot of room for
teaching ConTeXt in a more practical fashion, you could say. So my idea is
to basically write this documentation on how to typeset poetry, which gets


into a lot of interesting questions, just a lot of interesting things. Like you
gonna need to write your own macros just at the start ... to make sure you
have not to go in and change every width value at some point. you know,
this kind of thing like ... really baby steps. How to make a cover page. These
kinds of things are not documented.
Documentation is let’s say an interesting challenge for ConTeXt. How do you
think the ConTeXt community could enable different kinds of use, beyond the
ones that are envisioned right now? I guess you have a plan?

Yeah ... that’s a good question. Part of it is just to do stuff, like to get you
more involved in the ConTeXt group for instance, because I was talking to
Arthur and he hadn’t even read the article from V/J10 7 . I think that kind
of stuff is really important. It’s like the whole Blender Foundation kind
of impulse. We have some developers who are paid to do this and that’s
kind of rare already in an Open Source/Free Software project. But then to
kind of have users pushing the boundaries and hitting limits. It’s rare that
Hans will encounter some kind of use case that he didn’t think of and react
in a negative way. Or react in a way like I’m not gonna even entertain that
possibility. Part of it is moving beyond this ... even the sort of centralisation
as you call it ... how to do that directly ... I see it more as baby steps for
me personally at this point. Just getting a tutorial on how to typeset a cd
booklet. Just basically what I’m writing. That at the same time, you know,
gets you familiar with ConTeXt and TeX in general. Before my presentation
I was wondering, I was like: how do you set a variable in TeX. Well, it’s a
macro programming language so you just make a macro that returns a value.
Like that kind of stuff is not initially obvious if you’re used to a different
paradigm or you know .. So these baby steps of kind of opening the field up
a little bit and then using it my own practise of guerilla typesetting and kind
of putting it out there. and you know ... And people gonna start being like:
oh yeah, beautiful documents are possible or at least better looking documents
are possible. And then once we have them at that, like, then how do you we

Constant, Clementine Delahaut, Laurence Rassel, and Emma Sidgwick.
Verbindingen/Jonctions: Tracks in electr(on)ic fields. Constant Verlag, 2009.


take it to the next level. How do I turn a lyric sheet from something that
is sort of static to ... you know ... two pages that are like put directly on the
screen next to each other. Like a screen based system where it’s animated
to the point ... and this is what we actually started to karaoke last night ...
so you have an English version and a Spanish version – for instance in the
case of the music that I’ve been doing. And we can animate. We can have
timed transitions so you can have a ‘current lyric indicator’ move down the
page. That kind of use case is not something that Pragma 8 is ever going
to run into. But as soon as it is done and documented then what’s the next
thing, what kind of animations are gonna be ... or what kind of ... once that
possibility is made real or concrete ... you know, so I kind of see it as a very
iterative process at this point. I don’t have any kind of grand scheme other
than ‘Subtext’ kind of replacing Microsoft Word as the dominant academic
publishing platform, I think. (laughs)

Just take over the world.

That’s one way to do it, I think.

You talked about manuals for things that you would maybe not do in another
kind of software ...


Manuals that not just explain ‘this is how you do it’ but also ‘this is the kind of
user you could be’.


I’m not sure if instructions for how to produce a cd cover would draw me in, but
if it helped me understand how to set a variable, it would.

Hans Hagen’s company for Advanced Document Engineering


You want the complete manual of course?

You were saying that ConTeXt should replace Microsoft Word as the standard
typesetting tool for academic publishing. You are thinking about the future for
ConTeXt more in the context of academic publishing than in traditional design

Yes. In terms of ‘Subtext’, I mean the origins of that project, very much
... It’s an interesting mix because it’s really a hybridity of many different
processes. Some, much come directly from this obscure art project ‘the abstraction’. So I have stuff like the track changes using Git version control
and everything being placed on plaintext as a necessity. That’s a holdover
from that project as well as the idea of gradiated presence. Like software
enabling a more real-time peer review, anonymous peer review system. And
even a collaborative platform where you don’t know who you’re writing with,
until the article comes out. Someting like out that. So these interesting
tweaks that you can kind of make, those all are holdovers from this very,
very much maybe not traditional design practise but certainly like ... twisted
artistic project that was based around hacking a hole from signified to siginifier and back again. So ... In terms of its current envisionment and the
use case for which we were developing it at the beginning, or I’m developing
it, whatever ... I’ll say it the royal way, is an academic thing. But I think
that ... doesn’t have to stop there and ...

At some point at OSP we decided to try ConTeXt because we were stuck with
Scribus for page layout as the only option in Free Software. We wanted escape
that kind of stiffness of the page, or of the canvas in a way. But ConTeXt
was not the dream solution either. For us it had a lot to do, of course, with
issues of documentation ... of not understanding, not coming from that kind of
automatism of treating it as another programming language. So I think we could
have had much more fun if we had understood the culture of the project better.
I think the most frustrating experience was to find out how much the model of
typesetting is linked to the Tschichold universe, that at the moment you try to

break out, the system completely looses all flexibility. And it is almost as if you
can hear it freeze. So if we blame half of our troubles with ConTeXt on our
inability to actually understand what we could do with ConTeXt, I think there is
a lot also in its assumption what a legible text would look like, how it’s structured,
how it’s done. Do you think a modern version of ConTeXt will keep that kind
of inflexibility? How can it become more flexible in it’s understanding of what a
page or a book could be?

That’s an interesting question, because I’m not into the development side
of LuaTex at all, but I would be surprised if the way that it was being
implemented was not significantly more modular than for instance when
it was written in Pascal, you know, how that was. Yeah, that’s a really
interesting question of how swappable is the backend. How much can we
go in and kind of ... you know. And it its an inspirational question to me,
because now I’m trying to envision a different page. And I’m really curious
about that. But I think that ConTeXt itself will likely be pretty stable in its
scope ... in that way of being ... sort of ... deterministic in its expectations.
But where that leaves us as users ... first I’d be really surprised if the engine
itself, if LuaTeX was not being some way written to ... I feel really ignorant
about this, I wish I just knew. But, yeah, there must be ... There is no way
to translate this into a modern programming language without somehow
thinking about this in terms of the design. I guess to certain extent the
answer to your question is dependent on the conscientiousness of Taco and
the other LuaTex developers for this kind of modularity. But I don’t ... you
know ... I’m actually feeling very imaginatively lacking in terms of trying to
understand what you’re award-winning book did not accomplish for you ...
Yeah, what’s wrong with that?

I think it would be good to talk with Pierre, not Pierre Marchand but Pierre ...
... Huggybear.

Yeah. We have been talking about ‘rivers’ as a metaphor for layout ... like were
you could have things that are ... let’s say fluid and other things that could be
placed and force things around it. Layout is often a combination of those two

things. And this is what is frustrating in canvas based layout that it is all fixed
and you have to make it look like it’s fluid. And here it’s all fluid and sometimes
you want it to be fixed. And at the moment you fix something everything breaks.
Then it’s up to you. You’re on your own.


The experience of working with ConTeXt is that it is very much elastic, but there
is very little imagination about what this elasticity could bring.

It’s all about creating universally beautiful pages, in a way it is using flexibility
to arrive at something that is already fixed.


Well, there is a lot more possible than we ever tried, but ... again ... this goes
back to the sort of centralist question: If those possibilities are mainly details in
the head of the main developers than how will I ever start to fantasize about the
book I would want to make with it?


I don’t even need access to all the details. Because once I have a sort of sense of
what I want to do, I can figure it out. Right now you’re sort of in the dark about
the endless possibilities ...

Its existence is very opaque in some ways. The way that it’s implemented,
like everything about it is sort of ... looking at the macros that they wrote,
the macros that you invoke ... like ... that takes ... flow control in TeX is like
... I mean you might as well write it in Bash or ... I mean I think Bash would
even be more sensible to figuring out what’s going on. So, the switch to Lua
there is kind of I think a useful step just in being more transparent. To allow
you to get into becoming more intimate with the source or the operation

of the system ... you know ... without having to go ... I mean I guess ... the
TeX Book would still be useful in some ways but that’s ... I mean ... to go
back and learn TeX when you’re just trying to use ConTeXt is sort of ...
it’s not ... I’m not saying it’s, you know ... it’s a proper assumption to say oh
yeah, don’t worry about the rules and the way TeX is organised but you’re not
writing your documents in ConTeXt the way you would write them if you’re
using plain TeX. I mean that’s just ... it’s just not ... It’s a different workflow
... it has a completely different set of processes that you need to arrange. So
it has a very distinct organisational logic ... that I think that ... yeah ... like
being able to go into the source and be like oh OK, like I can see clearly this
is ... you know. And then you can write in your own way, you can write back
in Lua.

This kind of documentation would be the killer feature of ConTeXt ...

It’s kind of strange paradox in the TeX community. At one hand you’re sort of
supposed to be able to do all of it. But at the same time on every page you’re told
not to do it, because it’s not for you to worry about this.

Right. That’s why the macro packages exist.

With ConTeXt there is this strange sense of very much wanting to understand the
way the logic works, or ... what the material is, you’re dealing with. And at the
same time being completely lost in the labyrinth between the old stuff from TeX
and LaTeX, the newer stuff from LuaTex, Mark 4, 3, 5, 6 ...

So that was sort of my idea with the cd typesetting project, is not to say,
that that is something that is immediately interesting to anybody who is
not trying to do that specifically, right? But at the same time if I’m ... if it’s
broken down into ‘How to do a bitmap cover page’ (=Lesson 1).
Lesson 2: ‘How to start defining you own macros’. And so you know, it’s
this thing that could be at one point a very ... because the documentation as
it stands right now is ... I think it’s almost ... fixing that documentation, I’m

not sure is even possible. I think that it has to be completely approached
differently. I mean, like a real ConTeXt manual, that documents ... you
know ... command by command exactly what those things do. I mean our
reference manual now just shows you what arguments are available, but
doesn’t even list the available arguments. It’s just like: These are the positions
of the arguments. And it’s interesting.

So expecting writers of the program to write the manual fails?

What is the difference between your plans for ‘Subtext’ and a page layout program
like Scribus?

You mentioned ‘Subtext’ coming from a more academic publishing rather
than a design background. I think that this belies where I have come into
typesetting and my understanding of typography. Because in reality DTP
has never kind of drawn me in in that way. The principle differences are
really based on this distribution of agency, in my mind. That when you’re
demanding the software to be ‘what you see is what you get’ or when you
place that metaphor between you and your process. Or you and your engagement, you’re gaining the usefulness of that metaphor, which is ... it’s
almost ... I hope I don’t sound offensive ... but it’s almost like child’s play.
It’s almost like point, click, place. To me it just seems so redundant or ...
time-consuming maybe ... to really deal with it that way. There are advantages to that metaphor. For instance I don’t plan on designing covers in
ConTeXt. Or even a poster or something like that. Because it doesn’t really
give affordances for that kind of creativity. I mean you can do generative
stuff with the MetaFun package. You can sort of play around with that. But
I haven’t seen a ConTeXt generated cover that I liked, to be honest.


OK. Principle differences. I’m trying to ... I’m struggling a little bit. I think
that’s partially because I’m not super comfortable with the layout mechanism

and stuff yet. And you have things like \blank in order to move down the
page. Because it has this sort of literal sense of a page and movement on
a page. Obviously Scribus has a literal idea of a page as well, but because
it’s WYSIWYG it has that benefit where you don’t have to think OK, well,
maybe it should be 1.6 ems down or maybe it should be 1.2 ems down. You
move it until it looks right. And then you can measure it and you’re like
ok, I’m gonna use this measurement for the further on in my document. So it’s
that whole top-down vs. bottom-up approach. It really breaks down into
the core organisational logics of those softwares.
I think it’s too easy to make the difference based on the fact that there is a
metaphorical layer or not. I think there is a metaphorical layer in ConTeXt too

Right. Yeah for sure.

And they come at a different moment and they speak a different language. But I
think that we can agree that they’re both there. So I don’t think it’s about the one
being without and the other being with. Of course there is another sense of placing
something in a canvas-based software than in a ... how would you call this?

So I guess it is either ‘declarative’ or ‘sequence’ based. You could say generative in a way ... or compiled or ... I don’t even know. That’s a cool question.

What is the difference really and why would you choose the one or the other? Or
what would you gain from one to the other? Because it’s clear that posters are not
easily made in ConTeXt. And that it’s much easier to typeset a book in ConTeXt
than it is in Scribus, for example.

Declarative maybe ...

So, there’s hierarchy. There’s direction. There’s an assumption about structure
being good or bad.

Yeah. Boxes, Glue. 9

What is exciting in something like this is that placement is relative always.
Relative to a page, relative to a chapter, relative to itself, relative to what’s next
to it. Where in a canvas based software your page is fixed.


This is very different from a system where you make a change, then you compile
and then you look at it and then you go back into your code. So where there is a
larger distinction between output and action. It’s almost gestural ...

It’s like two different ways of having a conversation. Larry Wall has this really great metaphor. He talks about ‘ballistic design’. So when you’re doing
code, maybe he’s talking more about software design at this point, basically
it’s a ‘ballistic practise’ to write code. Ballistics comes from artillery. So you
shoot at a thing. If you hit it, you hit it. If you miss it, you change the
amount of gun powder, the angle. So code is very much a ‘ballistic practise’.
I think that filters into this difference in how the conversation works. And
this goes back to the agencies where you have to wait for the computer to
figure out. To come with its into the conversation. You’re putting the code
in and then the computer is like ok; this is what the code means
and then is this what you wanted? Whereas with the WYSIWYG
kind of interface the agency is distributed in a different way. The computer is just like ok, I m a canvas; I m just here to hold what
you re putting on and I m not going to change it any way or
affect it in any way that you don t tell me to. I mean it’s
the same way but I ... is it just a matter of the compilation time? In one
you’re sort of running a experiment, in another you’re just sort of painting.
If that’s a real enough distinction or if that’s ... you know ... it’s sort of ... I
mean I kind of see that it is like this. There is ballistics vs. maybe fencing
or something.

Boxes, which are things can be drawn on a page, and glue, which is invisible stretchy stuff that sticks
boxes together. Mark C. Chu-Carroll. The Genius of Donald Knuth: Typesetting with Boxes and Glue, 2008



Fencing. Like more of a ...
Or wrestling?

Or wrestling.

When you said just sort of painting I felt offended. ( laughs)
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.

Maybe back to wrestling vs. ballistics. Where am I and where is the machine?

I understand that there’s lots of childish way of solving this need to make the
computer dissapear. Because if you are not wrestling ... you’re dancing, you know.


But I think it’s interesting to see that ballistics, that the military term of shooting
at something, is the kind of metaphor to be used. Which is quite different than a
creative process where there is a direct feedback between something placed and the
responses you have.

And it’s not always about aiming, but also sometimes about trying and about
kind of subtle movements that spark off something else. Which is very immediate.
And needs an immediate connection to ... let’s say ... what you do and what you
get. It would be interesting to think about ways to talking about ‘what you see
is what you get’ away from this assumption that is always about those poor users
that are not able do it in code.



Because I think there is essential stuff that you can not do in a tool like this –
that you can do in canvas-based tools. And so ... I think it’s really a pity when
... yeah ... It’s often overlooked and very strange to see. There is not a lot of good
thinking about that kind of interaction. Like literal interaction. Which is also
about agency with the painter. With the one that makes the movement. Where
here the agency is very much in this confrontational relation between me aiming
and ...

So yeah, when we put it in those metaphors. I’m on the side with the
painting, because ...

But I mean it’s difficult to do a book while wrestling. And I think that’s why a
poster is very difficult to do in this sort of aiming sense. I mean it’s fun to do but
it’s a strange kind of posters you get.

You can’t fit it all in your head at once. It’s not possible.
No. So it’s okay to have a bit of delay.

I wondered to what extent, if it were updated in real time, all the changes
you’re making in the code, if compilation was instantaneous, how that would
affect the experience. I guess it would still have this ballistic aspect, because
what you are doing is ... and that’s really the side of the metaphor ... or
a metaphorical difference between the two. One is like a translation. The
metaphor of ok this code means this effect ... That’s very different from picking
a brush and choosing the width of the stroke. It’s like when you initialise
a brush in code, set the brush width and then move it in a circle with a
radius of x. It’s different than taking the brush in Scribus or in whatever
WYSIWYG tool you are gonna use. There is something intrinsically different about a translation from primitives to visual effect than this kind of
metaphorical translation of an interaction between a human and a canvas ...
kind of put into software terms.

But there is a translation from me, the human, to the machine, to my human eye
again, which is hard to grasp. Without wanting it to be made invisible somehow.

Or to assume that it is not there. This would be my dream tool that would
allow you to sense that kind of translation without losing the ... canvasness of the
canvas. Because it’s frustrating that the canvas has to not speak of itself to be able
to work. That’s a very sad future for the canvas, I think.

I agree.

But when it speaks of itself it’s usually seen as buggy or it doesn’t work. So that’s
also not fair to the canvas. But there is something in drawing digitally, which
is such a weird thing to do actually, and this is interesting in this sort of cyborgs
we’re becoming, which is all about forgetting about the machine and not feeling
what you do. And it’s completely a different world in a way than the ballistics of
ConTeXt, LaTeX or whatever typesetting platform.

Yeah, that’s true. And it’s something that my students were forced to confront and it was really interesting because that supposed invisibility or almost
necessitated invisibility of the software. As soon as they’re in Inkscape instead of Illustrator they go crazy. Because it’s like they know what they want
to do, but it’s a different mechanism. It’s the same underlying process which
itself is only just meant to give you a digital version of what you could easily
do on a piece of paper. Provided you have the right paints and stuff. So
perhaps it’s like the difference between moving from a brush to an air brush.
It’s a different ... interface. It’s a different engagement. There is a different
thing between the human and the canvas. You engage in this creative process where it’s like ok, we’ll now have an airbrush and I can play around to
see what the capacities are without being stuck in well I can’t get it to do
my fine lines the same way I can when I have my brush. It’s like when you
switch the software out from between the person and the canvas. It’s that
sort of invisibility of the interface and it’s intense for people. They actually
react quite negatively. They’re not gonna bother to learn this other software
because in the end they’re doing less. The reappearance of this software
... of software between them and their ideas is kinda too much. Whereas
people who don’t have any preconceived notions are following the tutorials
and they’re learning and they’re like ok, I’m gonna continue to play with this.
Because this software is starting to become more invisible.

But on a sort of theoretical level the necessitated invisibility, as you said it nicely, is
something I would always speak against. Because that means you hide something
that’s there. Which seems a stupid thing to do, especially when you want to find
a kind of more flexible relation to your tools. I want to find a better word for
describing that sort of quick feedback. Because if it’s too much in the way, then
the process stops. The drawing can not be made if I’m worried too much about
the point of my pencil that might break ... or the ... I dont’t know ... the nozzle
being blocked.
Dismissing the other tools is ... I was kinda joking, but ... there is something sort of blocklike: Point. Move. This. But at the same time, like I
said, I wouldn’t do a cover in ConTeXt. Just like I probably wouldn’t try to
do something like a recreation of a Pre-Raphaelite painting in Processing or
something like that. There is just points where our metaphors break down.
And so ... It sounded sort of, ok, bottom-up über alles like always.

Ok, there’s still painters and there’s still people doing Pre-Raphaelite paintings
with Pre-Raphaelite tools, but most of us are using computers. So there should be
more clever ways of thinking about this.
Yeah. To borrow a quote from my old buddy Donald Rumsfeld: There are
the known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. That
actually popped into my head earlier because when we were talking about
the potentials of the software and the way that we interact and stuff, it’s like
we know that we don’t know ... other ways of organizing. We know that
there are, like there has to be, another way, whether it is a middle path between these two or some sort of ... Maybe it’s just tenth dimensional, maybe
it’s fourth dimensional, maybe it’s completely hypermodern or something.
Anyway. But the unknown unknowns ... It’s like the stuff that we can’t
even tell we don’t know about. The questions that we don’t know about
that would come up once we figure out these other ways of organising it.
That’s when I start to get really interested in this sort of thing. How do you
even conceive of a practise that you don’t know? And once you get there,
there’s going to be other things that you know you don’t know and have to
keep finding them. And then there’s gonna be things that you don’t know
you don’t know and they just appear from nowhere and ... it’s fun.

We discovered the work of Tom Lechner for the first time at
the Libre Graphics Meeting 2010 in Brussels. Tom traveled
from Portland to present Laidout, an amazing tool that he
made to produce his own comic books and also to work on
three dimensional mathematical objects. We were excited
about how his software represents the gesture of folding,
loved his bold interface decisions plus were impressed by the
fact that Tom decided to write his own programming framework for it. A year later, we met again in Montreal, Canada
for the Libre Graphics Meeting 2011 where he presents a
follow-up. With Ludivine Loiseau 1 and Pierre Marchand 2 ,
we finally found time to sit down and talk.
What is Laidout?

Well, Laidout is software that I wrote to lay out my cartoon books in an
easy fashion. Nothing else fit my needs at the time, so I just wrote it.
It does a lot more than laying out cartoons?

It works for any image, basically, and gradients. It does not currently do
text. It is on my todo list. I usually write my own text, so it does not really
need to do text. I just make an image of it.
It can lay out T-shirts?

But that’s all images too. I guess it’s two forms of laying out. It’s laying
out pieces of paper that remain whole in themselves, or you can take an
image and lay it out on smaller pieces of paper. Tiling, I guess you could
call it.
Can you talk us through the process of doing the T-shirt?


amateur bookbinder and graphic designer
artist/developer, contributing amongst others to PodofoImpose and Scribus


OK. So, you need a pattern. I had just a shirt that sort of fit and I
approximated it on a big piece of paper, to figure out what the pieces were
shaped like, and took a photograph of that. I used a perspective tool to
remove the distortion. I had placed rulers on the ground so that I could
remember the actual scale of it. Then once it was in the computer, I traced
over it in Inkscape, to get just the basic outline so that I could manipulate
further. Blender didn’t want to import it so I had to retrace it. I had to
use Blender to do it because that lets me shape the pattern, take it from
flat into something that actually makes 3D shapes so whatever errors were
in the original pattern that I had on the paper, I could now correct, make
the sides actually meet and once I had the molded shape, and in Blender
you have to be extremely careful to keep any shape, any manipulation that
you do to make sure your surface is still unfoldable into something flat. It is
very easy to get away from flat surfaces in Blender. Once I have the molded
shape, I can export that into an .off file which my unwrapper can import
and that I can then unwrap into the sleeves and the front and the back as
well as project a panoramic image onto those pieces. Once I have that, it
becomes a pattern laid out on a giant flat surface. Then I can use Laidout
once again to tile pages across that. I can export into a .pdf with all the
individual pieces of the image that were just pieces of the larger image that
I can print on transfer paper. It took forty iron-on transfer papers I ironed
with an iron provided to me by the people sitting in front of me so that
took a while but finally I got it all done, cut it all out, sewed it up and there
you go.
Could you say something about your interest in moving from 2D to 3D
and back again? It seems everything you do is related to that?
I don’t know. I’ve been making sculpture of various kinds for quite a
long time. I’ve always drawn. Since I was about eighteen, I started making
sculptures, mainly mathematical woodwork. I don’t quite have access to a
full woodwork workshop anymore, so I cannot make as much woodwork as
I used to. It’s kind of an instance of being defined by what tools you have
available to you, like you were saying in your talk. I don’t have a woodshop,
but I can do other stuff. I can still make various shapes, but mainly out of
paper. Since I had been doing woodwork, I picked up photography I guess
and I made a ton of panoramic images. It’s kind of fun to figure out how

to project these images out of the computer into something that you can
physically create, for instance a T-shirt or a ball, or other paper shapes.
Is there ever any work that stays in the computer, or does it always need
to become physical?

Usually, for me, it is important to make something that I can actually
physically interact with. The computer I usually find quite limiting. You
can do amazing things with computers, you can pan around an image, that
in itself is pretty amazing but in the end I get more out of interacting with
things physically than just in the computer.
But with Laidout, you have moved folding into the computer! Do you
enjoy that kind of reverse transformation?

It is a challenge to do and I enjoy figuring out how to do that. In making
computer tools, I always try to make something that I can not do nearly as
quickly by hand. It’s just much easier to do in a computer. Or in the case
of spherical images, it’s practically impossible to do it outside the computer.
I could paint it with airbrushes and stuff like that but that in itself would
take a hundred times longer than just pressing a couple of commands and
having the computer do it all automatically.

My feeling about your work is that the time you spent working on the
program is in itself the most intriguing part of your work. There is of course a
challenge and I can imagine that when you are doing it like the first time you
see a rectangle, and you see it mimic a perspective you think wow I am folding
a paper, I have really done something. I worked on imposition too but more
to figure out how to work with .pdf files and I didn’t go this way of the gesture
like you did. There is something in your work which is really the way you wrote
your own framework for example and did not use any existing frameworks. You
didn’t use existing GUIs and toolboxes. It would be nice to listen to you about
how you worked, how you worked on the programming.
I think like a lot of artists, or creative people in general, you have to
enjoy the little nuts and bolts of what you’re doing in order to produce any
final work, that is if you actually do produce any final work. Part of that is
making the tools. When I first started making computer tools to help me

in my artwork, I did not have a lot of experience programming computers.
I had some. I did little projects here and there. So I looked around at the
various toolkits, but everything seemed really rigid. If you wanted to edit
some text, you had this little box and you write things in this little box and
if you want to change numbers, you have to erase it and change tiny things
with other tiny things. It’s just very restrictive. I figured I could either
figure out how to adapt those to my own purposes, or I could just figure
out my own, so I figured either way would probably take about that same
amount of time I guessed, in my ignorance. In the process, that’s not quite
been true. But it is much more flexible, in my opinion, what I’ve developed,
compared to a lot of other toolkits. Other people have other goals, so I’m
sure they would have a completely different opinion. For what I’m doing,
it’s much more adaptable.
You said you had no experience in programming? You studied in art school?

I don’t think I ever actually took computer programming classes. I grew
up with a Commodore 64, so I was always making letters fly around the
screen and stuff like that, and follow various curves. So I was always doing
little programming tricks. I guess I grew up in a household where that
sort of thing was pretty normal. I had two brothers, and they both became
computer programmers. And I’m the youngest, so I could learn from their
mistakes, too. I hope.
You’re looking for good excuses to program.
(laughs) That could be.

We can discuss at length about how actual toolkits don’t match your needs,
but in the end, you want to input certain things. With any recent toolkit, you
can do that. It’s not that difficult or time consuming. The way you do it, you
really enjoy it, by itself. I can see it as a real creative work, to come up with new
digital shapes.
Do you think that for you, the program itself is part of the work?

I think it’s definitely part of the work. That’s kind of the nuts and bolts
that you have to enjoy to get somewhere else. But if I look back on it, I

spend a huge amount of time just programming and not actually making
the artwork itself. It’s more just making the tools and all the programming
for the tools. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. When it comes time to
actually make artwork, I do like to have the tool that’s just right for the job,
that works just the way that seems efficient.
I think the program itself is an artwork, very much. To me it is also
a reflection on moving between 2D and 3D, about physical computation.
Maybe this is the actual work. Would you agree?
I don’t know. To an extent. In my mind, I kind of class it differently.
I’ve certainly been drawing more than I’ve been doing technical stuff like
programming. In my mind, the artwork is things that get produced, or a
performance or something like that. And the programming or the tools
are in service to those things. That’s how I think of it. I can see that ...
I’ve distributed Laidout as something in itself. It’s not just some secret tool
that I’ve put aside and presented only the artwork. I do enjoy the tools
I have a question about how the 2D imagines 3D. I’ve seen Pierre and
Ludi write imposition plans. I really enjoy reading this, almost as a sort of
poetry, about what it would be to be folded, to be bound like a book. Why is
it so interesting for you, this tension between the two dimensions?
I don’t know. Perhaps it’s just the transformation of materials from
something more amorphous into something that’s more meaningful, somehow. Like in a book, you start out with wood pulp, and you can lay it out in
pages and you have to do something to that in order to instil more meaning
to it.
Is binding in any way important to you?
Somewhat. I’ve bound a few things by hand. Most of my cartoon books
ended up being just stapled, like a stack of paper, staple in the middle and
fold. Very simple. I’ve done some where you cut down the middle and lay
the sides on top and they’re perfect bound. I’ve done just a couple where
it’s an actual hand bound, hard cover. I do enjoy that. It’s quite a time

consuming thing. There’s quite a lot of craft in that. I enjoy a lot of hand
made, do-it-yourself activities.
Do you look at classic imposition plans?

I guess that’s kind of my goal. I did look up classic book binding
techniques and how people do it and what sort of problems they encounter.
I’m not sure if I’ve encompassed everything in that, certainly. But just the
basics of folding and trimming, I’ve done my best to be able to do the same
sort of techniques that have been done in the past, but only manually. The
computer can remember things much more easily.
Imposition plans are quite fixed, you have this paper size and it works with
specific imposition plans. I like the way your tool is very organic, you can play
with it. But in the end, something very classic comes out, an imposition plan you
can use over and over, which gives a sort of continuity.
What’s impressive is the attention you put into the visualization. There are
some technical programs which do really big imposition stuff, but it’s always at the
printer. Here, you can see the shape being peeled. It’s really impressive. I agree
with Femke that the program is an artwork too, because it’s not only technical,
it’s much more.
How is the material imagined in the tool?

So, far not really completely. When you fold, you introduce slight twists
and things like that. And that depends on the stiffness of the paper and
the thickness of the paper and I’ve not adequately dealt with that so much.
If you just have one fold, it’s pretty easy to figure out what the creep is for
that. You can do tests and you can actually measure it. That’s pretty easy
to compensate for. But if you have many more folds than that, it becomes
much more difficult.
Are you thinking about how to do that?

I am.

That would be very interesting. To imagine paper in digital space, to give
an idea of what might come out in the end. Then you really have to work
your metaphors, I think?

A long time ago, I did a lot of T-shirt printing. Something that I did not
particularly have was a way to visualize your final image on some kind of shirt
and the same thing applies for book binding, too. You might have a strange
texture. It would be nice to be able to visualize that beforehand, as well
as the thickness of the paper that actually controls physical characteristics.
These are things I would like to incorporate somehow but haven’t gotten
around to.
You talked about working with physical input, having touchpads ... Can
you talk a bit more about why you’re interested in this?

You can do a lot of things with just a mouse and a keyboard. But it’s
still very limiting. You have to be sitting there, and you have to just control
those two things. Here’s your whole body, with which you can do amazing
things, but you’re restricted to just moving and clicking and you only have a
single point up on the screen that you have to direct very specifically. It just
seems very limiting. It’s largely an unexplored field, just to accept a wider
variety of inputs to control things. A lot of the multitouch stuff that’s been
done is just gestures for little tiny phones. It’s mainly for browsing, not
necessarily for actual work. That’s something I would like to explore quite a
lot more.
Do you have any fantasies about how these gestures could work for real?

There’s tons of sci fi movies, like ‘Minority Report’, where you wear these
gloves and you can do various things. Even that is still just mainly browsing.
I saw one, it was a research project by this guy at Caltech. He had made
this table and he wore polarized glasses so he could look down at this table
and see a 3D image. And then he had gloves on, and he could sculpt things
right in the air. The computer would keep track of where his hand is going.
Instead of sculpting clay, you’re sculpting this 3D mesh. That seemed quite
impressive to me.
You’re thinking about 3D printers, actually?

It’s something that’s on my mind. I just got something called the
Eggbot. You can hold spheres in this thing and it’s basically a plotter that
can print on spherical surfaces or round surfaces. That’s something I’d like

to explore some more. I’ve made various balls with just my photographic
panoramas glued onto them. But that could be used to trace an outline for
something and then you could go in with pens or paints and add more detail.
If you’re trying to paint on a sphere, just paint and no photograph, laying out
an outline is perhaps the hardest part. If you simplify it, it becomes much
easier to make actual images on spheres. That would be fun to explore.

I’d like to come back to the folding. Following your existing aesthetic, the
stiffness and the angles of the drawing are very beautiful. Is it important you,
preserving the aesthetic of your programs, the widgets, the lines, the arrows ...

I think the specific widgets, in the end, are not really important to me
at all. It’s more just producing an actual effect. So if there is some better
way, more efficient way, more adaptable way to produce some effect, then it’s
better to just completely abandon what doesn’t work and make something
that’s new, that actually does work. Especially with multitouch stuff, a lot of
old widgets make no more sense. You have to deal with a lot of other kinds
of things, so you need different controls.

It makes sense, but I was thinking about the visual effect. Maybe it’s not
Laidout if it’s done in Qt.
Your visuals and drawings are very aesthetically precise. We’re wondering
about the aesthetics of the program, if it’s something that might change in the
You mean would the quality of the work produced be changed by the

That’s an interesting question as well. But particularly the interface, it’s
very related to your drawings. There’s a distinct quality. I was wondering
how you feel about that, how the interaction with the program relates to the
drawings themselves.

I think it just comes back to being very visually oriented. If you have to
enter a lot of values in a bunch of slots in a table, that’s not really a visual
way to do it. Especially in my artwork, it’s totally visual. There’s no other
component to it. You draw things on the page and it shows up immediately.

It’s just very visual. Or if you make a sculpture, you start with this chunk
of stuff and you have to transform it in some way and chop off this or sand
that. It’s still all very visual. When you sit down at a computer, computers
are very powerful, but what I want to do is still very visually oriented. The
question then becomes: how do you make an interface that retains the visual
inputs, but that is restricted to the types of inputs computers need to have
to talk to them?
The way someone sets up his workshop says a lot about his work. The way
you made Laidout and how you set up its screen, it’s important to define a spot
in the space of the possible.

What is nice is that you made the visualisation so important. The windows
and the rest of the interface is really simple, the attention is really focused on
what’s happening. It is not like shiny windows with shadows everywhere, you feel
like you are not bothered by the machine.
At the same time, the way you draw the thickness of the line to define the
page is a bit large. For me, these are choices, and I am very impressed because I
never manage to make choices for my own programs. The programs you wrote,
or George Williams, make a strong aesthetic assertion like: This is good. I can’t
do this. I think that is really interesting.
Heavy page borders, that still comes down to the visual thing you end
up with, is still the piece of paper so it is very important to find out where
that page outline actually is. The more obvious it is, the better.

Yes, I think it makes sense. For a while now, I paid more attention than
others in Scribus to these details like the shape of the button, the thickness of the
lines, what pattern do you chose for the selection, etcetera. I had a lot of feedback
from users like: I want this, this is too big and at some point you want to please
everybody and you don’t make choices. I don’t think that you are so busy with
what others think.
Are there many other users of the program?

Not that I know of (laughter). I know that there is at least one other
person that actually used it to produce a booklet. So I know that it is

possible for someone other than myself to make things with it. I’ve gotten
a couple of patches from people to not make it crash at various places but
since Laidout is quite small, I can just not pay any attention to criticism.
Partially because there isn’t any, and I have particular motivations to make
it work in a certain way and so it is easier to just go forward.

I think people that want to use your program are probably happy with this
kind of visualisation. Because you wrote it alone, there is also a consistency across
the program. It is not like Scribus, that has parts written by a lot of people so you
can really recognize: this is Craig (Bradney), this is Andreas (Vox), this is Jean
(Ghali), this is myself. There is nothing to follow.
I remember Donald Knuth talking about TeX and he was saying that
the entire program was written from scratch three times before its current
incarnation. I am sympathetic to that style of programming.
Start again.
I think it is a good idea, to start again. To come back to a little detail. Is
there a fileformat for your imposition tool, to store the imposition plan? Is it a
text or a binary format?

It is text-based, an indented file format, sort of like Python. I did
not want to use XML, every time I try to use XML there are all these
greater thans and less thans. It is better than binary, but it is still a huge
mess. When everything is indented like a tree, it is very easy to find things.
The only problem is to always input tabs, not spaces. I have two different
imposition types, basically, the flat-folding sheets and the three dimensional
ones. The three dimensional one is a little more complicated.
If you read the file, do you know what you are folding?

Not exactly. It lists what folds exists. If you have a five by five grid, it
will say Fold along this line, over in such and such direction. What it actually
translates to in the end, is not currently stored in the file. Once you are in
Laidout you can export into a PodofoImpose plan file.
Is this file just values, or are there keywords, is it like a text?

I try to make it pretty readable, like trimright or trimleft.
Does it talk about turning pages? This I find beautiful in PodofoImpose
plans, you can almost follow the paper through the hands of the program.
Turn now, flip backwards, turn again. It is an instruction for a dance.
Pretty much.

The text you can read in the PodofoImpose plans was taken from what Ludi
and me did by hand. One of us was folding the paper, and the other was writing
it into the plan. I think a lot of the things we talk about, are putting things from
the real world into the computer. But you are putting things from the computer
into the real world.
Can you describe again these two types of imposition, the first one being
very familiar to us. It must be the most frequently asked question on the
Scribus mailing list: How to do imposition. Even the most popular search
term on the OSP website is ‘Bookletprinting’. But what is the difference with
the plan for a 3D object? A classic imposition plan is also somehow about
turning a flat surface into a three dimensional object?
It is almost translatable. I’m reworking the 3D version to be able to
incorporate the flat folding. It is not quite there yet, the problem is the
connection between the pages. Currently, in the 3D version, you have a
shape that has a definitive form and that controls how things bleed across
the edges. When you have a piece of paper for a normal imposition, the
pages that are next to each other in the physical form are not necessarily
related to each other at all in the actual piece of paper. Right now, the piece
of paper you use for the 3D model is very defined, there is no flexibility.
Give me a few months!
So it is very different actually.

It is a different approach. One person wanted to do flexagons, it is sort
of like origami I guess, but it is not quite as complicated. You take a piece
of paper, cut out a square and another square, and than you can fold it and
you end up with a square that is actually made up of four different sections.
Than you can take the middle section, and you get another page and you can

keep folding in strange ways and you get different pages. Now the question
becomes: how do you define that page, that is a collection of four different
chunks of paper? I’m working on that!
We talk about the move from 2D to 3D as if these pages are empty. But
you actually project images on them and I keep thinking about maps, transitional objects where physical space is projected on paper which then becomes a
second real space and so on. Are you at all interested in maps?
A little bit. I don’t really want to because it is such a well-explored
field already. Already for many hundreds of years the problem is how do
you represent a globe onto a more or less two dimensional surface. You
have to figure out a way to make globe gores or other ways to project it and
than glue it on to a ball for example. There is a lot of work done with that
particular sort of imagery, but I don’t know.
Too many people in the field!

Yes. One thing that might be interesting to do though is when you have
a ball that is a projection surface, then you can do more things, like overlays
onto a map. If you want to simulate earthquakes for example. That would
be entertaining.
And the panoramic images you make, do you use special equipment for

For the first couple that I made, I made this 30-sided polyhedron that
you could mount a camera inside and it sat on a base in a particular way so
you could get thirty chunks of images from a really cheap point and shoot
camera. You do all that, and you have your thirty images and it is extremely
laborious to take all these thirty images and line them up. That is why I
made the 3D portion of Laidout, it was to help me do that in an easier
fashion. Since then I’ve got a fish-eyed lens which simplifies things quite
considerably. Instead of spending ten hours on something, I can do it in ten
minutes. I can take 6 shots, and one shot up, one shot down. In Hugin you
can stitch them all together.

And the kinds of things you photograph? We saw the largest rodent on
earth? How do you pick a spot for your images?

I am not really sure. I wander around and than photograph whatever
stands out. I guess some unusual configuration of architecture frequently
or sometimes a really odd event, or a political protest sometimes. The trick
with panoramas is to find an area where something is happening all over
the globe. Normally, on sunny days, you take a picture and all your image
is blank. As pretty as the blue sky is, there is not a lot going on there
Panoramic images are usually spherical or circular. Do you take certain
images with a specific projection surface in mind?
To an extent. I take enough images. Once I have a whole bunch of
images, the task is to select a particular image that goes with a particular
shape. Like cubes there are few lines and it is convenient to line them up to
an actual rectangular space like a room. The tetrahedron made out of cones,
I made one of Mount St. Helens, because I thought it was an interesting
way to put the two cones together. You mentioned 3D printers earlier, and
one thing I would like to do is to extend the panoramic image to be more
like a progression. For most panoramic images, the focal point is a single
point in space. But when you walk along a trail, you might have a series of
photographs all along. I think it could be an interesting work to produce,
some kind of ellipsoidal shape with a panoramic image that flows along the
Back to Laidout, and keeping with the physical and the digital. Would
there be something like a digital papercut?
Not really. Maybe you can have an Arduino and a knife?
I was more imagining a well placed crash?

In a sense there is. In the imposition view, right now I just have a green
bar to tell where the binding is. However when you do a lot of folds, you
usually want to do a staple. But if you are stapling and there is not an actual
fold there, than you are screwed.


The following statements were recorded by Urantsetseg
Ulziikhuu (Urana) in 2014. She studied communication in
Istanbul and Leuven and joined Constant for a few months
to document the various working practices at Constant
Variable. Between 2011 and 2014, Variable housed studios
for Artists, Designers, Techno Inventors, Data Activists,
Cyber Feminists, Interactive Geeks, Textile Hackers, Video
Makers, Sound Lovers, Beat Makers and other digital creators who were interested in using F/LOS software for
their creative experiments.

Why do you think people should use and or practice
Open Source software? What is in it for you?
Urantsetseg Ulziikhuu

The knitting machine that I am using normally has a
computer from the eighties. Some have these scanners that are really old
and usually do not work anymore. They became obsolete. If it wasn’t for
Open Source, we couldn’t use these technologies anymore. Open Source
developers decided that they should do something about these machines and
found that it was not that complicated to connect these knitting machines
directly to computers. I think it is a really good example how Open Source
is important, because these machines are no longer produced and industry
is no longer interested in producing them again, and they would have died
without further use.
The idea that Open Source is about sharing is also important. If you try to
do everything from zero, you just never advance. Now with Open Source, if
somebody does something and you have access to what they do, and you can
take it further and take it into a different direction.

Claire Williams


I haven’t always used Open Source software. It started
at the Piet Zwart Institute where there was a decision made by Matthew
Fuller and Femke Snelting who designed the program. They brought a
bunch of people together that asked questions about how our tools influence
practice, how they are used. And so, part of my process is then teaching in
that program, and starting to use Free Software more and more. I should
say, I had already been using one particular piece of Free Software which
is FFmpeg, a program that lets you work with video. So there again there
was a kind of connection. It was just by the virtue of the fact that it was
one of the only tools available that could take a video, pull out frames,
work with lots of different formats, just an amazing tool. So it started with
convenience. But the more that I learned about the whole kind of approach
of Open Source, the more Open Source I started to use. I first switched from
MacOSX to maybe Dual Booting and now indeed I am pretty much only
using Open Source. Not exclusively Open Source, because I occasionally use
platforms online that are not free, and some applications.
I am absolutely convinced that when you use these tools, you are learning
much more about inner workings of things, about the design decisions that
go into a piece of software so that you are actually understanding at a very
deep level, and this then lets you move between different tools. When
tools change, or new things are offered, I think it is really a deep learning
that helps you for the future. Whereas if you just focus on the specific
particularities of one platform or piece of software, that is a bit fragile and
will inevitably be obsolete when a software stops being developed or some
kind of new kind of way of working comes about.
Michael Murtaugh

I use Open Source software every day, as I have
Debian on my laptop. I came to it through anarchism – I don’t have a tech
background – so it’s a political thing mainly. Not that F/LOSS represents
a Utopian model of production by any means! As an artist it fits in with
my interest in collaborative production. I think the tools we use should be
malleable by the people who use them. Unfortunately, IT education needs
to improve quite a lot before that ideal becomes reality.
Politically, I believe in building a culture which is democratic and malleable
by its inhabitants, and F/LOSS makes this possible in the realm of software.
The benefits as a user are not so great unless you are tech-savvy enough to
really make use of that freedom. The software does tend to be more secure
Eleanor Greenhalgh


and so on, though I think we’re on shaky ground if we try to defend F/LOSS
in terms of its benefits to the end user. Using F/LOSS has a learning curve,
challenges which I put up with because I believe in it socially. This would
probably be a different answer from say, a sysadmin, someone who could see
really concrete benefits of using F/LOSS.
Actually I came from Open Content and alternative licensing to the technical side of using GNU/Linux. My main motivation
right now is the possibility to develop a deeper relationship with my tools.
For me it is interesting to create my own tools for my work, rather than
to use something predefined. Something everyone else uses. With Free
Software this is easier – to invent tools. Another important point is that
with Free Software and open standards it’s more likely that you will be able
to keep track of your work. With proprietary software and formats, you are
pretty much dependent on decisions of a software company. If the company
decides that it will not continue an application or format, there is not much
you can do about it. This happened to users of FreeHand. When Adobe
acquired their competitor Macromedia they decided to discontinue the development of FreeHand in favour of their own product Illustrator. You can
sign a petition, but if there is no commercial interest, most probably nothing
will happen. Let’s see what happens to Flash.

Christoph Haag

I studied sculpture, which is a very solitary way of working. Already through my studies, this idea of an artist sitting around in a
studio somewhere, being by himself, just doing his work by himself, didn’t
make sense to me. It is maybe true for certain people, but it is definitely
not true to me today, the person I am. I always integrated other people into
my work, or do collaborative work. I don’t really care about this ‘it is my
work’ or ‘it is your work’, if you do something together, at some point the
work exists by itself. For me, that is the greatest moment, it is just independent. It actually rejoins the authorship question, because I don’t think
you can own ideas. You can kind of put them out there and share them.
It is organic, like things that can grow and that they will become bigger
and bigger, become something else that you couldn’t have ever thought. It
makes the horizon much bigger. It is a different way of working I guess.
The obvious reason is that it is free, but the sharing philosophy is really at
the core of it. I have always thought that when you share things, you do not
Christina Clar


get back things instantly, but you do get so much things in another way,
not in the way you expect. But if you put in a idea out, use tools that are
open and change them, put them out again. So there is lot of back and
forth of communication. I think that is super important. It is the idea of
evolving together, not just by ourselves. I really do believe that we do evolve
much quicker if we are together than everybody trying to do things by his
or herselves. I think it is very European idea to get into this individualism,
this thinking of idea of doing things by myself, my thing. But I think we
can learn a lot from Asia, just ways of doing, because there community is
much more important.
I don’t necessarily develop like software or codes, because I am not a software developer. But I would say, I am involved in
analog way. I do use Open Source software, although I have to say I do not
much with computers. Most of my work is analog. But I do my researches
on the website. I am a user.
I started to develop an antipathy against large corporations, operating systems or softwares, and started to look for alternatives. Then you come to the
Linux system and Ubuntu which has a very user-friendly interface. I like the
fact that behind the software that I am using, there is a whole community,
who are until now without major financial interests and who develop tools
for people like me. So now I am totally into Open Source software, and I
try to use as much as I can. So my motivation would be I want to get off
the track of big corporates who will always kind of lead you into consuming
more of their products.
John Colenbrander

What does Free Culture mean to you? Are you taking
part in a ‘Free Culture Movement’?
Urantsetseg Ulziikhuu

Michael Murtaugh I’d like to think so, but I realised of that it is quite
hard. Only now, I am seriously trying to really contribute back to projects
and I wouldn’t even say that I am an active contributer to Free Software
projects. I am much more of a user and part of the system. I am using it in
my teaching and my work, but now I try to maybe release software myself in
some way or I try to create projects that people could actually use. I think


it is another kind of dimension of engagement. I haven’t really fully realised
it, so yes for that question if I am contributing to Free Culture. Yes, but I
could go lot deeper.
John Colenbrander I am a big supporter of the idea of Free Culture. I
think information should be available for people, especially for those who
have little access to information. I mean we live in the West and we have
access to information more or less with physical libraries and institutions
where we can go. Specially in Asia, South America, Africa this is very
important. There is a big gap between those who have access to knowledge
and those don’t have access to knowledge.
That’s a big field to explore to be able to open up information to people who
have very poor access to information. Maybe they are not even able to write
or read. That’s already is a big handicap. So I think it is a big mission in
that sense.

Could Free Culture be seen as an opposition to commercialism?
Urantsetseg Ulziikhuu

Michael Murtaugh It is a tricky question. I think no matter what, if you
go down the stack, in terms of software and hardware, if you get down to
the deepest level of a computer then there is little free CPU design. So I
think it is really important to be able to work in this kind of hybrid spaces
and to be aware of then how free Free is, and always look for alternatives
when they are available. But to a certain degree, I think it is really hard to
go for a total absolute. Or it is a decision, you can go absolute but that may
mean that you are really isolated from other communities. So that’s always
a bit of balancing act, how independent can you be, how independent you
want to be, how big does your audience need to be, or you community needs
to be. So that’s a lot of different decisions. Certainly, when I am working
in the context of an art school with design practitioners, you know it is not
always possible to really go completely independent and there are lots of
implications in terms of how you work and whom you can work with, and
the printers you can work with. So it is always a little bit of trade-off, but it
is important to understand what the decisions are.


Eleanor Greenhalgh I think the idea of a Free Culture movement is very
exciting and important. It has always gone on, but stating it in copyrightaware terms issues an important challenge to the ‘all rights reserved’ statusquo. At the same time I think it has limitations, at least in its current form.
I’m not sure that rich white kids playing with their laptops is necessarily a
radical act. The idea and the intention are very powerful though, because
it does have the potential to challenge the way that power – in the form of
‘intellectual property’ – is distributed.
Christoph Haag Copyright has become much more enforced over the last
years than it was ever before. In a way, culture is being absorbed by companies trying to make money out of it. And Free Culture developed as a
counter movement against this. When it comes to mainstream culture, you
are most often reduced to a consumer of culture. Free Culture then is a
obvious reaction. The idea of culture where you have the possibility to engage again, to become active and create your version, not just to consume

How could Open Source software be economically sustainable, in a way that is beneficial for both developers/creators and users?
Urantsetseg Ulziikhuu

Eleanor Greenhalgh That’s a good question! A very hard one. I’m not
involved enough in that community to really comment on its economic future. But it does, to me, highlight what is missing from the analysis in
Free Culture discourse, the economic reality. It depends on where they (developers) work. A lot of them are employed by companies so they get a
salary. Others do it for a hobby. I’d be interested to get accurate data on
what percentage of F/LOSS developers are getting paid, etc. In the absence
of that data, I think it’s fair to say it is an unsolved problem. If we think
that developers ‘should’ be compensated for their work, then we need to talk
about capitalism. Or at least, about statutory funding models.


It is interesting that you used both ‘sustainability’ and
‘economic viability’. And I think those are two things very often in opposition. I am doing a project now about publishing workflows and future electronic publishing forums. And that was the one thing we looked at. There
were several solutions on the market. One was a platform called ‘Editorial’
which was a very nice website that you could use to mark down texts collaboratively and and then it could produce ePub format books. After about
six months of running, it closed down as many platforms do. Interestingly,
in their sign-off message it said: You have a month to get your stuff out of the
website, and sorry we have decided not to Open Source the project. As much as
we loved making it, it was just too much work for us to keep this running. In
terms of real sustainability, Open Source of course would have allowed them
to work with anybody, even if it is just a hobby.
Michael Murtaugh

It is very related to passion of doing these things.
Embroidering machines have copyrighted softwares installed. The software
itself is very expensive, around 1000 , and the software for professionals is
6000 to buy. Embroidering machines are very expensive themselves too.
These softwares are very tight and closed, you even have to have special USB
key for patterns. And there are these two guys who are software developers,
they are trying to come up with a format which all embroidering machines
could read. They take their time to do this and I think in the end if the
project works out, they will probably get attention and probably get paid
also. Because instead of giving 1000 to copyrighted software, maybe you
would be happy to give 50 to these people.
Claire Williams


Date: Thu, 12 Sep 2013 15:50:25 +0200
From: FS

Dear OSP,

For a long time I have wanted to organise a conversation with you
about the place and meaning of distributed version control in OSP
design work. First of all because after three years of working with
Git intensely, it is a good moment to take stock. It seems that many
OSP methods, ideas and politics converge around it and a conversation discussing OSP practice linked to this concrete (digital) object
could produce an interesting document; some kind of update on what
OSP has been up to over the last three years and maybe will be in
the future. Second: Our last year in Variable has begun. Under the
header Etat des Lieux, Constant started gathering reflections and documents to archive this three year working period. One of the things
I would like to talk about is the parallels and differences between a
physical studio space and a distributed workflow. And of course I am
personally interested in the idea of ‘versions’ linked to digital collaboration. This connects to old projects and ideas and is sparked again
by new ones revived through the Libre Graphics Research Unit and
of course Relearn.
I hope you are also interested in this, and able to make time for it. I
would imagine a more or less structured session of around two hours
with at least four of you participating, and I will prepare questions
(and cake).
Speak soon!


How do you usually explain Git to design students?
Before using Git, I would work on a document. Let’s say a layout, and to
keep a trace of the different versions of the layout, I would append _01, _02
to the files. That’s in a way already versioning. What Git does, is that it
makes that process somehow transparent in the sense that, it takes care of
it for you. Or better, you have to make it take care for you. So instead of
having all files visible in your working directory, you put them in a database,
so you can go back to them later on. And then you have some commands to
manipulate this history. To show, to comment, to revert to specific versions.
More than versioning your own files, it is a tool to synchronize your work
with others. It allows you to work on the same projects together, to drive
parallel projects.
It really is a tool to make collaboration easier. It allows you to see differences.
When somebody proposes you a new version of a file, it highlights what has
changed. Of course this mainly works on the level of programming code.
Did you have any experience with Git before working with OSP?
Well, not long before I joined OSP, we had a little introduction to Mercurial,
another versioning software, at school in 2009. Shortly after I switched to
Git. I was working with someone else who was working with Git, and it was
so much better.
Alex was interested in using Git to make Brainch 1 . We wanted to make a web
application to fork texts that are not code. That was our first use of Git.
I met OSP through Git in a way. An intern taught me the program and he
said: Eric once you’ll get it, you’ll get so excited!. We were in the cafeteria of
the art school. I thought it was really special, like someone was letting me
in on a secret and we we’re the only ones in the art school who knew about
it. He thought me how to push and pull. I saw quickly how Git really
is modeled on how culture works. And so I felt it was a really interesting,
promising system. And then I talked about it at the Libre Graphics Meeting
in 2010, and so I met OSP.

A distributed text editing platform based on Django and Git


I started to work on collaborative, graphic design related stuff when I was
developing a font manager. I’ve been connected to two versioning systems
and mainly used SVN. Git came well after, it was really connected to web
culture, compared to Subversion, which is more software related.
What does it mean that Git is referred to as ‘distributed versioning’?
The first command you learn in Git, is the clone command. It means that
you make a copy of a project that is somehow autonomous. Contrary to
Subversion you don’t have this server-client architecture. Every repository
is in itself a potential server and client. Meaning you can keep track of your
changes offline.
At some point, you decided to use ‘distributed versioning’ rather than a
centralized system such as Subversion. I remember there was quite some
discussion ...
I was not hard to convince. I had no experience with other versioning
systems. I was just excited by the experience that others had with this new
tool. In fact there was this discussion, but I don’t remember exactly the
arguments between SVN or Git. For what I remember Git was easier.
The discussion was not really on the nature of this tool. It was just: who
would keep Git running for OSP? Because the problem is not the system in
itself, it’s the hosting platform. We didn’t find any hosted platform which
fitted our taste. The question was: do we set up our own server, and who is
going to take care of at. At this time Alex, Steph and Ivan were quite excited
about working with Git. And I was excited to use Subversion instead, but I
didn’t have to time to take care of setting it up and everything.
You decided not to use a hosted platform such as Gitorious or GitHub?
I guess we already had our own server and were hosting our own projects. But
Pierre you used online platforms to share code?
When I started developing my own projects it was kind of the end of
SourceForge. 2 I was looking for a tool more in the Free Software tradition.

SourceForge is a web based source code repository. It was the first platform to offer this
service for free to Open Source projects.


There was gna, and even though the platform was crashing all the time, I
felt it was in line with this purpose.
If I remember correctly, when we decided between Git and Subversion,
Pierre, you were also not really for it because of the personality of its main
developer, Linus Torvalds. I believe it was the community aspect of Git that
bothered you.

Well Git has been written to help Linus Torvalds receive patches for the
Linux kernel; it is not aimed at collaborative writing. It was more about
making it convenient for Linus. And I didn’t see a point in making my
practice convenient for Linus. I was already using Subversion for a while
and it was really working great at providing an environment to work together with a lot of people and check out different versions. Anything you
expect from a versioning system was there, all elements for collaborative
work were there. I didn’t see the point to change for something that didn’t
feel as comfortable with, culturally. This question of checking out different
directories of repositories was really important to me. At this time (Git has
evolved a lot) it was not possible to do that. There were other technical
aspects I was quite keen of. I didn’t see why to go for Git which was not
offering the same amount of good stuff.

But then there is this aspect of distribution, and that’s not in Subversion.
If some day somebody decides to want a complete copy of an OSP project,
including all it’s history, they would need to ask us or do something complicated to give it to them.

I was not really interested in this ‘spreading the whole repository’. I was
more concerned about working together on a specific project.

It feels like your habit of keeping things online has shifted. From making
an effort afterwards to something that happens naturally, as an integral
part of your practice.

It happened progressively. There is this idea that the Git repository is linked
to the website, which came after. The logic is to keep it all together and
linked, online and alive.

That’s not really true ... it was the dream we had: once we have Git, we
share our files while working on them. We don’t need to have this effort
afterwards of cleaning up the sources and it will be shareable. But it is not
true. If we do not put an effort to make it shareable it remains completely
opaque. It requires still an investment of time. I think it takes about 10%
of time of the project, to make it readable from the outside afterwards.

Now, with the connection to our public website, you’re more conscious that all
the files we use are directly published. Before we had a Git web application that
allowed someone to just browse repositories, but it was not visual, so it was hard
to get into it. The Cosic project is a good example. Every time I want to show
the project to someone, I feel lost. There are so many files and you really don’t
know which ones to open.

Maybe, Eric, you can talk about ‘Visual Culture’?

Basically ‘Visual Culture’ is born out of this dream I talked about just now.
That turns out not to be true, but shapes our practice and helps us think
about licensing and structuring and all those interesting questions. I was
browsing through this Git interface that Stéphanie described, and thought
it was a missed opportunity, because here is this graphic design studio,
who publishes all their works, while they are working. Which has all kind
of consequences but if you can’t see it, if you don’t know anything about
computer programming, you have no clue on what’s going on. And also,
because it’s completely textual. And for example a .sla file, if you don’t know
about Open Source, if you don’t know about Scribus it could as well be
salad. It is clear that Git was made for text. It was the idea to show all the
information that is already there in a visual form. But an image is an image,
and type is a typeface, and it changes in a visual way. I thought it made
sense for us to do. We didn’t have anyone writing posts on our blog. But
we had all this activity in the Git repository.
It started to give some schematic view on our practice, and renders the current
activity visible, very exciting. But it is also very frustrating because we have lots
of ideas and very little time to implement them. So the ‘Visual Culture’ project
is terribly late on the ball comparing to our imagination.

Take by example the foundry. Or the future potential of the ‘Iceberg’ folders. Or
our blog that is sometimes cruelly missing. We have ways to fill all these functions
with ‘Visual Culture’ but still no time to do it!
In a way you follow established protocols on how Open Source code is
usually published. There should be a license, a README file ... But OSP
also decided to add a special folder, which you called ‘Iceberg’. This is a
trick to make your repository more visual?

Yeah, because even if something is straightforward to visualise, it helps if
you can make a small render of it. But most of the files are a accumulation
of files, like a webpage. The idea is that in the ‘Iceberg’ folder, we can put a
screenshot, or other images ...

We wanted the files that are visible, to be not only the last files added. We wanted
to be able to show the process. We didn’t want it to be a portfolio and just show
the final output. But we wanted to show errors and try-outs. I think it’s not only
related to Git, but also to visual layout. When you want to share software, we
say release early, release often, which is really nice. But it’s not enough to just
release, because you need to make it accessible to other people to understand what
they are reading. It’s like commenting your code, making it ... I don’t want to
say ‘clean’ ... legible, using variable names that people can understand. Because,
sometimes when we code just for ourselves I use French variables so that I’m sure
that it’s not word-protected by the programming language. But then it is not
accessible to many people. So stuff like that.
You have decided to use a tool that’s deeply embedded in the world of
F/LOSS. So I’ve always seen your choice for Git both as a pragmatic
choice as well as a fan choice?

Like as fans of the world of Open Source?

Yes. By using this tool you align yourself, as designers, with people that
develop software.

I’m not sure, I join Pierre on his feelings towards Linus Torvalds, even
though I have less anger at him. But let’s say he is not someone I especially

like in his way of thinking. What I like very much about Git is the distributed aspect. With it you can collaborate without being aligned together.
While I think Linus Torvalds idea is very liberal and in a way a bit sad, this
idea that you can collaborate without being aligned, without going through
this permission system, is interesting. With Scribus for example, I never
collaborated on it, it’s such a pain to got through the process. It’s good and
bad. I like the idea of a community which is making a decision together, at
the same time it is so hard to enter this community that you just don’t want
to and give up.
How does it feel, as a group of designer-developers, to adopt workflows,
ways of working, and also a vocabulary that comes from software development?

On the one hand it’s maybe a fan act. We like this movement of F/LOSS
development which is not always given the importance it has in the cultural
world. It’s like saying hey I find you culturally relevant and important. But
there’s another side to it. It’s not just a distant appropriation, it’s also the fact
that software development is such a pervasive force. It’s so much shaping
the world, that I feel I also want to take part in defining what are these
procedures, what are these ways of sharing, what are these ways of doing
things. Because I also feel that if I ask someone from another field as
a cultural actor, and take and appropriate these mechanisms and ways of
doing, I will be able to influence what they are. So there is the fan act, and
there’s also the act of trying to be aware of all the logic contained in these

And from another side, in the world of graphic design it is also a way to
affirm that we are different. And that we’re really engaged in doing this
and not only about designing nice pictures. That we really develop our own

It is a way to say: hey, we’re not a kind of politically engaged designers with
a different political goal each next half month, and than we do a project
about it. It really impacts our ecosystem, we’re serious about it.

It’s true that, before we started to use Git, people asked: So you’re called
Open Source Publishing, but where are your sources? For some projects you
could download a .zip file but it was always a lot of trouble, because you needed
to do it afterwards, while you were already doing other projects.

Collaboration started to become a prominent part of the work; working
together on a project. Rather than, oh you do that and when you are finished
you send the file over and I will continue. It’s really about working together on
a project. Even if you work together in the same space, if you don’t have a
system to share files, it’s a pain in the ass.
After using it for a few years, would you say there are parts of in Git
where you do not feel at home?

In Git, and in versioning systems in general, there is that feeling that the
latest version is the best. There is an idea of linearity, even though you can
have branches, you still have an idea of linearity in the process.

Yes, that’s true. We did this workshop Please computer let me design, the first
time was in a French school, in French, and the second time for a more European
audience, in English. We made a branch, but then you have the default branch the English one - you only see that one, while they are actually on the same level.

So the convention is to always show the main branch, the ‘master’?

In a way there is no real requirement in Git to have a branch called ‘master’.
You can have a branch called ‘English’ and a branch called ‘French’. But
it’s true that all the visualization software we know (GitHub or Gitorious
are ways to visualize the content of a Git repository), you’ll need to specify
which is the branch that is shown by default. And by default, if you don’t
define it, it is ‘master’.
For certain types of things such as code and text it works really well, for
others, like you’re making a visual design, it’s still very hard to compare
differences. If I make a poster for example I still make several files instead of
branches, so I can see them together at once, without having to check-out
another branch. Even in websites, if I want to make a layout, I’ll simply make
a copy of the HTML and CSS, because I want to be able to test out and

compare them. It might be possible with branches, it’s just to complicated.
Maybe the tools to visualize it are not there ... But it’s still easier to make
copies and pick the one you like.

It’s quite heavy to go back to another version. Also working collaboratively is
actually quite heavy. For example in workshops, or the ‘Balsamine’ project ... we
were working together on the same files at the same time, and if you want to share
your file with Git you’ll have to first add your file, then commit and pull and
push, which is four commands. And every time you commit you have to write
a message. So it is quite long. So while we were working on the .css for ‘Visual
Culture’, we tried it in Etherpad, and one of us was copying the whole text file
and committing.

So you centralized in the end.

It’s more about third-party visual software. Let’s say Etherpad for example,
it’s a versioning system in itself. You could hook into Git through Etherpad
and each letter you type could be a commit. And it would make nonsense
messages but at the same time it would speed up the process to work together. We can imagine the same thing with Git (or any other collaborative
working system) integrated into Inkscape. You draw and every time you save
... At some point Subversion was also a WebDav server, it means that for
any application it was possible to plug things together. Each time you would
save you file it would make a commit on the server. It worked pretty well
to bring new people into this system because it was just exactly the same as
the OpenOffice, it was an open WebDav client. So it was possible to say to
OpenOffice that you, where you save is a disk. It was just like saving and it
was committing.

I really agree. From the experience of working on a typeface together in
Git with students, it was really painful. That’s because you are trying to
do something that generates source code, a type design program generates
source code. You’re not writing it by hand, and if you then have two versions
of the type design program, it already starts to create conflicts that are quite
hard. It’s interesting to bring to models together. Git is just an architecture
on how to start your version, so things could hook into it.

For example with Etherpad, I’ve looked into this API the other day, and
working together with Git, I’m not sure if having every Etherpad revision
directly mapped to a Git revision would makes sense if you work on a project
... but at the same time you could have every saved revision mapped to a
Git revision. It’s clear Git is made for asynchronous collaboration process.
So there is Linus in his office, there are patches coming in from different
people. He has the time also to figure out which patch needs to go where.
This doesn’t really work for the Etherpad-style-direct-collaboration. For
me it’s cool to think about how you could make these things work together.
Now I’m working on this collaborative font editor which does that in some
sort of database. How would that work? It would not work if every revision
would be in the Git. I was thinking you could save, or sort of commit, and
that would put it in a Git repository, this you can pull and push. But if
you want to have four people working together and they start pulling, that
doesn’t work on Git.

I never really tried Sparkleshare, that could maybe work? Sparkleshare is making
a commit message every time you save a document. In a way it works more like
Dropbox. Every time you save it’s synchronized with the server directly.

So you need to find a balance between the very conscious commits you
make with Git and the fluidness of Etherpad, where the granularity is
much finer. Sparkleshare would be in between?
I think it would be interesting to have this kind of Sparkleshare behaviour, but
only when you want to work synchronously.

So you could switch in and out of different modes?

Usually Sparkleshare is used for people who don’t want to get to much involved
in Git and its commands. So it is really transparent: I send my files, it’s synchronized. I think it was really made for this kind of Dropbox behaviour. I think
it would make sense only when you want to have your hands on the process. To
have this available only when you decide, OK I go synchronous. Like you say,
if you have a commit for every letter it doesn’t make sense.
It makes sense. A lot of things related to versions in software development
is meant to track bugs, to track programming choices.

I don’t know for you ... but the way I interact with our Git repository since we
started to work with it ... I almost never went into the history of a project. It’s
just, it really never happened to go back into this history, to check out an old

I do!

Some neat feature of Git is the dissect command. To find where it broke.

You can top from an old revision that you know that works and then track
down, like checkout, track down the bug.

Can you give a concrete example, where that would be useful, I mean,
not in code.

Not code, okay. That I don’t know.

In a design, like visual design, I think it never happens. It happens on websites,
on tools. Because there is a bug, so you need to come back to see where it broke.
But for a visual design I’m not sure.

It’s true, also because as you said before, with .svg files or .sla files we often
have several duplicates. I sometimes checkout those. But it’s true it’s often
related to merge problems. Or something, you don’t know what to do, so
you’ll just check-out, to go back to an earlier version.

It would be interesting for me to really look at our use of Git and map some
kind of tool on top of a versioning system. Because it’s not even versioning,
it is also a collaborative workflow, and to see what we mean. Just to use
maybe some feature of Git or whatever to provide the services we need and
really see what we exactly work with. And, this kind of thing where we
want to see many versions at the same time, to compare seems important.
Well it’s the kind of thing that could take advantage of a versioning system,
to build.
It is of course a bit strange that if you want to see different versions next
to each other you have to go back in time. It’s a kind of paradox, no?

But then you can’t see them at the same time
Exactly, no.


Because there is no way to visualize your trip back in history.

Well I think, something you could all have some interesting discussion
about, is the question of exchange. Because now we are talking about the
individual. We’ve talked how it’s easier to contribute to Git based projects
but to be accepted into an existing repository someone needs to say okay,
I want it, which is like SVN. What is easier, is to publish you’re whole
Git repository online, with the only difference from the the first version,
is that you added your change, but it means that in proposing a change
you are already making a new cultural artifact. You’re already putting a new
something there. I find this to be a really fascinating phenomena because
it has all kinds of interesting consequences. Of course we can look at it
the way of, it’s the cold and the liberal way of doing things. Because the
individual is at the center of this, because you are on your own. It’s your
thing in the first place, and then you can see if it maybe becomes someone
else’s thing too. So that has all kinds of coldness about it and it leads to
many abandoned projects and maybe it leads to a decrease of social activity
around specific projects. But there’s also an interesting part of it, where it
actually resembles quite well how culture works in the first place. Because
culture deals with a lot redundancy, in the sense that we can deal with many
kinds of very similar things. We can have Akzidenz Grotesk, Helvetica and
the Akkurat all at the same time, and they have some kind of weird cultural
lineage thing going on in between them.

Are there any pull requests for OSP?
We did have one.

Eric is right to ask about collaboration with others, not only how to work
internally in a group.

That’s why GitHub is really useful. Because it has the architecture to exchange
changes. Because we have our own server it’s quite private, it’s really hard to
allow anyone to contribute to fonts for example. So we had e-mails: Hey here’s
a new version of the font, I did some glyphs, but also changed the shape of
the A. There we have two different things, new glyphs is one thing, we could say

we take any new glyph. But changing the A, how do you deal with this? There’s
a technical problem, well not technical ...

An architectural problem?

Yeah, we won’t add everyone’s SSH-key to the server because it will be endless
to maintain. But at the same time, how do you accept changes? And then, who
decides what changes will be accepted?

For the foundry we decided to have a maintainer for each font project.

It’s the kind of thing we didn’t do well. We have this kind of administrative
way of managing the server. Well it’s a lot of small elements that all together
make it difficult. Let’s say at some point we start to think maybe we need to
manage our repositories, something a bit more sophisticated then Gitolite. So we
could install something like Gitorious. We didn’t do it but we could imagine
to rebuild a kind of ecosystem where people have their own repositories and
do anything we can imagine on this kind of hosting service. Gitorious is a
Free Software so you can deploy it on your own server. But it is not trivial
to do.
Can you explain the difference between Gitorious and GitHub?

Gitorious is first a free version, it’s not a free version of Git but GitHub. One
is free and one is not.
Meaning you can not install GitHub on your own server.

Git is a storage back-end, and Gitorious or GitHub are a kind of web application to interact with the repository and to manage them. And GitHub
is a program and a company deploying these programs to offer both a commercial service and a free-of-charge service. They have a lot of success with
the free service Git in a sense. And they make a lot of money at providing
the same service, exactly the same, just it means that you can have private
space on the server. It’s quite convenient, because the tools are really good
to manage repositories. And Gitorious I don’t exactly know what is their
business model, they made all their source code to run the platform Free
Software. It means they offer a bit less fancy features.

A bit less shiny?

Yeah, because they have less success and so less money to dedicate to development of the platform. But still it’s some kind of easy to grasp web interface
management, repositories manager. Which is quite cool. We could do that,
to install this kind of interface, to allow more people to have their repositories on the OSP-server. But here comes the difficult thing: we would need
a bit more resources to run the server to host a lot of repositories. Still this
moment we have problems sometimes with the server because it’s not like
a large server. Nobody at OSP is really a sysadmin, and has time to install
and setup everything nicely etcetc. And we also would have to work on the
gitorious web application to make it a bit more in line with our visual universe. Because now it’s really some kind of thing we cannot associate with

Do you think ‘Visual Culture’ can leverage some of the success of GitHub?
People seem to understand and like working this way.

Well, it depends. We also meet a lot of people who come to GitHub and say,
I don’t understand, I don’t understand anything of this! Because of it’s huge
success GitHub can put some extra effort in visualization, and they started
to run some small projects. So they can do more than ‘Visual Culture’ can
And is this code available?

Some of their projects are Open Source.

Some of their projects are free. Even if we have some things going on in
‘Visual Culture’, we don’t have enough manpower to finalize this project.
The GitHub interface is really specific, really oriented, they manage to do
things like show fonts, show pictures, but I don’t think they can display
.pdf. ‘Visual Culture’ is really a good direction, but it can become obsolete
by the fact that we don’t have enough resource to work on it. GitHub starts
to cover a lot of needs, but always in their way of doing things, so it’s a

I’m very surprised ... the quality of Git is that it isn’t centralized, and nowadays everything is becoming centralized in GitHub. I’m also wondering
whether ... I don’t think we should start to host other repositories, or maybe
we should, I don’t know.
Yeah, I think we should

You do or you don’t want to become a hosting platform?

No. What I think is nice about GitHub is of course the social aspect around
sharing code. That they provide comments. Which is an extra layer on top
of Git. I’m having fantasies about another group like OSP who would use
Git and have their own server, instead of having this big centralized system.
But still have ways to interact with each other. But I don’t know how.
It would be interesting if it’s distributed without being disconnected.

If it was really easy to setup Git, or a versioning server, that would be
fantastic. But I can remember, as a software developer, when I started to
look for somewhere to host my code it was no question to setup my own
server. Because of not having time, no time to maintain, no time to deploy
etcetc. At some point we need hosting-platforms for ourselves. We have
almost enough to run our own platform. But think of all the people who
can’t afford it.
But in a way you are already hosting other people’s projects. Because
there are quite a few repositories for workshops that actually not belong
to you.

Yeah, but we moved some of them to GitHub just to get rid of the pain of
maintaining these repositories.
We wanted the students to be independent. To really have them manage
their own projects.

GitHub is easier to manage then our own repository which is still based on
a lot of files.

For me, if we ever make this hosting platform, it should be something else then
our own website. Because, like you say, it’s kind of centralized in the way we use
it now. It’s all on the Constant server.

Not anymore?

No, the Git repositories are still on the Constant server.

Ah, the Git is still. But they are synced with the OSP server. But still, I can
imagine it would be really nice to have many instances of ‘Visual Culture’
for groups of people running their own repositories.
It feels a bit like early days of blogging.

It would be really, really nice for us to allow other people to use our services.
I was also thinking of this, because of this branching stuff. For two reasons,
first to make it easier for people to take advantage of our repository. Just
like branching our repository would be one click, just like in Gitorious or
GitHub. So I have an account and I like this project and I want to change
something, I just click on it. You’re branched into your own account and
you can start to work with it. That’s it, and it would be really convenient
for people who would like to work with our font files etc. And once we
have all these things running on our server we can think of a lot of ideas to
promote our own dynamic over versioning systems. But now we’re really a
bit stuck because we don’t have the tools we would like to have. With the
repositories, it’s something really rigid.
It is interesting to see the limits of what actually can happen. But it is
still better than the usual (In)design practices?

We would like to test GitMX. We don’t know much about it, but we would
like to use it for the pictures in high-resolution, .pdfs. We thought about it
when we were in Seoul, because we were putting pictures on a gallery, and
we were like ah, this gallery. We were wondering, perhaps if GitMX works
well, perhaps it can be separated into different types of content. And then
we can branch them into websites. And perhaps pictures of the finalized
work. In the end we have the ‘Iceberg’ with a lot of ‘in-progress’-pictures,

but we don’t have any portfolio or book. Again because we don’t care much
about this, but at the end we feel we miss it a bit.

A narration ...

... to have something to present. Each time we prepare a presentation, we
need to start again to find back the tools and files, and to choose what we
want to send for the exhibition.

It’s really important because at some point, working with Git, I can remember telling people ...
Don’t push images!
I remember.

The repository is there to share the resources. And that’s really where it
shines. And don’t try to put all your active files in it. At some point we miss
this space to share those files.
But an image can be a recipe. And code can be an artifact. For me the
difference is not so obvious.

It is not always so clear. Sometimes the cut-off point is decided by the weight of
the file, so if it is too heavy, we avoid Git. Another is: if it is easy to compile, leave
it out of Git. Sometimes the logic is reversed. If we need it to be online even if
not a source, but simply we need to share it, we put it on the Git. Some commits
are also errors. The distinction is quite organic until now, in my experience. The
closer the practice gets to code, the more clean the versioning process is.

There is also a kind of performative part of the repository. Where a
commit counts as a proof of something ...
When I presented the OSP’s website, we had some remarks like, ah it’s good we
can see what everybody has done, who has worked.

But strangely so far there were not many reactions from partners or clients
regarding the fact that all the projects could be followed at any stage. Even budget
wise ... Mostly, I think, because they do not really understand how it works.
And sometimes it’s true, it came to my mind, should we really show our website
to clients? Because they can check whether we are working hard, or this week

we didn’t do shit ... And it’s, I think it’s really based on trust and the type of
collaboration you want with your client. Actually collaboration and not a hierarchical relationship. So I think in the end it’s something that we have to work
on. On building a healthy relationship, that you show the process but it’s not
about control. The meritocracy of commits is well known, I think, in platforms
like GitHub. I don’t think in OSP this is really considered at all actually.

It supports some self-time tracking that is nuanced and enriched by e-mail,
calendar events, writing in Etherpads. It gives a feeling of where is the activity
without following it too closely. A feeling rather than surveillance or meritocracy.

I know that Eric ... because he doesn’t really keep track of his working hours. He
made a script to look into his commit messages to know when he worked on a
project. Which is not always truthful. Because sometimes you make a commit on
some files that you made last week, but forgot to commit. And a commit is a
text message at a certain time. So it doesn’t tell you how much time you spent on
the file.

Although in the way you decided to visualize the commits, there is a sense
of duration between the last and the commit before. So you have a sense
of how much time passed in between. Are there ways you sometimes
trick the system, to make things visible that might otherwise go missing?
In the messages sometimes, we talk about things we tried and didn’t work.
But it’s quite rare.

I kind of regret that I don’t write so much on the commits. At the beginning
when we decided to publish the messages on the homepage we talked about
this theater dialogue and I was really excited. But in the end I see that I
don’t write as much as I would like.
I think it’s really a question of the third-party programs we use. Our
messages are like a dialogue on the website. But when you write
a commit message you’re not at all in this interface. So you don’t answer
to something. If we would have the same kind of interface we have on the
website, you would realize you can answer to the previous commit message.
You have this sort of narrative thread and it would work. We are in the


middle, we have this feeling of a dialogue on one side, but because when
you work, you’re not on the website to check the history. It’s just basically, it
would be about to make things really in line with what we want to achieve.
I commit just when I need to share the files with someone else. So I wait
until the last moment.

To push you mean?

No, to commit. And then I’ve lost track of what I’ve done and then I just
write ...

But it would be interesting, to look at the different speeds of collaboration. They might need each another type of commit message.

But it’s true, I must admit that when I start working on a project I don’t read the
last messages. And so, then you lose this dialogue as you said. Because sometimes
I say, Ludi is going to work on it. So I say, OK Ludi it’s your turn now,
but the thing is, if she says that to me I would not know because I don’t read the
commit messages.

I suppose that is something really missing from the Git client. When you
you update your working copy to synchronize with the server it just
says files change, how many changes there were. But doesn’t give you the

That’s what missing when you pull. It should instead of just showing which files
have changed, show all the logs from the last time you pulled.

Your earlier point, about recipes versus artifacts. I have something to add
that I forgot. I would reverse the question, what the versioning system
considers to be a recipe is good, is a recipe. I mean, in this context ‘a
recipe’ is something that works well within the versioning system. Such as
the description of your process to get somewhere. And I can imagine it’s
something, I would say the Git community is trying to achieve that fact.
Make it something that you can share easily.

But we had a bit of this discussion with Alex for a reader we made. It is going to
be published, so we have the website with all the texts, and the texts are all under

a free license. But the publisher doesn’t want us to put the .pdfs online. I’m quite
okay with that, because for me it’s a condition that we put the sources online. But
if you really want the .pdf then you can clone the repository and make them
yourself in Scribus. It’s just an example of not putting the .pdf, but you have
everything you need to make the .pdf yourself. For me it’s quite interesting to say
our sources are there. You can buy the book but if you want the .pdf you have
to make a small effort to generate it and then you can distribute it freely. But I
find it quite interesting to, of course the easiest way would be the .pdf but in this
case we can’t. Because the publisher doesn’t want us to.

But that distinction somehow undervalues the fact that layout for example
is not just an executed recipe, no? I mean, so there is this kind of grey
area in design that is ... maybe not the final result, but also not a sort of
executable code.
We see it with ‘Visual Culture’, for instance, because Git doesn’t make it easy
to work with binaries. And the point of ‘Visual Culture’ is to make .jpegs
visible and all the kind of graphical files we work with. So it’s like we don’t
know how to decide whether we should put for instance .pdfs in the Git
repository online. Because on the one hand it makes it less manageable with
Git to work with. But on the other hand we want to make things visible on
the website.
But it’s also storage-space. If you want to clone it, if you want people to clone
it also you don’t want a 8 gigabyte repository.

I don’t know because it’s not really what OSP is for, but you can imagine, like
Dropbox has been made to easily share large files, or even files in general.
We can imagine that another company will set up something, especially
graphic designers or the graphic industry. The way GitHub did something
for the development industry. They will come up with solutions for this
very problem.
I just want to say that I think because we’re not a developer group, at the start the
commit messages were a space where you would throw all your anger, frustration.
And we first published a Git log in the Balsamine program, because we saw that.
This was the first program we designed with ConTeXt. So we were manipulating

code for layout. The commit messages were all really funny, because Pierre and
Ludi come from a non-coding world and it was really inspiring and we decided
to put it in the publication. Then we kind of looked, Ludi says two kind of bad
things about the client, but it was okay. Now I think we are more aware that it’s
public, we kind of pay attention not to say stuff we don’t mean to ...

It’s not such an exciting space anymore as in the first half year?

It often very formal and not very, exciting, I think. But sometimes I put
quite some effort to just make clear what I’m trying to share.

And there are also commits that you make for yourself. Because sometimes, even
if you work on a project alone, you still do a Git project to keep track, to have a
history to come back to. Then you write to yourself. I think it’s also something
else. I’ve never tried it.

It’s a lot to ask in a way, to write about what you are doing while you are
doing it.

I think we should pay more attention to the first commit of a project, and
the last. Because it’s really important to start the story and to end it. I speak
about this ‘end’ because I feel overflowed by all these not-ended projects, I’m
quite tired of it. I would like us to find a way to archive projects which are
not alive any more. To find a good way to do it. Because the list of folders
is still growing, and in a way it is okay but a lot of projects are not active.

But it’s hard to know when is the last commit. With the Balsamine project it’s
quite clear, because it’s season per season. But still, we never know when it is the
last one. The last one could be solved by the ‘Iceberg’, to make the last snapshots
and say okay now we make the screenshots of the latest version. And then you close
it ... We wanted that the last one was Hey, we sent the .pdfs to the printer.
But actually we had to send it back another time because there was a mistake.
And then the log didn’t fit on the page anymore.


At the Libre Graphics Meeting 2008, OSP sat down with
Chris Lilley on a small patch of grass in front of the
Technical University in Wroclaw, Poland. Warmed up by
the early May sun, we talked about the way standards are
made, how ‘specs’ influence the work of designers, programmers and managers and how this process is opening up to voices from outside the W3C. Chris Lilley is
trained as a biochemist, and specialised in the application
of biological computing. He has been involved with the
World Wide Web Consortium since the 1990s, headed the
Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) working group and currently looks after two W3C activity areas: graphics, including PNG, CGM, graphical quality, and fonts, including font formats, delivery, and availability of font software.
I would like to ask you about the way standards are made ... I think there’s a
relation between the way Free, Libre and Open Source software works, and
how standards work. But I am particularly interested in your announcement
in your talk today that you want to make the process of defining the SVG
standard a public process?
Right. So, there’s a famous quote that says that standards are like sausages.
Your enjoyment of them is improved by not knowing how they’re made. 1
And to some extent, depending on the standards body and depending on
what you’re trying to standardize, the process can be very messy. If you
were to describe W3C as a business proposition, it has got to fail. You’re
taking companies who all have commercial interests, who are competing and
you’re putting them in the same room and getting them to talk together and
agree on something. Oddly, sometimes that works! You can sell them the
idea that growing the market is more important and is going to get them
more money. The other way ... is that you just make sure that you get the
managers to sign, so that their engineers can come and discuss standards,


Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made. Otto von Bismarck, 1815–1898


and then you get the engineers to talk and the managers are out of the way.
Engineers are much more forthcoming, because they are more interested in
sharing stuff because engineers like to share what they’re doing, and talk
on a technical level. The worst thing is to get the managers involved, and
even worse is to get lawyers involved. W3C does actually have all those
three in the process. Shall we do this work or not is a managerial level that’s
handled by the W3C advisory committee, and that’s where some people
say No, don’t work on that area or We have patents or This is a bad idea or
whatever. But often it goes through and then the engineers basically talk
about it. Occasionally there will be patents disclosed, so the W3C also has
a process for that. The first things are done are the ‘charters’. The charter
says what the group is going to work on a broad scope. As soon as you’ve got
your first draft, that further defines the scope, but it also triggers what it’s
called an exclusion opportunity, which basically gives the companies I think
ninety days to either declare that they have a specific patent and say what it’s
number is and say that they exclude it, or not. And if they don’t, they’ve just
given a royalty-free licence to whatever is needed to implement that spec.
The interesting thing is that if they give the royalty-free licence they don’t
have to say which patents they’re licencing. Other standards organizations
build up a patent portfolio, and they list all these patents and they say what
you have to licence. W3C doesn’t do that, unless they’ve excluded it which
means you have to work around it or something like that. Based on what
the spec says, all the patents that have been given, are given. The engineers
don’t have to care. That’s the nice thing. The engineers can just work away,
and unless someone waves a red flag, you just get on with it, and at the end
of the day, it’s a royalty-free specification.
But if you look at the SVG standard, you could say that it’s been quite a
bumpy road 2 ... What kind of work do you need to do to make a successful

Firstly, you need to agree on what you’re building, which isn’t always firm
and sometimes it can change. For example, when SVG was started the idea
was that it would be just static graphics. And also that it would be animated


using scripts, because with dynamic HTML and whatever, this was ’98, we
were like: OK, we’re going to use scripting to do this. But when we put it
out for a first round of feedback, people were like No! No, this is not good
enough. We want to have something declarative. We don’t want to have to write
a script every time we want something to move or change color. Some of the
feedback, from Macromedia for example was like No, we don’t think it should
have this facility, but it quickly became clear why they were saying that and
what technology they would rather use instead for anything that moved or
did anything useful ... We basically said That’s not a technical comment, that’s
a marketing comment, and thank you very much.

Wait a second. How do you make a clear distinction between marketing and
technical comments?

People can make proposals that say We shouldn’t work on this, we shouldn’t
work on that, but they’re evaluated at a technical level. If it’s Don’t do it
like that because it’s going to break as follows, here I demonstrate it then that’s
fine. If they’re like Don’t do it because that competes with my proprietary
product then it’s like Thanks for the information, but we don’t actually care.
It’s not our problem to care about that. It’s your problem to care about
that. Part of it is sharing with the working group and getting the group
to work together, which requires constant effort, but it’s no different from
any sort of managerial or trust company type thing. There’s this sort of
encouragement in it that at the end of the day you’re making the world a
better place. You’re building a new thing and people will use it and whatever.
And that is quite motivating. You need the motivation because it takes a lot
longer than you think. You build the first spec and it looks pretty good and
you publish it and you smooth it out a bit, put it out for comments and you
get a ton of comments back. People say If you combine this with this with this
then that’s not going to work. And you go Is anyone really going to do that? But
you still have to say what happens. The computer still has to know what
happens even if they do that. Ninety percent of the work is after the first
draft, and it’s really polishing it down. In the W3C process, once you get
to a certain level, you take it to what is euphemistically called the ‘last call’.
This is a term we got from the IETF. 3 It actually means ‘first call’ because


The Internet Engineering Task Force,


you never have just one. It’s basically a formal round of comments. You log
every single comment that’s been made, you respond to them all, people can
make an official objection if you haven’t responded to the comment correctly
etcetera. Then you publish a list of what changes you’ve made as a basis of

What part of the SVG standardization process would you like to make public?

The part that I just said has always been public. W3C publishes specifications on a regular basis, and these are always public and freely available.
The comments are made in public and responded to in public. What hasn’t
been public has been the internal discussions of the group. Sometimes it
can take a long time if you’ve got a lot of comments to process or if there’s a
lot of argumentation in the group: people not agreeing on the direction to
go, it can take a while. From the outside it looks like nothing is happening.
Some people like to follow this at a very detailed level, and blog about it,
and blablabla. Overtime, more and more working groups have become public. The SVG group just recently got recharted and it’s now a public group.
All of its minutes are public. We meet for ninety minutes twice a week on
a telephone call. There’s an IRC log of that and the minutes are published
from that, and that’s all public now. 4

Could you describe such a ninety minute meeting for us?

There are two chairs. I used to be the chair for eight years or so, and then
I stepped down. We’ve got two new chairs. One of them is Erik Dahlström
from Opera, and one of them is Andrew Emmons from Bitflash. Both
are SVG implementing companies. Opera on the desktop and mobile, and
Bitflash is just on mobile. They will set out an agenda ahead of time and
say We will talk about the following issues. We have an issue tracker, we have
an action tracker which is also now public. They will be going through the
actions of people saying I’m done and discussing whether they’re actually
done or not. Particular issues will be listed on the agenda to talk about
and to have to agree on, and then if we agree on it and you have to change
the spec as a result, someone will get an action to change that back to the

Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) Feedback Page:


spec. The spec is held into CVS so anyone in the working group can edit
it and there is a commit log of changes. When anyone accidentally broke
something or trampled onto someone else’s edit, or whatever - which does
happen - or if it came as the result of a public comment, then there will be
a response back saying we have changed the spec in the following way ... Is
this acceptable? Does this answer your comment?
How many people do take part in such a meeting?

In the working group itself there are about 20 members and about 8 or
so who regularly turn up, every week for years. You know, you lose some
people over time. They get all enthusiastic and after two years, when you
are not done, they go off and do something else, which is human nature.
But there have been people who have been going forever. That’s what you
need actually in a spec, you need a lot of stamina to see it through. It is a
long term process. Even when you are done, you are not done because you’ve
got errata, you’ve got revisions, you’ve got requests for new functionalities
to make it into the next version and so on.

On the one hand you could say every setting of a standard is a violent process,
some organisation forcing a standard upon others, but the process you describe
is entirely based on consensus.

There’s another good quote. Tim Berners Lee was asked why W3C works
by consensus, rather than by voting and he said: W3C is a consensus-based
organisation because I say so, damn it. 5 That’s the Inventor of the Web,
you know ... (laughs) If you have something in a spec because 51% of the
people thought it was a good idea, you don’t end up with a design, you end
up with a bureaucratic type decision thing. So yes, the idea is to work by
consensus. But consensus is defined as: ‘no articulated dissent’ so someone
can say ‘abstain’ or whatever and that’s fine. But we don’t really do it on
a voting basis, because if you do it like that, then you get people trying to

Consensus is a core value of W3C. To promote consensus, the W3C process requires Chairs
to ensure that groups consider all legitimate views and objections, and endeavor to resolve
them, whether these views and objections are expressed by the active participants of the
group or by others (e.g., another W3C group, a group in another organization, or the general
public). World Wide Web Consortium. General Policies for W3C Groups, 2005. [Online; accessed 30.12.2014]


make voting blocks and convince other people to vote their way ... it is much
better when it is done on the basis of a technical discussion, I mean ... you
either convince people or you don’t.
If you read about why this kind of work is done ... you find different arguments. From enhancing global markets to: ‘in this way, we will create a
better world for everyone’. In Tim Berners-Lee’s statements, these two are
often mixed. If you for example look at the DIN standards, they are unambiguously put into the world as to help and support business. With Web
Standards and SVG, what is your position?

Yes. So, basically ... the story we tell depends on who we are telling it to and
who is listening and why we want to convince them. Which I hope is not as
duplicitous as it may sound. Basically, if you try to convince a manager that
you want 20% time of an engineer for the coming two years, you are telling
them things to convince them. Which is not untrue necessarily, but that is
the focus they want. If you are talking to designers, you are telling them how
that is going to help them when this thing becomes a spec, and the fact that
they can use this on multiple platforms, and whatever. Remember: when
the web came out, to exchange any document other than plain text was extremely difficult. It meant exchanging word processor formats, and you had
to know on what platform you were on and in what version. The idea that
you might get interoperability, and that the Mac and the PC could exchange
characters that were outside ASCII was just pie in the sky stuff. When we
started, the whole interoperability and cross-platform thing was pretty novel
and an untested idea essentially. Now it has become pretty much solid. We
have got a lot of focus on disabled accessibility, and also internationalization
which is if you like another type of accessibility. It would be very easy for
an organisation like W3C, which is essentially funded by companies joining it, and therefore they come from technological countries ... it would be
very easy to focus on only those countries and then produce specifications
that are completely unusable in other areas of the world. Which still does
sometimes happen. This is one of the useful things of the W3C. There is
the internationalization review, and an accessibility review and nowadays also
a mobile accessible review to make sure it does not just work on desktops.
Some organisations make standards basically so they can make money. Some

of the ISO 6 standards, in particular the MPEG group, their business model
is that you contribute an engineer for a couple of years, you make a patent
portfolio and you make a killing off licencing it. That is pretty much to keep
out the people who were not involved in the standards process. Now, W3C
takes quite an opposite view. The Royalty-Free License 7 for example, explicitly says: royalty-free to all. Not just the companies who were involved
in making it, not just companies, but anyone. Individuals. Open Source
projects. So, the funding model of the W3C is that members pay money,
and that pays our salaries, basically. We have a staff of 60 odd or so, and
that’s where our salaries come from, which actually makes us quite different
from a lot of other organisations. IETF is completely volunteer based so
you don’t know how long something is going to take. It might be quick, it
might be 20 years, you don’t know. ISO is a national body largely, but the
national bodies are in practice companies who represent that nation. But in
W3C, it’s companies who are paying to be members. And therefore, when
it started there was this idea of secrecy. Basically, giving them something
for their money. That’s the trick, to make them believe they are getting
something for their money. A lot of the ideas for W3C came from the
X Consortium 8 actually, it is the same people who did it originally. And
there, what the meat was ... was the code. They would develop the code and
give it to the members of the X Consortium three months before the public
got it and that was their business benefit. So that is actually where our ‘three
month rule’ comes from. Each working group can work for three months
but then they have to go public, have to publish. ‘The heartbeat rule’, we
call it now. If you miss several heartbeats then you’re dead. But at the same
time if you’re making a spec and you’re growing the market then there’s a
need for it to be implemented. There’s an implementation page where you
encourage people to implement, you report back on the implementations,

International Standards for Business, Government and Society International Organization for
Standardization (ISO),
Overview and Summary of W3C Patent Policy
The purpose of the X Consortium was to foster the development, evolution, and maintenance of the
X Window System, a comprehensive set of vendor-neutral, system-architecture neutral,
network-transparent windowing and user interface standards.


you make a test suite, you show that every feature in the spec that there’s
a test for ... at least two implementations pass it. You’re not showing that
everyone can use it at that stage. You’re showing that someone can read the
spec and implement it. If you’ve been talking to a group of people for four
years, you have a shared understanding with them and it could be that the
spec isn’t understandable without that. The implementation phase lets you
find out that people can actually implement it just by reading the spec. And
often there are changes and clarifications made at that point. Obviously one
of the good ways to get something implemented is to have Open Source
people do it and often they’re much more motivated to do it. For them it’s
cool when it is new, If you give me this new feature it’s great we’ll do it rather
than: Well that doesn’t quite fit into our product plans until the next quarter
and all that sort of stuff. Up until now, there hasn’t really been a good way
for the Open Source people to get involved. They can comment on specs
but they’re not involved in the discussions. That’s something we’re trying
to change by opening up the groups, to make it easier for an Open Source
group to contribute on an ongoing basis if they want to. Right from the
beginning part, to the end where you’re polishing the tiny details in the
I think the story of web fonts shows how an involvement of the Open Source
people could have made a difference.

When web fonts were first designed, essentially you had Adobe and Apple
pushing one way, Bitstream pushing the other way, both wanting W3C to
make their format the one and only official web format, which is why you
ended up with a mechanism to point to fonts without saying what format
was required. And than you had the Netscape 4, which pointed off to a
Bitstream format, and you had IE4 which pointed off to this Embedded
Open Type (EOT) format. If you were a web designer, you had to have two
different tools, one of which only worked on a Mac, and one of which only
worked on PC, and make two different fonts for the same thing. Basically
people wouldn’t bother. As Håkon 9 mentioned the only people who do
actually use that right now really, are countries where the local language

Håkon Wium Lie proposed Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) in 1994.


is not well provided for by the Operating Systems. Even now, things like
WindowsXP and MacOSX don’t fully support some of the Indian languages.
But they can get it into web pages by using these embedded fonts. Actually
the other case where it has been used a lot, is SVG, not so much on the
desktop though it does get used there but on mobiles. On the desktop
you’ve typically got 10 or 20 fonts and you got a reasonable coverage. On a
mobile phone, depending on how high or low ended it is, you might have
a single font, and no bold, and it might even be a pixel-based font. And
if you want to start doing text that skews and swirls, you just can’t do that
with a pixel-based font. So you need to download the font with the content,
or even put the font right there in the content just so that they can see
I don’t know how to talk about this, but ... envisioning a standard before
having any concrete sense of how it could be used and how it could change the
way people work ... means you also need to imagine how a standard might
change, once people start implementing it?
I wouldn’t say that we have no idea of how it’s going to work. It’s more a
case that there are obvious choices you can make, and then not so obvious
choices. When work is started, there’s always an idea of how it would fit in
with a lot of things and what it could be used for. It’s more the case that
you later find that there are other things that you didn’t think of that you
can also use it for. Usually it is defined for a particular purpose and than
find that it can also do these other things.

Isn’t it so that sometimes, in that way, something that is completely marginal,
becomes the most important?

It can happen, yes.

For me, SVG is a good example of that. As I understood it, it was planned
to be a format for the web. And as I see it today, it’s more used on the
desktop. I see that on the Linux desktop, for theming, most internals are
using SVG. We are using Inkscape for SVG to make prints. On the other
hand, browsers are really behind.

Browsers are getting there. Safari has got reasonably good support. Opera
has got very good support. It really has increased a lot in the last couple
of years. Mozilla Firefox less so. It’s getting there. They’ve been at it
for longer, but it also seems to be going slower. The browsers are getting
there. The implementations which I showed a couple of days ago, those
were mobile implementations. I was showing them on a PC, but they were
specially built demos. Because they’re mobile, it tends to move faster.

But you still have this problem that Internet Explorer is a slow adopter.

Yes, Internet Explorer has not adopted a lot of things. It’s been very slow
to do CSS. It hasn’t yet done XHTML, although it has shipped with an
XML parser since IE4. It hasn’t done SVG. Now they’ve got their own
thing ... Silverlight. It has been very hard to get Microsoft on board and
getting them doing things. Microsoft were involved in the early part of
SVG but getting things into IE has always been difficult. What amazes me
to some extent, is the fact that it’s still used by about 60-70% of people.
You look at what IE can do, and you look at what all the other browsers
can do, and you wonder why. The thing is ... it is still a break and some
technologies don’t get used because people want to make sure that everyone
can see them. So they go down to the lowest common denominator. Or
they double-implement. Implement something for all the other browsers,
and implement something separate for IE, and than have to maintain two
different things in parallel, and tracking revisions and whatever. It’s a nightmare. It’s a huge economic cost because one browser doesn’t implement the
right web stuff. (laughing, sighing)

My question would be: what could you give us as a kind of advice? How
could we push this adoption where we are working? Even if it only is the
people of Firefox to adopt SVG?

Bear in mind that Firefox has this thing of Trunk builds and Branch builds
and so on. For example when Firefox 3 came out, well the Beta is there.
Suddenly there’s a big jump in the SVG stuff because all the Firefox 2 was
on the same branch as 1.5, and the SVG was basically frozen at that point.
The development was ongoing but you only saw it when 3 came out. There
were a bunch of improvements there. The main missing features are the

animation and the web fonts and both of those are being worked on. It’s
interesting because both of those were on Acid 3. Often I see an acceleration
of interest in getting something done because there’s a good test. The Acid
Test 10 is interesting because it’s a single test for a huge slew of things all at
once. One person can look at it, and it’s either right or it’s wrong, whereas
the tests that W3C normally produces are very much like unit tests. You
test one thing and there’s like five hundred of them. And you have to go
through, one after another. There’s a certain type of person who can sit
through five hundred test on four browsers without getting bored but most
people don’t. There’s a need for this sort of aggregative test. The whole
thing is all one. If anything is wrong, it breaks. That’s what Acid is designed
to do. If you get one thing wrong, everything is all over the place. Acid 3
was a submission-based process and like a competition, the SVG working
group was there, and put in several proposals for what should be in Acid 3,
many of which were actually adopted. So there’s SVG stuff in Acid 3.

So ... who started the Acid Test?

Todd Fahrner designed the original Acid 1 test, which was meant to exercise
the tricky bits of the box-model in CSS. It ended like a sort Mondrian
diagram, 11 red squares, and blue lines and stuff. But there was a big scope
for the whole thing to fall apart into a train wreck if you got anything
wrong. The thing is, a lot of web documents are pretty simple. They got
paragraphs, and headings and stuff. They weren’t exercising very much the
model. Once you got tables in there, they were doing it a little bit more. But
it was really when you had stuff floated to one side, and things going around
or whatever, and that had something floated as well. It was in that sort of
case where it was all breaking, where people wouldn’t get interoperability.
It was ... the Web Standards Project 12 who proposed this?
Yes, that’s right.

The Acid 3 test: is comprehensive in comparison to more detailed,
but fragmented SVG tests:
Acid Test Gallery
The Web Standards Project is a grassroots coalition fighting for standards which ensure simple,
affordable access to web technologies for all


It didn’t come from a standards body.

No, it didn’t come from W3C. The same for Acid 2, Håkon Wium Lie was
involved in that one. He didn’t blow his own trumpet this morning, but
he was very much involved there. Acid 3 was Ian Hickson, who put that
together. It’s a bit different because a lot of it is DOM scripting stuff. It
does something, and then it inquires in the DOM to see if it has been done
correctly, and it puts that value back as a visual representation so you can
see. It’s all very good because apparently it motivates the implementors to
do something. It’s also marketable. You can have a blog posting saying we
do 80% of Acid Test. The public can understand that. The people who are
interested can go Oh, that’s good.
It becomes a mark of quality.

Yes, it’s marketing. It’s like processor speed in PCs and things. There are
so much technology in computers, so than what do you market it on? Well
it’s got that clock speed and it’s got this much memory. OK, great, cool.
This one is better than that one because this one’s got 4 gigs and that one’s
got 2 gigs. It’s a lot of other things as well, but that’s something that the
public can in general look at and say That one is better. When I mentioned
the W3C process, I was talking about the engineers, managers. I didn’t talk
about the lawyers, but we do have a process for that as well. We have a patent
advisory group conformed. If someone has made a claim, and it’s disputed
then we can have lawyers talking among themselves. What we really don’t
have in that is designers, end-users, artists. The trick is to find out how to
represent them. The CSS working group tried to do that. They brought in
a number of designers, Jeff Veen 13 and these sort of people were involved
early on. The trouble is that you’re speaking a different language, you’re
not speaking their language. When you’re having weekly calls ... Reading a
spec is not bedtime reading, and if you’re arguing over the fine details of a
sentence ... (laughing) well, it will put you to sleep straight away. Some of
the designers are like: I don’t care about this. I only want to use it. Here’s what
I want to be able to do. Make it that I can do that, but get back to me when it’s

Jeff Veen was a designer at Wired magazine, in those days.


That’s why the idea of the Acid Test is a nice breed between the spec and
the designer. When I was seeing the test this morning, I was thinking
that it could be a really interesting work to do, not to really implement it
but to think about with the students. How would you conceive a visual
test? I think that this could be a really nice workshop to do in a university
or in a design academy ...
It’s the kind of reverse-reverse engineering of a standard which could help
you understand it on different levels. You have to imagine how wild you
can go with something. I talk about standards, and read them - not before
going to bed - because I think that it’s interesting to see that while they’re
quite pragmatic in how they’re put together, but they have an effect on the
practice of, for example, designers. Something that I have been following with
interest is the concept of separating form and content has become extremely
influential in design, especially in web design. Trained as a pre-web designer,
I’m sometimes a bit shocked by the ease with which this separation is made.

That’s interesting. Usually people say that it’s hard or impossible, that you
can’t ever do it. The fact that you’re saying that it’s easy or that it comes
naturally is interesting to me.

It has been appropriated by designers as something they want. That’s why it’s
interesting to look at the Web Standards Project where designers really fight
for a separation of content and form. I think that this is somehow making
the work of designers quite ... boring. Could you talk a bit about how this is
It’s a continuum. You can’t say that something is exactly form or exactly
presentation because there are gradations. If you take a table, you’ve already
decided that you want to display the material in a tabular way. If it’s a real
table, you should be able to transpose it. If you take the rows and columns,
and the numbers in the middle then it should still work. If you’ve got
‘sales’ here and if you’ve got ‘regions’ there, then you should still be able to
transpose that table. If you’re just flipping it 90 degrees then you are using
it as a layout grid, and not as a table. That’s one obvious thing. Even then,
deciding to display it as a tabular thing means that it probably came from a
much bigger dataset, and you’ve just chosen to sum all of the sales data over

one year. Another one: you have again the sales data, you could have it as pie
chart, but you could also have it as a bar chart, you could have it in various
other ways. You can imagine that what you would do is ship some XML
that has that data, and then you would have a script or something which
would turn it into an SVG pie chart. And you could have a bar chart, or you
could also say show me only February. That interaction is one of the things
that one can do, and arguably you’re giving it a different presentational form.
It’s still very much a gradation. It’s how much re-styleability remains. You
can’t ever have complete separation. If I’m describing a company, and [1]
I want to do a marketing brochure, and [2] I want to do an annual report
for the shareholders, and [3] I want to do an internal document for the
engineering team. I can’t have the same content all over those three and just
put styling on it. The type of thing I’m doing is going to vary for those
audiences, as will the presentation. There’s a limit. You can’t say: here’s the
überdocument, and it can be styled to be anything. It can’t be. The trick is
to not mingle the style of the presentation when you don’t need to. When
you do need to, you’re already halfway down the gradient. Keep them as far
apart as you can, delay it as late as possible. At some point they have to be
combined. A design will have to go into the crafting of the wording, how
much wording, what voice is used, how it’s going to fit with the graphics
and so on. You can’t just slap random things together and call it design,
it looks like a train wreck. It’s a case of deferment. It’s not ever a case of
complete separation. It’s a case of deferring it and not tripping yourself up.
Just simple things like bolds and italics and whatever. Putting those in as
emphasis and whatever because you might choose to have your emphasized
words done differently. You might have a different font, you might have a
different way of doing it, you might use letter-spacing, etc. Whereas if you
tag that in as italics then you’ve only got italics, right? It’s a simple example
but at the end of the day you’re going to have to decide how that is displayed.
You mentioned print. In print no one sees the intermediate result. You see
ink on paper. If I have some Greek in there and if I’ve done that by actually
typing in Latin letters on the keyboard and putting a Greek font on it and
out comes Greek, nobody knows. If it’s a book that’s being translated, there
might be some problems. The more you’re shipping the electronic version
around, the more it actually matters that you put in the Greek letters as

Greek because you will want to revise it. It matters that you have flowing
text rather than text that has been hand-ragged because when you put in
the revisions you’re going to have to re-rag the entire thing or you can just
say re-flow and fix it up later. Things like that.

The idea of time, and the question of delay is interesting. Not how, but when you
enter to fine-tune things manually. As a designer of books, you’re always facing
the question: when to edit, what, and on what level. For example, we saw this
morning 14 that the idea of having multiple skins is really entering the publishing
business, as an idea of creativity. But that’s not the point, or not the complete
point. When is it possible to enter the process? That’s something that I think we
have to develop, to think about.

The other day there was a presentation by Michael Dominic Kostrzewa 15
that shocked me. He is now working for Nokia, after working for Novell
and he was explaining how designers and programmers were fighting each
other instead of fighting the ‘real villain’, as he said, who were the managers. What was really interesting was how this division between content
and style was also recouping a kind of political or socio-organizational divide within companies where you need to assign roles, borders, responsibilities to different people. What was really frightening from the talk was
that you understood that this division was encouraging people not to try
and learn from each other’s practice. At some point, the designer would
come to the programmer and say: In the spec, this is supposed to be like this
and I don’t want to hear anything about what kind of technical problems you
Designers as lawyers!

Yes ... and the programmer would say: OK, we respect the spec, but then
we don’t expect anything else from us. This kind of behaviour in the end,
blocks a lot of exchange, instead of making a more creative approach

Andy Fitsimon: Publican, the new Open Source publishing tool-chain (LGM 2008)
Michael Dominic Kostrzewa. Programmers hell: working with the UI designer (LGM 2008)


I read about (and this is before skinning became more common) designers
doing some multimedia things at Microsoft. You had designers and then
there were coders. Each of them hated the other ones. The coders thought
the designers were idiots who lived in lofts and had found objects in their
ears. The designers thought that the programmers were a bunch of socially
inept nerds who had no clue and never got out in sunlight and slept in their
offices. And since they had that dynamic, they would never explain to each
other ( ... )
(policeman arrives)

Do you speak English?


You must go from this place because there’s a conference.

Yes, we know. We are part of this conference (shows LGM badge).

We had a phone call that here’s a picnic. I don’t really see a picnic ...

We’re doing an interview.

It looks like a picnic, and professors are getting nervous. You must go sit
somewhere else. Sorry, it is the rules. Have a nice day!


At the Libre Graphics Meeting 2008, OSP picks up a conversation that Harrison allegedly started in a taxi in Montreal, a year
earlier. We meet font designer and developer Dave Crossland
in a noisy food court to speak about his understanding of the
intertwined histories of typography and software, and the master in type design at the Department of Typography at the
University of Reading. Since the interview, a lot has happened.
Dave finished his typeface Cantarell and moved on to consult
the Google Web Fonts project, commissioning new typefaces
designed for the web. He is also currently offering lectures on
typeface design with Free Software.
Harrison (H)

1, 2.

Ludivine Loiseau (LL)
and now all:
Dave Crossland (DC)

Hello Dave.

Hellooo ...


Well, thank you for taking a bit of time with us for the interview. First
thing is maybe to set a kind of context of your situation, your current situation.
What you’ve done before. Why are you setting fonts and these kind of things.

Oh yes, yeah. Well, I take it quite far back, when I was a teenager. I
was planning to do computer science university studying like mathematics
and physics in highschool. I needed some work experience. I decided I
didn’t want to work with computers. So I dropped maths and physics and
I started working at ... I mean I started studying art and design, and also
socio-linguistics in highschool. I was looking at going to Fine Arts but I
wasn’t really too worried about if I could get a job at the end of it, because
I could get a job with computers, if I needed to get a job So I studied that
at my school for like a one year course, after my school. A foundation year,
and the deal with that is that you study all the different art and design disciplines. Because in highschool you don’t really have the specialities where you
specifically study textile or photography, not every school has a darkroom,
schools are not well equipped.


You get to experience all these areas of design and in that we studied graphic
design, motion graphics and I found in this a good opportunity to bring together the computer things with fine arts and visual arts aspects. In graphic
design in my school it was more about paper, it had nothing to do with
computers. In art school, that was more the case. So I grew into graphic
Ordering coffee and change of background music: Oh yeah, African beats!

So, yes. I was looking at graphic design that was more computer based than
in art school. I wasn’t so interested in like regular illustration as a graphic
design. Graphic design has really got three purposes: to persuade people,
that’s advertising; to entertain people, movie posters, music album covers,
illustration magazines; and there is also graphic design to inform people,
in England it’s called ‘information design’, in the US it’s called ‘information
architecture’ ... stucturing websites, information design. Obviously a big
part of that is typography, so that’s why I got interested in typography, via
information design. I studied at Ravensbourne college in London, what
I applied for was graphic information design. I started working at the IT
department, and that really kept me going to that college, I wasn’t so happy
with the direction of the courses. The IT department there was really really
good and I ended up switching to the interaction design course, because that
had more freedom to do the kind of typographic work I was intersted in.
So I ended up looking at Free Sofware design tools because I became frustrated by the limitations of the Adobe software which in the college was
using, just what everybody used. And at that point I realized what ‘software freedom’ meant. I’ve been using Debian since I was like a teenager,
but I hadn’t really looked to the depth of what Free Software was about. I
mean back in the nineties Windows wasn’t very good but probably at that
time 2003-2004, MacOSX came out and it was getting pretty nice to use.
I bought a Mac laptop without really thinking about it and because it was
a Unix I could use the software like I was used to do. And I didn’t really
think about the issues with Free Software, MacOSX was Unix so it was the
same I figured. But when I started to do my work I really stood against the
limitations of Adobe software, specifically in parallel publishing which is
when you have the same basic informations that you want to communicate
in different mediums. You might want to publish something in .pdf, on the
web, maybe also on your mobile phone, etc. And doing that with Adobe

software back then was basically impossible. I was aware of Free Software
design tools and it was kind of obvious that even if they weren’t very pushed
by then they at least had the potential to be able to do this in a powerful
way. So that’s what I figured out. What that issue with Free Software really
meant. Who’s in control of the software, who decides what it does, who
decides when it’s going to support this feature or that feature, because the
features that I wanted, Adobe wasn’t planning to add them. So that’s how I
got interested in Free Software.
When I graduated I was looking for something that I could contribute in
this area. And one of the Scribus guys, Peter Linnell, made an important
post on the Scribus blog. Saying, you know, the number one problem
with Free Software design is fonts, like it’s dodgy fonts with incorrect this,
incorrect that, have problems when printed as well ... and so yeah, I felt
woa, I have a background in typography and I know about Free Software,
I could make contributions in fonts. Looking into that area, I found that
there was some postgraduate course you can study at in Europe. There’s
two, there is one at The Hague in The Netherlands and one at Reading.
They’re quite different courses in their character and in how much they cost
and how long they last for and what level of qualification they are. But
they’re both postgraduate courses which focus on typeface design and font
software development. So if you’re interesed in that area, you can really
concentrate for about a year and bring your skills up to a high professional
level. So I applied to the course at Reading and I was accepted there and
I’m currently studying there part time. I’m studying there to work on Free
Software fonts. So that’s the full story of how I ended up in this area.
Excellent! Last time we met, you summarized in a very relevant way the
history of font design software which is a proof by itself that everything is related
with fonts and this kind of small networks and I would like you to summarize it









Alright. In that whole journey of getting into this area of parallel publishing and automated design, I was asking around for people who
worked in that area because at that time not many people had worked in
parallel publishing. It’s a lot of a bigger deal now, especially in the Free
Software community where we have Free Software manuals translated into


many languages, written in .doc and .xml and then transformed into print
and web versions and other versions. But back then this was kind of a new
concept, not all people worked on it. And so, asking around, I heard about
the department of typography at the university of Reading. One of the lecturers there, actually the lecturer of the typeface design course put me on
to a designer in Holland, Petr van Blokland. He’s a really nice guy, really
friendly. And I dropped him an e-mail as I was in Holland that year – just
dropped by to see him and it turned out he’s not only involved in parallel
publishing and automated design, but also in typedesign. For him there is
really no distinctions between type design and typography. It’s kind of like a
big building – you have the architecture of the building but you can also go
down into the bricks. It’s kind of like that with typography, the type design
is all these little pieces you assembly to create the typography out of . He’s
an award-winning typeface designer and typographer and he was involved
in the early days of typography very actively. He kind of explained me the
whole story of type design technology.


























So, the history of typography actually starts with Free Software, with Donald
Knuth and his TeX. The TeX typesetting system has its own font software
or font system called Metafont. Metafont is a font programming language,
and algebraic programming language describing letter forms. It really gets
into the internal structure of the shapes. This is a very non-visual programming approach to it where you basically use this programming language to
describe with algebra how the shapes make up the letters. If you have a
capital H, you got essentially 3 lines, two verticals stands and a horizontal
crossbar and so, in algebra you can say that you’ve got one ratio whitch is
the height of the vertical lines and another ratio which is the width between
them and another ratio which is the distance between the top point and the
middle point of the crossbar and the bottom point. By describing all of that
in algebra, you really describe the structure of that shape and that gives you
a lot of power because it means you can trace a pen nib objects over that
skeleton to generate the final typeform and so you can apply variations, you
can rotate the pen nib – you can have different pen nib shapes And you can
have a lot of different typefaces out of that kind of source code. But that
approach is not a visual approach, you have to take it with a mathematical

mind and that isn’t something which graphic designers typically have as a
strong part of their skill set.

The next step was describing the outline of a typeface, and the guy who
did this was working, I believe, at URW. He invented a digital typography
system or typedesign program called Ikarus. The rumor is it’s called Ikarus
because it crashed too much. Peter Karow is this guy. He was the absolute
unknown real pioneer in this area. They were selling this proprietary software powered by a tablet, with a drawing pen for entering the points and it
used it’s own kind of spline-curve technology.
This was very expensive – it ran on DMS computers and URW was making
a lot of money selling those mini computers in well I guess late 70s and
early 80s. And there was a new small home computer that came out called
the Apple Macintosh. This was quite important because not only was it a
personal computer. It had a graphical user interface and also a printer, a laser
writer which was based on the Adobe PostScript technology. This was what
made desktop publishing happen. I believe it was a Samsung printer revised
by Apple and Adobe’s PostScript technology. Those three companies, those
three technologies was what made desktop publishing happen. Petr van
Blokland was involved in it, using the Ikarus software, developing it. And
so he ported the program to the Mac. So Ikarus M was the first font
editor for personal computers and this was taken on by URW but never
really promoted because the ... Mac costs not a lot money compared to those
big expensive computers. So, Ikarus M was not widely distributed. It’s
kind of an obvious idea – you know you have those innovative computers
doing graphic interfaces and laser printing and several different people had
several different ideas about how to employ that. Obviously you had John
Warnock within Adobe and at that point Adobe was a systems company,
they made this PostScript system and these components, they didn’t make
any user applications. But John Warnock – and this is documented in the
book on the Adobe story – he really pushed within the company to develop
Adobe Illustrator, which allowed you to interact with the edit PostScript
code and do vector drawings interactively. That was the kind of illustration
and graphic design which we mentioned earlier. That was the ... page layout
sort of thing and that was taking care of by a guy called Paul Brainerd,
whose company Aldus made PageMaker. That did similar kind of things
than Illustrator, but focused on page layout and typography, text layout

rather than making illustrations. So you had Illustrator and PageMaker and
this was the beginning of the desktop publishing tool-chain.
When was it?


This is in the mid-eighties. The Mac came out in 1984


Pierre Huyghebaert (PH)

Illustrator in 1986 I think.

Yeah. And then the Apple LaserWriter, which is I believe a Samsung
printer, came out in 1985, and I believe the first edition of Illustrator was in
1988 ...

No, I think Illustrator 1 was in 1986.


OK, if you read the official Adobe story book, it’s fully documented 1 .

It’s interesting that it follows so quickly after the Macintosh.

Yes! That’s right. It all happened very quickly because Adobe and
Apple had really built with PostScript and the MacOS, they had the infrastructure there, they could build on top of. And that’s a common thing we
see played out over and over ... Things are developed quite slowly when they
are getting the infrastructure right, and then when the infrastructure is in
place you see this burst of activity where people can slot it together very
quickly to make some interesting things. So, you had this other guy called
Jim von Ehr and he saw the need for a graphical user interface to develop
fonts with and so he founded a small compagny called Altsys and he made a
program called Fontographer. So that became the kind of de-facto standard
font editing program.



And before that, do you know what font design software Adobe designers

I don’t know. Basically when Adobe made PostScript for the Apple
LaserWriter then they had the core 35 PostScript fonts, which is about
a thousand families, 35 differents weights or variants of the fonts. And I
believe that those were from Linotype. Linotype developed that in collaboration with Adobe, I have no idea about what software they used, they
may have had their own internal software. I know that before they had


Pamela Pfiffner. Inside the Publishing Revolution: The Adobe Story. Adobe Press, 2008


Illustrator they were making PostScript documents by hand like TeX, programming PostScript sourcecode. It might have been in a very low tech way.
Because those were the core fonts that have been used in PostScript.
So you had Fontographer and this is yeah I mean a GUI application for
home computers to make fonts with. Fontographer made early 90s David
Carson graphic design posters. Because it meant that anybody could start
making fonts not only people that were in the type design guild. That all
David Carson kind of punk graphic design, it’s really because of Desktop
publishing and specifically because of Fontographer. Because that allowed
people to make these fonts. Previous printing technologies wouldn’t allow
you to make these kinds of fonts without extreme efforts. I mean a lot of the
effects you can do with digital graphics you can’t do without digital graphics
– air brushing sophisticated effects like that can be achieved but it’s really a
lot of efforts.

So going back to the guys from Holland, Petr has a younger brother called
Erik and he went to the college at the Royal Academie of design the KABK
in the Hague with a guy who is Just van Rossum and he’s the younger
brother of Guido van Rossum who is now quite famous because he’s the guy
who developed and invented Python. In the early 90s Jim von Ehr is developping Fontographer, and Fontographer 4 comes out and Petr and Just and
Erik managed to get a copy of the source code of Fontographer 3 which is the
golden version that we used, like Quark, that was what we used throughout
most of the 90s and so they started adding things to that to do scripting on
Fontographer with Python and this was called Robofog, and that was still
used until quite recently, because it had features no one has ever seen enywhere else. The deal was you had to get a Fontographer 4 license, and then
you could get a Robofont license, for Fontographer 3. Then Apple changed
the system architecture and that meant Fontographer 3 would no longer
run on Apple computers. Obviously that was a bit of a damn on Robofog.
Pretty soon after that Jim sold Fontographer to Macromedia. He and his
employes continued to develop Fontographer into Freehand, it went from a
font drawing application into a more general purpose illustration tool. So
Macromedia bought Altsys for Freehand because they were competing with
Adobe at that time. And they didn’t really have any interest in continuing
to develop Fontographer. Fonts is a really obscure kind of area. As a proprietary software company, what you are doing things to make a profit and if

the market is too small to justify your investment then you’ll just not keep
developing the software. Fontographer shut at that point.

I think they paid one guy to maintain it and answer questions.

Yeah. I think they even stop actively selling it, you had to ask them to
sell you a license. Fontographer has stopped at that point and there was no
actively developed font editor. There were a few Windows programs, which
were kind of shareware for developing fonts because in this time Apple and
Microsoft got fed up with paying Adobe’s extortion of PostScript licensing
fees. They developed their own font format called TrueType. There were
Windows font editing programs.
Yeah. I think they even stop actively selling it, you had to ask them to sell
you a license. Fontographer has stopped at that point and there was no actively developed font editor. There were a few Windows programs, which
were kind of shareware for developing fonts because in this time Apple and
Microsoft got fed up with paying Adobe’s extortion of PostScript licensing fees. They developed their own font format called TrueType. When
Fontographer stopped there was the question of which one will become the
predominant font editor and so there was Fontlab. This was developed by
a guy Yuri Yarmola, Russian originally I believe, and it became the primary
proprietary type design tool.
The Python guys from Holland started using Fontlab. They managed to
convince the Fontlab guys to include Python scripting support in Fontlab.
Python had become a major language, for doing this kind of scripting. So
Fontlab added in Python scripting. And then different type designers, font
developers started to use Python scripts to help them develop their fonts,
and a few of the guys doing that decided to join up and they created the
RoboFab project which took the ideas that had been developed for Robofob
and reimplemented them with Fontlab – so RoboFab. This is now a Free
Software package, under the MIT Python style licence. So it is a Free
Software licence but without copyleft. It has beeing developed as a collaborative project. If you’re interested in the development you can just join the
mailing list. It’s a very mature project and the really beautiful thing about
it that they developed a font object model and so in Python you have a very
clean and easily understandable object-oriented model of what a font is. It
makes it very easy to script things. This is quite exciting because that means
you can start to do things which are just not really visible with the graphic
design interface. The thing with those fonts is like there is a scale, it is like


architecture. You’ve got the designer of the building and the designer of
the bricks. With a font it is the same. You have the designer who shapes
each letter and then you’ve got the character-spacing which makes what a
paragraph will look like. A really good example of this is if you want to do
interpolation, if you have a very narrow version of a font and a very wide one,
and you want to interpolate in different versions between those two masters
– you really want to do that in a script, and RoboFab makes this really easy
to do this within Fontlab. The ever important thing about RoboFab was
that they developed UFO, I think it’s the Universal Font Object – I’m not
sure what the exact name is – but it’s a XML font format which means that
you can interchange font source data with different programs and specifically
that means that you have a really good font interpolation program that can
read and write that UFO XML format and then you can have your regular
type design format font editor that will generate bitmap font formats that
you actually use in a system. You can write your own tool for a specific
task and push and pull the data back and forth. Some of these Dutch guys,
especially Erik has written a really good interpolation tool. So, as a kind
of thread in the story of font. Remember that time where Fontographer
was not developed actively then you have Georges Williams from California
who was interested in digital typography and fonts and Fontographer was
not being activelly developed and he found that quite frustrating so he said
like Well, I’ll write my own font editor. He wrote it from scratch. I mean
this is a great project.

Can you tell us some details about your course?

There are four main deliverables in the course, that you normally
do in one year, twelve months. The big thing is that you do a professional quality OpenType font, with an extended pan-european latin coverage in regular and italic, maybe bold. You also do a complex non-latin
in Arabic, Indic, maybe Cyrillic ... well not really Cyrillic because there are
problems to get a Cyrillic type experts from Russia to Britain ... or Greek,
or any script with which you have a particular background in. And so,
they didn’t mandate which software students can use, and I was already
used to FontForge, while pretty much all the other students were using
FontLab. This font development is the main thing. The second thing is
the dissertation, that goes up to 8,000 words, an academic master in typography dissertation. Then there is a smaller essay, that will be published
on, and it’s


a kind of a practice for writing the dissertation. Then you have to document
your working process throughout the year, you have to submit your working
files, source files. Every single step is documented and you have to write
a small essay describing your process. And also, of course, apart from the
type design, you make a font specimen, so you make a very nice piece of
design that show up your font in use, as commercial companies do. All that
takes a full intense year. For British people, the course costs about £3,000,
for people in the EU, it costs about £5,000 and about £10,000 for non-EU.
Have a look at the website for details, but yes, it’s very expensive.

And did you also design a font?

Yes. But I do it part-time. Normally, you could do the typeface,
and the year after you do the dissertation. For personal reasons, I do the
dissertation first, in the summer, and next year I’ll do the typeface, I think
in July next year.


You have an idea on which font you’ll work?

Yes. The course doesn’t specify which kind of typeface you have to
work on. But they really prefer a textface, a serif one, because it’s the most
complicate and demanding work. If you can do a high quality serif text
typeface design, you can do almost any typeface design! Of course, lots of
students do also a sans serif typeface to be read at 8 or 9 points, or even
for by example dictionaries at 6 or 7 points. Other students design display
typefaces that can be used for pararaphs but probably not at 9 points ...

It looks like you are asked to produce quite a lot of documents.
Are these documents published anywhere, are they available for other designers?
Femke Snelting (FS)

Yes, the website is and the teaching
team encourages students to publish their essays, and some people have
published their dissertation on the web, but it varies. Of course, being an
academic dissertation, you can request if from the university.

I’m asking because in various presentations the figure of the ‘expert typographer’ came up, and the role Open Source software could have, to open up this

Yeah, the course in The Hague is cheaper, the pound was quite high so
it’s expensive to live in Britain during the last year, and the number of people
able to produce high quality fonts is pretty small ... And these courses are


quite inaccessible for most of the people because of being so expensive, you
have to be quite commited to follow them. The proprietary font editing
software, even with a student discount, is also a bit expensive. So yes, Free
and Open Source software could be an enabler. FontForge allows anybody
to grab it on the Internet and start making fonts. But having the tools
is just the beginning. You have to know what you’re doing to a design a
typeface, and this is separate from font software techinques. And books
on the subject, there are quite a few, but none are really a full solution.
There, a type design forum on the web, where you can
post preliminary designs. But of course you do not get the kind of critical
feedback as you can get on a masters course ...

We talked to Denis Jacquerye from the DéjàVu project, and most of the
people who collaborate on the project are not type designers but people who are
interested in having certain glyphs added to a typeface. And we asked him if
there is some kind of teaching going on, to be sure that the people contributing
understand what they are doing. Do you see any way of, let’s say, a more open
way of teaching typography starting to happen?

Yeah, I mean, that the part of why the Free Software movement is
going to branch down into the Free Culture movement. There is that website Freedom Defined 2 that states that the principles of Free Software can
apply to all other kind of works. This isn’t shared by everybody in the Free
Software movement. Richard Stallman makes a clear difference between
three kind of works: the ones that function like software, encyclopedias,
dictionaries, text books that tell how to makes things, and text typefaces.
Art works like music and films, and text works about opinions like scientific papers or political manifestos. He believes that different kinds of rights
should apply for that different kind of works. There is also a different view
in which anything in a computer can be edited ought to be free like Free
Software. That is certainly a position that many people take in the Free
Software community. In the WikiMedia Foundation text books project,
you can see that when more and more people are involved in typeface design
from the Free Culture community, we will see more and more education
material. There will be a snowball effect.




Dave, we are running out of time ...


So just to finish about the FontForge Python scripting ... There is
Python embeded in FontForge so you can run scripts to control FontForge,
you can add new features that maybe would be specific to your font and then
in FontForge there is also a Python module which means that you can type
into a Python interpretor. You type import fontforge and if it doesn’t
give you an error then you can start to do FontForge functions, just like in
the RoboFab environment. And in the process of adding that George kind
of re-architectured the FontForge source code so instead of being one large
program, there is now a large C library, libfontforge, and then a small C
program for rendering and also the Python module, a binding or interface
to that C library. This means if you are an application programmer it is very
straightforward to make a new font editor in whatever language you want,
using whatever graphic toolkit you want. So if you’re a JDK guy or a GTK
guy or even if you’re on Windows or Mac OS X, you can make a font editor
that has all the functionality of FontForge. FontForge is a kind of engine to
make font editors. This is quite exciting because it means it’s pretty straight
forward for somebody to write a font editing program which is designed for,
say, beginners.
So, to come back to what we were just talking about in term of educational
materials to get people new to typeface design to be confident with themselves. Maybe they won’t be in that professional level yet, but they will be
pleased with their own work and happy to work in a user interface where
you feel like in 2006, you know, with nice icons nice windows; anti aliasing
and these kind of things.
I mean there’s nothing wrong with the FontForge interface. It is what it
is. But it scares a lot of people away, people say that they don’t like this. I
think it is too scary, too different. I think we are going to see some exciting
stuff in the next few years in the Free Software font editor space.


At the Libre Graphics Meeting 2008 in Wroclaw, just before
Michael Terry presents his project ingimp to an audience of
curious GIMP developers and users, we meet up to talk more
about ‘instrumenting GIMP’ and about the way Terry thinks
data analysis could be done as a form of discourse. Michael
Terry is a computer scientist working at the Human Computer
Interaction Lab of the University of Waterloo, Canada and his
main research focus is on improving usability in Open Source
software. We speak about ingimp, a clone of the popular image
manipulation programme GIMP, but with an important difference: ingimp allows users to record data about their usage in to
a central database, and subsequently makes this data available to
anyone. This conversation was also published in the Constant
publication Tracks in electr(on)ic fields.
Maybe we could start this conversation with a description of the ingimp project
you are developing and why you chose to work on usability for GIMP?
So the project is ‘ingimp’, which is an instrumented version of GIMP, it
collects information about how the software is used in practice. The idea is
you download it, you install it, and then with the exception of an additional
start up screen, you use it just like regular Gimp. So, our goal is to be as
unobtrusive as possible to make it really easy to get going with it, and then
to just forget about it. We want to get it into the hands of as many people
as possible, so that we can understand how the software is actually used in
practice. There are plenty of forums where people can express their opinions
about how GIMP should be designed, or what’s wrong with it, there are
plenty of bug reports that have been filed, there are plenty of usability issues
that have been identified, but what we really lack is some information about
how people actually apply this tool on a day to day basis. What we want
to do is elevate discussion above just anecdote and gut feelings, and to say,
well, there is this group of people who appear to be using it in this way,
these are the characteristics of their environment, these are the sets of tools

they work with, these are the types of images they work with and so on, so
that we have some real data to ground discussions about how the software
is actually used by people. You asked me now why GIMP? I actually used
GIMP extensively for my PhD work. I had these little cousins come down
and hang out with me in my apartment after school, and I would set them
up with GIMP, and quite often they would always start off with one picture,
they would create a sphere, a blue sphere, and then they played with filters
until they got something really different. I would turn to them looking
at what they had been doing for the past twenty minutes, and would be
completely amazed at the results they were getting just by fooling around
with it. And so I thought, this application has lots and lots of power, I’d
like to use that power to prototype new types of interface mechanisms. So
I created JGimp, which is a Java based extension for the 1.0 GIMP series,
that I can use as a back-end for prototyping novel user interfaces. I think
that it is a great application, there is a lot of power to it, and I had already
an investment in its code base so it made sense to use that as a platform for
testing out ideas of open instrumentation.
What is special about ingimp, is the fact that the data you generate is made by
the software you are studying itself. Could you describe how that works?
Every bit of data we collect, we make available: you can go to the website,
you can download every log file that we have collected. The intent really
is for us to build tools and infrastructure so that the community itself can
sustain this analysis, can sustain this form of usability. We don’t want to
create a situation where we are creating new dependencies on people, or
where we are imposing new tasks on existing project members. We want to
create tools that follow the same ethos as Open Source development, where
anyone can look at the source code, where anyone can make contributions,
from filing a bug to doing something as simple as writing a patch, where
they don’t even have to have access to the source code repository, to make
valuable contributions. So importantly, we want to have a really low barrier
to participation. At the same time, we want to increase the signal-to-noise
ratio. Yesterday I talked with Peter Sikking, an information architect working for GIMP, and he and I both had this experience where we work with
user interfaces, and since everybody uses an interface, everybody feels they
are an expert, so there can be a lot of noise. So, not only did we want to
create an open environment for collecting this data, and analysing it, but we

also want to increase the chance that we are making valuable contributions,
and that the community itself can make valuable contributions. Like I said,
there is enough opinion out there. What we really need to do is to better
understand how the software is being used. So, we have made a point from
the start to try to be as open as possible with everything, so that anyone can
really contribute to the project.
ingimp has been running for a year now. What are you finding?
I have started analysing the data, and I think one of the things that we
realised early on is that it is a very rich data set; we have lots and lots of
data. So, after a year we’ve had over 800 installations, and we’ve collected
about 5000 log files, representing over half a million commands, representing thousands of hours of the application being used. And one of the things
you have to realise is that when you have a data set of that size, there are so
many different ways to look at it that my particular perspective might not
be enough. Even if you sit someone down, and you have him or her use the
software for twenty minutes, and you videotape it, then you can spend hours
analysing just that twenty minutes of videotape. And so, I think that one of
the things we realised is that we have to open up the process so that anyone
could easily participate. We have the log files available, but they really didn’t
have an infrastructure for analysing them. So, we created this new piece of
software called ‘StatsJam’, an extension to MediaWiki, which allows anyone
to go to the website and embed SQL-queries against the ingimp data set
and then visualise those results within the Wiki text. So, I’ll be announcing
that today and demonstrating that, but I have been using that tool now for
a week to complement the existing data analysis we have done. One of the
first things that we realized is that we have over 800 installations, but then
you have to ask, how many of those are really serious users? A lot of people
probably just were curious, they downloaded it and installed it, found that it
didn’t really do much for them and so maybe they don’t use it anymore. So,
the first thing we had to do is figure out which data points should we really
pay attention too. We decided that a person should have saved an image,
and they should have used ingimp on two different occasions, preferably at
least a day apart, where they’d saved an image on both of the instances. We
used that as an indication of what a serious user is. So with that filter in
place, then the ‘800 installations’ drops down to about 200 people. So we
had about 200 people using ingimp, and looking at the data this represents

about 800 hours of use, about 4000 log files, and again still about half a million commands. So, it’s still a very significant group of people. 200 people
is still a lot, and that’s a lot of data, representing about 11000 images they
have been working on, there’s just a lot.
From that group, what we found is that use of ingimp is really short and
versatile. So, most sessions are about fifteen minutes or less, on average.
There are outliers, there are some people who use it for longer periods of
time, but really it boils down to them using it for about fifteen minutes, and
they are applying fewer than a hundred operations when they are working on
the image. I should probably be looking at my data analysis as I say this, but
they are very quick, short, versatile sessions, and when they use it, they use
less than 10 different tools, or they apply less than 10 different commands
when they are using it. What else did we find? We found that the two
most popular monitor resolutions are 1280 by 1024 and 1024 by 768. So,
those represent collectively 60% of the resolutions, and really 1280 by 1024
represents pretty much the maximum for most people, although you have
some higher resolutions. So one of the things that’s always contentious
about GIMP, is its window management scheme and the fact that it has
multiple windows, right? And some people say, well you know this works
fine if you have two monitors, because you can throw out the tools on one
monitor and then your images are on another monitor. Well, about 10%
to 15% of ingimp users have two monitors, so that design decision is not
working out for most of the people, if that is the best way to work. These
are things I think that people have been aware of, it’s just now we have
some actual concrete numbers where you can turn to and say, now this is
how people are using it. There is a wide range of tasks that people are
performing with the tool, but they are really short, bursty tasks.
Every time you start up ingimp, a screen comes up asking you to describe what
you are planning to do and I am interested in the kind of language users invent
to describe this, even when they sometimes don’t know exactly what it is they are
going to do. So inventing language for possible actions with the software, has in
a way become a creative process that is now shared between interface designer,
developer and user. If you look at the ‘activity tags’ you are collecting, do you
find a new vocabulary developing?
I think there are 300 to 600 different activity tags that people register
within that group of ‘significant users’. I didn’t have time to look at all of

them, but it is interesting to see how people are using that as a medium
for communicating to us. Some people will say, Just testing out, ignore this!
Or, people are trying to do things like insert HTML code, to do like a
cross-site scripting attack, because, you have all the data on the website, so
they will try to play with that. Some people are very sparse and they say
‘image manipulation’ or ‘graphic design’ or something like that, but then
some people are much more verbose, and they give more of a plan, This
is what I expect to be doing. So, I think it has been interesting to see how
people have adopted that and what’s nice about it, is that it adds a really nice
human element to all this empirical data.
I wanted to ask you about the data, without getting too technical, could
you explain how these data are structured, what do the log files look like?

So the log files are all in XML, and generally we compress them, because
they can get rather large. And the reason that they are rather large is that we
are very verbose in our logging. We want to be completely transparent with
respect to everything, so that if you have some doubts or if you have some
questions about what kind of data has been collected, you should be able to
look at the log file, and figure out a lot about what that data is. That’s how
we designed the XML log files, and it was really driven by privacy concerns
and by the desire to be transparent and open. On the server side we take
that log file and we parse it out, and then we throw it into a database, so
that we can query the data set.
Now we are talking about privacy ... I was impressed by the work you have done
on this; the project is unusually clear about why certain things are logged, and
other things not; mainly to prevent the possibility of ‘playing back’ actions so that
one could identify individual users from the data set. So, while I understand
there are privacy issues at stake I was wondering ... what if you could look at the
collected data as a kind of scripting for use? Writing a choreography that might
be replayed later?
Yes, we have been fairly conservative with the type of information that we
collect, because this really is the first instance where anyone has captured
such rich data about how people are using software on a day to day basis,
and then made it all that data publicly available. When a company does

this, they will keep the data internally, so you don’t have this risk of someone outside figuring something out about a user that wasn’t intended to be
discovered. We have to deal with that risk, because we are trying to go about
this in a very open and transparent way, which means that people may be
able to subject our data to analysis or data mining techniques that we haven’t
thought of and extract information that we didn’t intent to be recording in
our file, but which is still there. So there are fairly sophisticated techniques
where you can do things like look at audio recordings of typing and the timings between keystrokes, and then work backwards with the sounds made
to figure out the keys that people are likely pressing. So, just with keyboard
audio and keystroke timings alone you can often give enough information
to be able to reconstruct what people are actually typing. So we are always
sort of weary about how much information is in there. While it might be
nice to be able to do something like record people’s actions and then share
that script, I don’t think that that is really a good use of ingimp. That said,
I think it is interesting to ask, could we characterize people’s use enough, so
that we can start clustering groups of people together and then providing a
forum for these people to meet and learn from one another? That’s something we haven’t worked out. I think we have enough work cut out for us
right now just to characterize how the community is using it.
It was not meant as a feature request, but as a way to imagine how usability
research could flip around and also become productive work.

Yes, totally. I think one of the things that we found when bringing people
into to assess the basic usability of the ingimp software and ingimp website,
is that people like looking at things like what commands other people are
using, what the most frequently used commands are, and part of the reason
that they like that, is because of what it teaches them about the application.
So they might see a command they were unaware of. So we have toyed with
the idea of then providing not only the command name, but then a link
from that command name to the documentation – but I didn’t have time to
implement it, but certainly there are possibilities like that, you can imagine.

Maybe another group can figure something out like that? That’s the beauty of
opening up your software plus data set of course. Well, just a bit more on what
is logged and what not ... Maybe you could explain where and why you put the
limit and what kind of use you might miss out on as a result?

I think it is important to keep in mind that whatever instrument you use
to study people, you are going to have some kind of bias, you are going
to get some information at the cost of other information. So if you do a
video taped observation of a user and you just set up a camera, then you
are not going to find details about the monitor maybe, or maybe you are
not really seeing what their hands are doing. No matter what instrument
you use, you are always getting a particular slice. I think you have to work
backwards and ask what kind of things do you want to learn. And so the
data that we collect right now, was really driven by what people have done
in the past in the area of instrumentation, but also by us bringing people
into the lab, observing them as they are using the application, and noticing
particular behaviours and saying, hey, that seems to be interesting, so what
kind of data could we collect to help us identify those kind of phenomena,
or that kind of performance, or that kind of activity? So again, the data that
we were collecting was driven by watching people, and figuring out what
information will help us to identify these types of activities. As I’ve said,
this is really the first project that is doing this, and we really need to make
sure we don’t poison the well. So if it happens that we collect some bit of
information, that then someone can later say, Oh my gosh, here is the person’s
file system, here are the names they are using for the files or whatever, then it’s
going to make the normal user population weary of downloading this type
of instrumented application. This is the thing that concerns me most about
Open Source developers jumping into this domain, is that they might not
be thinking about how you could potentially impact privacy.
I don’t know, I don’t want to get paranoid. But if you are doing it, then
there is a possibility someone else will do it in a less considerate way.
I think it is only a matter of time before people start doing this, because
there are a lot of grumblings about, we should be doing instrumentation, someone just needs to sit down and do it. Now there is an extension out for Firefox
that will collect this kind of data as well, so you know ...
Maybe users could talk with each other, and if they are aware that this
type of monitoring could happen, then that would add a different social
dimension ...

It could. I think it is a matter of awareness, really, so when we bring
people into the lab and have them go to the ingimp website, download and
install it and use it, and go check out the stats on the website, and then we
ask questions like, what kind of data are we collecting? We have a lengthy
concern agreement that details the type of information we are collecting and
the ways your privacy could be impacted, but people don’t read it.
So concretely ... what information are you recording, and what information are
you not recording?
We record every command name that is applied to a document, to an image.
Where your privacy is at risk with that, is that if you write a custom script,
then that custom script’s name is going to be inserted into a log file. And so
if you are working for example for Lucas or DreamWorks or something like
that, or ILM, in some Hollywood movie studio and you are using ingimp
and you are writing scripts, then you could have a script like ‘fixing Shrek’s
beard’, and then that is getting put into the log file and then people are
going to know that the studio uses ingimp. We collect command names,
we collect things like what windows are on the screen, their positions, their
sizes, we take hashes of layer names and file names. We take a string and
then we create a hash code for it, and we also collect information about how
long is this string, how many alphabetical characters, numbers, things like
that, to get a sense of whether people are using the same files, the same
layer names time and time again, and so on. But this is an instance where
our first pass at this, actually left open the possibility of people taking those
hashes and then reconstructing the original strings from that. Because we
have the hash code, we have the length of the string, all you have to do is
generate all possible strings of that length, take the hash codes and figure
out which hashes match. And so we had to go back and create a new
scheme for recording this type of information where we create a hash and
we create a random number, we pair those up on the client machine but
we only log the random number. So, from log to log then, we can track if
people use the same image names, but we have no idea of what the original
string was. There are these little ‘gotchas’, things to look out for, that I
don’t think most people are aware of, and this is why I get really concerned
about instrumentation efforts right now, because there isn’t this body of
experience of what kind of data should we collect, and what shouldn’t we

As we are talking about this, I am already more aware of what data I would allow
to be collected. Do you think by opening up this data set and the transparent
process of collecting and not collecting, this will help educate users about these
kinds of risks?
It might, but honestly I think probably the thing that will educate people
the most is if there was a really large privacy error and that it got a lot of
news, because then people would become more aware of it because right
now – and this is not to say that we want that to happen with ingimp – but
when we bring people in and we ask them about privacy, Are you concerned
about privacy?, and they say No, and we say Why? Well, they inherently trust
us, but the fact is that Open Source also lends a certain amount of trust to
it, because they expect that since it is Open Source, the community will in
some sense police it and identify potential flaws with it.

Is that happening?
Are you in dialogue with the Open Source community about this?

No, I think probably five to ten people have looked at the ingimp code –
realistically speaking I don’t think a lot of people looked at it. Some of the
GIMP developers took a gander at it to see how could we put this upstream,
but I don’t want it upstream, because I want it to always be an opt-in, so
that it can’t be turned on by mistake.
You mean you have to download ingimp and use it as a separate program? It
functions in the same way as GIMP, but it makes the fact that it is a different
tool very clear.

Right. You are more aware, because you are making that choice to download
that, compared to the regular version. There is this awareness about that.
We have this lengthy text based consent agreement that talks about the data
we collect, but less than two percent of the population reads license agreements. And, most of our users are actually non-native English speakers,
so there are all these things that are working against us. So, for the past
year we have really been focussing on privacy, not only in terms of how we
collect the data, but how we make people aware of what the software does.
We have been developing wordless diagrams to illustrate how the software

functions, so that we don’t have to worry about localisation errors as much.
And so we have these illustrations that show someone downloading ingimp,
starting it up, a graph appears, there is a little icon of a mouse and a keyboard on the graph, and they type and you see the keyboard bar go up, and
then at the end when they close the application, you see the data being sent
to a web server. And then we show snapshots of them doing different things
in the software, and then show a corresponding graph change. So, we developed these by bringing in both native and non-native speakers, having
them look at the diagrams and then tell us what they meant. We had to go
through about fifteen people and continual redesign until most people could
understand and tell us what they meant, without giving them any help or
prompts. So, this is an ongoing research effort, to come up with techniques
that not only work for ingimp but also for other instrumentation efforts, so
that people can become more aware of the implications.
Can you say something about how this type of research relates to classic usability
research and in particular to the usability work that is happening in Gimp?
Instrumentation is not new, commercial software companies and researchers
have been doing instrumentation for at least ten years, probably ten to
twenty years. So, the idea is not new but what is new, in terms of the
research aspects of this, is how do we do this in a way where we can make
all the data open? The fact that you make the data open, really impacts your
decision about the type of data you collect and how you are representing it.
And you need to really inform people about what the software does. But I
think your question is ... how does it impact the GIMP’s usability process?
Not at all, right now. But that is because we have intentionally been laying
off to the side, until we got to the point where we had an infrastructure,
where the entire community could really participate with the data analysis.
We really want to have this to be a self-sustaining infrastructure, we don’t
want to create a system where you have to rely on just one other person for
this to work.

What approach did you take in order to make this project self-sustainable?

Collecting data is not hard. The challenge is to understand the data, and I
don’t want to create a situation where the community is relying on only one

person to do that kind of analysis, because this is dangerous for a number of
reasons. First of all, you are creating a dependency on an external party, and
that party might have other obligations and commitments, and might have
to leave at some point. If that is the case, then you need to be able to pass the
baton to someone else, even if that could take a considerate amount of time
and so on. You also don’t want to have this external dependency, because
of the richness in the data, you really need to have multiple people looking
at it, and trying to understand and analyse it. So how are we addressing
this? It is through this StatsJam extension to the MediaWiki that I will
introduce today. Our hope is that this type of tool will lower the barrier
for the entire community to participate in the data analysis process, whether
they are simply commenting on the analysis we made or taking the existing
analysis, tweaking it to their own needs, or doing something brand new.

In talking with members of the GIMP project here at the Libre Graphics
Meeting, they started asking questions like, So how many people are doing
this, how many people are doing this and how many this? They’ll ask me while
we are sitting in a café, and I will be able to pop the database open and say, A
certain number of people have done this, or, no one has actually used this tool at
all. The danger is that this data is very rich and nuanced, and you can’t really
reduce these kind of questions to an answer of N people do this, you have to
understand the larger context. You have to understand why they are doing
it, why they are not doing it. So, the data helps to answer some questions,
but it generates new questions. They give you some understanding of how
the people are using it, but then it generates new questions of, Why is this
the case? Is this because these are just the people using ingimp, or is this
some more widespread phenomenon? They asked me yesterday how many
people are using this colour picker tool – I can’t remember the exact name –
so I looked and there was no record of it being used at all in my data set. So
I asked them when did this come out, and they said, Well it has been there at
least since 2.4. And then you look at my data set, and you notice that most of
my users are in the 2.2 series, so that could be part of the reasons. Another
reason could be, that they just don’t know that it is there, they don’t know
how to use it and so on. So, I can answer the question, but then you have
to sort of dig a bit deeper.
You mean you can’t say that because it is not used, it doesn’t deserve any attention?

Yes, you just can’t jump to conclusions like that, which is again why we
want to have this community website, which shows the reasoning behind
the analysis. Here are the steps we had to go through to get this result, so
you can understand what that means, what the context means, because if you
don’t have that context, then it’s sort of meaningless. It’s like asking, what
are the most frequently used commands? This is something that people
like to ask about. Well really, how do you interpret that? Is it the numbers
of times it has been used across all log files? Is it the number of people
that have used it? Is it the number of log files where it has been used at
least once? There are lots and lots of ways in which you can interpret this
question. So, you really need to approach this data analysis as a discourse,
where you are saying, here are my assumptions, here is how I am getting to
this conclusion, and this is what it means for this particular group of people.
So again, I think it is dangerous if one person does that and you become to
rely on that one person. We really want to have lots of people looking at it,
and considering it, and thinking about the implications.
Do you expect that this will impact the kind of interfaces that can be done for
I don’t necessarily think it is going to impact interface design, I see it
really as a sort of reality check: this is how communities are using the
software and now you can take that information and ask, do we want to
better support these people or do we ... For example on my data set, most
people are working on relatively small images for short periods of time,
the images typically have one or two layers, so they are not really complex
images. So regarding your question, one of the things you can ask is, should
we be creating a simple tool to meet these people’s needs? All the people are
is just doing cropping and resizing, fairly common operations, so should we
create a tool that strips away the rest of the stuff? Or, should we figure out
why people are not using any other functionality, and then try to improve
the usability of that? There are so many ways to use data I don’t really
know how it is going to be used, but I know it doesn’t drive design. Design
happens from a really good understanding of the users, the types of tasks
they perform, the range of possible interface designs that are out there, lots
of prototyping, evaluating those prototypes and so on. Our data set really
is a small potential part of that process. You can say, well according to this
data set, it doesn’t look like many people are using this feature, let’s not

much focus too on that, let’s focus on these other features or conversely,
let’s figure out why they are not using them ... Or you might even look at
things like how big their monitor resolutions are, and say well, given the size
of the monitor resolution, maybe this particular design idea is not feasible.
But I think it is going to complement the existing practices, in the best

And do you see a difference in how interface design is done in free software projects,
and in proprietary software?
Well, I have been mostly involved in the research community, so I don’t have
a lot of exposure to design projects. I mean, in my community we are always
trying to look at generating new knowledge, and not necessarily at how to
get a product out the door. So, the goals or objectives are certainly different.
I think one of the dangers in your question is that you sort of lump a lot
of different projects and project styles into one category of ‘Open Source’.
‘Open source’ ranges from volunteer driven projects to corporate projects,
where they are actually trying to make money out of it. There is a huge diversity of projects that are out there; there is a wide diversity of styles, there
is as much diversity in the Open Source world as there is in the proprietary
world. One thing you can probably say, is that for some projects that are
completely volunteer driven like GIMP, they are resource strapped. There is
more work than they can possibly tackle with the number of resources they
have. That makes it very challenging to do interface design, I mean, when
you look at interface code, it costs you 50% or 75% of a code base. That
is not insignificant, it is very difficult to hack and you need to have lots of
time and manpower to be able to do significant things. And that’s probably
one of the biggest differences you see for the volunteer driven projects, it
is really a labour of love for these people and so very often the new things
interest them, whereas with a commercial software company developers are
going to have to do things sometimes they don’t like, because that is what
is going to sell the product.


In 2007, OSP met with venture communist Dmytri Kleiner
and his wife Franziska, 1 late at night in the bar Le Coq in
Brussels. Kleiner had just finished his lecture InfoEnclosure-2.0
at Verbindingen/Jonctions and we wanted to ask what his ideas
about peer production could mean for the practice of designers and typographers. Referring to Benjamin Tucker, Yochai
Benkler, Marcel Mauss and of course Karl Marx, Kleiner explains how to prevent leakage at the point of scarcity through
operating within a total system of worker owned companies.
Between fundamentals of media- and information economy, he
talks about free typography and what it has to do with nuts
and bolts, the problem of working with estimates and why the
people that develop Scribus should own all the magazines it

First of all we have to be clear, our own company is very small and
doesn’t actually earn enough money to sustain itself right now. We sustain
our company at this point by taking on other projects; for example we are
here for a project that has really little to do with Telekommunisten, where
we’re helping a recruiting company in Canada, I’m in the UK for a very different reason than Telekommunisten, doing independent software development for a private company. So we’re still self-funding our company. So we
haven’t yet got to a stage where our company can actually sustain itself from
our own peer production, which is our goal. But how we plan to realize
that goal, is through peer production. To start we can sketch out a simple economic model, to understand how the economics work. Economics
work with the so called factors of production: you have land, labour and
capital. Land is natural resources, that which occurs naturally, that which
nobody produces, that just sort exists. Land, electromagnetic frequencies,
everything which naturally exists. Labour is work, something that people
do. Capital is what happens when you apply labour to land, and you create
products. Some of these products have to be consumed, and some of those
products are to be used in further production, and that’s capital. So capital


editor for a German publishing company


is the result of labour applied to land that create output that is used for
further production, and that’s tools, machines and so forth. This system
produces commodities which are consumed in the market. In this system
the dominating input in the production owns the final product, and all of
the actual value of the products is captured at that stage. So whoever sells
the product in the marketplace captures the full value of that product, the
full marginal value, or use value. All of the inputs to that process can never
make anymore than their own cost of reproduction, make their own subsistence cost. So if as a worker you’re selling your labour to somebody else
who owns the product, you’re never going to capture anymore than your
subsistence cost.
Could you make that sort of concrete?

Well, the reason that people need design is because there’s some product
that in the end requires design as an input. For instance, a simple case is
obviously a magazine, in which design is a major input. The value is always
going to be captured by the people selling the magazine. All of the inputs
to that magazine, including design, journalism, layout, administration, are
never going to capture more than their reproduction costs. So in order for
any group of workers to really capture the value of their labour, they have to
own the final product. Which means that they can’t just simply be isolated
in one field, like design. It means that the entire productive cycle has to be
owned collectively by the workers. The designers, together with the journalists, together with the administrators, have to own the magazine, otherwise
they can’t capture their full value. As a group of designers this is very difficult, because as a group of designers you’re only selling an input, you’re not
at the end owning a product. The only way to do this is by forming alliances
with other people, and not based on wages, not based on them giving you
an arbitrary amount of money for that input, which will never be higher
than reproduction cost, but based on owning together the final product. So
you contribute design, somebody else contributes journalism, somebody else
contributes administration and together you all own this magazine. Then
it is this magazine that is sold on the market that is your wage, the value
of the magazine on the market. That is the only way that you can capture
the marginal value of your labour. You have to sell the product, not the input, not labour. Marx talks about labour being itself a commodity, and that
means that you can never capture its marginal contribution of production,
you can only capture its reproduction cost. Which means what it would

cost to sustain a designer. A designer needs to eat, a designer needs a place
to live, to have a certain lifestyle to fit in the design community and that’s
all you get by selling your labour. You won’t get anymore because there is
no reason for the owner of the product to give you anymore. The only way
you can get more is if you own the product itself, collectively with the other
labour inputs. And I know that’s a bad answer, nobody wants to hear that

This estimate is at the start in the possibility. Because the whole point
of a creative project is that you’re doing something that hasn’t been done
before. And we have all struggled with this before. There’s two things you
don’t know at the beginning of a contract. The first is how long it will
take and the second is what the criteria of being finished will be. You don’t
know either of those two things, and, since you don’t, determining the value
upfront of that is a complete guess. Which means that, when you agree to a
fixed-price term, you are agreeing to take on yourself the risk of the delivery
of the project. So it’s a transfer of risks. Of course the people that are buying
your labour as commodity want to put that risk back on you. They don’t
want to take the risk so they make you do that, because they can’t answer
the question of how much does it cost and how long it will take. They want
a guarantee of a fixed price and they want you to take all the risk. Which is
very unfair because it’s their product in the end; the end product is owned
by them and not by you. It’s a very exploitative relationship to force you
to take the risk for capitalizing their product. It’s a bad relationship from
the beginning. If you’re good at estimating and you know your work and
your limits and the kind of work you can do, you can make that work, and
make a living by being good at this estimates; but still first of all you’re
taking all the risk unfairly, and second you can’t make anything more than a
living. While if we’re going to build any kind of movement for social change
with these new forms of organization, we have to accumulate. Because the
political power is an extension of economic power. So if we actually think
that our peer production communities are going to have political power and
ultimately change society, that can only happen to the degree that we can
accumulate. Which means capturing more than the reproduction costs of
our labour input, it means actually capturing the full value of our labour’s
products. The Benjamin Tucker quote I mentioned before is a good way to
keep it in mind. The natural wage of labour is its product. The natural wage

of labour isn’t 40 an hour, it isn’t some arbitrary number. The natural wage
of labour is its product.
In our case the product is making phone calls. And we don’t offer our labour
in the form of software development, we are putting together a collective
that can do everything, develop a software and bring it to the market. It is
actually the consumer making telephone calls that will pay for it. As I said,
with it we are not actually making a sustainable living from it right now.
We are only building this. We are still making most of our sustenance by
selling our labour.

That’s where we are starting from. But because we are going for a
model where the end product is sold directly to the consumer, there is
not mediation. There is no capitalist owners that are buying our labour and
owning the product and then selling the product for it’s value to the market.
We are selling the product directly to the consumers of the product, so there
is nothing in-between. And all of the workers that contribute to the making
of this product, whether they are programmers or into administration or
designers, together own this product and own this company. If you’re not
selling the product, then what you’re selling is behavioural control. If you’re
not paying for the magazine directly, it is paid for with the money coming
from lobbyists or from advertisers that want to control the behaviour of the
people perceiving that media, by making them buy some things or vote in a
certain way or have a certain image of a certain state department or the role
of the state. In the economical model where the actual magazine isn’t being
sold, where the media is free, in the way television is free, the base of that
model is what Dallas Smythe calls ‘audience power’. Smythe is one of the
main writers about the politically economy of communications, and this is
sort of referred to in his ‘audience commodity’ thing, which is very degraded
and unfundamental discourse, but it’s related. ‘Audience power’, ultimately,
is just behavioural control. There is money to be made by changing the
behaviours of others. And this is the fundamental source of media funding,
sometimes it is commercials to sell an actual product by ads and sometimes
it is more subtle, like legitimizing a political system or getting people to
think favourably about a party or a state department or a government.
All the artists and the designers of the poster and the people that come to
the event, they have all kinds of motivations, use value. But the exchange
values, where the money comes from, the people buying the checks, what

they are buying is behavioural control, is to be represented in this context.
Through their commercial or political or legitimation purposes. The state
has legitimation needs, the state needs to be something that is thought of as
positive by people. And it does this by funding things that give a legitimacy,
like art, culture, social services. What it is buying, is this legitimation. It is
behavioural control. When an advertiser sponsors an art show or an event
or a television program what they are buying is the chance to make people
buy their product. So it is not that every single person, every single artists
in the show was thinking about how to manipulate the audience. Not at all,
they are just making art ... But where the money comes from, what they
are actually selling on the market, is behavioural control. It is the so called
‘audience power’.
How does that change the work itself you think?

It changes the way you work, a lot. There are so many restrictions
and limitations when you work on this model, on capital finance, because
the medium is constantly subverted and subjugated by the mediation, the
mediation is the message to make it a catch phrase. If you know that your
art show is being funded by a certain agency, you’re going to avoid talking
critically about that agency, because obviously that is going to deny you
funding further on. It’s clear that the sources of funding affect the actual
message that is delivered at the end. It’s not possible to have SONY Records
sponsor an art show that then tells you how SONY is evil. It is very unlikely
that it is going to be funded again, maybe you can trick them once, but it’s
not going to be sustainable. We were joking before about how my use of
anarchist and socialist terminology actually gets the most flak from other
people in my own field. That’s because they are trying to portray what we
do in Free Software development and peer production as being unpolitical.
With my saying that no, it’s actually quite political, explaining why, they
feel like I’m blowing their cover. Like I’m almost outing them as being
leftist radicals and they don’t want this image because they actually think
they can fool this system. Which I think is delusional, I don’t think you
can fool this system. But that’s a very clear example how it does actually
change the context and change the message. Because you are always selfconscious of how you’re going to pay your rent and how you’re going to pay
your bills. It’s impossible to separate yourself from this context and if the
funding is coming from these directions you’re always going to self-censor
and it’s going to affect what you talk about in your choices that you make.

What to present, what not to present, where to place the emphasis where
not to place the emphasis, it will always be modified by the context you are
producing in. And if what you’re being paid for is essentially to make people
like SONY or make people like the state then it’s going to change the way
you present what you are doing.
Yochai Benkler used the term ‘commons-based peer production’ and of
course took great pains to avoid talking about communism and try to limit
this only to information production. He’s very clear, for him this is not for
real material production. Because he’s a liberal lawyer, working for a major
university, in the states ... so this is how he presents his work.
But what this means, commons-based production, means that the instruments of production are actually collectively owned but controlled by the
direct producers, which means that nobody can actually earn money simply by owning the instruments of production. You can only earn money
by employing the instruments of production in actually making something.
So, commons-based peer production. You have common things like instruments of production, land and capital, they’re are commonly controlled and
commonly owned, and individual labour of peers is applied to that shared
commons and the results of that labour is then owned by the actual producers. None of that product is owned by the people who are simply owning
instruments of production. That is what is meant by commons-based peer
production. But that’s exactly what the anarchist and the socialist call communism. There is no actual difference. Communism in a text book example
is the state less, property-less society. And that’s what it means, commonsbased peer production is a neologism, a modern way of saying communism
because for political reasons, post-war rhetoric, these words are verboten
and you can’t say them. So people invent new words, but they’re saying
exactly the same things. The point is that producers require land and capital to produce. If certain private interest controls all of the access of direct
producers to land and capital, then those private interests can extract the
surplus value. Another great quote from Benjamin Tucker is whenever one
person earns without sweating ... ehm sorry, whenever one person earns without
sweating, another person sweats without earning and that’s fundamentally true.
If anybody is earning revenue simply by owning instruments of production,
that means that people actually producing are not capturing the value of
their labour. And that’s what commons-based peer production is. The idea
that we have a commons which is all of our property, nobody controls our
instruments of production, they’re all our property together. Each of us

have our labour and we apply that to the commons and we produce something and whatever we produce, that is ours. It’s our own, provided that we
are not taking anything away from anybody else, provided that we are not
taking any exclusive control of the commons.
In the case of Free Software development, the Free Software itself is a commons. But things that you might make with Free Software are not part of
the commons, they’re your own. But the problem with software itself is
that because software is immaterial and therefore has no reproduction costs,
it can be reproduced with no costs, it also has no exchange value. So in
order to convert it to exchange value you always have to apply other forms of
property: land, capital, hard fixed property ... And so, as commons-based
peer producers in the Yochai Benkler world, we have our little internal communism, but we can neither live in it nor feed ourselves with it. So in order
to actually sustain ourselves, to actually capture our material subsistence, we
then have to deal with people that own land an capital; fixed, scarce properties, and we have no leverage in that negotiation. The only things we can
get back from the people that consume the output of our labour, is our
reproduction costs and nothing more, while they continue to capture and
accumulate the extra value. Again, how that applies to design is another
thing, I don’t think you can isolate one kind of worker from the overall
thing. The point is you have to think of where is the value coming from,
what are you really selling? Because you’re not really selling design, design
is an input. What are you really ...
What do you mean with ‘design is an input’?

Design is an input. The average consumer doesn’t buy design. Nobody
goes to a store and says I’d like a design. They only want the design because
they want another product that has design as an input of that product. If
you’re making beer and you need a label, you find a designer to make the
label. But what you’re selling is beer, you’re not selling design. So you always
have to think about what are you really selling. What is the actual product
that people is exchanging for, what is the source for the exchange value.
And once you identify the source of the exchange value, you have to figure
out how to create a direct relationship with all the other producers that are
involved in the production cycle.

Seems incredibly difficult ...

If it was easy then capitalism would have been overthrown centuries ago


... You’re now owning a magazine already with a couple of people. The
next person asks you to design a beer label ...
You have to own the beer factory!

... And I think next you should own the paper company that makes ...

And then you need people and say I know how to make design, I need
some people who know how to make beer. So then we have a beer factory.
And then you need people who drink the beer! Who’s going to make the
people that drink the beer?

But wait, there must be a little bit of difference, a modified option to
this. For example ...

In the scenario of commons-based peer production it’s not that the designers have to own the beer factory, it’s just that there can’t be any capitalist
in the middle that owns the land, it’s enough if the designers and the beer
makers both own the land together and the capital together ...
So if the beer company is also worker-owned and you come to an arrangement ... Isn’t it the idea of shares? Applying labour and therefore having shares on something ...

Yes, but it has to be equal. Shares in a capitalist system are unequal.
That’s the idea of copy-far-left. It’s the idea of a public license that allows
free use for non-alienated forms of production and denies free use for alienated forms of production. In the case of software, for instance, which is
not the greatest application of copy-far-left, but is a good example to understand, the software would be usable by a workers’ cooperative for free
but a private corporation employing wage labour and private capital couldn’t
use it for free. They would have to either not use it at all or negotiate a
different set of terms under which they could use it. So the question is
how do we remove coercive property relationships. If you really have a situation of commons-based peer production, or communism, where there is
no state, no property, the instruments of production are collectively owned,
people just work together in a very kind of free way, than it could certainly
work. But that’s not the world we are living in, so we have to be defensive
of our commons and how we produce in order for it to grow. We have
to think about where the exchange value is and think about where the use

value crosses into exchange value and make sure that the point is within our
boundary. If we can do that, that’s enough. If we have a worker-owned
design collective that works with a worker-owned beer company, that’s as
good as together owning a beer company. But only if they also live on land
and apartments that are also worker-owned, because otherwise the landlord will simply capture value; you have to look for the point of leakage.
Even with a workers’ design company and a workers’ beer company living
in Brussels renting from capitalist, then the people that own the apartment
and the land will simply capture all the surplus value. The surplus value
will always leak at the point of scarcity, so the system has to be complete,
what Marcel Mauss calls a ‘total system’. It has to be a total system, if it
is not, if the entire cycle of production doesn’t go through commons-based
peer production hands, then it’s going to leak at the first point of scarcity.
Then whoever privately controls the one scarce resource through which all
this cycle of production goes through, will capture all the surplus value.
Again, back to our very basic model. The price of anything is its reproduction cost, so the price of something that is immaterial is zero. So, since
the beginning of mechanical reproduction, property-based interest groups
have tried to create artificial barriers to production. When you have artificial
barriers to reproduction the immaterial assets start to behave like material
assets; this is where copyright and intellectual property come from. It’s
the desire of property groups, to make immaterial assets behave price-wise
the same as material assets, the only way to do that is creating barriers to
Typography obviously comes from this culture, like a lot of other media
culture. There is rules about how you can reproduce it, and it creates
the opportunity for the owners of these things to capture exchange value.
Because the reproduction costs are no longer zero, because of artificial costs
of reproduction. But in certain things the capitalists are not homogeneous,
there’s not just one group of capitalists. There is many different capitalists.
Even though some make their living from typography, many more capitalists make their living by using typography, so with typography as an input.
From the point of view of those capitalists, the ones trying to restrict the
reproduction of typography are a problem. So if they can hire their own
staff and develop free typography with other companies, they’re not selling
typography, that’s just an input for them. Like for standardized nuts and
bolts, one time this was true too, bolt-makers would make their nuts and
bolt not fit, in the sense that if you wanted to use a nut from one company

and a bolt from another you couldn’t do so. They tried to create a barrier
from this, but since the nuts and bolts industry is not the biggest in capital,
because capital itself need nuts and bolts, the other companies got together
and said wait a minute, let’s just have standardized nuts and bolts, we don’t
want to make our money from nuts and bolts, we want to make our money
off-stream, from the product we make from nuts and bolts. Typography
falls into the same system. I imagine most of the people that are creating
free typography work for companies and they have their salary paid by companies that use typography, not companies that sell typography. Companies
that actually use typography in other production, whether it’s publishing or
whatever else they’re making, so the reproduction costs of the typographers
is paid for by not controlling the typography itself, but by employing it in
production and using it in another field. The people that are still trying
to hold on to typography as a product, as an end product that they capture
from intellectual property, are being pushed out.
In other things this is not just the case. If you look at the amount of money
that publishing companies spend on QuarkXpress, that’s not really a big
deal. From their point of view, they can hire some programmers and they
can make their own QuarkXpress and work with five other publishing companies, but the amount of money that they spend on QuarkXpress overall,
isn’t that high ...

So the same economy of scale doesn’t apply. This is why commercial
software is still hanging on in these niche markets where there isn’t a broad
enough market. It’s not a broad enough input so that freedom is supported
by the users of it. Typography is a very general input. It’s like a nut or
a bolt, while QuarkXpress is pretty specific. Franziska was saying that in
her publishing company all they really need is two copies, or maybe one
even, of the software, and the whole company can work with it. They
just go to the computer with it when they need to do the layout, overall
it’s not a huge cost. They don’t need it every time they publish a book.
Whether if they had to pay for the font they used and every time they
wanted to use a different font, and they had to pay for it again, that would
be a problem, so they’d rather use a free font, and if that means hiring
somebody to drop the pixels down for a new font once and then having it
free forever, it can all make sense. That’s why typography is different from
software. And so the Scribus project has gone really far but the reason

it’s obscure is because except from the ideological case, they don’t have a
business case they can make for the publishers. Because for publishers they
want a piece of software that works and if it costs 400$ once, who cares.
It doesn’t really affect their business model. You have to make the case for
the publishers that if you form an association of all the publishers and you
together develop some new Free Software to do publishing, that would be
better and cheaper and faster. Then maybe eventually this case would be
made and something like this would exist, but it’s not like an operating
system or a web browser, that is really used everywhere all the time, and
would be really inconvenient to pay for every time. If companies had to pay
every single time they put a web browser on their computer, that would be
very inconvenient for them. Even Microsoft doesn’t dare to charge money
for Internet Explorer, cos they know people would just say Fuck off. They’re
not going to buy it. In more obscure areas, like publishing, 3D animation,
film and video, it doesn’t make so much of a difference. In those business
models, for instance 3D animation, one of the biggest companies is Pixar.
They make the movies! They don’t make the software, they go all the way
through the process and they make the movie! So they completely own
everything. For that reason it makes sense for them, since they capture the
full value of their product in the end, because they make the movies, that
their software enables them to make. And this would be a good model
for peer production as well, except obviously they’re a capitalist organization
and they exploit wage labour. But basically if Scribus really wanted to have a
financial base, the people that develop Scribus would have to own a magazine
that is enabled by Scribus. And if they can own the magazine that Scribus
enables then they can capture enough of that value to fund the development
of Scribus, and it would actually develop very quickly and be very good,
because that’s actually a total system. So right from the software to the
design, to the journalism, to the editing, to the sale, to the capture of the
value of the end consumer. But because it doesn’t do that, they’re giving
Free Software away ... To who? Where is the value captured? Where is the
use value transferred into exchange value? It’s this point that you have to get
all the way to, and if you don’t make it all the way there, even if you stop a
mile short, in that mile all of the surplus value will be sucked out.


This conversation took place in Montreal at the last day of
the Libre Graphics Meeting 2011. In the panel How to
keep and make productive libre graphics projects?, Asheesh
had responded rather sharply to a remark from the audience that only a very small number of women were
present at LGM: Bringing the problem back to gender is
avoiding the general problem that F/LOSS has with social
inclusion. Another good reason to talk to him were the
intriguing ‘Interactive training missions’ that he had been
developing as part of the project. I wanted
to know more about the tutorials he develops; why he decided to work on ‘story manuals’ that explain how to report a bug or how to work with version control. Asheesh
Laroia is someone who realizes that most of the work
that makes projects successful is hidden underneath the
surface. He volunteered his technical skills for the UN
in Uganda, the EFF, and Students for Free Culture, and
is a developer on the Debian team. Today, he lives in
Somerville, MA. He speaks about his ideas to audiences
at international F/LOSS conferences.
The interactive training missions are really linked to the background of
the OpenHatch project itself. I started working on it because to my mind,
one of the biggest reasons that people do not participate in Free Software
projects, is that they either don’t know how or don’t feel included. There is
a lot you have to know to be a meaningful contributor to Free Software and
I think that one of the major obstacle for getting that knowledge, and I am
being a bit sloppy with the use of the term maybe, is how to understand a
conversation on a bug-tracker for example. This is not something you run
into in college, learning computer science or any other discipline. In fact,
it is an almost anti-academic type of knowledge. Bug tracker conversations

are ‘just people talking’, a combination of a comment thread on a blog and
actual planning documents. There’s also tools like version control, where
close to no one learns about in college. There is something like the culture
of participating in mailing lists and chatting on IRC ... what people will
expect to hear and what people are expecting from you.
For people like me that have been doing all these things for years, it feels
very natural and it is very easy to forget all the advantages I have in this
regard. But a lot of the ways people get to the point where I am now
involves having friends that help out, like Hey, I asked what I thought was a
reasonable question on this mailing list and I did not get any answer or what
they said wasn’t very helpful. At this stage, if you are lucky, you have a friend
that helps you stay in the community. If you don’t, you fall away and think
I’m not going to deal with this, I don’t understand. So, the training missions
are designed to give you the cultural experience and the tool familiarity in an
automated way. You can stay in the community even when you don’t have a
friend, because the robot will explain you what is going on.

So how do you ‘harvest’ this cultural information? And how do you bring it into
your tool?

There is some creative process in what I call ‘writing the plot’; this is very
linear. Each training mission is usually between three and fifteen minutes
long so it is OK to have them be linear. In writing the plot, you just imagine
what would it take a new contributor to understand not only what to do, but
also what a ‘normal community member’ would know to do. The different
training missions get this right to different extents.

How does this type of knowledge form, you think? Did you need to become a kind
of anthropologist of Free Software? How do you know you teach the right thing?
I spend a lot of time both working with and thinking about new contributions to Free Software. Last September I organized a workshop to teach
computer science students how to get involved in Open Source. And I have
also been teaching interpersonally, in small groups, for ten or eleven years.
So I use the workshops to test the missions and than I simply ask what
works. But it is tough to evaluate the training missions through workshops
because the workshops are intended to be more interpersonal. I definitely
had positive feedback, but we need more, especially from people that have
been two or three years involved in the Free Software community, because

they understand what it feels like to be part of a community but they may
still feel somewhat unsure about whether they have everything and still remember what was confusing to learn.

I wasn’t actually asking about how successful the missions are in teaching the
culture Free Software ... I wanted to know how the missions learn from this
So far, the plots are really written by me, in collaboration with others. We
had one more recent contribution on Git written by someone called Mark
Freeman who is involved in the OpenHatch project. It did not have so
much community discussion but it was also pretty good from the start. So
I basically try to dump what is in my head?

I am asking you about this, thinking about a session we once organized at
Samedies, a woman-and-Free-Software group from Brussels. We had invited
someone to come talk to us about using IRC on the command-line and she was
discussing etiquette. She said: On IRC you should never ask permission before
asking a question. This was the kind of cultural knowledge she was teaching us
and I was a bit puzzled ... you could also say that this lack of social interfacing
on IRC is a problem. So why replicate that?
In Debian we have a big effort to check the quality of packages and maintaining that quality, even if the developer goes away. It is called the ‘Debian
QA project’ and there’s an IRC channel linked to that called #debian-qa.
Some of the people on that channel like to say hello to each other and
pay attention when other people are speaking, and others said stop with all
the noise. So finally, the people that liked saying hello moved to another
channel: #debian-sayhi.

Meaning the community has made explicit how it wants to be spoken to?

The point I am trying to make here, is that I am agreeing to part of what
you are saying, that these norms are actually flexible. But what I am further
saying, is that these norms are actually being bent.

I would like to talk about the new mission on bug reporting you said you were
working on, and how that is going. I find bug reports interesting because if
they’re good, they mix observation and narration, which asks a lot from the
imagination of both the writer and the reader of the report; they need to think

themselves in each others place: What did I expect that would happen? What
should have happened? What could have gone wrong? Would you say your
interactive training missions are a continuation of this collective imaginary work?

A big part of that sort of imagination is understanding the kinds of things
that could be reasonable. So this is where cultural knowledge comes in. If
you program in C or even if you just read about C, you understand that
there is something called ‘pointers’ and something called ‘segfaults’ and if
your program ends in that way, that is not a good thing and you should
report a bug. This requires an imagination on the side of the person filing
the bug. The training missions give people practice in seeing these sorts of
things and understand how they could work. To build a mental model, even
if it is fuzzy, that has enough of the right components so they can enter in
discussion and imagine what happened.
Of course when there are real issues such as groping at conferences, or
making people feel unwelcome because they are shown slides of half-naked
people that look like them ... that is actually a gender issue and that needs
to be addressed. But the example I gave was: Where are the Indians, where
are the Asians in our community? This is still a confusing question, but not

Why is it not awkward?

(laughs) As I am an Indian person ... you might not be able to tell from the
It is an easy thing to do, to make generalizations of categories of people
based on visible characteristics. Even worse, is to make generalizations about
all individual people in that class. It is really easy for people in the Free
Software community to subconsciously think there are no women in the
room ‘because women don’t like to program’, while we know that is really
not true. I like to bring up the Indian people as an example because there
are obviously a bunch of programmers in India ... the impression that they
can’t program, can’t be the reason they are excluded.

But in a way that is even more awkward?

Well, maybe I don’t feel it is that awkward because I see how to fix it, and I
even see how to fix both problems at the same time.

In Free Software we are not hungry for people in the same way that corporate
hiring departments are. We limp along and sometimes one or two or three
people join our project per year as if by magic and we don’t know how and
we don’t try to understand how. Sometimes external entities such as Google
Summer of Code cause many many more show up at the doorstep of our
projects, but because they are so many they don’t get any skills for how to
grow. When I co-ran this workshop at the computer science department at
the University of Pennsylvania on how to get involved in Open Source, we
were flooded with applicants. They were basically all feeling enthusiastically
about Open Source but confused about how to get involved. 35% of the
attendees were women, and if you look at the photos you’ll see that it wasn’t
just women we were diverse on, there were lots of types of people. That’s
a kind of diversity-neutral outreach we need. It is a self-empowerment
outreach: ‘you will be cooler after this, we teach you how to do stuff ’ and
not ‘we need you to do what we want you to do’, which is the hiring-kind
of outreach.

And why do you think Free Software doesn’t usually reach out in this way? Why
does the F/LOSS community have such a hard time becoming more diverse?

The F/LOSS community has problems getting more people and being more
diverse. To me, those are the same problems. If we would hand out flyers
to people with a clear message saying for example: here is this nice vector
drawings program called Inkscape. Try it out and if you want to make it even
better, come to this session and we’ll show you how. If you send out this
invitation to lots of people, you’ll reach more of them and you’ll reach more
diverse people. But the way we do things right now, is that we leave notes
on bug trackers saying: help wanted. The people that read bug trackers, also
know how to read mailing lists. To get to that point, they most likely had
help from their friends. Their friends probably looked like them, and there
you have a second or third degree diversity reinforcement problem. But
leaving gender diversity and race diversity aside, it is such a small number of

So, to break that cycle you say there is a need to externalize knowledge ... like
you are doing with the OpenHatch project and with your project ‘Debian for
Shy People’? To not only explain how things technically work, but also how they
function socially?

I don’t know about externalizing ... I think I just want to grow our community. But when I feel more radical, I’d say we should just not write ‘How
to contribute’ pages anymore. Put a giant banner there instead saying: This
is such a fun project, come hang out with us on IRC ... every Sunday at 3PM.
Five or ten people might show up, and you will be able to have an individual
conversation. Quickly you’ll cross a boundary ... where you are no longer
externalizing knowledge, but simply treat them as part of your group.
The Fedora Design Bounties are a big shining example for me. Maírín Duffy
has been writing blog posts about three times a year: We want you to join
our community and here is something specific we want you to do. If you get it
right, the prize is that you are part of our community. The person that you get
this way will stick around because he or she came to join the community.
And not because you sent a chocolate cake?

Not for the chocolate cake, and also not for the 5000$ that you get over
the course of a Google summer of code project. So, I question whether it
is worth spending any time on a wiki-page explaining ‘How to contribute’
when instead you could attract people one by one, with a 100% success-rate.

Writing a ‘How to contribute’ page does force teams to reflect on what it takes to
become part of their community?
Of course that is true. But compared to standing at a job-fair talking to
people about their resume, ‘How to contribute’ pages are like anonymous,
impersonal walls of text that are not meant to create communication necessarily. If we keep focusing on communicating at this scale, we miss out on
the opportunity to make the situation better for individual people that are
likely to help us.

I feel that the Free Software community is quite busy with efficiency. When you
emphasize the importance of individual dialogue, it sounds like you propose a
different angle, even when this in the end has the desired effect of attracting more
loyal and reliable contributors.

It is amazing how valuable patience is.

You talked about Paul, the guy that stuck around on the IRC channel saying hi
to people and than only later started contributing patches after having seen two
or three people going through the process. You said: If we had implied that this

person would only be welcome when he was useful ... we would have lost
someone that would be useful in the future.

The obsession with usefulness is a kind of elitism. The Debian project
leader once made this sort of half-joke where he said: Debian developers
expect new Debian contributors to appear as fully formed, completely capable
Debian developers. That is the same kind of elitism that speaks from You
can’t be here until you are useful. By the way, the fact that this guy was some
kind of cheerleader was awesome. The number of patches we got because
he was standing there being friendly, was meaningful to other contributors,
I am sure of it. The truth is ... he was always useful, even before he started
submitting patches. Borrowing the word ‘useful’ from the most extreme
code-only definition, in the end he was even useful by that definition. He
had always been useful.

So it is an obsession with a certain kind of usefulness?

It is nice to hear you bring up the value of patience. OSP uses the image of a
frog as their logo, a reference to the frog from the fairy tale ‘The frog and the
princess’. Engaging with Free Software is a bit like kissing a frog; you never know
whether it will turn into a prince before you have dared to love it! To OSP
it is important not to expect that things will go the way you are used to ... A
suspension of disbelief?

Or hopefulness! I had a couple of magic moments ... one of the biggest
magic moments for me was when I as a high school student e-mailed the
Linux kernel list and than I got a response! My file system was broken,
and fsck-tools were crashing. So I was at the end of what I could do and
I thought: let’s ask these amazing people. I ended up in a discussion with
a maintainer who told me to submit this bug-report, and use these dump
tools ... I did all these things and compiled the latest version from version
control because we just submitted a patch to it. By the end of the process
I had a working file system again. From that moment on I thought: these
magic moments will definitely happen again.
If you want magic moments, than streamlining the communication with your
community might not be your best approach?

What do you mean by that?

I was happy to find a panel on the program of LGM that addressed how this
community could grow. But than I felt a bit frustrated by the way people were
talking about it. I think the user and developer communities around Libre
Graphics are relatively small, and all people actually ask for, is dialogue. There
seems to be lots of concern about how to connect, and what tools to use for that.
The discussion easily drifts into self-deprecating statements such as ‘our website is
not up-to-date’ or ‘we should have a better logo’ or ‘if only our documentation
would be better’. But all of this seems more about putting off or even avoiding
the conversation.
Yes, in a way it is. I think that ‘conversations’ are the best, biggest thing
that F/LOSS has to offer its users, in comparison with proprietary software.
But a lot of the behavioral habits we have within F/LOSS and also as people
living in North America, is derived from what we see corporations doing.
We accept this as our personal strategies because we do not know any alternatives. The more I say about this, the more I sound like a hippie but I
think I’ll have to take the risk (laughs).
If you go to the Flash website, it tells you the important things you need to
know about Flash, and than you click download. Maybe there is a link to a
complex survey that tries to gather data en masse of untold millions of users.
I think that any randomly chosen website of a Libre Graphics project will
look similar. But instead it could say when you click download or run the
software ... we’re a bunch of people ... why don’t you come talk to us on IRC?
There are a lot people that are not in the conversation because nobody ever
invited them. This is why I think about diversity in terms of outreach, not
in terms of criticizing existing figures. If in some alternate reality we would
want to build a F/LOSS community that exists out of 90% women and
10% men, I bet we could do it. You just start with finding a college student
at a school that has a good Computer Science program ... she develops a
program with a bunch of her friends ... she puts up flyers in other colleges
... You could do this because there are relatively so little programmers in
the world busy with developing F/LOSS that you can almost handpick the
diversity content of your community. Between one and a thousand ... you
could do that. There are 6 million thousand people on this planet and the
amount of people not doing F/LOSS is enormous. Don’t wring your hands
about ‘where are the women’. Just ask them to join and that will be that!

Tying the story to data

In the summer of 2010, Constant commissioned artist and
researcher Evan Roth to develop a work of his choice, and
to make the development process available in some way.
He decided to use a part of his fee as prize-money for
The GML-Recorder Challenge, inviting makers to propose an Open Source device ‘that can unobtrusively record
graffiti motion data during a graffiti writer’s normal practice in the city’. In three interviews that took place in
Brussels and Paris within a period of one and a half years,
we spoke about the collaborative powers of the GMLstandard, about contact points between hacker and graffiti
cultures and the granularity of gesture.
Based on conversations between Evan Roth (ER), Femke
Snelting (FS), Peter Westenberg (PW), Michele Walther
(MW), Stéphanie Villayphiou (SV), John Haltiwanger (JH)
and momo3010.
Brussels, July 2010

So what should we talk about?

Can you explain what GML stands for?

GML stands for Graffiti Markup Language 1 . It is a very simple fileformat designed for amateur programmers. It is a way to store graffiti
motion data. I started working with graffiti writers, combining graffiti
and technology back in New York, in 2003. In graduate school, my thesis


Graffiti Markup Language (.gml) is a universal, XML based, open file format designed to
store graffiti motion data (x and y coordinates and time). The format is designed to maximize
readability and ease of implementation, even for hobbyist programmers, artists and graffiti


Tying the story to data

was on graffiti analysis, and writing software that could capture their
gestures, to archive motion data from graffiti writers. Back than I was
saving the data in an x-y-time array, I was calling them .graph files and I
sensed there was something interesting about the data, the visualization
of motion data but I had never opened up the project at that time.
About a year ago I released the second part of the project, of which the
source code was open but the dataset wasn’t. In conversation with a
friend of mine named Theo 2 , who also collaborated with me on the
L.A.S.E.R. Tag project 3 , he brought up the .graph file again and how
we could bring back the file format as a way to connect all these different applications. Graffiti Analysis 4 , L.A.S.E.R. Tag, EyeWriter 5 ... so I
worked with Theo Watson, Chris Sugrue 6 and Jamie Wilkinson 7 and
other people to develop Graffiti Markup Language. It is a simple set of
guidelines, basically an .xml file format that saves x-y-time data but does
it in a way that is very specifically related to graffiti so there’s a drip tag
and there’s tags related to the size of the brush and to how many strokes
you have: is it one stroke or two strokes or three strokes.
The main idea is: How do you archive the motion of graffiti and not just
the way graffiti looks. There are a lot of people photographing graffiti,
making documentaries etc. but there hasn’t been a way to archive graffiti
in ways of code yet.

What do you mean, ‘archive in terms of code’?

There hasn’t been a programmatic way to archive graffiti. So this
is like taking a gesture and trying to boil it down to a set of coordinate
points that people can either upload or download. It is a sort of midpoint
between writers and hackers. Graffiti writers can download the software
and have how-to guides for how to do this, they can digitize their tags



Theo Watson
In its simplest form, L.A.S.E.R. Tag is a camera and laptop setup, tracking a green laser
point across the face of a building and generating graphics based on the laser’s position which
then get projected back onto the same building with a high power projector.
Graffiti Analysis is a digital graffiti blackbook designed for documenting more than just ink.
The EyeWriter is a low-cast eyetracking system originally designed for paralyzed graffiti artist
TEMPT. The EyeWriter system uses inexpensive cameras and Open Source computer vision
software to track the wearer’s eye movements.
Chris Sugrue
Jamie Wilkinson


Tying the story to data

and upload it to an open database. The 000000book-site 8 hosts all this
data and some people are writing software for this.

So there are three parts: the GML-standard, software to record and
play and than there is the data itself – all of it is ‘open’ in some way. Could
you go through each of them and talk about how they produce uploads and

Right. It starts with Graffiti Analysis. It is software written in C++
using OpenFrameworks, an Open Source platform designed by artists for
visual applications. Right now you can download the recorder app and
from that you can generate your own .gml files. And from there you can
upload these files into the playback app. In the beginning that was the
only Open Source side of the project. Programmers could also make new
applications based on the software, which also happened.
Last night we met Stéphane Buellet 9 who is developing a calligraphy
analysis project and he used Graffiti Analysis as a starting point. I find it
exciting when that happens but more often people take the file-format as
a starting point, and use it as a jumping-off point for making their own
Second was the database. We had this file-format that we loosely defined.
I worked with Jamie to develop the 000000book site. It is pretty nutsand-bolts but you can click ‘upload’ and click on your own .gml files and
it will playback in the browser. People have developed their own playback
mechanisms, which are some of the first Open Source collaborations that
happened around .gml files. There is a user account and you can upload
files; people have made image renderers, there are people that have made
Flash players, SVG players. Golan Levin has developed an application
that converts a .gml file into an auto-CAD format. The 000000book site
is basically where graffiti writers connect to developers.
In the middle between Graffiti Analysis and database is the Graffiti Markup
Language, that I think will have its own place on the web. But sometimes


9 Pronounced: ‘Black Book’: ‘A black book is a graffiti artist’s
sketchbook. Often used to sketch out and plan potential graffiti, and to collect tags from
other writers. It is a writer’s most valuable property, containing all or a majority of the
person’s sketches and pieces. A writer’s sketchbook is carefully guarded from the police and
other authorities, as it can be used as material evidence in a graffiti vandalism case and link a
writer to previous illicit works.’
Wikipedia. Glossary of graffiti — wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 5.8.2014]

Stéphane Buellet, Camera Linea


Tying the story to data

I see it as one project. One of my interests is in archiving graffiti and all
of these things are ways of doing that. It is interesting how these three
things work together. In terms of an OS development model it has been
producing results I haven’t seen when I just released source code.

How do you do that, develop a standard for graffiti?

We started by looking at Graffiti Analysis and L.A.S.E.R. Tag, the
apps that were using graffiti motion data. From those two projects I had a
lot of experience of meeting graffiti writers as a userbase. When you meet
with them, they tell you right away what pieces of the software they think
are missing. So from talking with them we developed a lot of features
that now are in GML like brushes, drips, line-thickness. Some people
had single line tags and some people had multi-line tags so that issue
came up because GML tracks both drawing and non-drawing motion so
we knew that we needed in the file format to talk about pen up and pen
down. I was interested in the connection points between lines also.
We tried to keep it very stripped down. From the beginning we knew
that people that would participate as developers or anonymous contributors were not going to be the same people that would develop a Linux
core. They are students, people just getting into programming or visual
programming. We wanted people to be able to double-click a .gml file
and than everything should verbally make sense so it is Begin stroke.
End stroke. Anyone with basic programming skills should be able to
figure out what’s going on.

Did you have any moment where you had to decide: this does not belong
to graffiti or: this might be more for calligraphy tracking?

The only thing that has to be in there is the format in x-y time
scenario with some information on drawing and not drawing, everything
else is bonus. So if you load an .xml file structured like that, compliant
apps will load it in. On top of that, there are features that some apps
will want and others not. Keywords are, for example, a functionality that
we are still developing applications for. It is there but we are looking for
how to use it.


Did you ever think about this standard as a way to define a discipline?

(laughs) I think in the beginning it was a very functional conversation.
We were having apps running this data and I don’t think we were thinking


Tying the story to data

of defining graffiti when we were writing the format. But looking back,
it is interesting to think about it.
Graffiti has a lot of privacy issues related to it too, right? So we did
discuss about what it would mean to start recording geo-located data.
There are different interests in graffiti. There is an interest in visuals and
in deconstructing characters. Another group is interested in it, because
it is a sport and more of a performance art. For this type of interest, it
is more important to know exactly where and when it happened because
it is different on a rooftop in New York to a studio in the basement of
someones house. But if someone realizes this data resulted from an illegal
action, and wanted to tie it back to someone, than it starts to be like
a surveillance camera. What happens when someone is caught with a
laptop with all this data?

Your desire to archive, is it also about producing new work?

I see graffiti writers as hackers. They use the city in the same way
as hackers are using computer systems. They are finding ways of using
a system to make it do things that it wasn’t intended to do. I am not
sure graffiti writers see it this way, but I am in this position where I have
friends that are hackers, playing around with digital structures online.
Other friends are into graffiti writing and to me those two camps are
doing the most interesting things right now, but these are two communities that hardly overlap. One of the interests I have is making these
two groups of people hang out more. I was physically the person bridging these two groups; I was the nerd person meeting the graffiti writers
talking to them about software and having this database.
Now it is not about my personal collection anymore, it is making a handshake between two communities; making them run off with each other
and having fun as opposed to me having to be there all the time to make

Is GML about the distribution of signature? I mean: The gestures of
a specific person can now be reproduced by a larger community. How does
that work?


This is an interesting conversation we should have with the graffiti
writers. A tag might be something they have been writing for more than
25 years and that will be very personal to them and the way they write
this is because they’ve written it a million times. So at the one hand it


Tying the story to data

is super-personal, but on the other hand a lot of graffiti writers have no
problem sharing this data. To them it is just another tag. They feel like,
I have written this tag a billion times and so when you want to keep one of
them, it is no big deal.
I don’t think the conversation has gotten as involved as it could have.
You set something in motion and cross your fingers hoping that everyone
plays nice and things go well and so far that is what has been happening.
But you are dealing with people that are uploading something that is super
personal to them and I’d be curious to see what happens in the future.
The graffiti taxonomy project that I have been doing involves a lot of
photos of graffiti. It is a visual studies based on characters, I am shooting
thousands of photos of graffiti and I don’t have an opportunity to meet
with all these writers to ask them if it is OK. So I get e-mails from writers
once in a while saying Hey, you used a photograph of one of my tags and
usually it is them feeling out where my intentions are and where I am
coming from.
It has taken a long time to gain the trust of the community I am working with. Usually when I am able to explain what I am doing and that
everything is released openly and meant to be completely free, so far at
least the people I have managed to talk toare OK with it and understand
it. Initially when people see something they’ve made being used by other
people, a lot of times it can be a point where a red flag is raised and I am
assuming there are more red flags going to go up.

If you upload a .gml file, can you insert a licence?

Not yet. Right now there is not even a ‘private mode’ on the
000000book site. If you upload, everything is public. There is a lot of
interesting issues with respect to the licence that I have been reluctant to
deal with yet. Once you start talking too much about it, you will scare
off people on either side of the fence. I think that will have to happen at
some point but for now I have decided to refer to it as an ‘open database’
and I hope that people will play nicely, like I said.


But just imagine, what kind of licence would you need?

It might make more sense to go for a media-related licence than for
a code licence. Creative Commons licences would lend themselves easily
for this. People could choose non-commercial or pure public domain.
Does that make sense?


Tying the story to data

Well, yes but if you look at the objects that people share, we’re much
closer to code than to a video file?



Functionally it is code. But would a graffiti writer know what GPL

I am interested in the apprentice-system you were talking about earlier.
Like a young writer learning from someone else they admire. The GML
notation of x-y-time might help someone to learn as well. But would you
ever really copy someone else’s tag?

One of the reasons I think graffiti writing has this history of apprenticeship is because you don’t really have a chance to learn otherwise. You
don’t turn on the TV and see someone else doing it. You only see how it
is being written if you see other people actually do it. That was one of the
original reasons I started doing graffiti research because, having met with
graffiti writers. I thought: it is a dance, it is as much about motion as
it is about how the final image is constructed. You can come to a much
better understanding about how it is made as opposed to just seeing a
photograph of it.


If you want to learn from the person writing, you would need to see
more than just the trace of a pen?

Someones tag might look completely different if they had six seconds
to make it, they make different decisions. In the first version of the
Graffiti Analysis project, I had one camera recorder tracking the pen and
another camera behind the hand and another so you could see the full
body. But there was something about tracking just the pen tip that I
liked. It is an easier point of entry for dealing with the motion data than
having three different video feeds.

Maybe it is more about metadata? Not a question of device or application, but about space for a comment.

Maybe in the keywords there will be something like: Rooftop.
Brooklyn. Arrested.
The most interesting part is often the stories that people tell afterward
anyway. So it is an interesting idea, how to tie the story to the data.
It is a design problem too. Historically graffiti has been documented
many times by outsiders. The movie Style Wars 10 is a good example of


Style Wars. Tony Silver, 1983.


Tying the story to data

this epic documentary that was made by outsiders that became insiders.
Also, the people that have been documenting most of the graffiti are not
necessarily graffiti writers.
Graffiti has a history with documentarians entering into their community and playing a role but sharing the stories is something writers do
internally, not as much to outsiders. How do you figure out a way to get
graffiti writers to document their stories into the .gml files themselves,
or is it going to take outsiders? How does the format facilitate that?

Do you think the availability of a project like GML can have an impact
on the way graffiti is learned? If data becomes available in a community
that operates traditionally through apprenticeships and person-to-person
sharing, what does it do?

I am interested in Open Source culture being influenced by graffiti,
and I am interested in Open Source culture influencing graffiti as well.
On a big picture I would love it if the graffiti community got interested
in these ideas and had more of a skill-sharing-knowledge-base.
KATSU 11 , someone I worked with in New York, has acquireda lot of
knowledge about how to make tools for graffiti and he initially wasn’t
so much into sharing them, because graffiti writers tend to save that
knowledge for themselves so that their tags are always bigger and better (laughs). Talking to him I think I convinced him to write tutorials on
how to make some of these tools. On the street art side there is Mark
Jenkins 12 , he has this technique of making 3D objects that exist within
the city and we had a lot of conversations too.
There are many ways tech circles and Open Source circles can come together with people that are making things outside, with their hands. I
think graffiti can learn from that. In the end people would be making
more things outside which would be a good thing.

In a way typography has a similar culture of apprenticeship. Some
people enjoy spreading knowledge, and others resist in the name of quality

Interesting. I think the work I am doing is such a tangent! In general,
for something that is decidedly against the rules, the culture of writing
graffiti often has a rigid structure. To people in that community what


Mark Jenkins tapesculptures


Tying the story to data

I do is a blip on their radar. I am honored when I get to meet graffiti
writers and they are interested in what I am doing but I don’t think it
will change anything in what is in some ways a very strict system.
And I don’t want that either. I like the fact that they found a way to make
spraypaint and markers change the way each city in the world looks. They
have the tools they need. Digital projectors will not change that. Graffiti
writers still like to see their names projected at big scales in new ways but
it is not something they really need (laughs).

And the other way around? How does graffiti have an influence on
Open Source communities?

For the people on the technology side, it is an easy jump. To think
about hacking software systems and than about making things outside.
I see that with the Free Art and Technology Group 13 that I help run.
When they start thinking about projects in the city, it takes little to come
up with great ideas. I also see that in the class I teach, Urban Hacking.
There is already a natural overlap.


What connects the two?

It is really about the idea of hacking. The first assignment in the
class is not to make anything, but simply to identify systems in the city.
What are elements that repeat. Trying to find which ones you can slip
into. It has been happening in graffiti forever. Graffiti in New York in
the eighties was to me a hack, a way to have giant paintings circulating in
the city ... There is a lot of room to explore there.

Your experience with the Blender community 14 did not sound like an
easy bridge?


Recently I released a piece of software that translates a .gml file and
translates it into a .stl file, which is a common 3D format. So you can
basically take a graffiti gesture and import it into software like Blender.
I used Blender because I wanted to highlight this tool, because I want
these communities to talk to each other.
So I was taking a tag that was created in the streets of Vienna and pulling
it into Blender and in the end I was exporting it to something that could


The Free Art and Technology (F.A.T.) Lab is an organization dedicated to enriching the
public domain through the research and development of creative technologies and media.
Release early, often and with rap music.
Blender is a free Open Source 3D content creation suite.


Tying the story to data

be 3D printed, to become something physical. The video that I posted intentionally showed online showed screenshots from Blender and it ended
up on one of the bigger community sites. I only saw it when my cousin,
who is a big Blender user, e-mailed me the thread. There is about a hundred dedicated Blender users discussing the legitimacy of graffiti in art
and how their tools are used 15 ; pretty interesting but also pretty conservative.

Why do you think the Blender community responded in that way?

It doesn’t surprise me that much. Graffiti is hard to accept, especially
when we are talking about tags. So the only reason we might be slightly
surprised by hearing people in the Open Source community react that
way, is because intellectual property doesn’t translate always to physical
property. Writing your name on someone’s door is something people universally don’t like. I understand. For me the connection makes sense but
just because you make Open Source doesn’t mean you’ll be interested in
graffiti or street art or vice versa. I think if I went to a Blender conference
and gave a talk where I explained sort of where I see these things overlap,
I could make a better case than the three minute video they reacted to.

What about Gesture Markup Language instead of Graffiti Markup

Essentially GML records x-y-time data. If you talk about what it
functionally does, it is probably more related to gesture than it is to graffiti. There is nothing at the core specifically related to graffiti. I am
interested in branding it in relation to graffiti and to get people to talk
about Open Source where it is traditionally not talked about. To me
that is interesting. It is a way to get people excited about open data, and
popularizing ideas about Open Source.


Would you be OK if it would get more popular in non-graffiti circles?

I am super excited when I see it used in bizarre places. I’ll keep using
it for graffiti, but someone e-mailed me that they were upset that it only
tracks one point. There hasn’t been a need to track multiple tags at once.
They wanted to use it to track juggling, but how to track multiple balls
in the air? I keep calling it Graffiti Markup Language because I think it
is a good story.



Tying the story to data


What’s the licence on GML?

We haven’t really entered into that. Why would you need a licence
on a file format?

It would prevent that anyone could own the standard.

That sounds good. Actually it would be interesting for the project, if
someone would try to licence it. Legal things matter, but for the things I
do, I am most of all interested in getting the idea across.

I am interested in the way GML stems from a specific practice. How
it is different and similar to large, legal, commercial, global standardization practices. Related, how can GML connect to other standard practices?
Could it be RDF compliant?



Gesture recognition to help out the police?

Or maps of places that are in need of some graffiti? How to link GML
to other types of data?

It is hard for me to imagine something. But one thing is interesting
for example, how GML is used in the EyeWriter project. It has not
so much to do with gesture, but more with how you would draft in a
computer. TEMPT is plotting points, so the time data might not be so
interesting but because it is in the same format, the community might
pick it up and do something with it. All the TEMPT data he writes with
his eyes and it is uploaded to the 000000book site automatically. That
allowed another artist called Benjamin Gaulon 16 who I now know, but
didn’t know at the time, to use it with his Print Ball project. He took the
tag data from a paralyzed graffiti writer in Los Angeles and painted it on
a wall in Dublin. Eye-movement translated into a paint-ball gun ... that
is the kind of collaboration that I hope GML can be the middle-point
for. If that happens, things can start to extrapolate on either end.

You talked about posting a wish-list and being surprised that your
wishes were fulfilled within weeks. Why do you think that a project like
EyeWriter, even if it interests a lot of people, has a hard time gathering
collaborators, while something much more general like GML seems to be
more compelling for people to contribute to?


Benjamin Gaulon, Print Ball


Tying the story to data

I’ll answer that in a second, but you reminded me of something
else: because EyeWriter was GML based, a lot of the collaborations
that happened with people outside of the project were GML related,
not EyeWriter related. So we did have artists like Ben and Golan take
data drawn by TEMPT and do completely different things which made
TEMPT a collaborator with them in a way. The software allowed him to
share his work in a format that allowed other people to work with him.
The wish-list came out of the fact that I was working on a graffiti related
project that had a lot of use but not a lot of innovation. Not so many
people were using it in ways I wasn’t expecting, which is something you
always hope of course. By saying: Here’s the things I really would like to
happen, things started to happen. I have been surprised how that drove
momentum. Something similar I hope will happen to the work we will
do together in the next months too!


What are you planning to do?

We are planning to make a dedicated community page for the graffiti
markup language which is one of the three points of the triangle. The
second step would be a new addition to the wish-list, a challenge with a
prize associated to it which seems funny. The project I’d like to concentrate on is making the data collection easier so that graffiti writers can be
more active in the upload sense. Taking the NASA development model:
Can you get into orbit on this budget?

How is that different from the way you record graffiti motion at the

If I go out with a graffiti writer, I’m stuck standing with a laptop and
a camera facing the wall and then the graffiti writer needs to have a really
bright light attached to the writing device which is a bit counter-intuitive
when you are trying to do something without being seen (laughs). It
could be infrared by the way, that could be the first step but then security
cameras would still pick it up. The design I am focusing momentum on is
a system that’s easier. A system that can work without me there, without
having to have a laptop there. The whole idea is that it would be a natural
way to get good data, to document graffiti without a red-head holding a
laptop following you around the whole time!


Tying the story to data

Paris, December 2010

How is it to be the sole jury member?

I tried to get another jury-member on there actually. Do you know
Limor Fried? She runs Adafruit Industries. 17 I really like her work. She
works with her partner Phil Torrone who runs Make Blog. 18 I invited
her to be the second jury-member because she makes Open Source hardware kits; this is her full-time thing. She is very smart and has a lot of
background in making DIY kits that people actually build. She is also
very straightforward and very busy, so she wrote back and said: this is
too much work. No.
So ... yeah, I am the only jury member. Hmmm.


Is the contest already over?

It is not over. It was easy to launch; I tried to coincide it with the
launch of the website and there were a couple of things going on at the
same time. The launch helped spread the word about this file format, and
people making projects, and vice versa.

Did you have any proposals that came close to meeting the challenge?
Did you consider giving out the prize?

There are a couple of people that got really close. The interesting thing
that is happening with the challenge is something that is also happening
to other high barrier projects: You end up speaking to the people you already work with the most. I have a hard time figuring out to some extent
what is really happening, but the things I hear, of people making progress,
is people that are close to me. It reminds me of the EyeWriter project
where people that are to dip their toes into this, are already in the friend
group, or one level removed. They are pretty high level programmers.
I didn’t really think that actual money would be such an incentive but
more that it would make the challenge feel serious, more in the sense
of an organization that has some kind of club behind it. If you solved
one of the design problems by the Mozilla community you could receive


Limor Fried, Adafruit Industries
Phillip Torrone, Makezine


Tying the story to data

kudo’s from the community, but if you solved one of my projects, you
don’t really get kudo’s from my community, do you?
Having the money associated makes it this big thing. At Ars Electronica
and so on, it got people talking about it and so it is out there. That
part worked. Beyond that it has been a bit hard to keep the momentum.
Friends and colleagues send me ideas and ask me to look at things, but
people I don’t know are hard to follow; I don’t think they are publishing
their progress. There is a hackerspace in Porto that has been working on
it, so I see on their blog and Twitter that they are having meetings about
this and are working on it.
Don’t you think having only one prize produces a kind of exclusivity? It
seems logical not to publish your notes?

ER Maybe. Kyle 19 has been thinking up ways to do it and I know he
wanted to use an optical mouse, and then this a friend Michael 20 has been
using sensors, and he ran into a software problem but had the hardware
problem more or less solved. And then Kyle, a software expert, has been
running into hardware problems and so I kind of introduced them to each
other over e-mail so I don’t know if they are working on it together.

Would you consider splitting the prize?

I don’t care, but I don’t know if the candidates would consider splitting the prize! I know Michael has already spent a lot of money because
he has been buying Arduinos and other hardware. He wants to make
a cheap version to solve the problem and then make another one that
costs 150 on top of the price limitation to make it easier to use. He is
spending a bunch of money so even if he wins, it is going to get him only
out of the hole and he will not have much left.
Actually, Golan 21 had an idea for an iPhone app that he wants to make
but I am not sure it solves it.


Why don’t you think his app will solve it?

He is really interested in making something where you do not need
to meet with the graffiti writer. His idea was that if you could take a
photo of it on the wall, and then with your finger you guide it for how it


Kyle McDonald
Michael Auger
Golan Levin


Tying the story to data

was written. It has an algorithm for image processing and that combined
with your best guess of how it was written would be backed out in motion
data. But it is faked data.

That it is really interesting!

Yes it is and I would love it if he would make it but I am not going to
let him win with it (laughs). I understand why he wants to do it; especially
if you are not inside the graffiti community, your only experience is what
you see on the wall and you don’t know who these people are and it is
going to be almost impossible to ever get data for those tags. If you don’t
have access to that community you are never going to get the tag of the
person that you really want. I like the idea that he is thinking about
getting some data from the wall as opposed to getting it from the hand.

Learning by copying. Nowhere near solving the challenge, but interesting. OSP 22 we were discussing about the way designers are invited into
Open Source Software by way of contest. Troy James Sobotka 23 got angry
and wrote: We want to be part of this community, we don’t want to compete
for it.

With the EyeWriter project, we were thinking a lot about that; how
to spur development. I think I would not have done a competition with
the EyeWriter. Making it fun, that is what makes it happen. If it would
be a really serious amount of money, with people scraping at each other,
fighting each other ...
For me, the fact that there is prize money makes something that is already
ridiculous in itself even more funny. To have prize money for such a small
community of people that are interested in coding and in graffiti. I’m not
seriously thinking that we can spur development with this kind of money.
To use the EyeWriter as an example, we’ve had money infusions from
awards mostly and we had to think about how we could use that money
to get from point A to point B. That’s also a project where we had very


OSP (Open Source Publishing) is a graphic design collective that uses only Free, Libre and
Open Source software.
The very notion of Libre / Free software holds cooperation and community with such high regard
you would think that we would be visionary leaders regarding the means and methods we use to
collaborate. We are not. We seem to suffer from a collision of unity with diversity. How can we
more greatly create a world of legitimate discussion regarding art, design, aesthetic, music, and other
such diverse fields when we are so stuck on how much more consistent a damn panel looks with tripe
22 pixel icons of a given flavour?


Tying the story to data

definable design goals of what we wanted to reach, especially between the
first version and where we are now with the second version.

How did that work?

We are not talking about a ton of money here, 10 to 20.000 , and
we tried to get as far as we could. We got almost no work done between
the meetings in LA but if we flew in, it was OK to take a week out of
our schedules and really hammer at it. We were trying to think how we
could do the same thing for people that we wanted to work with and who
we had met in conferences. So that is how we thought of spending that
The other way we use money in the EyeWriter project is that we buy
people kits. We know a few people that are interested in hacking on it
but they don’t have the hardware. Not that they are so expensive, but
Zach wants to buy twenty or thirty unpackaged kits and he has interns
working with him in New York helping to build them. So we have these
systems ready so as soon as someone wants to get hacking on it, we can
mail them a working system that they can just plug in and they don’t
have to waste their time ordering all these parts from all these websites
all over China. And when they are done, they just send it back.

You talked about some things in the challenge that worked and some
that didn’t.

I think the forum is the obvious thing that did not work. I have
friends working on OpenFrameworks, it is headed primarily by Zach and
Theo. When you see that forum, it is very involved. It is a deep system,
with many different libraries and lots of code flying around. GML is really
not large enough.
I think what makes sense for this project is when I post news about the
project, I see it ripple in Google Alerts. For people working on it, having
a place where these things show up is already a lot. The biggest success
is the project space, to see all the projects happening.


What happened on the site since we talked?

A project I like, is kml2gml 24 for example. It is done by a friend from
Tokyo. He was gathering GPS data riding his bike around various cities,
and building up a font based on his path. I like projects like this, where


Yamaguchi Takahiro


Tying the story to data

someone takes a work that is already done and just writes an application
to convert the data into another format. To see him riding his bike played
back in GML was really nice. It is super low barrier to entry, he already
did all the hard work. I like that there is now a system for piping very
different kinds of data through GML.

But it could also work the other way around?

Yeah. This is maybe a tangent but depending on how someone solves
the GML challenge ... I was discussing this with Mike (the person that is
developing the sensor based version). He was thinking that if you would
turn on his system, and leave it on for a whole night of graffiti writing,
you would have the gestural data plus the GPS data. You could make
a .gml file that is tracking you down the street, and zoom in when you
start making the tag. Also you would get much more information on
3D movement, like tilt and when the pen is picking up and going down.
Right now all I am getting is a 2D view through video data. I am really
keeping my fingers crossed. But he ran into trouble though.


Like what?

I have my doubts about using these kind of sensors, because ‘drift’ is
a problem. When you start using these sensors too long, it tends to move
a little bit. I think he is working within a 0.25 inch margin of error right
now, which is right on the edge. If you are recording someone doing a
big piece, this is not going to ruin my day too much but if you record a
little tag than it is a problem.
The other problem is that you need to orient the system before you start
tagging. It needs to know what is up and down, you have to define your
plane of access. I don’t really understand this 100% but he thinks he can
still fit it all within the ten second calibration requirement, he’s thinking
that each time you come to a wall, you tap once, you tap twice and tap a
third time to define what plane you are writing on and that calibrates the
3D space. Once you have that calibration done, you can start writing. It
is not as easy as attaching a motion sensor. The problem is hard.

So you need to touch the wall before writing on it, feeling out the
playing field before starting! It is like working on a tablet; to move from
actual movement to instruction; navigation blends into the action of drawing


I like that!


Tying the story to data


The guy using the iPhone did not use it as a sensor at all?

Theo was interested in using the iPhone to record motion data in
GML, but also to save the coordinates so you could try it into a Google
Earth or something but he had trouble with the sensitivity of the sensor.
Maybe it is better now but you needed to draw on a huge scale for one
letter. You could not record anything small.

But it could be nice if you could record with a device that is less conspicuous.

I know. I have just been experimenting with mounting cameras on
spray-cans. A tangent to GML, but related. It is not data, but video.

What do you think is the difference between recording video, and
recording data? You mentioned that you wanted to move away from documentation the image to capture movement. Video is somehow indirect

Video is annoying in that it is computationally expensive. In Brazil 25
I have been using the laptop but the data is not very precise.
Kyle thinks he might be able to back out GML data from videos. This
might solve the challenge, depending on how many cameras you need and
how expensive they are. But so far I have not heard back from him. He
said it needs three different cameras all looking at the wall. I mean: talk
about computationally expensive! He likes video-processing, he knows
some Open Source software that can look for similar things and knows
how to relate them. To me it seems more difficult than it needs to be

It is both overcomplicated and beautiful, trying to reverse engineer
movement from the image.

I am getting more into video myself. I get more enjoyment from capturing the data than from the projections, like what most people associate
with my work.


Why is it so much more interesting to capture, rather than to project?

In part because it stays new, I’ve been doing those projections for a
while now and I know what happens at these events. For a while it was
very new, we just did it with friends, to project on the Brooklyn bridge


Graffiti Analysis: Belo Horizonte, Brazil 2010


Tying the story to data

for example. Now it has turned into these events where everyone knows
in advance, instead of just showing up at at a certain time ate a set corner.
It has lost a lot of its magic and power.
Michele and I have done so many of these projections and we sort of
know what to expect from it, what questions people will ask. When I
meet with graffiti writers, that almost always feels new to me. When we
went to Brazil, we intentionally tried to not project anything but to spend
as much time as possible with writers. Going out with graffiti writers to
me always feels right.

FS Is the documentation an excuse to be taken along, or is the act of
documenting itself interesting to you?

To me documentation is interesting. I don’t know where all of this
is going right now, I am just trying to get the footage; I put these pieces
together showing all this movement but I don’t really know what the final
project is. It is more about collecting data so I am interested in having
video, audio and GML that can be synced up, and the sound from these
microphones is something to do something with later. This is research
for me. I like the idea of having all this data related to a 10 second gesture.
I am thinking that in the future we can do interesting things with it. I
am even thinking about how the audio could be used as a signal to tell
you what is drawing and what is not drawing. It is a really analog way of
doing it, but in that way you don’t need a button where you are getting
true and false statements for what is drawing and what is not drawing;
you can just tell by the sound:
tfffpt ... tfffpt.


You can hear the space, and also the surface.

I got started doing this because I love graffiti and this is a way to
get closer to it again. Like getting back out to the streets and having
very personal relationships to the graffiti writers and talking to them,
and having them give feedback. I think that is how the whole challenge
started. It didn’t start because I was projecting, but because I was out on
the street and testing the capture, having graffiti writers nearby when it
is happening. It feels like things are progressing that way.

Are you thinking of other ways of capturing? You talk about capturing
movement, but do you also archive other elements? Do you take notes,
pictures? What happens to the conversations you are having?


Tying the story to data

I have been missing out on that piece. It is a small amount of time
we have, and I am already trying to get so much. I am setting up a
camera that shoots straight video from a tripod, I am capturing from the
laptop and I am also screencasting the application, my head is spinning.
One reason I screwed up this footage in the beginning is because with all
these things going on I forget to turn on some things. Maybe someone
will solve this challenge.


Are you actually an embedded anthropologist?

In the back of my head I am thinking this will become a longer documentary. I like to experiment with documentation, whether that is in
code or with video. I do think that there is this interesting connection
between documentation and graffiti and how these two things overlap.
I am always thinking about documentation. The graffiti writer that was
in Vienna 26 showed me a video that was amazing. It was him and a
friend going out on a sunny day at 15:30 in the afternoon with two head
mounted cameras, bombing an entire train and you hear the birds singing
and you only experience it by these two videos that are linked. There are
interesting constraints: your hands are already full, you don’t want peoples’ faces on camera so the head-mounted cameras were smart. Unless
you walk in front of a mirror (laughs).


Is it related to the dream of ‘self documenting code’?

I like that. Even doing the challenge is in a way a reflection on this,
how I am fighting to get GML back to the streets somehow, it has a
natural tendency to get closer to the browser, to the screen, and my job
is to get it back to the street. It is so sexy and fun and flashy and that is
important too. My job is to keep the graffiti influence on it as large as the
other part.


Is any of this reflected in the standard itself?

I haven’t looked at the standard for a while now.

I was thinking again about live coding and notation. Simon Yuill 27
describes notation as a shared space that allows collaboration but also defines
the end of a collaboration.


Simon Yuill. All problems of notation will be solved by the masses. Mute Magazine, 2008


Tying the story to data

Maybe using an XML-like structure was a bad idea? Maybe if I had
started with a less code-based set of rules? If the files were raw video,
it would encourage people to go outside more often? By picking XML
I am defining where the thing heads in a way. I think I am OK in the
role of fighting that tendency. It is not just a problem in GML but with a
lot of work I have been doing with graffiti and technology and even way
back with Graffiti Analysis, before GRL (Graffiti Research Lab), the idea
was always to keep the research very close to the people doing graffiti. I
was intentionally working with people bombing a lot and not with graffiti
celebrities. I wanted to work with who’s tag was on my mailbox, who’s
tag do I see a million times when I walk down the street. Since then
a lot has happened, like with more popular projects such as L.A.S.E.R.
Tag, and it goes almost always further away from graffiti. Maybe that is
a function of technology. Technology, or the way it is now, will always
drift towards entertainment uses, commercial uses.

Do you think a standard can be subversive? You chose XML because it
is accessible to amateur programmers. But it is also a very formal standard,
and so the interface between graffiti writers and hackers is written in the
language of bureaucracy.

ER (laughs) I thought that there was something funny with that. People
that know XML and the web, they get the joke that something so rigid
and standardized is connected to writing your name on the wall. But to
be honest, it was really just a pragmatic choice.

It reminds me of an interview 28 with François Chastanet who wrote a
book 29 about tagging in Los Angeles. He explains that the Gothic lettering
is inspired by administrative papers!

I am wondering whether you’re thinking about the standard itself as
a space for hacking?

Graffiti is somehow coded in-itself. Do you mean it would be interesting
to think how GML could be coded in a way for graffiti writers, not for
There would be more space for that when more people start to program at
a younger age? When it is more common knowledge. If I would start to do


Interview with François Chastanet
François Chastanet, Cholo writing: Latino gang graffiti in Los Angeles. Dokument, 2009


Tying the story to data

that now, I would quickly lose my small user-base. I love that idea though;
the way XML is programmed fits very much to the way you program for the
web. But what if it was playing more with language, starting from graffiti
which is very coded?
When I was in college, I was always thinking about how to visualize
motion in print. I was looking for ways people had developed languages
for different ways of writing.

Maybe you could look at the Chinese methods for teaching writing,
because the order of the strokes is really important. If you make the stroke
from bottom to top, and not from top to bottom, it is wrong.

A friend in Hong Kong, MC Yan, loves the Graffiti Analysis project
because it shows the order in which he is writing and he likes to play
with that. So he writes words in different order than people are used to
and so it changes the meaning. People can not only watch the final result,
but also the order which is an interesting part of the writing process. The
brush, the angle, direction: depicting motion!
In the beginning of the Graffiti Analysis Research project I was very
against projection, because I felt that was totally against the idea of graffiti. I was presenting all of these print ideas and the output would be
pasted back into the city because I was against making an impermanent
representation of the data. In the end Zach said, you are just fighting this
because you have a motion project and you want to project motion and
then I said alright, I’ll do a test. And the tests were so exciting that I felt
OK with it.

In what way does GML bridge the gap between digital drawing and
hand writing? Could you see a sort of computer-aided graffiti? Could you
see computation enter graffiti?

Yeah. When you are in a controlled environment, in a studio, it is
easy but the outdoors part always trips me up. That is why the design
constraints get interesting, playing in real time with what someone is
writing. I think graffiti writers would be into that too. How to develop
a style that is unique enough to stand out in an existing canon is already
hard enough. This could give someone an edge.

I think the next challenge I’d like to run is about recreating the data
outside. I’ve been thinking about these helicopters with embedded wireless


Tying the story to data

camera’s, have you seen them? The obvious thing to me would be uploading
a .gml file to one of these helicopters that is dripping paint on a rooftop.
Scale is so important, so going bigger is always going to be better.
Gigantic rooftop tags could be a way to tie it back to the city, give it a
reason? I am thinking of ways to get an edge back to the project. The
GML-challenge is already a step into that direction; it is not about the
prettiest screensaver. To ask people to design something that is tying back
to what graffiti is, which is in a way a crime.
I think fixing the data capture is the right place to start, the next one could
be about making marks in the city. Like: the first person to recreate this
GML-tag on the roof of this building, that would be fun. The first person
that could put this ‘Hello World’ tag onto the Brooklyn bridge and get a
photo of it gets the prize. That would get us back to the question of how
we leave marks on the surface of the city.
When you capture data of an individual writer in a certain standard,
it ends up as typography?

That’s another trend that happens when designers look at graffiti, and
I’ve fallen into this too sometimes, you want to be able to make fonts out of
it. People have done this actually; there’s a project in New York where they
met with pretty influential graffiti writers and asked them to write in boxes,
the whole alphabet, and I think there’s something interesting there.
The alphabet that you saw the robot write was drawn by TEMPT with the
EyeWriter and what he did was a little bit smarter than other attempts by
graffiti writers to make fonts. He intentionally picked a specific style, the
Cholo style, and the format is very tall, vertically oriented, angled. That
style is less about letter connections and pen-flow. What graffiti has developed into, and especially tags, is very much about how it is written and
the order of the letters. When TEMPT picked this style he made a smart
decision that a lot of people miss when you make a font, you miss all the
motions and the connections.

What if a programmer could put this data in a font, and generate
alternating connections?

ER That kind of stuff is interesting. It would help graffiti writers to design
tags maybe?
To get my feet wet, I designed a tag once, and it was so not-fun to write!
I was thinking about a tag that would look different and that would fit


Tying the story to data

into corners, I was interested in designing something that wasn’t curved;
that would fit the angles of the city, hard edges. So I had forgotten all
my research about drafting and writing. I think I stopped writing in part
because the tag I picked wasn’t fun o write. For a font to work like writing,
it is not just about possible connections between lines. You’d need another
level in the algorithm, the way the hand likes to move.
It would be a good algorithm to dream up. It was beautiful to see a
robot write TEMPT’s letters by the way.

When TEMPT saw the robot writing for the first time, his reaction was
all about the order of how the letters were constructed. The order is I think
defined by the way he dropped the points in with the EyeWriter software.
When he was writing with his eyes, he ended up writing in the same way
as he would have written with his hands. When he saw the video with the
robot, it freaked him out because he was like: That’s how my hand moved
when I did that tag!


Tying the story to data

The Graffiti Markup Field Recorder

An easily reproducible DIY device that can unobtrusively record graffiti motion data during a graffiti writer’s normal practice in the city. 30
Project Description and Design Requirements:

The GML Field Recorder Challenge is a DIY hardware and software solution for unobtrusively recording graffiti motion data during a graffiti writer’s
normal practice in the city. The winning project will be an easy to follow
instruction set that can be reproduced by graffiti writers and amateur technologists. The goal is to create a device that will document a night of graffiti
bombing into an easily retrievable series of Graffiti Markup Language (.gml)
files while not interfering with the normal process of writing graffiti. The
solution should be easy to produce, lightweight, cheap, secure, and require
little to no setup and calibration. The winning design solution will include
the following requirements listed below:
Material costs for the field device must not exceed 300

300 even felt expensive to me. How can this be a tool that is really
accessible? If it goes over a certain price point, it is not the kind of thing
that people can afford to make. It is a very small community, a lot of the
people that are going to have enough interest to build this are not going
to have a background in engineering, and are probably not even a part of
the maker scene that we know. The audience here might not be people
that are hanging out on Instructables. I wanted to make sure that the
price point meant that people could comfortably take a gamble to make
something for the first time. But I also did not want to make it so small
that the design would be impossible.



GML-recorder challenge as published on:



Tying the story to data

Computers and equipment outside of the 300

can be used

for non-field activities (such as downloading and manipulating data captured in-field), but at the time of
capture a graffiti writer should have no more than 300
worth of equipment on him or herself.

I was trying to think of how the challenge could be gamed ... I did not
want to get into a situation where we were getting stressed out because some
smart hacker found a hole in the brief, and bought a next generation iPhone
that somehow just worked. I didn’t want to force people to buy expensive
equipment. This line was more about covering our own ass.

The graffiti writer must be able to activate the recording function alone (i.e., without assistance from anyone else).

Are you going to be out of work soon?

Thinking selfishly, I screw up on documentation a lot because I have
too many hats. When I’m going out doing this, I am carrying a laptop, a
calibration set up, I also have one video-camera on me that is just documenting, I have another one on a tripod, and I am usually screen capturing
the software as it processes the video-footage because it tells another story.
I screw up because I forget to hit stop or record. If the data-capture just
works, I can go have fun getting good video-footage.

What if it had to be operated by more than one person? It is nice
how the documentation now turns the act of writing into a performancefor-one.

If you record alone, the data becomes more interesting and mysterious,
right? I mean, no one else has seen it. Something captured very privately,
than gets potentially shared publicly and turned into things that are very
different. I also thought: you don’t want to be dependent on someone else.
It is a lot to ask, especially if you are doing something illegal.


Tying the story to data

Any setup and/or calibration should be limited to 10
seconds or less.

This came out of me dealing with the current system. It feels wrong
that it takes ten to fifteen minutes to get it running. Graffiti is not meant
to be that way. This speaks to the problem of the documentation infringing on the writing process, which ideally wouldn’t happen. The longer
the set-up takes, the more it is going to influence the actual writing. It is
supposed to be a fly on the wall.


Does it scale? Does a larger piece allow longer callibration -time?

That’s true. But I think this challenge is really about recording tags.

All hardware should be able to be easily concealed within
a coat with large pockets.

A hack to get around that would have been to design a jacket with ten
gallon pockets!
I put it there again, to make the device not be intrusive. A big part of graffiti
writing is about gaining entry and you limit where you can go depending on
how much equipment you have. How bulky it is, what walls you can get up,
what holes you can get through.

The winning solution should be discrete and not draw
any added attention to the act of graffiti writing.
ER It’s part of the same issue, but this one also came out from me going
out and trying to capture with a system where it requires you to attach
a flashlight to a graffiti implement. I didn’t want anyone solving the
problem and then, Step one is: ‘Attach a police siren to a spraypaint can’


Tying the story to data

The resulting solution should be able to record at least
10 unique GML tags of approximately 10 seconds each in
length in one session without the need for connecting
to or using additional equipment.

I wasn’t thinking this was going to be an issue in terms of memorystorage, but maybe in terms of memory management. I did not want the
graffiti writer to behave as if he was on vacation with a camera that could take
only three photos. I wanted to make sure they were not making decisions
on what they were writing based and how much memory they had.

All data recorded using the field recorder should be
saved in a secure and non-incriminating fashion.

(laughs) If I had to do that one again, I would have put that in Bonus
category actually. That’s a difficult question to ask. What does secure
mean? It seems a bit unfair, because it doesn’t fit in to the way graffiti is
currently documented. There’s not a lot of graffiti writers that currently
are shooting encrypted photos and videos, right?
But whatever bizarre format comes out from the sensor will help. I don’t
think that the NYPD will have time or make the effort to parse it. They’d
just have a file with a bunch of numbers. Time stamped GPS coordinates
would be more dangerous.


What would count as proof?

In most cases it is hard to convict someone on the basis of a photo
of a tag that you would tie to another tag. For good reasons, because if it
is a crew name for example, all of a sudden you are pinning one tag on a
person that could have been written by twenty people. This came up in
a trial in DC when an artist named BORF got arrested. He had written
his name everywhere, completely crushed DC and his trial was a big deal.
This issue came up and they argued that BORF was a collective, not an
individual. Who knows if that’s true, there were a lot of people around
him, but how do you really know?


GML could help balance the load?

You mean it would not be just the image of a tag but more like signing
at the bank?


Tying the story to data

I mean that if you copy and distribute your data, the chance is small
that you can link it to an individual.

The winning design will have some protection in the event
that the device falls into the wrong hands.

This again should probably have been a bonus item. Wouldn’t it be
awesome if you could go home and log in and flip a one to a zero and the
evidence goes up in smoke?
One graffiti writer friend told me: If the police comes, just smash the camera
as hard as you can! It’s a silly idea, but it shows that they are thinking
about it.


Edible SD cards?

That would be a good idea!

Data should be able to be captured from both spray cans
and markers.


Are you prepared for tools that do not exist yet?

That was kind of what I was thinking there. Markers are about direct
contact, spraypaint is in free space. If it works in those two situations, you
should theoretically be able to tie it to anything, even outside of graffiti. If
it was too much about spraypaint, it would be harder for someone to strap
it to a skateboard.


Tying the story to data

System should be able to record writing on various surfaces and materials.

It is something you can easily forget about. When you are developing
something in the studio and it works well against a white wall, and than
when you go out in the city than you realize that brick is a really weird
surface. Or even writing on glass, or on metal or on other reflecting
surfaces that could screw up your reading. It is there as a reminder for
people that are not thinking about graffiti that much. The street and the
studio are so different.

Data should be captured at 30 points per second minimum.

I was assuming that lots of people were going to use cameras, and
I wanted to make sure they were taking enough data points. With other
capturing methods it is probably not such a problem. Even at 30 points per
seconds you can start to see the facets if you zoom in, so anything less is not

The recording system should not interfere with the writer s
movements in anyway (including writing, running and climbing).

So this is where Muharrem is going to run into trouble. His solution
interferes. Not that much if you are just working in front of your body
space. But the way most writers write is that they are shuffling their feet
a lot, moving down the wall. Should it have said: Graffiti writer should
retain access to feet functionality? This point should be at the top almost.

To me it feels strange, your emphasis on the tool blending into the
background. You could also see Muharrem’s solution as an enhancing device,
turning the writer into a tapdancer?

I want to have on record: I love his solution! There’s a lot in his
design that is ‘making us more aware’ of what’s happening in the creation
of a tag. One thing that he is doing that is not in the specs, is that he is


Tying the story to data

logging strokes, like up and down. When you watch him using it, you
can see a little light going from red to green when the fingers goes on
and off the spraypaint can. When you watch graffiti, it is too small of a
movement to even notice but when you are seeing that, it adds another
level of understanding of how they are writing.

All motion data should be saved using the current GML
standard 31 .


All aspects of the winning design should be able to be
reproduced by graffiti writers and amateur technologists.

It wouldn’t be exciting if only ten people can make this thing. This
tool should not be just for people that can make NASA qualified soldering
connections. Ideally it should not have any soldering. I always thought of
a soldering iron like a huge barrier point. I’m all for duct-taped electrical


There’s nothing about weather-resistant in the challenge. You’re not
thinking about rain, are you?

A lot of paint stops working in rain too.
I think what you get from this brief though is that the whole impetus for
this project is about me trying to steer the ship that clearly wants to go
into another direction, back to my interest in what graffiti is rather than
anything that people might find aesthetically pleasing. It is not about
‘graffiti influenced visuals’.



Tying the story to data

All software must be released Open Source.

All hard-

ware must include clear DIY instructions/tutorials.


media must be released under an Open Content licence that
promotes collaboration (such as a Free Art License or
Creative Commons ShareAlike License).

I didn’t want it to be too specific, but there had to be some effort into
making it open.

The recording must be an unobtrusive process, allowing the graffiti writer to concentrate solely on the act
of writing (not on recording).

The act of recording should

not interfere with the act of graffiti writing.

I’ve been through situations where the process gets so confusing that
you can’t keep your head straight and juggle all the variables. Your eyes
and ears are supposed to tell you about who’s coming around the corner.
Is there traffic coming or a train? There are so many other things you
need to pay attention to rather than: Is this button on?
The whole project is about getting good data. As soon as you force people
to think too much about the capture process, I think it influences when
and how they are writing.

Bonus, but not required:

Inclusion of date, time and location saved in the .gml

Yes. Security-wise that is questionable, but the nerd in me would just
love it. You could get really interesting data about a whole night of writing.
You could see a bigger story than just that of a single tag. How long did it
take to gain entry? How long were they hiding in the bushes? These things
get back to graffiti as a performance art rather than a form of visual art.


Tying the story to data

Paris, November 2011
Last time we had contact we discussed how to invite Muharrem to
Brussels 32 . But now on the day of the deadline, it seems there are new

ER I think in terms of the actual challenge, the main update is that since
we extended the deadline and made another call, I got an e-mail right on
the deadline today from Joshua Noble 33 with a very solid and pretty smart
proposal that seems to solve (maybe unfortunately for Muharrem) a bit
more of the design spec. It does it for cheaper and does it in a way that I
think is going to be easier to make also.
His design solution is using an optical mouse and he changed the sensors
so it has a stronger LED. He uses a modified lens on top of a plastic lens
that comes on top of a mouse, so that it can look at a surface that is a set
distance away. It has another sensor that looks at pitch, tilt and orientation,
but he is using that only to orient, the actual data gets recorded through the
mouse. It can get very high resolution, he is looking at up to a millimeter I

Muharrem’s solution seems less precise?

I think he gets away with more because his solution is only for spraypaint
and once you are writing on that scale, even if you are off a few centimeters,
it might not ruin the data. If you look at the data he is getting, it actually
looks very good. I don’t think he has any numbers on the actual resolution
he is getting but if you were using his system with a pen, I think it would
be a different case. I like a lot of his solution too, it is an interesting hack.
It is funny that two of the candidates for the prize are both mouse hacks.
One is hacking a mechanical mouse and the other an optical mouse.


It goes from drawing on a screen, to drawing on a wall?
And back again!

Yes. When I first was working on graffiti related software, the whole
reason I was building Graffiti Analysis as a capture application was beER



By early October 2011 no winning design-solution had been entered, besides a proposal from
Muharem Yildirim that came more than halfway. We decided to use the prize money to fly
Muharrem from Phoenix (US) to Brussels (BE) and document his project in a worksession as
part of the Verbindingen/Jonctions 13 meetingdays.
Joshua Noble


Tying the story to data

cause I did not want to hand graffiti writers a mouse (laughter). I had
done all this research into graffiti and started to be embedded in the
community and I knew enough about the community that if you were
going to ask them to take part in something that was already weird, you
could not give them a mouse and expect any respect on the other end
of that conversation. They respect their tools, so the reason I was using camera-input was because I wanted to have a flexible system where
they could bring in anything and I could attach a device to it. Now I am
coming back to mice finally.
Now the deadline has passed, do you think the passage from wishlist to
contest worked out?

I think it was a good experiment, I am not sure how clever it was. To
take a piece of culture that a lot of people don’t even look at, or look at
it and think it is trash, to invest all this time and research and software
expertise into it makes people think about the graffiti practice and what
it actually is. The cash prize does something similar. It attaches weight
to something that most people don’t even care about. Even having the
name of an organization like Constant attached to it is showing that I am
really serious about this. In that sense it is different than a wishlist.
I just read the Linus Torvalds 34 biography, and I liked his idea that ‘fun’
is part of innovation, right? In a programming sense, it is scratching a
personal itch. The attachment of a prize is more to underline the fun
aspect than anything else.

I am still puzzled about GML and how it is at the one hand stimulating
collaboration and sharing, and than it comes back to the proud individual
that wants to show off. It is kind of funny actually that now two people are
winning the prize.


I understand what you mean.

Also in F/LOSS, under the flag of ‘Open’ and ‘Free’ there is a lot of
competition. Do you feel that kind of tension in your work?

Even ‘Open’ and ‘Free’ are in competition!
In a project like White-Glove Tracking for example, the most popular
video I had not made and it did not have my name on it but personally I


Torvalds, Linus; David Diamond (2001). Just For Fun: The Story of an Accidental
Revolutionary. New York, New York, United States: HarperCollins.


Tying the story to data

still felt a part of it. I think when you are working in open systems, you
take pride when a project has wings. It is maybe even a selfish act. It is
the story of me receiving some art-finding and realizing that I am not the
best toolmaker for the job. Who ever manages to win the prize gets all
the glory, but I’m still going to feel awesome about it.

I have been reading the interview that Kyle McDonald did with Anton
Marini 35 and at some point he talks about being OK with sharing code and
libraries, but when it is too much of a personal style, then it is hard to share.

Yes, I thought that was an interesting point. I’ve been in similar conversations on listservs with artists in the OpenFrameworks, Processing
and visual programming communities. What are the open pieces? It
makes sense to share libraries, but if I make a print from a piece of code,
do I then have to share the exact source and app for how that exact print
was made? What does it mean when I am investing money in a print, and
it is a limited series but I’m sharing the code? The art world is still based
on scarcity and we’re interested in computers that are copy-machines.
I see both sides of the argument and I am still trying to see how I fit
into it. It gets trickier when you are asked to release a piece rather than
a tool. If you are an Open Source artist and you make a toolset, that is
easier to share because people use that to make their own things. But
then an artist gets asked: how come I can’t get the file of that print? I
think that is a really hard question.


But isn’t the tool often the piece, and vice versa?

I agree. And I haven’t solved that question yet. Lately I’ve been a lot
less excited about running workshops for example. A lot of the people
that want to take part in the workshops are actually the opposition. Often
they own a club and they want to install a cool light-show or they are into
viral marketing. I never know which way to go with that. It depends on
what side of the curve of frustration I am on at that moment.

Earlier you brought up the contrast between people that were more
visually invested and others that are more interested in the performance
aspect. I wanted to hear a bit more about the continuum in the culture and
how GML fits into that?


Anton Marini: Some personal projects of mine, for example specific effects and ‘looks’ that I have a
personal attachment to, I don’t release


Tying the story to data

My focus has been on tags, this one portion of graffiti. I do think
there could be cool uses for more involved pieces. It would be great if
someone else would come in and do that, because it is a part of graffiti that
I haven’t studied that much. I would not even be able to write a specssheet for it; it requires a lot of different things when you paint these
super-involved murals, when you have an hour or more time on your
hands a lot more things come into play. Color, nozzles, nozzle changes
and so on.


Z-axis becomes important?

Yes, and your distance from the wall, a lot of other things my brain
isn’t wrestling with. I think tags are always fundamental, even if they are
painting murals that take three days to paint, somewhere in their graffiti
education they start with the tags. You’re still going to be judged by the
community based on how you sign your name on the blackbook.
Graffiti is funny because it is almost conservative in terms of how a successful graffiti writer is viewed and it is reflected in how graffiti is in
some way similar in the world. In some way it is a let down, to travel
from Brooklyn to Paris to Brussels and it looks all the same but I think it
stems from the fact that the community is so tight-knit. But at the end
of the day it comes back to the tag always.
In terms of the performance, in a tag the relationship between form and
function is really tight. The way your hand moves and how the tag actually looks on the wall is dictated by the gesture you are making. A piece
where you have three hours, that tight synchronization isn’t there. With
a tag, every letter looks the way it does because that’s how it needs to be
drawn, because it needs to be connected to this other letter. There’s a
lot of respect for writers that do oneliners, and even if your tag has more
than one line, a good graffiti writer has often a one line version. If you
don’t have to pick up the pen it is a really economical stroke.


It is almost like hacking the limitations of gesture.

It is a very specific design requirement. How to write a name that is
interesting to think about and to look at, you have to do it in 5 seconds,
you have to do it in one line, you have to do it on each type of surface.
On top of that, you have to do it a million times, for twenty years.

In Seattle they call a piece that stays up for a longer time a ‘burner’. I
was connecting that to an archival practice of ephemera. It is a self-agreed


Tying the story to data

upon archival process, and it means that the piece will not be touched, even
for years.

ER Graffiti has an interesting relationship to archiving. On the one hand,
many graffiti writers think: Now that tag’s done, but I’ve got another
million of them. While others do not want people painting over them,
the city or other graffiti writers. Also if a tag has been up there for a few
years, it acquires more reverence and it is even worse when it is painted
But I think that GML is different, it is really more similar to a photo of
the tag. It is not trying to be the actual thing.

Once a tag is saved in GML, what can be done with the data?

I am myself reluctant to take any of these tags that I’ve collected and
do anything with it at all without talking closely to whoever’s tag it is,
because it is such an intimate thing. In that sense it is strange to have
an open data repository and to be so reluctant to use it in a way that is
looking at anyone too specifically.
The sculpture I’ve been working on is an average from a workshop; sixteen different graffiti writers merged into one. I don’t want to take advantage of any one writer. But this has nothing to do with the licence,
it is totally a different topic. If someone uploads to the 000000book site,
legally anyone should be able to do anything that they can do under the
Creative Commons licence that’s on the site but I think socially within
the community, it is a huge thing.

There must be some social limits to referentiality. Like beat jacking for
DJs or biting rhymes for MCs, there must be a moment where you are not
just homaging, but stealing a style.

I’ve seen cases where both parties have been happy, like when Yamaguchi
Takahiro used some GML data from KATSU and piped it into Google
Maps, so he was showing these big KATSU tags all over the earth which
was a nice web-based implementation. I think he was doing what a graffiti writer does naturally: Get out there and make the tag bigger but in
different ways. He is not taking KATSU-data from the database without
shining light back on him.

GML seems very inspired by the practice of Free Software, but at the
same time it reiterates the conventional hierarchies of who are supposed to


Tying the story to data

use what ... in which way ... from who. For me the excitement with open
licences is that you can do things without asking permission. So, usage
can develop even if it is not already prescribed by the culture. How would
someone like me, pretty far removed from graffiti culture ever know what I
am entitled to do?

I have my reasons for which I would and would not use certain pieces
of data in certain contexts, but I like the fact that it is open for people
that might use it for other things, even if I would not push some of those
boundaries myself.

Even when I am sometimes disappointed by the actual closedness of
F/LOSS, at least in theory through its licensing and refusal to limit who is
entitled and who’s not, it is a liberating force. It seems GML is only half

I agree. I think the lack of that is related to the data. The looseness of
its licence makes it less of an invitation in a sense. If the people that put
data up there would sit down and really talk about what this means, when
they would really walk through all the implications of what it means to
public domain a piece, that would be great. I would love that. Then you
could use it without having to worry about all the morality issues and
people’s feelings. It would be more free.
I think it would be good to do a workshop with graffiti writers where
beyond capturing data, you reserve an hour after the workshop to talk to
everybody about what it would mean to add an open licence. I’ve done
workshops with graffiti writers and I talked to everyone: Look, I am
going to upload this tag up to this place where everyone can download them
after the workshop, cool? And they go cool. But still, even then, do I really
feel comfortable that they understand what they’ve gotten into? Even if
someone has chosen a ShareAlike licence, I would be nervous I think.
Maybe I am putting too much weight on it. People outside Free Software
are already used to attaching Creative Commons licences to their videos.
Maybe I am too close to graffiti. I still hold the tag as primal!

It is interesting to be worried about copyright on something that is
illegal, things you can not publicly claim ownership of.

Would you agree that standards are a normalizing practice, that in a
way GML is part of a legalizing process?


Tying the story to data

For that to happen, a larger community would have to get involved. It
would need to be Gesture Markup Language, and a community other than
graffiti writers would need to get involved.


Would you be interested in legalizing graffiti?
No. That’s why I stopped doing projections.

Not legal forms of graffiti, but more like the vision of KRS-One of
the Hip Hop city, 36 where graffiti would obviously be legal. Does that
fundamentally change the nature of graffiti?

To me it is just not graffiti anymore. It is just painting. It changes what
it is. For me, its power stems from it being illegal. The motion happens
because it is illegal.

In a sense, but there is also the calligraphic aspect of it. In Brooklyn,
a lot of the building owners say: yeah, throw it up and those are some
of the craziest pieces I know of, not from a tag-standpoint, but more as
complex graffiti visuals.

I am always for de-criminalization. I don’t think anyone should go to
jail over a piece of paint that you could cover over in 5 seconds. And that
KRS-One city you mentioned would be cool to see.

It is his Temple of Hip Hop, the idea to build a city of Hip Hop
where the entire culture can be there without any external repression.
It’s an utopian ideal obviously.

Of course I would like to see that. If nothing else, you would totally
level the playing field between us and the advertisers. The only ones that
would get up messages in the city would be the ones with more time on
their hands.

At the risk of stretching coherency, Hip Hop and Free Software
are both global insurgent subcultures that have emerged from being kind
of thrown away as fads and then become objects of pondering in multinational boardrooms. So I was hoping to open you up to riff on that:
zooming out, GML is a handshake point between these two cultures, but
GML is a specific thing within this larger world of F/LOSS and graffiti


KRS-One Master Teacher. AN INTRODUCTION TO HIP HOP .!temple-of-hip-hop/c177q


Tying the story to data

in the larger world of hiphop. What other types of contact points might
there be? Do you see any similarities and differences?

For me, even beyond technology and beyond graffiti it all boils down to
this idea of the hack that is really a phenomenon that has been going on
forever. It’s taking this system that has some sort of rigidity and repeating
elements and flipping it into doing something else. I see this in Hip Hop,
of course. The whole idea of sampling, the whole idea of turning a playback
device into a musical instrument, the idea of touching the record: all of
these things are hacks. We could go into a million examples of how graffiti
is like hacker culture.
In terms of that handshake moment between the two communities, I think
that is about realizing that its not about the code and in some sense its not
about the spraypaint. There’s this empowering idea of individual small actors
assuming control over systems that are bigger than themselves. To me, that’s
the connection point, whether its Hip Hop or rap or programming.
The similarities are there. I think there are huge differences in those communities too. One of them is this idea of the hustler from Hip Hop: the
idea of hustling doesn’t have anything to do with the economy of giftgiving. The idea that Jay-Z has popularized in Hip Hop and that rap music
and graffiti have at their core has to do with work ethic, but there’s also a
kind of braggadocio about making it yourself and attaining value yourself
and it definitely comes back to making money in the end. The idea of being
‘self-made’ in a way is empowering but I think that in the Open Source
movement or the Free Software movement the idea of hustling does not apply. It’s not that people don’t hustle on a day to day basis. You disagree with

It’s interesting because the more you were talking, the more I was
not sure of whether you were speaking about Hip Hop or Free Software
or maybe even more specifically the Open Source kind of ideological development. You have people like David Hannemeier Hansson who developed Ruby on Rails and basically co-opted an entire programming
language to the point where you can’t mention Ruby without people
thinking of his framework. He’s a hustler du jour: this guy’s been in
Linux Journal in a fold-out spread of him posing with a Lamborghini or
something. Talk about braggadocio! You get into certain levels or certain
dynamics within the community where its really like pissing contests.


Tying the story to data

I like that, I think there’s something there. At the instigation of the
Open Source Initiative, though: like Linus ‘pre-stock option’, sitting in his
bedroom not seeing the sun for a year and hacking and nerding out. To me
they are so different, the idea of making this thing just for fun with a kind
of optimistic view on collaboration and sharing. I know it can turn into
money, I know it can turn into fame, I know it can turn into Lamborghinis
but I feel like where its coming from is different.

I agree, that’s clearly a distinction between the two. They are not
coming from the same thing. But for me its also interesting to think
about it in terms that these are both sort of movements that have at times
been given liberational trappings, people have assigned liberatory powers
to these movements. Statistically the GPL is considerably more popular
than the Open Source licences, but I don’t know if you sat everybody
down and took a poll which side they would land on, whether they were
more about making money than they were about sharing. Are people
writing blogposts because they really want to share their ideas or because
they want to show how much cooler they are?

You’re totally right and I think people in this scene are always looking
for examples of people making money, succeeding, good things coming to
people for reasons that aren’t just selflessness. People that are into Open
Source usually love to be able to point to those things, that this isn’t some
purely altruistic thing.

Maybe you could take some of the hustle and turn it into something
in the Free Software world, mix and match.

ER I think this line of inquiry is an interesting one that could be the
subject of a documentary or something. These communities that seem very
different until you start finding things that at their core really really similar.

It would be so interesting to have a cribs moment with some gangsta
or rapper who came from that, and he’s sort of showing off his stuff and
he has this machismo about him. Not necessarily directly mysognistic
but a macho kind of character and then take a nerd and have them do the


Would they really be so different?


Tying the story to data

Obviously some rappers and some nerds, I mean that’s one of the
beauties – I mean its a global movement, you can’t help but have diversity
– but if we’re just speaking in generalizations?


There’s a lot of showing off in F/LOSS too.

Yeah, and there’s a lot of chauvinism. And when you said that selfmade thing, that’s the Free Software idea number one.

I think that part is a direct connection.

And they’re coming from two completely different strata, from a
class-based analysis which is absent from a lot of discussion. Even on
that level, how to integrate them to me is a political question to some



Will any features of GML ever be deprecated?

Breaking currently existing software? I hope not.
Basically I’m asking for your long-term vision?

When the spec was being made of course it wasn’t just me, it was a
group of people debating these things and of course nobody wants things
to break. The idea was that we tried to get in as many things as we could
think of and have the base stay kind of what it was with the idea that you
could add more stuff into it. It’s easy enough to do, of course its not a
super-rigid standard. If you look at what the base .gml file is, the minimum
requirements for GML to compile, its so so stripped down. As long as it
just remains time/x-y-z, I don’t think that’s going to change, no.
But I’m also hoping that I’m not gonna be the main GML developer. I’m
already not, there’s already people doing way more stuff with it than I am.


How does it work when someone proposes a feature?

ER They just e-mail me (laughs). But right now there hasn’t been a ton
of that because it’s such a simple thing, once you start cramming too much
into it it starts feeling wrong. But all its gonna take is for someone to make
a new app that needs something else and then there will be a reason to
change it but I think the change will always be adding, not removing.


The following text is a transcription of a talk by and conversation with Denis Jacquerye in the context of the Libre
Graphics Research Unit in 2012. We invited him in the
context of a session called Co-position where we tried to
re-imagine layout from scratch. The text-encoding standard Unicode and moreover Denis’ precise understanding of the many cultural and political path-dependencies
involved in the making of it, felt like an obvious place
to start. Denis Jacquerye is involved in language technology, software localization and font engineering. He’s
been the co-lead of the DéjàVu Font project and works
with the African Network for Localization (ANLoc) to remove language limitations that exist in today’s technology.
Denis currently lives in London.This text is also available
in Considering your tools. 1 A shorter version has been published in Libre Graphics Magazine 2.1.
This presentation is about the struggle of some people to use typography
in their languages, especially with digital type because there is quite a complex set of elements that make this universe of digital type. One of the
basic things people do when they want to use their languages, they end up
with these type of problems down here, where some characters are shown,
some aren’t, sometimes they don’t match within the font. Because one font
has one of the character they need and then another one doesn’t. Like
for example when a font has the capital letter but not the corresponding
lowercase letter. Users don’t really know how to deal with that, they just
try different fonts and when they’re more courageous, they go online and
find how to complain about those to developers – I mean font designers or
engineers. And those people try to solve those problems as well as they
can. But sometimes it’s pretty hard to find out how to solve them. Adding
missing characters is pretty easy but sometimes you also have language re-


Considering your tools: a reader for designers and developers


quirements that are very complex. Like here for example, in Polish, you
have the ogonek, which is like a little tail that shows that a vowel is nasalized. Most fonts actually have that character, but for some languages, people
are used to have that little tail centred which is quite rare to see in a font.
So when font designers face that issue, they have to make a choice rather
they want to go with one tradition or another, and if they want to go one
way they’re scattered to those people. Also you have problems of spacing
things differently, like a stacking of different accents – called diacritics or
diacritical marks. Stacking this high up often ends up on the line above, so
you have to find a solution to make it less heavy on a line, and then in some
languages, instead of stacking them, they end up putting them side by side,
which is yet another point where you have to make a choice.
But basically, all these things are based on how type is represented on computers. You used to have simple encodings like ASCII, the basic Western
Latin alphabet where each character was represented by bytes. The character could be displayed with different fonts, with different styles, they could
not meet the requirements of different people. And then they made different encodings because they were a lot of different requirements and it’s
technically impossible to fit them all in ASCII.
Often they would start with ASCII and then add the specific requirements
but soon they ended up having a lot of different standards because of all the
different needs. So one single byte of representation would have different
meanings and each of these meanings could be displayed differently in fonts.
But old webpages are often using old encodings. If your browser is not
using the right encoding you would have jibbish displayed because of this
chaos of encodings. So in the late eighties, they started thinking about
those problems and in the nineties they started working on Unicode: several
companies got together and worked on one single unifying standard that
would be compatible with all the pre-used standards or the new coming
Unicode is pretty well defined, you have a universal code point to represent to identify a character, and then that character can be displayed with
different glyphs depending on the font or the style selected. With that
framework, when you need to have the proper character displayed, you have
to go the code point in a font editor, change the shape of the character and
it can be displayed properly. Then sometimes there’s just no code point for
the character you need because it hasn’t been added, it wasn’t in any existing

standard or nobody has ever needed it before or people who needed it just
used old printers and metal type.
So in this case, you have to start to deal with the Unicode organization itself.
They have a few ways to communicate like the mailing list, the public, and
recently they also opened a forum where you can ask questions about the
characters you need as you might just not find them.
In most operating systems, you have a character map application where you
can access all the characters, either all the characters that exist in Unicode or
the ones available in the font you’re using. And it’s quite hard to find what
you need, as it’s most of the time organized with a very restrictive set of
rules. Characters are just ordered in the way they’re ordered within Unicode
using their code point order: for example, capital A is 41, and then B is 42,
etc. The further you go in the alphabet the further you go in the Unicode
blocks and tables, and there is a lot of different writing systems ... Moreover
because Unicode is sort of expanding organically – work is done on one
script, and then on another, then coming back to previous scripts to add
things – things are not really in a logical or practical order. Basic Latin is all
the way up there, and more far, you have Latin Extended A, (Conditional)
Extended Latin, Latin Extended B, C and D. Those are actually quite far
apart within Unicode, and each of them can have a different setup: for
example, here you have a capital letter that is just alone, and here you have
a capital letter and a lowercase letter. So when you know the character you
want to use, sometimes you would find the uppercase letter but you’d have
to keep looking for the corresponding lowercase.
Basically when you have a character that you can’t find, people from the
mailing list or the forum can tell you if it would be relevant to include it
in Unicode or not. And if you’re very motivated, you can try to meet the
inclusion criterias. But for a proper inclusion, there has to be a formal
proposal using their template with questions to answer, you also have to
provide proof that the characters you want to add are actually used or how
they would be used.


The criterias are quite complicated because you have to make sure that this is
not a glyphic variant (the same character but represented differently). Then
you also have to prove the character doesn’t already exist because sometimes
you just don’t know it’s a variant of another one; sometimes they just want
to make it easier and claim it’s a variant of another one even though you
don’t agree. For example, making sure it’s not just a ligature as sometimes
ligatures are used as a single character, sometimes they exist for aesthetic
reasons. Eventually you have to provide an actual font with the character so
that they can use it in their documentation.
How long does it take usually?

It depends as sometimes they accept it right away if you explain your request
properly and provide enough proof, but they often ask for revisions to the
proposals and then it can be rejected because it doesn’t meet the criterias.
Actually those criterias have changed a bit in the past. They started with
Basic Latin and then added special characters which were used: here for example is the international phonetic alphabet but also all the accented ones ...
As they were used in other encodings and that Unicode initially wanted to
be compatible with everything that already exists, they added them. Then
they figured they already had all those accented characters from other encodings so they’re also going to add all the ones they know are used even
though they were not encoded yet. They ended up with different names because they had different policies at the beginning instead of having the same
policy as now. They added here a bunch of Latin letters with marks that
were used for example in transcription. So if you’re transcribing Sanskrit for
example, you would use some of the characters here. Then at some point
they realized that this list of accented characters would get huge, and that
there must be a smarter way to do this. Therefore they figured you could
actually use just parts of those characters as they can be broken apart: a
base letter and marks you add to it. You may have a single character that
can be decomposed canonically between the letter B and a colon dot above,
and you have the character for the dot above in the block of the diacritical
marks. You have access to all the diacritical marks they thought were useful
at some point. At that point, when they realized they would end up having
thousands of accented characters they figured with this way where we can
have just any possibility, so from now on, they’re just going to say if you
want to have an accented character that hasn’t been encoded already, just

use the parts that can represent it. Then in 1996, some people for Yoruba,
a spoken language in Nigeria, made a proposal to add the characters with
diacritics they needed and Unicode just rejected the proposal as they could
compose those characters by combining existing parts.
Weren’t the elements they needed already in the toolbox?

Yes, the encoding parts are there, meaning it can be represented with
Unicode but the software didn’t handle them properly so it made more
sense to the Yoruba speakers to have it encoded it in Unicode.

So you could type, but you’d need to type two characters of course?

Yes, the way you type things is a big problem. Because most keyboards
are based on old encodings where you have accented characters as single
characters, so when you want to do a sequence of characters, you actually
have to type more, or you’d have to have a special keyboard layout allowing
you to have one key mapped to several characters. So that’s technically
feasible but it’s a slow process to have all the possibilities. You might have
one whic is very common so developers end up adding it to the keyboard
layouts or whatever applications they’re using, but not when other people
have different needs.
There is a lot of documentation within Unicode, but it’s quite hard to find
what you want when you’re just starting, and it’s quite technical. Most of it
is actually in a book they publish at every new version. This book has a few
chapters that describe how Unicode works and how characters should work
together, what properties they have. And all the differences between scripts
are relevant. They also have special cases trying to cater to those needs that
weren’t met or the proposals that were rejected. They have a few examples
in the Unicode book: in some transcription systems they have this sequence
of characters or ligature; a t and a s with a ligature tie and then a dot above.
So the ligature tie means that t and s are pronounced together and the dot
above is err ... has a different meaning (laughs). But it has a meaning! But
because of the way characters work in Unicode, applications actually reorder
it whatever you type in, it’s reordered so that the ligature tie ends up being
moved after the dot. So you always have this representation because you
have the t, there should be the dot, and then there should be the ligature tie
and then the s. So the t goes first, the dot goes above the t, the ligature tie
goes above everything and then the s just goes next to the t. The way they

explain how to do this is supposed to do the t, the ligature tie, and then a
special diacritical mark that prevents any kind of reordering, then you can
add the dot and then you can do the s. So this kind of use is great as you
have a solution, it’s just super hard because you have to type five characters
instead of ... well ... four (laughs). But still, most of the libraries that are
rendering fonts don’t handle it properly and then even most fonts don’t
plan for it. So even if the fonts did anyway the libraries wouldn’t handle it
properly. Then there are other things that Unicode does: because of that
separation between accents and characters and then the composition, you
can actually normalize how things are ordered. This sequence of characters
can be reordered into the pre-composed one with a circumflex or whatever;
you have combining marks in the normalized order. All these things have
to be handled in the libraries, in the application or in the fonts.
The documentation of Unicode itself is not prescriptive, meaning that the
shape of the glyphs are not set in stone. So you can still have room to
have the style you want, the style your target users want. For example
if we have different glyphs: Unicode has just one shape and it’s the font
designer’s choice to have different ones. Unicode is not about glyphs, it’s
really about how information is represented, how it’s displayed. Or you have
two characters displayed as a ligature: it is actually encoded as one character
because of previous encodings. But if ever it would be a new case, Unicode
wouldn’t stake the ligature as a single character.


So all this information is really in a corner there. It’s quite rare to find fonts
that actually use this information to provide to the needs of the people who
need specific features. One of the way to implement all those features is
with TrueType OpenType and there are also some alternatives like Graphite
which is a subset of a TrueType OpenType font. But then, you need your
applications to be able to handle Graphite. So eventually the real unique
standard is TrueType Opentype. It’s pretty well documented and very technical because it allows to do many things for many different writing systems.
But it’s slow to update so if there’s a mistake in the actual specifications of
OpenType, it takes a while before they correct it and before that correction shows up in your application. It’s quite flexible and one of the big
issue it that it has its own language code system, meaning that some identified languages just can’t be identified in OpenType. One of the features in
OpenType is managing language environment. If I’m using Polish, I’d want
this shape; if I’m using Navajo, I’d want this shape. That’s very cool because you can make just one font that’s used by Polish speakers and Navajo
speakers without them worrying about changing fonts as long as they specify the language they’re using. But you can’t use this feature for languages
which aren’t in the OpenType specifications as they have their own way of
describing languages than Unicode. It’s really frustrating because, you can
find all the characters in Unicode, not organized in a practical way: you have
to look all around the tables to find the characters that may be used by one
language, and then you have to look around for how to actually use them.
It is a real lack of awareness within the font designer community. Because
even when they might add all the characters you need, they might just not
add the positioning, so for example you have a ... when you combine with a
circumflex, it doesn’t position well because most of the font designers still
work with the old encoding mindset when you have one character for one
accentuated letter. Sometimes they just think that following the Unicode
blocks is good enough. But then you have problems where, as you can see
in the Basic Latin charts at the beginning, the capital is in one block and
its lowercase in a different block. And then they just work on one block,
they just don’t do the other one because they don’t think it’s necessary, but
yet, two blocks of the same letter are there, so it would make sense to have
both. It’s hard because there’s very few connections between the Unicode
world, people working on OpenType libraries, font designers and the actual
needs of the users.

At the beginning of the presentation you went for the code point of the characters,
all your characters are subtitled by their code points; it’s kind of the beauty of
Unicode to name everything, every character.
Those names are actually quite long. One funny thing about this. Unicode
has the policy of not changing the names of the characters, so they have an
errata where they realized that oh, we shouldn’t have named this that, so here’s
the actual name that makes sense, and the real name is wrong.

Pierre refers to the fact that in the character mappings that each of the glyphs
also has a description. And those are sometimes so abstract and poetic that
this was a start of a work from OSP, the Dingbats Liberation Fest, to try
to re-imagine what shapes would belong to those descriptions. So ‘combining
dot above’ that’s the textual description of the code point. But of course there
are thousands of them so they come up with the most fantastic gymnastics ...
So when people come in a project like DéjàVu, they have to understand
all that to start contributing. How does this training, teaching, learning
process takes place?

Usually most people are interested in what they know. They have a specific
need and they realize they can add it to DéjàVu, so they learn how to play
with FontForge. After a while, what they’ve done is good and we can use
it. Some people end up adding glyphs they’re not familiar with. For example we had Ben doing Arabic: it was mostly just drawing and then asking
for feedback on the mailing list; then we got some feedback, we changed
some things, eventually released it, getting more feedback (laughs) because
more people complained ... So it’s a lot of just drawing what you can from
resources you can find. It’s often based on other typefaces therefore sometimes you’re just copying mistakes from other typefaces ... So eventually it’s
just the feedback from the users that’s really helpful because you know that
people are using it, trying it, and then you know how to make it better.


(Type) designer Pedro Amado is amongst many other things
initiator of TypeForge 1 , a website dedicated to the development
of ‘collaborative type’ with Open Source tools. While working
as design technician at FBAUP 2 , he is about to finish a MA
with a paper on collaborative methods for the creation of art
and design projects. When I e-mailed him in 2006 about open
font design and how he sees that developing, he responded with
a list of useful links, but also with:
Developing design teaching based on
Open Source is one of my goals, because
I think that is the future of education.

This text is based on the conversation about design, teaching
and software that followed.

You told me you are employed as ‘design technician’ ... what does that

It means that I provide assistance to teachers and students in the Design
Department. I implemented scanning/printing facilities for example, and
currently I develop and give workshops on Digital Technologies – software
is a BIG issue for me right now! Linux and Open Source software are slowly
entering the design spaces of our school. For me it has been a ‘battle’ to
find space for these tools. I mean – we could migrate completely to OSS
tools, but it’s a slow progress. Mainly because people (students) need (and
want) to be trained in the same commercial applications as the ones they
will encounter in their professional life.
How did Linux enter the design lab? How did that start?

It started with a personal curiosity, but also for economical reasons. Our
school can’t afford to acquire all the software licenses we’d like. For example, we can’t justify to pay approx. 100 x 10 licenses, just to implement


the educational version of Fontlab on some of our computers; especially because this package is only used by a part of our second year design students.
You can image what the total budget will be with all the other needs ... I
personally believe that we can find everything we need on the web. It’s a
matter of searching long enough! So this is how I was very happy to find
Fontforge. An Open Source tool that is solid enough to use in education
and can produce (as far as I have been able to test) almost professional results in font development. At first I couldn’t grasp how to use it under X 3
on Windows, so one day I set out to try and do it on Linux ... and one thing
lead to another ...

What got you into using OSS? Was it all one thing leading to another?

Uau ... can’t remember ... I believe it had to do with my first experiences
online; I don’t think I knew the concept before 2000. I mean I’ve started
using the web (IRC and basic browsing) in 1999, but I think it had to do
with the search of newer and better tools ...
I think I also started to get into it around that time. But I think I was
more interested in copyleft though, than in software.

Oh ... (blush) not me ... I got into it definitely for the ‘free beer’ aspect!
By 2004 I started using DTP applications on Linux (still in my own time)
and began to think that these tools could be used in an educational context,
if not professionally. In the beginning of 2006 I presented a study to the
coordinator of the Design Department at FBAUP, in which I proposed to
start implementing Open Source tools as an alternative to the tools we were
missing. Blender for 3D animation, FontForge for type design, Processing
for interactive/graphic programming and others as a complement to proprietary packages: GIMP, Scribus and Inkscape to name the most important
ones. I ran into some technical problems that I hope will be sorted out
soon; one of the strategies is to run these software packages on a migration
basis – as the older computers in our lab won’t be able to run MacOS 10.4+,
we’ll start converting them to Linux.

Cygwin/X is a port of the X Window System to the Cygwin API layer for the Microsoft
Windows family of operating systems
Cygwin/x: X windows – on windows!, 2014. [Online; accessed 5.8.2014]


I wanted to ask you about the relation between software and design.
To me, economy, working process, but also aesthetics are a product of
software, and at the same time software itself is shaped through use. I
think the borders between software and design are not so strictly drawn.

It’s funny you put things in that perspective. I couldn’t agree more.
Nevertheless I think that design thinking prevails (or it should) as it must
come first when approaching problems. If the design thinking is correct,
the tools used should be irrelevant. I say ‘should’ because in a perfect environment we could work within a team where all tools (software/hardware)
are mastered. Rarely this happens, so much of our design thinking is still
influenced by what we can actually produce.

Do you mean to say that what we can think is influenced by what we
can make? This would work for me! But often when tools are mastered,
they disappear in the background and in my opinion that can become a

I’m not sure if I follow your point. I agree with the border between design
and software is not so strict nevertheless, I don’t agree with economy, process
and aesthetics are a product of software. As you’ve come to say what we think
is influenced by what we can make ... this is an outside observation ...
A technique is produced inside a culture,
therefore one s society is conditioned by
it s techniques. Conditioned, not determined 4

Design, like economics and software, is a product of culture. Or is it
the other way around? The fact is that we can’t really tell what comes first.
Culture is defined by and defines technology. Therefore it’s more or less
simple to accept that software determines (and is determined) by it’s use.
This is an intricate process ... it kind of goes roundabout on itself ...

Pierre Lévy. Cyberculture (Electronic Mediations). University Of Minnesota Press, 2001


And where does design fit in in your opinion? Or more precisely:

Design is a cultural aspect. Therefore it does not escape this logic. Using
a practical standpoint: Design is a product of economics and technology.
Nevertheless the best design practices (or at least the one’s that have endured
the test of time) and the most renowned designers are the one’s that can
escape the the economic and technological boundaries. The best design
practices are the ones that are not products of economics and technology
... they are kind of approaching a universal design status (if one exists). Of
course ... it’s very theoretical, and optimistic ... but it should be like this ...
otherwise we’ll stop looking for better or newer solutions, and we’ll stop
pushing boundaries and design as technology and other areas will stagnate.
On the other hand, there is a special ‘school’ of thought manifested through
some of the Portuguese Design Association members, saying that the design
process should lead the process of technological development. Henrique
Cayate (I think it was in November last year) said that design should lead the
way to economy and technology in society. I think this is a bit far fetched ...

Do you think software defines form and/or content? How is software
related to design processes?
I think these are the essential questions related to the use of OSS. Can
we think about what we can make without thinking about process? I believe
that in design processes, as in design teaching, concepts should be separated
from techniques or software as much as possible.
To me, exactly because techniques and software are intertwined, software matters and should offer space for thinking (software should therefore not be separated from design). You could also say: design becomes
exceptionally strong when it makes use of its context, and responds to it
in an intelligent way. Or maybe I did not understand what you meant by
being ‘a product of ’. To me that is not necessarily a negative point.
Well ... yes ... that could be a definition of good design, I guess. I think
that as a cultural produce, techniques can’t determine society. It can and
will influence it, but at the same time it will also just happen. When we talk

about Design and Software I see the same principle reflected. Design being
the ‘culture’ or society and software being the tools or techniques that are
developed to be used by designers. So this is much the same as Which came
first? The chicken, or the egg? Looking at it from a designers (not a software
developers) point of view, the tools we use will always condition our output.
Nevertheless I think it’s our role as users to push tools further and let developers know what we want to do with them. Whether we do animation on
Photoshop, or print graphics on Flash that’s our responsibility. We have to
use our tools in a responsible way. Knowing that the use we make of them
will eventually come back at us. It’s a kind of responsible feedback.
Using Linux in a design environment is not an obvious choice. Most
designers are practically married to their Adobe Suite. How come it is
entering your school after all?

Very slowly! Linux is finally becoming valuable for Design/DTP area as
it has been for long on the Internet/Web and programming areas. But you
can’t expect GIMP to surpass Photoshop. At least not in the next few years.
And this is the reality. If we can, we must train our students to use the
best tools available. Ideally all tools available, so they won’t have problems
when faced with a tool professionally. The big question is still, how we
besides teaching students theory and design processes (with the help of free
tools), help them to become professionals. We also have to teach them
how to survive a professional relationship with professional tools like the
Adobe Suite. As I am certain that Linux and OSS (or F/LOSS) will be
part of education’s future, I am certain of it’s coexistence along side with
commercial software like Adobe’s. It’s only a matter of time. Being certain
of this, the essential question is: How will we manage to work parallel in
both commercial and free worlds?

Do you think it is at all possible to ‘survive’ on other tools than the
ones Adobe offers?

Well ... I seem not to be able to dedicate myself entirely to these new
tools ... To depend solely on OSS tools ... I think that is not possible, at
least not at this moment. But now is the time to take these OSS tools
and start to teach with them. They must be implemented in our schools.

I am certain that sooner or later this will be common practice throughout
European schools.
Can you explain a bit more, what you mean by ‘real world’?

Being a professional graphic designer is what we call the ‘real world’ in
our school. I mean, having to work full time doing illustration, corporate
identity, graphic design, etc., to make a living, deliver on time to clients and
make a profit to pay the bills by the end of the month!

Do you think OSS can/should be taught differently? It seems selfteaching is built in to these tools and the community around it. It means
you learn to teach others in fact ... that you actually have to leave the
concept of ‘mastering’ behind?
I agree. The great thing about Linux is precisely that – as it is developed
by users and for users – it is developing a sense of community around it, a
sense of given enough eyeballs, someone will figure it out.
Well, that does not always work, but most of the time ...

I believe that using Open Source tools is perfect to teach, especially
first year students. Almost no one really understands what the commands
behind the menus of Photoshop mean, at least not the people I’ve seen in
my workshops. I guess GIMP won’t resolve this matter, but it will help
them think about what they are doing to digital images. Especially when
they have to use unfamiliar software. You first have to teach the design
process and then the tool can be taught correctly, otherwise you’ll just be
teaching habits or tricks. As I said before, as long as design prevails and not
the tool/technique, and you teach the concepts behind the tools in the right
way, people will adapt seamlessly to new tools, and the interface will become

Do you think this means you will need to restructure the curriculum?
I imagine a class in bugreporting ... or getting help online ...

mmhh ... that could be interesting. I’ve never thought about it in that
way. I’ve always seen bugreporting and other community driven activities

as part of the individual aspect of working with these tools ... but basically
you are suggesting to implement an ‘Open Source civic behavior class’ or
something like that?

Ehm ... Yes! I think you need to learn that you own your tools, meaning
you need to take care of them (ie: if something does not work, report)
but at the same time you can open them up and get under the hood ...
change something small or something big. You also need to learn that
you can expect to get help from other people than your tutor ... and that
you can teach someone else.

The aspect of taking responsibility, this has to be cultivated – a responsible use of these tools. About changing things under the hood ... well this I
think it will be more difficult. I think there is barely space to educate people to hack their own tools let alone getting under the hood and modifying
them. But you are right that under the OSS communication model, the
peer review model of analysis, communication is getting less and less hierarchical. You don’t have to be an expert to develop new or powerful tools or
other things ... A peer-review model assumes that you just need to be clever
and willing to work with others. As long as you treat your collaborators
as peers, whether or not they are more or less advanced than you, this will
motivate them to work harder. You should not disregard their suggestions
and reward them with the implementations (or critics) of their work.

How does that model become a reality in teaching? How can you
practice this?

Well ... for example use public communication/distribution platforms
(like an expanded web forum) inside school, or available on the Internet;
blog updates and suggestions constantly; keep a repository of files; encourage the use of real time communication technologies ... as you might have
noticed is almost the formula used in e-learning solutions.
And also often an argument for cutting down on teaching hours.

That actually is and isn’t true. You can and will (almost certainly) have
less and less traditional classes, but if the teachers and tutors are dedicated,

they will be more available than ever! This will mean that students and
teachers will be working together in a more informal relationship. But it
can also provoke an invasion of the personal space of teachers ...
It is hard to put a border when you are that much involved. I am
just thinking how you could use the community around Open Source
software to help out. I mean ... if the online teaching tools would be
open to others outside the school too, this would be the advantage. It
would also mean that as a school, you contribute to the public domain
with your classes and courses.

That is another question. I think schools should contribute to public
domain knowledge. Right now I am not sharing any of the knowledge
about implementing OSS on a school like ours with the community. But
if all goes well I’ll have this working by December 2006. I’m working on
a website where I can post the handbooks for workshops and other useful
I am really curious about your experiences. However convinced I am
of the necessity to do it, I don’t think it is easy to open education up to
the public, especially not for undergraduate education.

I do have my doubts too. If you look at it on a commercial perspective,
students are paying for their education ... should we share the same content
to everyone? Will other people explore these resources in a wrong way?
Will it really contribute to the rest of the community? What about profit?
Can we afford to give this knowledge away for free, I mean, as a school this
is almost our only source of income? Will the prestige gained, be worth
the possible loss? These are important questions that I need to think more

OK, I will be back with you in 6 month to find out more! My last question ... why would you invest time and energy in OSS when you think
good designers should escape economical and technological boundaries?
If we invest energy on OSS tools now, we’ll have the advantage of already
being savvy by the time they become widely accepted. The worst case scenario would be that you’ve wasted time perfecting your skills or learned a

new tool that didn’t become a standard ... How many times have we done
this already in our life? In any way, we need to learn concepts behind
the tools, learn new and different tools, even unnecessary ones in order to
broaden our knowledge base – this will eventually help us think ‘out of the
box’ and hopefully push boundaries further [not so much as escaping them].
For me OSS and its movement have reached a maturity level that can prove
it’s own worth in society. Just see Firefox – when it reached general user
acceptance level (aka ‘project maturity’ or ‘development state’), they started
to compete directly with MS Internet Explorer. This will happen with the
rest (at least that’s what I believe). It’s a matter of quality and doing the
correct broadcast to the general public. Linux started almost as a personal
project and now it’s a powerhouse in programming or web environments.
Maybe because these are areas that require constant software and hardware
attention it became an obvious and successful choice. People just modified it
as they needed it done. Couldn’t this be done as effectively (or better) with
commercial solutions? Of course. But could people develop personalized
solutions to specific problems in their own time frame? Probably not ... But
it means that the people involved are, or can resource to, computer experts.
What about the application of these ideas to other areas? The justice department of the Portuguese government (Ministério da Justiça) is for example
currently undergoing a massive informatics (as in the tools used) change –
they are slowly migrating their working platform to an Open Source Linux
distribution – Caixa Mágica (although it’s maintained and given assistance
by a commercial enterprise by the same name). By doing this, they’ll cut
costs dramatically and will still be able to work with equivalent productivity
(one hopes: better!). The other example is well known. The Spanish region of Estremadura looked for a way to cut costs on the implementation
of information technologies in their school system and developed their own
Linux Distro called Linex – it aggregates the software bundle they need,
and best of all has been developed and constantly tweaked by them. Now
Linux is becoming more accessible for users without technical training, and
is in a WYSIWYG state of development, I really believe we should start
using it seriously so we can try and test it and learn how we can use in in
our everyday life (for me this process has already started ... ). People aren’t
stupid. They’re just ‘change resistant’. One of the aspects I think that will
get peoples’ attention will be that a ‘free beer’ is as good as a commercial

August 2006. One of the original co-conspirators of the
OSP adventure is the Brussels graphiste going under the
name Harrisson. His interest in Open Source software
flows with the culture of exchange that keeps the offcentre music scene alive, as well as with the humanist
tradition persistingly present in contemporary typography. Harrisson’s visual frame of reference is eclectic and
vibrant, including modernist giants, vernacular design,
local typographic culture, classic painting, drawing and
graffiti. Too much food for one conversation.





You could say that ‘A typeface is entirely derivative’, but others argue, that maybe
the alphabet is, but not the interpretations of it.

The main point of typography and ownership today is that there is a blurred
border between language and letters. So: now you can own the ‘shape’ of
a letter. Traditionally, the way typographers made a living was by buying
(more or less expensive) lead fonts, and with this tool they printed books
and got paid for that. They got paid for the typesetting, not for the type.
That was the work of the foundries. Today, thanks to the digital tools, you
can easily switch between type design, type setting and graphic design.

What about the idea that fonts might be the most ‘pirated’ digital object possible?
Copying is much more difficult when you’ve got lead type to handle!

Yes, digitalisation changed the rules. Just as .mp3 changed the philosophy
of music. But in typography, there is a strange confrontation between this
flux of copied information, piracy and old rules of ownership from the past.

Do you think the culture of sharing fonts changed? Or: the culture of distributing
them? If you look at most licences for fonts, they are extremely restrictive. Even
99% of free fonts do not allow derivative works.

The public good culture is paradoxically not often there. Or at least the
economical model of living with public good idea is not very developed.
While I think typography, historically, is always seen as a way to share
knowledge. Humanist stuff.


The art and craft of typeface design is
currently headed for extinction due to the
illegal proliferation of font software,
piracy, and general disregard for proper
licensing etiquette. 1




Emigré ... Did they not live
from the copyrights of fonts?!

You are right.
They are
like a commercial record company. Can you imagine what
would happen if you would
open up the typographic trade
– to ‘Open Source’ this economy? Stop chasing piracy and
allow users to embed, study,
copy, modify and redistribute

Well we are not that far from
this in fact. Every designer
has at least 500 fonts on their
computer, not licenced, but
copied because it would be impossible to pay for!

Even the distribution model of fonts is very peer-to-peer as well. The reality
might come close, but font licences tell a different story.
I believe that we live in an era where
anything that can be expressed as bits
will be. I believe that bits exist to
be copied. Therefore, I believe that any
business-model that depends on your bits
not being copied is just dumb, and that
lawmakers who try to prop these up are like
governments that sink fortunes into protecting people who insist on living on the
sides of active volcanoes. 2

Cory Doctorow in








I am not saying all fonts should be open, but it is just that it would be interesting
when type designers were testing and experimenting with other ways of developing
and distributing type, with another economy.

Yes, but fonts have a much more reduced user community than music or
bookpublishing, so old rules stay.

Is that it? I am surprised to see that almost all typographers and foundries take the
‘piracy is a crime’ side on this issue. While typographers are early and enthusiastic
adopters of computer technology, they have not taken much from the collaborative
culture that came with it.
This is the ‘tradition’ typography inherited. Typography was one of the
first laboratories for fractioning work for efficiency. It was one of the first
modern industries, and has developed a really deep culture where it is not
easy to set doubts in. 500 years of tradition and only 20 years of computers.
The complexity comes from the fact it is influenced by a multiple series of
elements, from history and tradition to the latest technologies. But it is
always related to an economic production system, so property and ‘secretsof-the-trade’ have a big influence on it.

I think it is important to remember how the current culture of (not) sharing fonts
is linked to its history. But books have been made for quite a while too.
Open Source systems may be not so much influencing distribution, licences
and economic models in typography, but can set original questions to this
problematic of digital type. Old tools and histories are not reliable anymore.

Yes. with networked software it is rather obvious that it is useful to work together.
I try to understand how this works with respect to making a font. Would that

Collaborative type is extremely important now, I think. The globalisation of
computer systems sets the language of typography in a new dimension. We
use computers in Belgium and in China. Same hardware. But language is
the problem! A French typographer might not be the best person to define
a Vietnamese font. Collaborativity is necessary! Pierre Huyghebaert told me
he once designed an Arabic font when he was in Lebanon. For him, the
font was legible, but nobody there was able to read it.
But how would you collaborate than? I mean ... what would be the reason for
a French typographer to collaborate with one from China? What would that
bring? I’m imagining some kind of hybrid result ... kind of interesting.




Again, sharing. We all have the idea that English is the modern Latin,
and if we are not careful the future of computers will result in a language

What interest me in Open Source, is the potential for ‘biodiversity’.

I partially agree, and the Open Source idea contradicts the reductionist
approach by giving more importance to local knowledge. A collaboration
between an Arabic typographer and a French one can be to work on tools
that allow both languages to co-exist. LaTeX permits that, for example.
Not QuarkXpress!

Where does your interest in typography actually come from?

I think I first looked at comic books, and then started doodling in the
margins of schoolbooks. As a teenager, I used to reproduce film titles such
as Aliens, Terminator or other sci-fi high-octane typographic titles.

Basically, I’m a forger! In writing, you need to copy to understand. Thats an
old necessity. If you use a typeface, you express something. You’re putting
drawings of letters next to each other to compose a word/text. A drawing
is always emotionally charged, which gives color (or taste) to the message.
You need to know what’s inside a font to know what it expresses.


How do you find out what’s inside?

By reproducing letters, and using them. A Gill Sans does not have the same
emotional load as a Bodoni. To understand a font is complicated, because
it refers to almost every field in culture. The banners behind G.W. Bush
communicate more than just ‘Mission Accomplished’. Typefaces carry a
‘meta language’.



It is truly embedded content

Exactly! It is still very difficult to bridge the gap between personal emotions
and programming a font. Moreover, there are different approaches, from
stroke design to software that generates fonts. And typography is standardisation. The first digital fonts are drawn fixed shapes, letter by letter,
‘outstrokes’. But there is another approach where the letters are traced by
the computer. It needs software to be generated. In Autocad, letters are
‘innerstroke’ that can vary of weight. Letterrors’ Beowolf 3 is also an example of that kind of approach. interesting way to work, but the font depends
on the platform it goes with. Beowolf only works on OS9. It also set the
question of copyright very far. It’s a case study in itself.

So it means, the font is software in fact?

Yes, but the interdependence between font
and operating systems is very strong, contrary to a fixed format such as TrueType.
For printed matter, this is much more
complicated to achieve. There are inbetween formats, such as Multiple Master
Technology for example. It basically
means, that you have 2 shapes for 1 glyph,
and you can set an ‘alternative’ shape between the 2 shapes. At Adobe they still do
not understand why it was (and still is) a
failure ...

Beowolf by Just van Rossum and Erik van Blokland (1989)

Instead of recreating a fixed outline or bitmap, the Randomfont redefines its outlines every
time they are called for.


The Metapolator Uinverse by Simon Egli (2014)




I really like this idea ... to have more than one master. Imagine you own one
master and I own the other and than we adjust and tweak from different sides.
That would be real collaborative type! Could ‘multiple’ mean more than one you

It is a bit more complicated than drawing a simple font in Fontographer or
Fontforge. Pierre told me that the MM feature is still available in Adobe
Illustrator, but that it is used very seldomly. Multiple Master fonts are also
a bit complicated to use. I think there were a lot of bugs first, and then you
need to be a skilled designer to give these fonts a nice render. I never heard
of an alternative use of it, with drawing or so. In the end it was probably
never a success because of the software dependency.

While I always thought of fonts as extremely cross media. Do you remember which
classic font was basically the average between many well-known fonts? Frutiger?




Fonts are Culture Capsules! It was Adrian Frutiger. But he wasn’t the only
one to try ... It was a research for the Univers font I think. Here again we
meet this paradox of typography: a standardisation of language generating
cultural complexity.

Univers. That makes sense. Amazing to see those examples
together. It seems digital typography got stuck at some
point, and I think some of the ideas and practices that are
current in Open Source could help break out of it.
Yes of course. And it is almost virgin space.

In 2003 the Danish government released ‘Union’, a
font that could be freely used for publications concerning
Danish culture. I find this an intrigueing idea, that a font
could be seen as some kind of ‘public good’.

Univers by Adrian Frutiger (1954)

Union by Morten Rostgaard Olsen (2003)




I am convinced that knowledge needs to be open ...
(speaking as the son of a teacher here!). One medium
for knowledge is language and its atoms are letters.

But if information wants to be free, does that mean that
design needs to be free too? Is there information possible
without design?

This is why I like books. Because it’s a mix between
information and beauty – or can be. Pfff, there is nothing without design
... It is like is there something without language, no?


One of the things that is notable about
OSP is that the problems that you encounter
are also described, appearing on your blog.
This is something unusual for a company attempting to produce the impression of an
efficient solution . Obviously the readers
of the blog only get a formatted version
of this, as a performed work? What s the
thinking here?"

This interview about the practice of OSP was carried out by
e-mail between March and May 2008. Matthew Fuller writes
about software culture and has a contagious interest in technologies that exceed easy fit solutions. At the time, he was
David Gee reader in Digital Media at the Centre for Cultural
Studies, Goldsmiths College, University of London, and had
just edited Software Studies, A Lexicon, 1 and written Media
Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture 2 and
Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software. 3

OSP is a graphic design agency working solely with Open Source software. This
surely places you currently as a world first, but what exactly does it mean in
practice? Let’s start with what software you use?

There are other groups publishing with Free Software, but design collectives
are surprisingly rare. So much publishing is going on around Open Source
and Open Content ... someone must have had the same idea? In discussions
about digital tools you begin to find designers expressing concern over the
fact that their work might all look the same because they use exactly the
same Adobe suite and as a way to differentiate yourself, Free Software could
soon become more popular. I think the success of Processing is related
to that, though I doubt such a composed project will ever make anyone
seriously consider Scribus for page layout, even if Processing is Open Source.


Matthew Fuller. Software Studies: A Lexicon. The MIT Press, 2008
Matthew Fuller. Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture.
The MIT Press, 2007
Matthew Fuller. Behind the Blip: Essays on the culture of software. Autonomedia, 2003


OSP usually works between GIMP, 4 Scribus 5 and Inkscape 6 on Linux distributions and OSX. We are fans of FontForge, 7 and enjoy using all kinds
of commandline tools, psnup, ps2pdf and uniq to name a few.
How does the use of this software change the way you work, do you see some
possibilities for new ways of doing graphic design opening up?

For many reasons, software has become much more present in our work; at
any moment in the workflow it makes itself heard. As a result we feel a bit
less sure of ourselves, and we have certainly become slower. We decided to
make the whole process into some kind of design/life experiment and that
is one way to keep figuring out how to convert a file, or yet another discussion with a printer about which ‘standard’ to use, interesting for ourselves.
Performing our practice is as much part of the project as the actual books,
posters, flyers etc. we produce.
One way a shift of tools can open up new ways of doing graphic design, is
because it makes you immediately aware of the ‘resistance’ of digital material. At the point we can’t make things work, we start to consider formats,
standards and other limitations as ingredients for creative work. We are
quite excited for example about exploring dynamic design for print in SVG,
a by-product of our battle with converting files from Scalable Vector Format
into Portable Document Format.
Free Software allows you to engage on many levels with the technologies
and processes around graphic design. When you work through it’s various
interfaces, stringing tools together, circumventing bugs and/or gaps in your
own knowledge, you understand there is more to be done than contributing
code in C++. It is an invitation to question assumptions of utility, standards
and usability. This is exactly the stuff design is made of.

Following this, what kind of team have you built up, and what new competencies
have you had to develop?

The core of OSP is five people 8 , and between us we mix amongst others typography, layout, cartography, webdesign, software development, drawing,

image manipulation
page layout
vector editing
font editor
Pierre Huyghebaert, Harrisson, Yi Jiang, Nicolas Malevé and me


programming, open content licensing and teaching. Around it is a larger
group of designers, a mathematician, a computer scientists and several Free
Software coders that we regularly exchange ideas with.
It feels we often do more unlearning than learning; a necessary and interesting skill to develop is dealing with incompetence – what can it be else than
a loss of control? In the mean time we expand our vocabulary so we can fuel
conversations (imaginary and real life) with people behind GIMP, Inkscape,
Scribus etc.; we learn how to navigate our computers using commandline
interfaces as well as KDE, GNOME and others; we find out about file formats and how they sometimes can and often cannot speak to each other;
how to write manuals and interact with mailing lists. The real challenge is
to invent situations that subvert strict divisions of labour while leaving space
for the kind of knowledge that comes with practice and experience.
Open fonts seem to be the beginnings of a big success, how does it fit into the
working practices of typographers or the material with which they work?

Type design is an extraordinary area where Free Software and design naturally meet. I guess this area of work is what kernel coding is for a Linux
developer: only a few people actually make fonts but many people use them
all the time. Software companies have been inconsistent in developing proprietary tools for editing fonts, which has made the work of typographers
painfully difficult at times. This is why George Williams decided to develop
FontForge, and release it under a BSD license: even if he stops being interested, others can take over. FontForge has gathered a small group of fans
who through this tool, stay into contact with a more generous approach to
software, characters and typefaces.
The actual material of a typeface has since long migrated from poisonous
lead into sets of ultra light vector drawings, held together in complicated
kerning systems. When you take this software-like aspect as a startingpoint,
many ways to collaborate (between programmers and typographers; between
people speaking different languages) open up, as long as you let go of the
uptight licensing policies that apply to most commercial fonts. I guess the
image of the solitary master passing on the secret trade to his devoted pupils
does not sit very well with the invitation to anyone to run, copy, distribute,
study, change and improve. How open fonts could turn the patriarchal guild

system inside out that has been carefully preserved in the closed world of
type design, is obviously of interest as well.
Very concretely, computer-users really need larger character sets that allow
for communication between let’s say Greek, Russian, Slovak and French.
These kinds of vast projects are so much easier to develop and maintain in
a Free Software way; the DéJàVu font project shows that it is possible to
work with many people spread over different countries modifying the same
set of files with the help of versioning systems like CVS.
But what it all comes down to probably ... Donald Knuth is the only person
I have seen both Free Software developers and designers wear on their Tshirts.

The cultures around each of the pieces of software are quite distinct. People
often lump all F/LOSS development into one kind of category, whereas even in
the larger GNU/Linux distros there is quite a degree of variation, but with the
smaller more specialised projects this is perhaps even more the case. How would
you characterise the scenes around each of these applications?

The kinds of applications we use form a category in themselves. They are
indeed small projects so ‘scene’ fits them better than ‘culture’. Graphics
tools differ from archetypal Unix/Linux code and language based projects
in that Graphical User Interfaces obviously matter and because they are used
in a specialised context outside its own developers circle. This is interesting because it makes F/LOSS developer communities connect with other
disciplines (or scenes?) such as design, printing and photography.
A great pleasure in working with F/LOSS is to experience how software
can be done in many ways; each of the applications we work with is alive
and particular. I’ll just portray Scribus and Inkscape here because from the
differences between these two I think you can imagine what else is out there.
The Scribus team is rooted in the printing and pre-press world and naturally
their first concern is to create an application that produces reliable output.
Any problem you might run in to at a print shop will be responded to
immediately, even late night if necessary. Members of the Scribus team are
a few years older than average developers and this can be perceived through
the correct and friendly atmosphere on their mailing list and IRC channel,
and their long term loyalty to this complex project. Following its more
industrial perspective, the imagined design workflow built in to the tool is

linear. To us it feels almost pre-digital: tasks and responsibilities between
editors, typesetters and designers are clearly defined and lined up. In this
view on design, creative decisions are made outside the application, and the
canvas is only necessary for emergency corrections. Unfortunately for us,
who live of testing and trying, Scribus’ GUI is a relatively underdeveloped
area of a project that otherwise has matured quickly.
Inkscape is a fork of a fork of a small tool initially designed to edit vector
files in SVG format. It stayed close to its initial starting point and is in a way
a much more straightforward project than Scribus. Main developer Bryce
Harrington describes Inkscape as a relatively unstructured coming and going
of high energy collective work much work is done through a larger group of
people submitting small patches and it’s developers community is not very
tightly knit. Centered around a legible XML format primarily designed
for the web, Inkscape users quickly understand the potential of scripting
images and you can find a vibrant plug in culture even if the Inkscape code
is less clean to work with than you might expect. Related to this interest
in networked visuals, is the involvement of Inkscape developers in the Open
Clip Art project and ccHost, a repository system wich allows you to upload
images, sounds and other files directly from your application. It is also no
surprise that Inkscape implemented a proper print dialogue only very late,
and still has no way to handle CMYK output.
There’s a lot of talk about collaboration in F/LOSS development, something
very impressive, but often when one talks to developers of such software there is
a lot to discuss about the rather less open ways in which power struggles over the
meaning or leadership of software projects are carried out by, for instance, hiding
code in development, or by only allowing very narrowly technical approaches to
development to be discussed. This is only one tendency, but one which tends to
remain publicly under-discussed. How much of this kind of friction have you
encountered by acting as a visible part of a new user community for F/LOSS?

I can’t say we feel completely at home in the F/LOSS world, but we have not
encountered any extraordinary forms of friction yet. We have been allowed
the space to try our own strategies at overcoming the user-developer divide:
people granted interviews, accepted us when we invited ourselves to speak
at conferences and listened to our stories. But it still feels a bit awkward,
and I sometimes wonder whether we ever will be able to do enough. Does

constructive critique count as a contribution, even when it is not delivered
in the form of a bug report? Can we please get rid of the term ‘end-user’?
Most discussions around software are kept strictly technical, even when
there are many non-technical issues at stake. We are F/LOSS enthusiasts
because it potentially pulls the applications we use into some form of public
space where they can be examined, re-done and taken apart if necessary; we
are curious about how they are made because of what they (can) make you
do. When we asked Andreas Vox, a main Scribus developer whether he saw
a relation between the tool he contributed code to, and the things that were
produced by it, he answered: Preferences for work tools and political preference
are really orthogonal. This is understandable from a project-management
point of view, but it makes you wonder where else such a debate should take
The fact that compared to proprietary software projects, only a very small
number of women is involved in F/LOSS makes apparent how openness
and freedom are not simple terms to put in practice. When asked whether
gender matters, the habitual answer is that opportunities are equal and from
that point a constructive discussion is difficult. There are no easy solutions,
but the lack of diversity needs to be put on the roadmap somehow, or as a
friend asked: Where do I file a meta-bug?
Visually, or in terms of the aesthetic qualities of the designs you have developed
would you say you have managed to achieve anything unavailable through the
output of the Adobe empire?

The members of OSP would never have come up with the idea to combine
their aesthetics and skills using Adobe, so that makes it difficult to do a
‘before’ and ‘after’ comparison. Or maybe we should call this an achievement
of Free Software too?
Using F/LOSS has made us reconsider the way we work and sometimes this
is visible in the design we produce, more often in the commissions we take
on or the projects we invest in. Generative work has become part of our
creative suite and this certainly looks different than a per-page treatment;
also deliberate traces of the production process (including printing and prepress) add another layer to what we make.
Of all smaller and larger discoveries, the Spiro toolkit that Free Software
activist, Ghostscript maintainer, typophile and Quaker Raph Levien devel302

ops, must be the most wonderful. We had taken Bézier curves for granted,
and never imagined how the way it is mathematically defined would matter
that much. Instead of working with fixed anchor points and starting from
straight lines that you first need to bend, Spiro is spiral-based and vectors
suddenly have a sensational flow and weight. From Pierre Bézier writing his
specification as an engineer for the Renault car factory to Levien’s Spiro,
digital drawing has changed radically.

You have a major signage project coming up, how does this commission map across
to the ethics and technologies of F/LOSS?

We are right in the middle of it. At this moment ‘The Pavilion of Provisionary
Happiness’ celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Belgian World Exhibition,
is being constructed out of 30.000 beer crates right under the Brussels’
Atomium. That’s a major project done the Belgian way.
We have developed a signage system, or actually a typeface, which is defined
through the strange material and construction work going on on site. We
use holes in the facade that are in fact handles of beer crates as connector
points to create a modular font that is somewhere between Pixacao graffiti
and Cuneiform script. It is actually a play on our long fascination with
engineered typefaces such as DIN 1451; mixing universal application with
specific materials, styles and uses – this all links back to our interest in Free
Besides producing the signage, OSP will co-edit and distribute a modest
publication documenting the whole process; it makes legible how this temporary yellow cathedral came about. And the font will of course be released
in the public domain.
It is not an easy project but I don’t know how much of it has to do with
our software politics; our commissioners do not really care and also we have
kept the production process quite simple on purpose. But by opening our
sources, we can use the platform we are given in a more productive way; it
makes us less dependent because the work will have another life long after
the deadline has passed.
On this project, and in relation to the seeming omnipresence in F/LOSS of the
idea that this technology is ‘universal’, how do you see that in relation to fonts,
and their longer history of standards?

That is indeed a long story, but I’ll give it a try. First of all, I think the idea
of universal technology appears to be quite omnipresent everywhere; the
mix-up between ubiquitousness and ‘universality’ is quickly made. In Free
Software this idea gains force only when it gets (con)fused with freedom
and openness and when conditions for access are kept out of the discussion.
We are interested in early typographic standardization projects because their
minimalist modularity brings out the tension between generic systems and
specific designs. Ludwig Goller, a Siemens engineer wo headed the Committee
for German Industry Standards in the 1920s stated that For the typefaces of
the future neither tools nor fashion will be decisive. His committee supervised
the development of DIN 1451, a standard font that should connect economy of use with legibility, and enhance global communication in service of
the German industry. I think it is no surprise that a similar phrasing can be
found in W3C documents; the idea to unify the people of the world through
a common language re-surfaces and has the same tendency to negate materiality and specificity in favour of seamless translation between media and
Type historian Ellen Lupton brought up the possibility of designing typographic systems that are accessible but not finite nor operating within a
fixed set of parameters. Although I don’t know what she means by using the
term ‘open universal’, I think this is why we are attracted to Free Software:
it has the potential to open up both the design of parameters as well as their
application. Which leads to your next question.
You mentioned the use of generative design just now. How far do you go into
this? Within the generative design field there seem to be a couple of tendencies, one
that is very pragmatic, simply about exploring a space of possible designs through
parametric definition in order to find, select and breed from and tweak a good
result that would not be necessarily imaginable otherwise, the other being more
about the inefible nature of the generative process itself, something vitalist. These
tendencies of not of course exclusive, but how are they inflected or challenged in
your use of generative techniques?

I feel a bit on thin ice here because we only start to explore the area and we
are certainly not deep into algorithmic design. But on a more mundane level
... in the move from print to design for the web, ‘grids’ have been replaced by
‘templates’ that interact with content and context through filters. Designers

have always been busy with designing systems and formats, 9 but stepped in
to manipulate singular results if necessary.
I referred to ‘generative design’ as the space opening up when you play
with rules and their affordances. The liveliness and specificity of the work
results from various parameters interfering with each other, including the
ones we can get our hands on. By making our own manipulations explicit,
we sometimes manage to make other parameters at play visible too. Because
at the end of the day, we are rather bored by mysterious beauty.

One of the techniques OSP uses to get people involved with the process and the
technologies is the ‘Print Party’, can you say what that is?

‘Print Parties’ are irregular public performances we organise when we feel
the need to report on what we discovered and where we’ve been; as antiheroes of our own adventures we open up our practice in a way that seems
infectious. We make a point of presenting a new experiment, of producing
something printed and also something edible on site each time; this mix of
ingredients seems to work best. ‘Print Parties’ are how we keep contact with
our fellow designers who are interested in our journey but have sometimes
difficulty following us into the exotic territory of BoF, Version Control and

You state in a few texts that OSP is interested in glitches as a productive force in
software, how do you explain this to a printer trying to get a file to convert to the
kind of thing they expect?
Not! Printing has become cheap through digitization and is streamlined to
the extreme. Often there is literally no space built in to even have a second
look at a differently formatted file, so to state that glitches are productive
is easier said than done. Still, those hickups make processes tangible, especially at moments you don’t want them to interfere.
For a book we are designing at the moment, we might partially work by
hand on positive film (a step now also skipped in file-to-plate systems). It
makes us literally sit with pre-press professionals for a day and hopefully we
can learn better where to intervene and how to involve them into the process.
To take the productive force of glitches beyond predictable aesthetics, means


it really made me laugh to think of Joseph Müller Brockman as vitalist


most of all a shift of rhythm – to effect other levels than the production
process itself. We gradually learn how our ideas about slow cooking design
can survive the instant need to meet deadlines. The terminology is a bit
painful but to replace ‘deadline’ by ‘milestone’, and ‘estimate’ by ‘roadmap’
is already a beginning.

One of the things that is notable about OSP is that the problems that you encounter are also described, appearing on your blog. This is something unusual
for a company attempting to produce the impression of an efficient ‘solution’.
Obviously the readers of the blog only get a formatted version of this, as a performed work? What’s the thinking here?

‘Efficient solutions’ is probably the last thing we try to impress with, though
it is important for us to be grounded in practice and to produce for real
under conventional conditions. The blog is a public record of our everyday
life with F/LOSS; we make an effort to narrate through what we stumble
upon because it helps us articulate how we use software, what it does to us
and what we want from it; people that want to work with us, are somehow
interested in these questions too. Our audience is also not just prospective
clients, but includes developers and colleagues. An unformatted account,
even if that was possible, would not be very interesting in that respect; we
turn software into fairytales if that is what it takes to make our point.
In terms of the development of F/LOSS approaches in areas outside software,
one of the key points of differentiation has been between ‘recipes’ and ‘food’, bits
and atoms, genotype and phenotype. That is that software moves the kinds of
rivalry associated with the ownership and rights to use and enjoy a physical object
into another domain, that of speed and quality of information, which network
distribution tends to mitigate against. This is also the same for other kinds of
data, such as music, texts and so on. (This migration of rivalry is often glossed
over in the description of ‘goods’ being ‘non-rivalrous’.) Graphic Design however
is an interesting middle ground in a certain way in that it both generates files of
many different kinds, and, often but not always, provides the ‘recipes’ for physical
objects, the actual ‘voedingstof ’, such as signage systems, posters, books, labels and
so on. Following this, do you circulate your files in any particular way, or by
other means attempt to blur the boundary between the recipe and the food?

We have just finished the design of a font (NotCourier-sans), a derivative of
Nimbus Mono, which is in turn a GPL’ed copy of the well known Courier
typeface that IBM introduced in 1955. Writing a proper licence for it,
opened up many questions about the nature of ‘source code’ in design, and
not only from a legalist perspective. While this is actually relatively simple
to define for a font (the source is the object), it is much less clear what it
means for a signage system or a printed book.
One way we deal with this, is by publishing final results side by side with ingredients and recipes. The raw files themselves seem pretty useless once the
festival is over and the book printed, so we write manuals, stories, histories.
We also experiment with using versioning systems, but the softwares available are only half interesting to us. Designed to support code development,
changes in text files can be tracked up to the minutest detail but unless you
are ready to track binary code, images and document layouts function as
black boxes. I think this is something we need to work on because we need
better tools to handle multiple file formats collaboratively, and some form
of auto-documentation to support the more narrative work.
On the other hand, manuals and licences are surprisingly rich formats if you
want to record how an object came into life; we often weave these kinds
of texts back into the design itself. In the case of NotCourierSans we will
package the font with a pdf booklet on the history of the typeface – mixing
design geneology with suggestions for use.
I think the blurring of boundaries happens through practice. Just like
recipes are linked in many ways to food, 10 design practice connects objects
to conditions. OSP is most of all interested in the back-and-forth between
those two states of design; rendering their interdepence visible and testing
out ways of working with it rather than against it. Hopefully both the food
and the recipe will change in the process.


tasting, trying, writing, cooking


This brief interview with Ludivine Loiseau and Pierre Marchand
from OSP was made in December 2012 by editor and designer
Manuel Schmalstieg. It unravels the design process of Aether9,
a book based on the archives of a collaborative adventure exploring the danger zones of networked audio-visual live performance. The text was published in that same publication.
Can you briefly situate the collective work of Open Source Publishing

OSP is a working group producing graphic design objects using only
Libre and/or Open Source software. Founded in 2006 in the frame of the
arts organisation Constant 1 , the OSP caravan consists today of a dozen
individuals of different backgrounds and practices.
Since how long are you working as a duo, and as a team in OSP?
3 to 4 years.

And how many books have you conceived?

As a team, it’s our first ‘real’ book. We previously worked together on a
somewhat similar project of archive exploration, but without printed material in
the end. 2
Similar in the type of content or in the process?

The process: we developed scripts to ‘scrap’ the project archives, but it’s output
was more abstract; we collected the fonts used in all the files and produced a graph
from this process. These archives weren’t structured, so the exploration was less
You rapidly chose TeX/ConTeXt as a software environment to produce
this book. Was it an obvious choice given the nature of the project, or did you
hesitate between different approaches?

The construction of the book focused on two axes/threads: chronology
and a series of ‘trace-route’ keywords. Within this approach of reading and
navigation using cross-references, ConTeXt appeared as an appropriate tool.


The world of TeX 3 is very intriguing, in particular for graphic designers.
It seems to me that it is always a struggle to push back the limits of what is
‘intended’ by the software.
ConTeXt is a constant fight! I wouldn’t say the same about other TeX
system instances. With ConTeXt, we found ourselves facing a very personal
project, because composition decisions are hardcoded to the liking of the package
main maintainer. And when we clash with these decisions, we are in the strange
position of using a tool while not agreeing with its builder.
As a concrete example, we could mention the automatic line spacing
adjustments. It was a struggle to get it right on the lines that include
keywords typeset with our custom ‘traced’ fonts. ConTeXt tried to do better,
and was increasing the line height of those words, as if it wanted to avoid
Were you ever worried that what you wanted to obtain was not doable?
Did you reject some choices – in the graphic design, the layout, the structure
– because of software limitations?
Yes. Opting for a two column layout appeared to be quite tough when
filling in the content, as it introduced many gaps. At some point we decided
to narrow the format on a single column. To obtain the two columns
layout in the final output, the whole book was recomposed during the pdfconstruction, through OSPImpose.
This allowed us to make micro adjustments in the end of the production
process, while introducing new games, such as shifting the images on double pages.
What is OSPImpose?
It’s a re-writing of a pdf imposition software that I wrote a couple years ago
for PoDoFo.
Again regarding ConTeXt: this system was used for other OSP works
– notably for the book Verbindingen/Jonctions 10; Tracks in electr(on)ic
fields. 4 Is it currently the main production tool at OSP?
It’s more like an in-depth initiation journey!
But it hasn’t become a standard in our workflow yet. In fact, each
new important book layout project raises each time the question of the

a software written in 1978 by Donald Knuth
distinguished by the Fernand Baudin Prize 2009


tool. Scribus and LibreOffice (spreadsheet) are also part of our book making
During our work session with you at Constant Variable, we noticed
that it was difficult to install a sufficiently complete TeX/ConTeXt/Python
environment to be able to generate the book. Is Pierre’s machine still the only
one, or did you manage to set it up on other computers?

Now we all have similar setups, so it’s a generalized generation. But it’s true
that this represented a difficulty at some times.
The source code and the Python scripts created for the book are publicly
accessible on the OSP Git server. Would these sources be realistically reusable? Could other publication projects use parts of the code ? Or, without
any explicit documentation, would it be highly improbable?

Indeed, the documentation part is still on the to-do list. Yet a large part
of the code is quite directly reusable. The code allows to parse different types
of files. E-mails and chat-logs are often found in project archives. Here the
Python scripts allows to order them according to date information, and will
automatically assign a style to the different content fields.

The code itself is a documentation source, as much on concrete aspects, such
as e-mail parsing, than on a possible architecture, on certain coding motives, etc.
And most importantly, is consists in a form of common experience.
Do you think you will reuse some of the general functions/features of
archive parsing for other projects ?
Hard to say. We haven’t anything in perspective that is close to the Aether9
project. But for sure, if the need of such treatment comes up again, we’ll retrieve
these software components.
Maybe for a publication/compilation of OSP’s adventures.

Have there been ‘revelations’, discoveries of unsuspected Python/ConText
features during this development?

I can’t recall having this kind of pleasure. The revelation, at least from
my point of view, happened in the very rich articulation of a graphical intention enacted in programming objects. It remains a kind of uncharted territory,
exploring it is always an exciting adventure.

Three fonts are used in the book: Karla, Crimson and Consola Mono.
Three pretty recent fonts, born in the webfonts contexts I believe. What
considerations brought you to this choice?
Our typographical choices and researches lead us towards fonts with
different style variations. As the textual content is quite rich and spreads
on several layers, it was essential to have variation possibilities. Also, each
project brings the opportunity to test new fonts and we opted for recently
published fonts, indeed published, amongst others, on the Google font directory. Yet Karla and Crimson aren’t fonts specifically designed for a web
usage. Karla is one of the rare libre grotesque fonts, and it’s other specificity
it that it includes Tamil glyphs.
Apart from the original glyphs specially created for this book, you drew the
Ç glyph that was missing to Karla ... Is it going to be included to its official
Oh, that’s a proposal for Jonathan Pinhorn. We haven’t contacted him
yet. For the moment, this cedilla has been snatched from the traced variant
Were there any surprises when printing? I am thinking in particular of
your choice of a colored ink instead of the usual black, or to the low res quality
(72dpi) of most of the images.
At the end of the process, the spontaneous decision to switch to blue ink was
a guaranteed source of surprise. We were confident that it wouldn’t destroy the
book, and we surely didn’t take too many risks since we were working with low
res images. But we weren’t sure how the images would react to such an offense. It
was an great surprise to see that it gave the book a very special radiance.
What are your next projects?
We are currently operating as an invited collective at the Valence Academy
of Fine Arts in the frame of a series of workshops named ‘Up pen down’.
We’re preparing a performance for the Balsamine theatre 5 on the topic of
Bootstrapping. In April we will travel as a group to Madrid to LGRU 6 and
LGM 7 . We also continually work on ‘Co-position”’, a project for building
a post-gutenberg typographical tool.
the international Libre Graphics Meeting:


Performing Libre Graphics

In April 2014 I traveled from Leipzig to the north of
Germany to meet with artist Cornelia Sollfrank. It was
right after the Libre Graphics Meeting, and the impressions from the event were still very fresh. Cornelia had
asked me for a video interview as part of Giving what you
don’t have, 1 a series of conversations about what she refers
to as ‘complex copyright-critical practices’. She was interested in forms of appropriation art that instead of claiming
some kind of ‘super-user’ status for artists, might provide
a platform for open access and Free Culture not imaginable elsewhere. I’ve admired Cornelia’s contributions to
hacker culture for long. She pioneered as a cyberfeminist
in the 1990s with the hilarious and intelligent net-art piece
Female Extension 2 , co-founded Old Boys Network 3 and
developed seminal projects such as the Net Art Generator.
The opportunity to spend two sunny spring days with her
intelligence, humour and cyberfeminist wisdom could not
have come at a better moment.
What is Libre Graphics?

Libre Graphics is quite a large ecosystem of software tools; of people, people
that develop these tools but also people that use these tools; practices, like
how do you work with them, not just how do you make things quickly and
in an impressive way, but also how these tools might change your practice;
and cultural artifacts that result from it. It is all these elements that come
together, I would call Libre Graphics. The term ‘libre’ is chosen deliberately.


Performing Libre Graphics

It is slightly more mysterious than the term ‘free’, especially when it turns up
in the English language. It sort of hints that there is something different,
something done on purpose. And it is also a group of people that are
inspired by Free Software culture, by Free Culture, by thinking about how
to share both their tools, their recipes and the outcomes of all this. Libre
Graphics goes in many directions. But it is an interesting context to work
in, that for me has been quite inspiring for a few years now.

The context of Libre Graphics

The context of Libre Graphics is multiple. I think that I am excited about
it and also part of why it is sometimes difficult to describe it in a short
sentence. The context is design, and people that are interested in design, in
creating visuals, animation, videos, typography ... and that is already multiple contexts, because each of these disciplines have their own histories,
and their own types of people that get touched by them. Then there is
software, people that are interested in the digital material. They say, I am
excited about raw bits and the way a vector gets produced. And that is a
very, almost formal, interest in how graphics are made. Then there is people that do software. They’re interested in programming, in programming
languages, in thinking about interfaces, and thinking about ways software
can become a tool. And then there are people that are interested in Free
Software. How can you make digital tools that can be shared, but also,
how can that produce processes that can be shared. Free Software activists
to people that are interested in developing specific tools for sharing design
and software development processes, like Git or Subversion, those kind of
things. I think the multiple contexts are really special and rich in Libre

Free Software culture

Free Software culture, and I use the term ‘culture’ because I am interested
in, let’s say, the cultural aspect of it, and this includes software. For me
software is a cultural object. But I think it is important to emphasize this,

Performing Libre Graphics

because it easily turns into a technocentric approach, which I think is important to stay away from. Free Software culture is the thinking that, when
you develop technology, and I am using technology in the sense that it is
cultural as well to me, deeply cultural, you need to take care as well of sharing the recipes, for how this technology has been developed. This produces
many different other tools, ways of working, ways of speaking, vocabularies, because it changes radically the way we make and the way we produce
hierarchies. It means for example, if you produce a graphic design artifact,
that you share all the source files that were necessary to make it; but you
also share as much as you can, descriptions or narrations of how it came to
be, which does include maybe how much was paid for it, where difficulties
were in negotiating with the printer; and what elements were included, because a graphic design object is usually a compilation of different elements;
what software was used to make it, and where it might have resisted. The
consequences of taking the Free Software culture serious in a design context, means that you care about all these different layers of the work, all the
different conditions that actually made the work happen.

Free Culture

The relationship from Libre Graphics to Free Culture is not always that
explicit. For some people it is enough to work with tools that are released
under a GPL, an open content licence. And there it stops. Even their work
will be released under proprietary licences. For others, it is important to
make the full circle and to think about what the legal status is of the work
they release. That is the more general one. Then, Free Culture, we can use
that very loosely, as in ‘everything that is circulating under conditions that
it can be reused and remade’. That would be my position. Free Culture
is of course also referred to a very specific idea of how that would work,
namely Creative Commons. For myself Creative Commons is problematic, although I value the fact that it exists and has really created a broader
discussion around licences in creative practices. I value that. For me the distinction Creative Commons makes for almost all the licences they promote,
between commercial and non-commercial work, and as a consequence, between professional and amateur work, I find that very problematic. Because
I think one of the most important elements of Free Software culture for me,

Performing Libre Graphics

is the possibility for people from different backgrounds, with different skill
sets, to actually engage with the digital artifacts they’re surrounded with.
By making this lazy separation between commercial and non-commercial,
which especially in the context of the web as it is right now, is not really
easy to hold up, seems really problematic. It creates an illusion of clarity
that I think actually makes more trouble than clarity. So I use Free Culture
licences, I use licences that are more explicit about the fact that anyone can
use whatever I produce in any context. Because I think that is where the
real power is of Free Software culture. For me Free Software licences and
all the licences that are around it, because I think there is many different
types and that is interesting, is that they have a viral power built in. So if
you apply a Free Software licence to, for example, a typeface, it means that
someone else, even someone else you don’t know, has the permission and
doesn’t have to ask for a permission, to reuse the typeface, to change it, to
mix it with something else, to distribute it and to sell it. That is one part,
that is already very powerful. But the real secret of such a licence is, that
once this person re-releases the typeface, it means that they need to keep
that same licence and it propagates across the network and that is where it
is really powerful.

Free tools

It is important to use tools that are released under conditions that allow
me to look further than its surface. For many reasons. There is an ethical
reason. It is very problematic I think, as a friend explained last week, to feel
that you’re renting a room in a hotel. That is often the way practitioners
nowadays relate to their tools. They have no right to move the furniture.
They have no right to invite friends to their hotel room. They have to check
out at eleven, etc. it is a very sterile relationship to the tools. That is one
part. The other is that there is little way to come into contact with the
cultural aspects of the tools. Some things that I suspected before starting
to use Free Software tools for my practice, but has been already for almost
ten years, continuously exciting, is the whole, let’s say, all the other elements
around it. The way people organize themselves in conferences, mailing lists,
the kinds of communication that happens, the vocabularies, the histories,
the connections between different disciplines ... And all that is available to

Performing Libre Graphics

look at, to work with, to come into contact with; to speak to people that do
these tools and ask them, why is it like this and not like that. And that to
me seems obvious that artists want to have that kind of layered relationship
with their tools, and not just only accept whatever comes out of next door
shop. I have a very different, almost different physical experience of these
tools, because I can enter on many levels. That makes them part of my
practice, not just means to an end. I really can take them into my practice.
That I find interesting, as an artist and as a designer.


The outcomes of this type of practice are different, or at least, let’s say, in
the kind of work I make, try to make and the people I like to work with.
There is obviously also groups of people that would like to do Hollywood
movies with those tools. That is kind of interesting, that that happens.
For me somehow the technological context or conditions that made a work
possible, will always occur in the final result. So, that is one part. And
the other is that the product is never the end. It means that in whatever
way source materials will be released, will be made available, it means that
a product is always the beginning of another product, either by me or by
other people. I think that is two things that you can always see in the kind
of works we make when we do libre-graphics-my-style. When we make a
book, for example, what is already different, is when we start the process, it
is not yet defined what tool we will use. There is a whole array of tools you
can choose from. I mean, books are basically text on paper, and there are
many ways to arrive at that output. For one book we did a few years ago,
we decided for the first time, because we had never used this tool before,
to use TeX, a typesetting system that is developed by Donald Knuth in the
context of academic publishing. That has been around as an almost mythological solution for a perfect typesetting. We were curious about whether
we could use that system that is developed in a very specific context for an
art catalog that we wanted to make. We had to learn how to use this tool,
which meant that we somehow had to learn the vocabulary, understand its
sort of perspective; things that were possible or not, get used to the kind of
humor that is quite terrible in these manuals; accept that certain things that
we thought would be easy, were actually not easy at all; and then understand

Performing Libre Graphics

how we could use the things that were popping up or not working or that
were different, how we could use them in our advantage. The final result
is a book that is slightly strange, because there are some mistakes that have
been left in, deliberately or by accident sometimes. The book contains an
extensive description of how it was made. Both visually, like it explains the
technical details of how it was made, but also the description of that learning
process. Another example of how tools, practice and outcomes are somehow
connected, but also the whole politics around it, because often these projects
are also ways of teasing out; ways licences, practice and tools somehow interact, is a project called ‘Sans Guilt’. It is a play with the ‘Gill Sans’ which
is a famous classic typeface that is claimed to be owned by a company called
Monotype. But according to our understanding, they have no right to actually claim this typeface as such. But through their communication they do
so. OSP was invited to work in an art academy in London, where they had
a lead version. And we decided to play with the typeface. The typeface OSP
released has many different versions, not versions as in bold, light etc. but
it has different levels of ‘licencing risk’. One is a straight scan of the prints
that were made at that workshop. Another version is more guilty, in the
sense that it is an extraction from a .pdf using the Monotype Gill. Another
is a redrawn version that takes the matrix, the spacing of a Monotype Gill,
but combines it with a redrawn example. All different variations of this font
touch on different elements of licencing problems that might occur with
typefaces. We sent our experiment to Monotype, because we wanted to hear
from them what they thought. After a few months we received a letter from
a lawyer saying, would you please identify yourself. We decided to write
back as we are, which is, 25 people from 20 different countries with stable
and unstable addresses. This long list probably made that we never heard
anything again, and ‘Sans Guilt’ is still available from our website under an
open font licence. What the is important, the typeface is different, in the
sense that the specimen is not much about showing off how beautiful it will
look in any context, but has the description of the process, the motivation
of why we did it, the letter we sent to Monotype, the response we got, ...
The whole packaging of the font becomes then a way of speaking about all
these layers that are in our practice.


Performing Libre Graphics

Libre fonts

A very exciting part of Libre Graphics is the Libre Font movement, which
is strong and has been strong for a long time. Fonts are the basic building
blocks of how graphics come to life. When you type something, it is there.
And the fact that that part of the work is free, is important on many levels.
Things you often don’t think about when you speak English and you stay
within a limited character set, is that, when you live in let’s say India, the
language you speak is not available as a digital typeface, meaning that when
you want to produce a book in the tools that are available or publish it
online, your language has no way of expressing itself. That has to do with
commercial interests, laws, ways the technical infrastructure has been built.
By understanding that it is important that you can express yourself in the
language and with the characters you need, it is also obvious that that part
needs to be free. Fonts are also interesting because they exist on many
levels. They exist in your system; they’re almost software because they’re
quite complicated objects; they appear in your screen, they are when you
print a document; they are there all the time. We consider the alphabet as
a totally accessible and available and a universal right to have the alphabet
at our disposal. So it is about ‘freeing the A’, you know. That’s quite a
beautiful energy. I think that has made the Libre Font movement very
strong. Something that has happened the last years and brings up new
problems and potential areas to work on, is fonts available for the web.
Web fonts have really exploded the amount of free fonts available. Before,
fonts were always, let’s say, when they were used, tied to a document, and
there was some kind of fantasy about that you could hold them, you could
somehow contain them, licence them and keep them in check. With the
web that idea has gone. And many people have decided to liberate their
fonts to be able to make them usable for a website. Because if you think
about it, if you use a font on a website, it means that it has to be able to
travel everywhere. Everyone has to be able to look at what the font does,
but it is not just an output. It is not just an endpoint. The font is active,
it means it is available. In theory, any font that appears on the web is both
display and program. By displaying the page, you need to run the font.
That means the font needs to be available as a source and as a result. That
means you have to publish your font. This has really created a big boom in
the last few years in Free Fonts, because that is the easiest way to deal with
that problem: allow people to download these fonts, but in a way that keeps
authorship clear, that keeps genealogy clear, and also propagates then the
possibility of making new fonts based on someone else’s work.

Performing Libre Graphics

Free artifacts / open standards

It took me a while to figure this out. For me it was obvious that if you would
use Free Software, you would produce free artifacts. It seems obvious, but it
is not at all the case. There is full-fledged commercial production happening
with these tools. But one thing that keeps the results, the outcomes of these
projects freer than most commercial tools, is that there is really an emphasis
on open document formats. That is extremely important, because first of
all, it is very obvious that the documents that you produce with the tool,
should not belong to the software vendor. They are yours. And to be able
to own your own documents, you need to be able to inspect how they’re
produced. I know many tragic stories of designers that lost documents
because they could never open them again. There is really an emphasis
and a lot of work on making sure that the documents produced from these
tools remain ‘inspectable’, are documented, that either you can open them
in another tool or could develop a tool to have these files available for you.
It is really part and parcel of Free Software culture, that you care about that
what generates your artifact, but also the materiality of your artifact. Open
standards are important. Or maybe let’s say it is is important that file formats
are documented and can be understood. What is interesting to see is that in
this whole Libre Graphics world there is also a strong tradition of reverse
engineering, document activism, I would call it. They claim: documents need
to be free, and we will risk breaking the law to be able to understand how nonfree documents actually are constructed. They are really working on trying to
understand non-free documents, to be able to read them and to be able to
develop tools for them, that they can be reused and remade. The difference
between a free and a non-free document is that, for example, an InDesign
file, which is the result of a commercial product, there is no documentation
available of how this file works. This means that the only way to open the
document, is with that particular program. It means there is a connection
between that what you’ve made and the software you used to produce it. It
also means that if the software updates or the licence runs out, you will not
have access to your own file. It means it is fixed. You can never change it
and you can never allow anyone else to change it. An open document format
has documentation. That means that not only the software that created it,
is available, and in that way you can understand how it was made, but also
there is independent documentation available that whenever a project, like
a software, doesn’t work anymore, or is too old to be run, or you don’t have

Performing Libre Graphics

it available, you have other ways of understanding the document and being
able to open it and reuse and remake it. What is important, is that around
these open formats, you see a whole ecosystem exists of tools to inspect, to
create, to read, to change, to manipulate these formats. I think it is very
easy to see how around InDesign files this culture does not exist at all.

Sharing practise / re-learn

This way of working changes the way you learn, and therefore the way you
teach. And as many of us have understood the relation between learning
and practice, we’ve all been somehow involved in education. Many of us are
teaching in formal design or art education. And it is very clear how those
traditional schools are really not fit for the type of learning and teaching that
needs to happen around Libre Graphics. One of the problems we run into, is
the fact that validation systems are really geared towards judging individuals.
And our type of practice is always multiple. It is always about things that
happen with many people. And it is really difficult to inspire students to
work that way, and at the same time know that at the end of the day, they’ll
be judged on what they produced as an individual. In traditional education
there is always a separation between teaching technology and practice. You
have, in different ways, you have the studio practice, and then you have the
workshops. And it is very difficult to make conceptual connections between
the two. We end up trying to make that happen, but it is clearly not made
for that. And then there is the problem of hierarchies between tutor and
student, that are hard to break in formal education, just because the setup is,
even in very informal situations, that someone comes to teach and someone
else comes to be taught. And there is no way to truly break that hierarchy,
because that is the way a school works. For years we are thinking about how
to do teaching differently or how to do learning differently, and last year, for
the first time, we organized a summer school. Just like a kind of experiment
to see if we could learn and teach differently. The title, the name of the
school is Relearn. Because the sort of relearning for yourself but also to
others, through teaching learning, has become really a good methodology,
it seems.
If I say ‘we’, that’s always a bit uncomfortable, because I like to be clear about
who that is, but when I’m speaking here, there is many ‘wes’ in my mind.

Performing Libre Graphics

There is a group of designers called OSP. They have started in 2006 with
the simple decision to not use any proprietary software anymore for their
work. And from that this whole set of questions and practices and methods developed. Right now, that’s about twelve people working in Brussels,
having a design practice. I am lucky to be honory member of this group.
I’m in close contact with them, but I’m not actively working with the design
group. Another ‘we’, an overlapping ‘we’, is Constant, an association for
arts and media active in Brussels since 1996. Or 1997 maybe. Our interest
is more in mixing Copyleft thinking, Free Software thinking and feminism.
In many ways that intersects with OSP but they might phrase it in a different way. Another ‘we’ is the Libre Graphics community, which is even a
more uncomfortable ‘we’. Because it includes engineers that would like to
conquer the world ... and small hyper intelligent developers that creep out
of their corners to talk about the very strange worlds they’re creating. Or
typographers that care about universal typefaces, or ... I mean there is many
different people that are involved in that world. I think for this conversation, the ‘wes’ are: OSP, Constant and the Libre Graphics community,
whatever that is.

Libre Graphics annual meeting Leipzig 2014

We worked on a Code of conduct, which is something that seems to appear
in Free Software or tech conferences more and more. It comes a bit from
US context. We have started to understand that the fact that Free Software
is free, doesn’t mean that everyone feels welcome. For long there have been
and there still are large problems with diversity in this community. The
excitement about freedom has led people to think that people that were not
there would probably not want to be there and therefore had no role to be
there. For example, the fact that there are not a lot of women active in Free
Software, a lot less than in proprietary software, which is quite painful if
you think about it. It has to do with this sort of cyclical effect of because
women are not there, they will probably not be interested, and because they’re
not interested, they might not be capable or feel capable of being active. So they
might not belong. There is also a very brutal culture of harassment, of
racist and sexist language, of using imagery that is let’s say unacceptable,
and that needs to be dealt with. Over the last two years I think, documents

Performing Libre Graphics

like Codes of conduct have started to come up from feminists that are active
in this world, like Geek feminism or the Ada initiative, as a way to deal
with this. And what it does, is it describes ... it is slightly pompous, in the
sense that it describes your values. But it is a way to acknowledge the fact
that these communities have a problem with harassment, first. That they
explicitly say we want diversity, which is important. That it gives very clear
and practical guidelines for what someone that feels harassed can do, who
he or she can speak to, and what will be the consequences. Meaning that
it takes away the burden, at least as much as possible, from someone that is
harassed to defend actually the gravity of the case.

Art as integrative concept

For me calling myself an artist is useful, is very useful. I’m not busy with
let’s say, the constitutional art context. That doesn’t help me, at all. But
what does help me is the figure of the artist, the kinds of intelligences that
I sort of project on myself and I use from others and my colleagues, before
and contemporary. Because it allows me to not have too many ... to be able
to define my own context and concepts, without forgetting practice. And I
think art is one of the rare places that allows this. Not only allows it, but
actually rigorously asks for it. It is really wanting me to be explicit about my
historical connections, my way of making, my references, my choices, that
are part of the situation I build. And the figure of the artist is a very useful
toolbox in itself. And I think I use it, more than I would have thought. It
allows me to make these cross connections in a productive way.


The making of Conversations was on many levels a process of dialogue, between people, processes, and systems.
Xavier Klein and Christoph Haag were as much involved
in editorial decisions as they were in creating an experimental platform that would allow us to produce a publication in a way true to the content of the conversations
it would contain. In August 2014 we discussed the ideas
behind their designs and the status of the systems they
were developing for the book that you are reading right
I wanted to ask you Xavier, how did you end up in Germany?
It’s a long story, so I’ll make it short. I benefit from the Leonardo program, a
scholarship to do an internship abroad. So I searched for graphic design studios
that use Open Source and Free Software. I asked OSP first, but they said No.
I didn’t know LAFKON at this time, and a friend told me: Hey there is this
graphic design studio in Germany, so I asked and they said Yes. So I was
happy. ( laughs)
How did you start working on this book?

I thought it would be nice to have a project during Xavier’s stay in Augsburg
with a specific outcome. Something going beyond pure experimentation.
So I asked Constant if there were any projects that need to be worked on.
And I’m really happy with the Conversations publication, because it is a
good mixture. There is the technical experiment, how you would approach
something like this using Free Software. And there is the editing side.
To read all these opinions and reflections. It’s really interesting from the
content side, at least for me – I don’t dare to speak for Xavier. So that’s
basically how it started.
You developed a constellation of tools that together are producing the book.
Can you explain what the elements are, how this book is made?

We decided in the beginning to use Etherpad for the editing. A lot of
documentation during Constant events was done with Etherpad and I found
its very direct access to editing quite inspiring. Earlier this year we prepared a
workshop for the Libre Graphics Meeting, where we’d have a transformation
from Etherpad pages to a printable .pdf. The idea was to somehow separate
the content editing and the rendering. Basically I wanted to follow some
kind of ‘pull logic’. At a certain point in the process, there is an interface
where you can pull out something without the need to interfere too much
with the inner workings of this part. There is the stable part, the editing on
the Etherpad, and there is something, that can be more experimental and
unstable which transforms the content to again a stable, printable version. I
tried to create a custom markdown dialect, meant to be as simple as possible.
It should reduce to some elements, the elements that are actually needed.
For example if we have an interview, what is required from the content side?
We have text and changing speakers. That’s more or less the most important
So on the first level, we have this simple format and from there the transformation process starts. The idea was to have a level, where basically anybody,
who knows how to use a text editor, can edit the text. But at the same
time it should have more layers of complexity. It actually can get quite
complex during the transformation process. But it should always have this
level, where it’s quite simple. So just text and for example this one markup
element for ok now the speaker changes.
In the beginning we experimented with differents tools, basically small
scripts to perform all kinds of layout task. Xavier for example prepared a
hotglue2svg converter. After that, we thought, why don’t we try to connect different approaches? Not only the very strict markdown to TeX to
.pdf transformations, but to think about, under which circumstances you
would actually prefer a canvas-based approach. What can you do on a canvas
that you can’t do or is much harder with a markup language.
It seems you are developing an adhoc markup language? Is that related to
what you wrote in the workshop description for Operating Systems: 1 Using
operating systems as a metaphor, we try to imagine systems that are both
structured and open?

Yes. The idea was to have these connected/disconected parts. So you have
the part where the content is edited in collaboration and you have the transformer script running separately on the individuals’ computers. For me this


solved in a way the problem of stability. You can use a quite elaborated,
reliable software like Etherpad and derive something from it without going
to its inner workings. You just pull the content from it, without affecting
the software too much. And you have the part, where it can get quite experimental and unreliable, without affecting all collaborators. Because the
process runs on your own computer and not on the server.
The markup concept comes from the documentation of a video streaming
workshop in Linz. There we wanted to have the possibility to write the
documentation collaboratively during the workshop and we needed also to
solve problems like How about the inclusion of images? That is where the first
markup element came from, which basically just was was a specific line of
text, which indicates ‘here should be this/that image’. If this specific line
appears in the text during the transformation process, it triggers an action
that will look for a specific file in the repository. If the image exists, it will
write the matching macro command for LaTeX. If the image is not in the
repository, it will do nothing. The idea was, that the creation of the .pdf
should happen anyway, e.g. although somebody’s repository might be not at
the latest state and a missing image would prevent LaTeX from rendering
the document. It should also ignore errors, for example if someone mistypes
the name of image or the command. It should not stop the process, but
produce a different output, e.g. without the image.
Why do you think the process should not stop when there’s an error? Why is
that so important?

For me it was important to ensure some kind of feedback, even if there might
be ‘errors’ in the output. Not just ‘not work’. It can be really frustrating,
when the first thing you have to do, is to find and solve a problem – which
can be quite hard with this sort of unprofessional scripts – before there’s is
happening anything at all. So at a certain point, at least something should
appear, even if it’s not necessarily the way it was originally intended. Like
a tolerance for errors, which would even produce something, that maybe
different from what you expected. But it should produce ‘something’.
You imagine a kind of iterative development that we know from working with
code, that allows you to keep differents versions, that keeps flowing in a way.
For example, this specific markup format. It’s basically markdown and
I wanted some more elements, like footnotes and the option to include
citations and comments. I find it quite handy, when you write software,

that you have the possibility to include comments that are not part of the
actual output, but part of the working process. I also enjoy this while
writing text (e.g. with LaTeX), because I can keep comments or previous
versions or drafts. So I really have my working version and transform this
to some kind of output.
But back to the etherpash workshop. Commands are basically comments
that will trigger some action, for example the inclusion of a graphic or
changing the font or anything. These commands are referenced in a separate
file, so everybody can have different versions of the commands on their own
machine. It would not affect the other people. For example, if you wanted
to have a much more elaborated GRAFIK command, you could write it and
use it within your transformer of the document or you could introduce new
commands, that are written on the main pad, but would be ignored for
other people, because they have a different reference file. Does this make
Yes. In a way, there are a lot of grey zones. There are elements that are
global and elements that are local; elements can easily go parallel and none
of the commands actually has always the same output, for everyone.

They can, but they do not need to. You can stick to the very basic version
that comes directly from the repository. You could use this version to create
a .pdf in the ‘original’ way, but you can easily change it on different levels.
You can change the Bash commands that are triggered by the transformer
script, you can work on the LaTeX macros or change the script itself. I
found it quite important to have different levels of complexity. You may go
deeper, but you do not necessarily have to. The Etherpad content is the very
top level. You don’t have to install a software on your computer, you can
just open up a browser and edit the text. So this should make the access to
collaboration easier. Because for a lot of experimental software you spend a
lot of time to get it even running. Most often you have a very steep learning
curve and I found it interesting, to separate this learning curve in a way. So
you have different layers and if you really want to reconfigure on a deep level,
you can, but you do not necessarily have to.
I guess you are talking about collaboration across different levels of complexity, where different elements can transform the final outcome. But if you
take the analogy of CSS, or let’s say a Content Management System that
generates HTML, you could say that this also creates divisions of labour. So
rather than making collaboration possible, it confines people to to different

files. How do you think your systems invite people to take part in different
levels? Are these layers porous at all? Can they easily slip between different
roles, let’s say an editor, a typographer and a programmer?
Up to a certain extent it’s like a division of labour. But if you call it a
separation of tasks, it makes definitely sense for me. It can be quite hard, if
you have to take over responsability for everything at the same time. So it
makes sense for me, also for collaboration, to offer this separation. Because
it can be good to have the possibility not to have to deal with the whole
system and everything at the same time. You should be able to do so, but
you should not necessarily have to. I think this is important, because a lot
of frustration regarding Free Software systems comes from the necessity to
go to the deep level at an early stage. I mean it’s an interesting problem.
The promise of convenience is quite hard, because most times is does not
really work. And it’s also fine that it doesn’t really work. At the same time
it’s frightening for people to get into it and so I think, it’s good to do this
step by step and also to have an easy top level opportunity to go into, for
example, programming. This is also a thing I became really interrested in.
The principle of the commandline to ‘extend usage into programming’. 2
You do not have to have a development environment and then you compile
software and then you have software, but you have this flexible interface for
your daily tasks. If you really need to go a deeper level, you can, at least with
Free Software. But you don’t have to ... compile your kernel every time.

Not every time! What I find interesting about your work is that you prefer not
to conceal any layers. References, commands, markup hints at the existence
of other layers, and the potential to go somewhere else. I wanted you to ask
about your fascination or interest in something ‘old school’ as Bash scripting.
Why is it so interesting?

Maybe at first point, it’s a bit of a fascination for the obscure. That normally,
as a graphic designer you wouldn’t think of using the commandline for your
work. When I started to use GNU/Linux, I’d try to stay away from the terminal. Which is basically, as I realised pretty soon, not possible. 3 At some
point, Bash scripting became really fascinating, because of the possibility to
use automation to correct or add functionalities. With the commandline
it’s easy to automate repetitive tasks, e.g. you can write a small script that

Florian Cramer. (echo echo) echo (echo): Command Line Poetics, 2007
let’s say hard


creates a separate .svg file for each layer in a .svg file 4 , convert this separated .svg files to .pdf files 5 and combine the .pdf files to a multipage
.pdf 6 . Just by collecting commands you’d normally type on your commandline interface. So in this case, automation helps to work around a missing
multipage support in inkscape. Not by changing the application itself, but
by plugging something ‘on top’ of it. I like to think of the Bash as glue
between different applications. So if we have a look now at the setup for
the conversations publication, we may see that Bash makes it really easy to
develop own configurations and setups. I actually thought about prefering
the word ‘setup’ to ‘writing software’ ...

Are you saying you prefer setup ‘over’ configuration?

Setup or configuration of software ‘over’ actually writing software. Because
for me it’s often more about connecting different applications. For example,
here we have a browser-based text editor, from which the content is automatically pulled and transformed via text-transform tools and then rendered
as a .pdf. What I find interesting, is that the scripts in between may actually be not very stable, but connect two stables parts. One is the Etherpad,
where the export function is taken ‘as is’ and you’ve got the final state of a
.pdf. In between, I try to have this flexible thing, that just needs to work
at this moment, in my special case. I mean certain scripts may reach quite
an amount of stability, but not necessarily. So it’s very good to have this
fixed state at the end.

You mean the .pdf?

I mean the .pdf, because ... These scripts are quite personal software and
so I don’t really think about other users beside me. For me it’s a whole
different subject to go to the usability level. That’s maybe also a cause for
the open state of the scripts. It would not make much sense – if I want to
have the opportunity for other people to make use of these things – to have
black boxes. Because for this, they are much too fragile. They can be taken
over, but there is no promise of ... convenience? 7 And it’s also important
for myself, because the setups are really tailored to a specific use case and

using sed, stream editor for filtering and transforming text
using inkscape on the commandline
using pdftk
... distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without
even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR
PURPOSE. Free Software Foundation. GNU General Public License, 2007


therefore more or less temporary. So I need to be able to read and adapt
them myself.
I know that you usually afterwards you provide a description of how the collage
was made. You publish the scripts, and sketches and intermediary outcomes.
So it seems that usability is more in how you give access to the process rather
than the outcome. Or would you say that software is the outcome?

Actually for me the process is the more interesting part of the work. A lot of
the projects are maybe more like a proof of concept, than finished pieces of
software. I often reuse parts of these setups or software pieces, so it’s more
collections of ‘How to do something’ then really a finished thing, that’s now
suitable to produce this or that.
I’m just wondering, looking at your designs, if you would like that layering,
this unstability to be somehow legible in the .pdf or the printed object?

I don’t think that this unstability is really legible. Because in the process
there’s a certain point where definitive decisions are taken. It’s also part of
the concept. You make decisions and that make the final state of the object
what it is. And if you want to get back to the more flexible part, then you
would really have to get back. So I don’t actually think that it is legible in
the final output, on the first sight, that it is based on a very fluid working
process. And for me that’s quite ok. It’s also important for me – because
I tend not to do so – to take a decision at a certain point. But that’s not
necessarily the ultimate decision and therefore it’s also important to keep
the option open to redefine ... ‘the thing’.

What you’re saying, is that you can be decisive in your design decisions because
the outcome could also be another. You could always regenerate the .pdf
with other decisions.
Yes. For example, I would regenerate the .pdf with the same decisions,
another person maybe would take different decisions. But that’s one step
before the final object. For example, if we do not talk about the .pdf, but
we actually talk about the book, then it’s very clear, that there are decisions,
that need to be taken or that have been taken. And actually I like the feeling
of convenience when things get finished. They are done. Not configurable

( laughs) That’s convenient, if things get done!

For this specific book, you have made a few decisions, for example your selection of fonts is particular.
Xavier, can you say something about the typography of Conversations?

Huuumn yep, for the typographic decisions ... in the beginning we searched for
fancy fonts, but in a way came back to use very classic fonts, respectively one classic
font. So the Junicode 8 for the text and the OCR-A 9 for anything else. Because
we decided to focus on testing different ways of layouting and use the fonts as a
way to keep a certain continuity between the parts. We thought this can be more
interesting, than to show that we can find a lot of beautiful, fancy fonts.

So in the beginning, we thought about having a different font for every
speaker, but sooner or later we realised that it would be good to have something that keeps the whole thing together. Right now, this are the two
fonts. The Junicode, which is a font for medievalists, and the OCR-A,
which is a optical character recognition font from the early age of computer technology. So the hypothesis was, to have this combination – a very
classical typeface inspired by the 16th century and a typeface optimized for
machine reading – that maybe will produce an interesting clash of two different approaches. While at the same time providing a continuous element
throughout the book. But that still has to be proven in the final layout.

I find it interesting that both fonts in their own way are somehow conversational. They are both used in situations where one system needs to talk to

Yeah, definitely in a way. They are both optimised for a special usage, which,
by the way, isn’t the usage of our case. One for the display of medieval
texts, where you have to have lot of different signs and ligatures and ... that’s
the Junicode. The other one, the OCR-A, is optimized to be legible by
machines. So that are two different directions of conversation. And they’re
both Free and Open Source fonts ...
And for the layout? How are the divider pages going to be constructed?

For the divider pages, it’s an application ‘Built with Processing’, done by
Benjamin 10 . In a way, it’s a different approach, because it’s a software with
an extensive Graphical User Interface, with a lot of options. So it’s different



from the very modular, connective approach. There we decided to have this
software, which is directly controlled by the controller, the person who uses
it. And again, there is this moment of definitive decision. Ok, this is exactly
how I want the title pages to look. And then they are put in a fixed state.
At the same time, the software will be part of the repository, to be usable
as a tool. So it’s a very ... not a ‘very classic’ ... approach. To write ‘your’
software for ‘your’ very specific use case. In a more monolithic way ...
Just to add this. In this custom markdown dialect, I decided at a point
to include a command, which is INCLUDEPAGES, where you can provide
a .pdf file via an url to be included in the document. So the .pdf may
be stored anywhere, as long as it is accessible over the internet. I found
this an interesting opportunity for collaboration. Because if somebody does
not want to stick to the grid given by the LaTeX configuration or to this
kind of working in general, this person could create a .pdf, store it online,
reference it and the file will be included. This can be a very disconnected
way of contributing to the final book. And that’s also a thing we’re now
trying to test ourselves. Because in the beginning we developed a lot of
different little scripts, for example the hotglue2svg converter. And right
now we’re trying to extend this. For example, to create one interview in
Scribus and include the .pdf made with Scribus. To also test ourselves
different approaches.
This book will be both a collage and have a overall, predefined structure
provided by the lay-out engine?

I’m trying to make pragmatic use of the functionalities of LaTeX, which is
used for the final compiling of the .pdf. So for example, also ready-made
.pdf files included into the final document are referenced in the table of

Can you explain that again ?

Separate .pdfs, that are included into the final document will be referenced
in the table of contents. We can still make use of the automatic generation
of page numbers in the table of contents, so there it goes together. There
are certain borders, for example since the .pdfs are more like finished documents, indexing will probably not work. Because even if you can extract
references from the .pdf, I didn’t find a way until now, how to find out the
page number in a reliable way. There you also realise, that you can do much
more with the plain text sources than you can do with a finished document.

But I think that’s ok. In this case you wouldn’t to have a keyword reference
to the .pdf, while it’s still in the table of contents ...
What if someone would want to use one of these interviews for something else?
How could this book becoming source for an another publication?
That’s also an advantage of the quite simple source format on the Etherpad.
It can be easily converted to e.g. simple markdown, just by a little script.
I found this quite important – because at this point we’re putting quite an
amount of work into the preparation of the texts – to have it not in a format
that is not parseable. I really wanted to keep the documents transformable
in a easy way. So now you could just have a ~fiveliner, that will pull the text
from the Etherpad and convert it to simple markdown or to HTML.

If you have a more or less clean source format, then it’s in most cases easy
to convert it to different formats. For example, the Evan Roth interview,
you provided as a ConTeXt file. So with some text manipulation, it was
easy to do the transformation to our Etherpad markup. And it would be
harder if the content is stored as an Open Office document, but still feasible.
.pdf in a way is the worst case, because it’s much harder to extract usable
content again, depending on the creator. So I think it’s important to keep
the content in a readable and understandable source format.

Xavier, what is going to happen next?

Right now, I’m the guy who tests on Scribus, Inkscape. But I don’t know if it’s
the answer to your question.

I was just curious because you have a month to work on this still, so I was
wondering ... are there other things you are testing or trying ?

Yeah, I think I want to finish the, I mean it’s my first
Bash program, I want to raise my baby. ( laughs) But right now I’m trying to
find different ways of layouts. The first one is the one with the big squares, the
big unicode characters and all the arrows. So it’s very complicated, but it’s the
attempt to find an another way to express a conversation in text.

Can you say more about that ?

Because in the beginning, my first try was to keep the ‘life’ of a conversation in
the text with some things, like indentation or with graphic things, like the choice

of the unicode characters. If this can be a way to express a conversation. Because
it’s hard to it with programming stuff so we’re using GUI based software.

It’s a bit coming to the question, what you are doing differently, if you work
with a direct visual feedback. So you don’t try to reduce the content to get
it through a logical structure. Because that’s in a way how the markdown
to LaTeX transformation is doing it. You set certain rules, that may be in
special cases soft rules, but you really try to establish a logical structure and
have a set of rules and apply them. For me, it’s also an interesting question.
If you think of grid based graphic design, where you try to introduce a set
of rules in the beginning and then to keep for the rest of the project, that’s
in a way a very obvious case for computation. Where you just apply a set of
rules. With this application of rules you are a lot confronted in daily graphic
design. And this is also a way of working you learn during your studies.
Stick to certain logical or maybe visual grids. And so now the question is:
What’s the difference if you do a really visual layout. Do you deal differently
with the content, does it make sense, or if you’re just always coming back
to a certain grid, then you might as well do it by computation. So that’s
something that we wanted to find out. What advantage do you really gain
from having a canvas-based approach throughout the layout process.
In a way the interviews are very similar, because it’s always peoples speaking,
but at the same time each of the conversations is slightly different. So in what
way is the difference between them made legible, through the same set of rules
or by making specifics rules for each of them?
If you do the layout by hand you can take decisions that would be much
harder to translate to code. For example, how to emphasize certain part
of the text or the speaker. You’re much closer to the interpretation of the
content? You’re not designing the ruleset but you are really working on the
visual design of the content ... The point why it’s interesting to me is because
working as a designer you get quite often reduced to this visual design of the
content, at the same it may make sense in a lot of cases. So it’s a evaluation
of these different approaches. Do you design the ruleset or do you design
the final outcome? And I think it has both advantages and disadvantages.



In conversation with: Agnes Bewer, Alexandre Leray, An Mertens, Andreas Vox, Asheesh
Laroia, Carla Boserman,Christina Clar, Chris Lilley, Christoph Haag, Claire Williams, Cornelia
Sollfrank, Dave Crossland, Dmytry Kleiner, Denis Jacquery, Dmytri Kleiner, Eleanor Greenhalgh,
Eric Schrijver, Evan Roth, Femke Snelting, Franziska Kleiner, George Williams, Gijs de Heij,
Harrisson, Ivan Monroy Lopez, John Haltiwanger, John Colenbrander, Juliane De Moerlooze,
Julien Deswaef, Larisa Blazic, Ludivine Loiseau, Manuel Schmalstieg, Matthew Fuller, Michael
Murtaugh, Michael Terry, Michele Walther, Miguel Arana Catania, momo3010, Nicolas Malevé,
Pedro Amado, Peter Westenberg, Pierre Huyghebaert, Pierre Marchand, Sarah Magnan, Stéphanie
Vilayphiou, Tom Lechner, Urantsetseg Ulziikhuu, Xavier Klein

Concept, development and design: Christoph Haag, Xavier Klein, Femke Snelting

Editorial team: Thomas Buxó, Loraine Furter, Maryl Genc, Pierre Huyghebaert, Martino Morandi
Transcriptions: An Mertens, Boris Kish, Christoph Haag, Femke Snelting, George Williams, Gijs
de Heij, ginger coons, Ivan Monroy Lopez, John Haltiwanger, Ludivine Loiseau, Martino Morandi,
Pierre Huyghebaert, Urantsetseg Ulziikhuu, Xavier Klein
Chapter opener: Built with petter by Benjamin Stephan

Tools: basename, bash, bibtex, cat, Chromium, cp, curl, dpkg, egrep, Etherpad, exit,
ftp, gedit, GIMP, ghostscript, Git, GNU coreutils, grep, ImageMagick, Inkscape, Kate, man,
makeindex, meld, ne, pandoc, pdflatex, pdftk, Processing, python, read, rev, Scribus,
sed, vim, wget
Fonts: Junicode by Peter S. Baker, OCR-A by John Sauter

Source Files:
Texts, fonts and pdf:
Published by: Constant Verlag (Brussels, January 2015)
ISBN: 9789081145930

Copyright (C) Constant 2014
Copyleft: This work is free. You may copy, distribute and modify
it according to the terms of the Free Art License (see appendix)
This publication is made possible by the Libre Graphics Community, through the financial support
from the European Commission (Libre Graphics Research Unit) and the Flemish authorities.

Printed in Germany.


Acid Test, 145–147
Activism, 302, 320, 326
Adafruit, 225
Adobe Illustrator, 66, 101, 159–161, 292
Adobe InDesign, 15, 16, 19, 326, 327
Adobe PageMaker, 16, 17, 159, 160
Adobe Photoshop, 279, 280
Adobe Systems, 8, 24, 101, 142, 156,
157, 159–162, 279, 291,
297, 302
Algorithm, 227, 236
Amado, Pedro, 275
Anthropology, 41, 202, 232
AOL Inc., 25
Apple Inc., 8, 23, 24, 142, 159–162
Application Programming Interface, 118,
Arana Catania, Miguel, 88
Arduino, 83, 226
Artist, 7–9, 17, 73, 99–101, 146, 190,
191, 213–215, 223, 224,
240, 247, 319, 323, 329

Bézier, Pierre, 303
Baker, Peter S., 351
Barragán, Carlos, 88
Beauty, 14, 23, 32, 47, 55, 59, 78, 81,
162, 176, 230, 236, 268,
293, 305, 324, 325, 340
Benkler, Yochai, 187, 192, 193
Bewer, Agnes, 37
Blanco, Chema, 90
Blazic, Larisa, 7
Blender, 55, 72, 221, 222, 276
Blokland, Petr van, 158, 159
Body, 39, 77, 135, 141, 146, 178, 219,
Boserman, Carla, 86
Bradney, Craig, 13, 16, 80
Brainch, 110
Brainerd, Paul, 159
Brussels, 3, 37, 71, 187, 195, 203, 213,
245, 248, 287, 303, 328,
Buellet, Stéphane, 215
Bug, 17, 23, 25, 66, 119, 171, 172, 201,
203–205, 292, 298, 302

Bugreport, 280
Bush, George W., 290
Buxó, Thomas, 351

Canvas, 13, 17, 57, 58, 63, 65, 66, 301,
Carson, David, 161
Cayate, Henrique, 278
Chastanet, François, 233
Clar, Christina, 99
Colenbrander, John, 99
Collaboration, 3, 7, 9, 57, 100, 101, 109–
112, 116–120, 126, 127,
160, 162, 203, 213, 215,
223, 224, 232, 244, 246,
253, 275, 289, 290, 292,
301, 311, 334, 336, 337,
Commandline Interface, 39, 59, 298,
299, 336–338, 342, 351
Commons, 192–194
Communism, 187, 192–194
computer department, 275
Constant, 3, 99, 109, 124, 137, 171, 213,
246, 283, 311–313, 328,
333, 334, 351
ConTeXt, 42, 47–55, 57–62, 66, 67, 103,
127, 128, 155, 181, 182,
191, 192, 261, 276, 278,
300, 304, 311–314, 320–
324, 328, 329, 342
Contract, 189
coons, ginger, 351
Copyleft, 162, 276, 328
Creative Commons, 18, 27, 218, 244,
249, 250, 321
Crossland, Dave, 29, 92, 155, 351
CSS, 53, 54, 116, 117, 142, 144–146, 336

Dahlström, Erik, 138
Dance, 64, 81, 219
de Heij, Gijs, 351
de Moerlooze, Juliane, 37
Debian, 3, 37, 38, 40, 41, 100, 156, 201,
203, 205, 207
Designer, 3, 7–9, 16, 17, 23, 28, 99, 114,
115, 135, 140, 142, 146,

147, 149, 150, 155, 158,
160, 163, 164, 174, 187–
190, 193, 194, 227, 235,
261, 262, 266, 267, 275,
278, 279, 282, 288, 292,
297, 299–301, 304, 305,
311, 323, 326, 328, 343
Desktop Publishing, 9, 61, 159–161,
276, 279
Deswaef, Julien, 88
Developer, 3, 7–9, 13–15, 17, 19, 23, 40,
47, 49, 54, 55, 58, 59, 71,
74, 99, 102, 104, 105, 112,
115, 123, 128, 135, 149,
150, 155, 162, 166, 171,
174, 177, 179, 183, 190,
196, 201, 203, 204, 207,
208, 213, 215, 216, 225,
233, 235, 254, 261, 265,
279, 299–302, 306, 328,
Documentation, 27, 43, 51, 52, 54, 55,
57, 60, 176, 208, 230–232,
238, 239, 264–266, 307,
313, 326, 334, 335
Dropbox, 118, 128
Duffy, Maírín, 206

Education, 8, 42, 43, 100, 165, 166, 248,
275, 276, 279, 282, 327
Efficiency, 41, 43, 75, 78, 206, 289, 297,
Egli, Simon, 292
Ehr, Jim von, 160, 161
Emmons, Andrew, 138
Encoding, 24, 261, 262, 264–267
ePub, 105
Etherpad, 117, 118, 334–336, 338, 342,
EyeWriter, 214, 223–225, 227, 228, 235,
Farhner, Todd, 145
Feminism, 37, 41, 328, 329
Firefox, 144, 177, 283
Flash, 101, 208, 215, 279

FontForge, 23, 25–27, 29, 30, 32,
165, 166, 268, 276,
298, 299
FontLab, 28, 162, 163, 276
Fontographer, 24, 160–163, 292
Free Art License, 244, 351, 354
Free Culture, 7, 8, 13, 102–104,
201, 319–322
Freeman, Mark, 203
Fried, Limor, 225
FrontPage, 25
Frutiger, Adrian, 293
Fuller, Matthew, 297
Fun, 14, 15, 49, 57, 65, 67, 72, 78,
217, 227, 232, 235,
238, 246, 253
Furter, Loraine, 351




Gaulon, Benjamin, 223
Genc, Maryl, 351
Gender, 9, 47, 48, 201, 204, 205, 302
Ghali, Jean, 80
GIMP, 171, 172, 174, 179–183, 276, 279,
280, 298, 299, 351
Git, 57, 109–121, 123–125, 127–129,
203, 313, 320, 351
GitHub, 7, 111, 116, 120–124, 126, 128
Gitorious, 111, 116, 121, 122, 124
Glitch, 305
Glyph, 31, 48, 120, 121, 165, 262, 266,
268, 291, 314
Gnu General Public License, 219, 253,
305, 321, 338
Goller, Ludwig, 304
Google Summer of Code, 205, 206
Graphic Design, 7, 9, 111, 113, 115, 116,
119, 156, 159, 161, 162,
175, 227, 280, 287, 297,
298, 306, 311, 312, 321,
333, 343
Graphical User Interface, 14, 29, 73,
159–161, 300, 301, 340,
Greenhalgh, Eleanor, 90, 99
Haag, Christoph, 99, 333, 351

Hagen, Hans, 47–50, 55, 56
Haltiwanger, John, 47, 213, 351
Hannemeier Hansson, David, 252
Harrington, Bryce, 301
Harrison, 155, 187, 287
Hello World, 235
Hickson, Ian, 146
HTML, 24–27, 48, 52–54, 116, 137,
138, 141, 149, 175, 319,
336, 342
Hugin, 82
Huyghebaert, Pierre, 48, 58, 109, 135,
155, 289, 298, 351

Imposition, 73, 75, 76, 80, 81, 83, 312
Infrastructure, 27, 50, 160, 172, 173,
180, 325
Inkscape, 66, 72, 117, 143, 205, 276,
298–301, 338, 342, 351
Internet Explorer, 142, 144, 197, 283
Internet Relay Chat, 19, 138, 203, 206,
208, 276, 300
iPhone, 226, 230, 238
IT Department, 8, 156, 275
Jacquerye, Denis, 165, 261
Jay-Z, 252
Jenkins, Mark, 220
Joint Photographic Experts Group, 128
Juan Coco, Mireia, 94

Karow, Peter, 159
KATSU, 220, 249
Kerning, 31, 52, 299
Kish, Boris, 351
Klein, Xavier, 333, 351
Kleiner, Dmytri, 187
Kleiner, Franziska, 187
Knuth, Donald, 51, 54, 80, 158, 300,
312, 323
Kostrzewa, Michael Dominic, 149
KRS-One, 251

Labour, 183, 187–190, 192–194, 197,
299, 336, 337
LAFKON Publishing, 333

Laidout, 71–73, 75, 78–80, 82, 83
Laroia, Asheesh, 201
LaTeX, 49–51, 60, 66, 290, 335, 336,
341, 343
Laughing, 23, 25–27, 31, 38, 56, 64,
74, 79, 139, 144, 146, 189,
194, 196, 204, 208, 216,
220, 221, 224, 227, 230,
232, 233, 240, 246, 254,
265, 266, 268, 305, 333,
339, 342
Lawyer, 136, 146, 149, 192, 324
Lechner, Tom, 71
Lee, Tim Berners, 139
Leray, Alexandre, 109
Levien, Raph, 302
Libre Fonts, 196, 275, 287, 299, 324, 325
Libre Graphics Meeting, 3, 7, 8, 13,
23, 71, 110, 135, 149, 150,
155, 171, 181, 201, 208,
314, 319, 328, 334
Libre Graphics Research Unit, 3, 109,
261, 314, 351
Lilley, Chris, 135
Linnell, Peter, 13, 17, 18
Loiseau, Ludivine, 71, 109, 155, 311,
Lua, 50–52, 59, 60
Lupton, Ellen, 304
Müller Brockman, Joseph, 305
Macromedia, 24, 101, 137, 161
Magnan, Sarah, 109
Mailing list, 40, 41, 47, 50, 162, 202,
205, 263, 299, 300, 322
Malevé, Nicolas, 135, 261
Mansoux, Aymeric, 8
Manual, 43, 51, 56, 60, 61, 157, 201, 299,
Marchand, Pierre, 58, 71, 109, 261, 311,
Marini, Anton, 247
Markdown, 52, 53, 105, 247, 334, 335,
Markup, 52, 53, 213–215, 222, 224, 237,
251, 334, 335, 337, 342
Marx, Karl, 187, 188

Mathematics, 26, 37, 39, 40, 42, 43, 71,
72, 155, 158
Mauss, Marcel, 187, 195
MediaWiki, 173, 181
Mercurial, 110
Meritocracy, 126
Mertens, An, 37, 351
Metafont, 158
Microsoft, 16, 18, 24, 25, 56, 57, 144,
150, 162, 197, 276, 283
Monotype, 324
Monroy Lopez, Ivan, 111, 171, 351
Morandi, Martino, 351
Moskalenko, Oleksandr, 13
Multiple Master, 291, 292
Murtaugh, Michael, 99
Netscape, 142

Open Font Library, 27
OpenOffice, 117, 342
Opera, 138, 144
OSP, 3, 57, 81, 109–112, 114, 120, 122–
126, 128, 135, 155, 187,
207, 227, 268, 287, 297,
298, 302, 303, 305–307,
311–313, 324, 328, 333
OSPimpose, 312
Otalora, Olatz, 94

Pérez Aguilar, Ana, 94
PDF, 14, 18, 52, 72, 73, 122, 128, 129,
156, 298, 307, 312, 324,
334–336, 338, 339, 341,
Peer production, 187, 189, 191, 192, 194,
195, 197, 288
PfaEdit, 25
Pinhorn, Jonathan, 314
Piracy, 15, 287–289
Pixar, 197
Plain Text, 80, 140, 341
Podofoimpose, 71, 80, 81
Police, 150, 179, 215, 223, 239–241
PostScript, 18, 24, 25, 27, 159–162
Printing, 14, 15, 17, 18, 23, 24, 53, 72,
76, 77, 83, 103, 129, 148,

158–161, 223, 234, 247,
263, 275, 279, 298, 300–
302, 304, 305, 314, 324,
Problems, 28, 39, 42, 43, 47, 48, 80–82,
104, 111, 121, 122, 128,
137, 144, 157, 187, 193,
195, 196, 201, 203, 205,
217, 219, 226, 229, 233,
239, 242, 265, 277, 289,
300, 327, 329, 335, 337, 67, 247, 276, 297, 340
Public Domain, 218, 221, 250, 282, 303
Qt, 78
QuarkXpress, 15, 161, 196, 290

Recipe, 125, 127, 128, 306, 307, 320, 321
Relearn Summerschool, 109, 327
Release early, release often, 114, 221
Robofog, 161
Robofont, 161
Rossum, Just van, 161
Roth, Evan, 213

Safari, 144
Samedies, 37, 40, 203
Sauter, John, 351
Schmalstieg, Manuel, 311
Schmid, Franz, 13, 15, 17
Schrijver, Eric, 109
Scribus, 13–19, 57, 61, 62, 65, 71, 79–81,
113, 115, 128, 157, 187,
196, 197, 276, 297–302,
313, 341, 342, 351
Scribus file, 113, 119
Sexism, 40, 328
Shakespeare, William, 23, 25, 26
Sikking, Peter, 172
Smythe, Dallas, 190
Snelting, Femke, 3, 297, 319, 351
Sobotka, Troy James, 227
Sollfrank, Cornelia, 319
SourceForge, 111
Sparkleshare, 118
Spencer, Susan, 92

Stable, 51, 58, 324, 334, 335, 338
Stallman, Richard, 165
Standards, 17, 101, 135, 136, 138, 140,
141, 145–147, 223, 250,
262, 291, 293, 298, 303,
304, 326
Stephan, Benjamin, 340, 351
Stroke, 65, 214, 216, 234, 243, 248, 291
Subtext, 47, 53, 54, 56, 57, 61
Sugrue, Chris, 214
SVG, 119, 135, 136, 138, 140, 143–145,
148, 215, 298, 301, 334,
338, 341
SVN, 111, 112, 117, 120, 320
Telekommunisten, 187
TEMPT, 214, 223, 224, 235, 236
Terry, Michael, 171
TeX, 47–49, 51, 52, 55, 59, 60, 80, 158,
161, 312, 323, 334
Torrone, Phil, 225
Torvalds, Linus, 112, 114, 115, 118, 246,
Tschichold, Jan, 52, 57
Tucker, Benjamin, 187, 189, 192
Typesetting, 24, 51–55, 57, 60, 61, 66,
158, 287, 323
Typography, 3, 9, 16, 24, 48, 51, 53,
61, 117, 155–159, 161–
165, 187, 195, 196, 220,
235, 261, 276, 287–291,
293, 298–300, 304, 314,
Ubuntu, 102
Ulziikhuu, Urantsetseg, 99, 351
Undocumented, 50
Unicode, 23, 24, 26, 27, 48, 261–268,
342, 343
Universal Font Object, 163
Unstable, 324, 334
User, 3, 9, 13–17, 19, 25, 32, 37, 47, 49,
50, 52, 54–56, 58, 64, 79,

100–102, 104, 141, 146,
159, 160, 166, 171–177,
179, 181, 182, 196, 208,
215, 222, 261, 266–268,
279, 280, 283, 288, 289,
300–302, 319, 338, 340
Utopia, 100, 251

Veen, Jeff, 146
Version Control, 7, 57, 109–112, 116–
119, 123–125, 127, 144,
149, 201, 202, 207, 264,
300, 305, 307
Vilayphiou, Stéphanie, 109, 213
Visual Culture, 113, 114, 117, 122, 124,
Vox, Andreas, 13, 80, 302, 351

Wall, Larry, 63
Walther, Michele, 213
Warnock, John, 159
Watson, Theo, 214
Westenberg, Peter, 187, 213
What You See Is What You Get, 25, 61–
65, 283
Wilkinson, Jamie, 214
Williams, Claire, 99
Williams, George, 14, 23, 79, 299, 351
Wishlist, 246
Wium Lie, Håkon, 142, 146
Workflow, 52, 53, 60, 105, 109, 115, 119,
298, 300, 312
World Wide Web Consortium, 135–142,
145, 146, 304
XML, 52, 80, 144, 148, 158, 163, 175,
213, 214, 216, 233, 234,
Yildirim, Muharrem, 242, 245
Yuill, Simon, 232

Free Art License 1.3. (C) Copyleft Attitude, 2007. You can make reproductions and distribute this license verbatim (without any changes). Translation: Jonathan Clarke, Benjamin
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