digitization in Adema 2009

Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the underground movement of (pirated) theory text sharing

# Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the ‘underground movement’ of
(pirated) theory text sharing

_“But as I say, let’s play a game of science fiction and imagine for a moment:
what would it be like if it were possible to have an academic equivalent to
the peer-to-peer file sharing practices associated with Napster, eMule, and
BitTorrent, something dealing with written texts rather than music? What would
the consequences be for the way in which scholarly research is conceived,
communicated, acquired, exchanged, practiced, and understood?”_

Gary Hall – [Digitize this
book!](http://www.upress.umn.edu/Books/H/hall_digitize.html) (2008)

web was founded in 1996 by poet [Kenneth
Goldsmith](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Goldsmith "Kenneth Goldsmith")
and has developed from ‘a repository for visual, concrete and (later) sound
poetry, to a site that ‘embraced all forms of the avant-garde and beyond. Its
parameters continue to expand in all directions.’ As
[Wikipedia](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UbuWeb) states, Ubu is non-commercial
and operates on a gift economy. All the same - by forming an amazing resource
and repository for the avant-garde movement, and by offering and hosting these
works on its platform, Ubu is violating copyright laws. As they state however:
‘ _should something return to print, we will remove it from our site
immediately. Also, should an artist find their material posted on UbuWeb
without permission and wants it removed, please let us know. However, most of
the time, we find artists are thrilled to find their work cared for and
displayed in a sympathetic context. As always, we welcome more work from
existing artists on site_.’

Where in the more affluent and popular media realms of block buster movies and
pop music the [Piratebay](http://thepiratebay.org/) and other download sites
(or p2p networks) like [Mininova](http://www.mininova.org/) are being sued and
charged with copyright infringement, the major powers to be seem to turn a
blind eye when it comes to Ubu and many other resource sites online that offer
digital versions of hard-to-get-by materials ranging from books to

This is and has not always been the case: in 2002 [Sebastian
os.org/archiv/wos_3/sprecher/l_p/sebastian_luetgert.html) from Berlin/New York
was sued by the "Hamburger Stiftung zur Förderung von Wissenschaft und Kultur"
for putting online two downloadable texts from Theodor W. Adorno on his
website [textz.com](http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/artist/textz-
com/biography/), an underground archive for Literature. According to
[this](http://de.indymedia.org/2004/03/76975.shtml) Indymedia interview with
Lütgert, textz.com was referred to as ‘the Napster for books’ offering about
700 titles, focusing on, as Lütgert states _‘Theorie, Romane, Science-Fiction,
Situationisten, Kino, Franzosen, Douglas Adams, Kritische Theorie, Netzkritik

The interview becomes even more interesting when Lütgert remarks that one can
still easily download both Adorno texts without much ado if one wants to. This
leads to the bigger question of the real reasons underlying the charge against
textz.com; why was textz.com sued? As Lütgert says in the interview: “ _Das
kann man sowieso_ [when referring to the still available Adorno texts] _._
_Aber es gibt schon lange einen klaren Unterschied zwischen offener
Verfügbarkeit und dem Untergrund. Man kann die freie Verbreitung von Inhalten
nicht unterbinden, aber man scheint verhindern zu wollen dass dies allzu offen
und selbstverständlich geschieht. Das ist es was sie stört.”

_![I don't have any

But how can something be truly underground in an online environment whilst
still trying to spread or disseminate texts as widely as possible? This seems
to be the paradox of many - not quite legal and/or copyright protected -
resource sharing and collecting communities and platforms nowadays. However,
multiple scenario’s are available to evade this dilemma: by being frankly open
about the ‘status’ of the content on offer, as Ubu does, or by using little
‘tricks’ like an easy website registration, classifying oneself as a reading
group, or by relieving oneself from responsibility by stating that one is only
aggregating sources from elsewhere (linking) and not hosting the content on
its own website or blog. One can also state the offered texts or multimedia
files form a special issue or collection of resources, emphasizing their
educational and not-for-profit value.

Most of the ‘underground’ text and content sharing communities seem to follow
the concept of (the inevitability of) ‘[information wants to be
free/)’, especially on the Internet. As Lütgert States: “ _Und vor allem sind
die über Walter Benjamin nicht im Bilde, der das gleiche Problem der
Reproduzierbarkeit von Werken aller Art schon zu Beginn des letzten
Jahrhunderts vor sich hatte und erkannt hat: die Massen haben das Recht, sich
das alles wieder anzueignen. Sie haben das Recht zu kopieren, und das Recht,
kopiert zu werden. Jedenfalls ist das eine ganz schön ungemütliche Situation,
dass dessen Nachlass jetzt von solch einem Bürokraten verwaltet wird._ _A:
Glaubst Du es ist überhaupt legitim intellektuellen Inhalt zu "besitzen"? Oder
__Eigentümer davon zu sein?_ _S: Es ist *unmöglich*. "Geistiges" Irgendwas
verbreitet sich immer weiter. Reemtsmas Vorfahren wären nie von den Bäumen
runtergekommen oder aus dem Morast rausgekrochen, wenn sich "geistiges"
Irgendwas nicht verbreitet hätte.”_


What seems to be increasingly obvious, as the interview also states, is that
one can find virtually all Ebooks and texts one needs via p2p networks and
other file sharing community’s (the true
[Darknet](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darknet_\(file_sharing\)) in a way) –
more and more people are offering (and asking for!) selections of texts and
books (including the ones by Adorno) on openly available websites and blogs,
or they are scanning them and offering them for (educational) use on their
domains. Although the Internet is mostly known for the pirating and
dissemination of pirated movies and music, copyright protected textual content
has (of course) always been spread too. But with the rise of ‘born digital’
text content, and with the help of massive digitization efforts like Google
Books (and accompanying Google Books [download
tools](http://www.codeplex.com/GoogleBookDownloader)) accompanied by the
appearance of better (and cheaper) scanning equipment, the movement of
‘openly’ spreading (pirated) texts (whether or not focusing on education and
‘fair use’) seems to be growing fast.

The direct harm (to both the producers and their publishers) of the free
online availability of (in copyright) texts is also maybe less clear than for
instance with music and films. Many feel texts and books will still be
preferred to be read in print, making the online and free availability of text
nothing more than a marketing tool for the sales of the printed version. Once
discovered, those truly interested will find and buy the print book. Also more
than with music and film, it is felt essential to share information, as a
cultural good and right, to prevent censorship and to improve society.

![Piracy by Mikel Casal](https://openreflections.files.wordpress.com/2009/09

This is one of the reasons the [Open
Access](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access_\(publishing\)) movement for
scientific research has been initiated. But where the amount of people and
institutions supportive of this movement is gradually growing (especially
where it concerns articles and journals in the Sciences), the spread
concerning Open Access (or even digital availability) of monographs in the
Humanities and Social Sciences (of which the majority of the resources on
offer in the underground text sharing communities consists) has only just

This has lead to a situation in which some have decided that change is not
coming fast enough. Instead of waiting for this utopian Open Access future to
come gradually about, they are actively spreading, copying, scanning and
pirating scholarly texts/monographs online. Although many times accompanied by
lengthy disclaimers about why they are violating copyright (to make the
content more widely accessible for one), many state they will take down the
content if asked. Following the
[copyleft](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyleft) movement, what has in a way
thus arisen is a more ‘progressive’ or radical branch of the Open Access
movement. The people who spread these texts deem it inevitable they will be
online eventually, they are just speeding up the process. As Lütgert states: ‘
_The desire of an increasingly larger section of the population to 100-percent
of information is irreversible. The only way there can be slowed down in the
worst case, but not be stopped._


Still we have not yet answered the question of why publishers (and their
pirated authors) are not more upset about these kinds of websites and
platforms. It is not a simple question of them not being aware that these kind
of textual disseminations are occurring. As mentioned before, the harm to
producers (scholars) and their publishers (in Humanities and Social Sciences
mainly Not-For-Profit University Presses) is less clear. First of all, their
main customers are libraries (compare this to the software business model:
free for the consumer, companies pay), who are still buying the legal content
and mostly follow the policy of buying either print or both print and ebook,
so there are no lost sales there for the publishers. Next to that it is not
certain that the piracy is harming sales. Unlike in literary publishing, the
authors (academics) are already paid and do not loose money (very little maybe
in royalties) from the online availability. Perhaps some publishers also see
the Open Access movement as something inevitably growing and they thus don’t
see the urge to step up or organize a collaborative effort against scholarly
text piracy (where most of the presses also lack the scale to initiate this).
Whereas there has been some more upsurge and worries about _[textbook
piracy.html)_ (since this is of course the area where individual consumers –
students – do directly buy the material) and websites like
[Scribd](http://www.scribd.com/), this mostly has to do with the fact that
these kind of platforms also host non-scholarly content and actively promote
the uploading of texts (where many of the text ‘sharing’ platforms merely
offer downloading facilities). In the case of Scribd the size of the platform
(or the amount of content available on the platform) also has caused concerns
and much [media coverage](http://labnol.blogspot.com/2007/04/scribd-youtube-

All of this gives a lot of potential power to text sharing communities, and I
guess they know this. Only authors might be directly upset (especially famous
ones gathering a lot of royalties on their work) or in the case of Lütgert,
their beneficiaries, who still do see a lot of money coming directly from
individual customers.

Still, it is not only the lack of fear of possible retaliations that is
feeding the upsurge of text sharing communities. There is a strong ideological
commitment to the inherent good of these developments, and a moral and
political strive towards institutional and societal change when it comes to
knowledge production and dissemination.

![Information Libre](https://openreflections.files.wordpress.com/2009/09
/information-libre.jpg?w=547)As Adrian Johns states in his
_Piracy as a business force_ , ‘today’s pirate philosophy is a moral
philosophy through and through’. As Jonas Andersson
[states](http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/view/346/359), the
idea of piracy has mostly lost its negative connotations in these communities
and is seen as a positive development, where these movements ‘have begun to
appear less as a reactive force (i.e. ‘breaking the rules’) and more as a
proactive one (‘setting the rules’). Rather than complain about the
conservatism of established forms of distribution they simply create new,
alternative ones.’ Although Andersson states this kind of activism is mostly
_occasional_ , it can be seen expressed clearly in the texts accompanying the
text sharing sites and blogs. However, copyright is perhaps so much _an issue_
on most of these sites (where it is on some of them), as it is something that
seems to be simply ignored for the larger good of aggregating and sharing
resources on the web. As is stated clearly for instance in an
[interview](http://blog.sfmoma.org/2009/08/four-dialogues-2-on-aaaarg/) with
Sean Dockray, who maintains AAAARG:

_" The project wasn’t about criticizing institutions, copyright, authority,
and so on. It was simply about sharing knowledge. This wasn’t as general as it
sounds; I mean literally the sharing of knowledge between various individuals
and groups that I was in correspondence with at the time but who weren’t
necessarily in correspondence with each other."_

Back to Lütgert. The files from textz.com have been saved and are still
via [The Internet Archive Wayback
Machine](http://web.archive.org/collections/web.html). In the case of
textz.com, these files contain ’typed out text’, so no scanned contents or
PDF’s. Textz.com (or better said its shadow or mirror) offers an amazing
collection of texts, including artists statements/manifestos and screenplays
from for instance David Lynch.

The text sharing community has evolved and now knows many players. Two other
large members in this kind of ‘pirate theory base network’ (although – and I
have to make that clear! – they offer many (and even mostly) legal and out of
copyright texts), still active today, are
[Monoskop/Burundi](http://burundi.sk/monoskop/log/) and
[AAAARG.ORG](http://a.aaaarg.org/). These kinds of platforms all seem to
disseminate (often even on a titular level) similar content, focusing mostly
on Continental Philosophy and Critical Theory, Cultural Studies and Literary
Theory, The Frankfurter Schule, Sociology/Social Theory, Psychology,
Anthropology and Ethnography, Media Art and Studies, Music Theory, and
critical and avant-garde writers like Kafka, Beckett, Burroughs, Joyce,
Baudrillard, etc.etc.

[Monoskop](http://www.burundi.sk/monoskop/index.php/Main_Page) is, as they
state, a collaborative wiki research on the social history of media art or a
‘living archive of writings on art, culture and media technology’. At the
sitemap of their log, or under the categories section, you can browse their
resources on genre: book, journal, e-zine, report, pamphlet etc. As I found
[here](http://www.slovakia.culturalprofiles.net/?id=7958), Burundi originated
in 2003 as a (Slovakian) media lab working between the arts, science and
technologies, which spread out to a European city based cultural network; They
even functioned as a press, publishing the Anthology of New Media Literature
(in Slovak) in 2006, and they hosted media events and curated festivals. It
dissolved in June 2005 although the
[Monoskop](http://www.slovakia.culturalprofiles.net/?id=7964) research wiki on
media art, has continued to run since the dissolving of Burundi.

is stated on their website, AAAARG is a conversation platform, or
alternatively, a school, reading group or journal, maintained by Los Angeles
artist[ Sean Dockray](http://www.design.ucla.edu/people/faculty.php?ID=64
"Sean Dockray"). In the true spirit of Critical Theory, its aim is to ‘develop
critical discourse outside of an institutional framework’. Or even more
beautiful said, it operates in the spaces in between: ‘ _But rather than
thinking of it like a new building, imagine scaffolding that attaches onto
existing buildings and creates new architectures between them_.’ To be able to
access the texts and resources that are being ‘discussed’ at AAAARG, you need
to register, after which you will be able to browse the
[library](http://a.aaaarg.org/library). From this library, you can download
resources, but you can also upload content. You can subscribe to their
[feed](http://aaaarg.org/feed) (RSS/XML) and [like
Monoskop](http://twitter.com/monoskop), AAAARG.org also maintains a [Twitter
account](http://twitter.com/aaaarg) on which updates are posted. The most
interesting part though is the ‘extra’ functions the platform offers: after
you have made an account, you can make your own collections, aggregations or
issues out of the texts in the library or the texts you add. This offers an
alternative (thematically ordered) way into the texts archived on the site.
You also have the possibility to make comments or start a discussion on the
texts. See for instance their elaborate [discussion
lists](http://a.aaaarg.org/discussions). The AAAARG community thus serves both
as a sharing and feedback community and in this way operates in a true p2p
fashion, in a way like p2p seemed originally intended. The difference being
that AAAARG is not based on a distributed network of computers, but is based
on one platform, to which registered users are able to upload a file (which is
not the case on Monoskop for instance – only downloading here).

I found the image underneath which depicts AAAARG.ORG's article index
organized as a visual map, showing the connections between the different
texts. This map was created and posted by AAAARG user john, according to

![Connections-v1 by

Where AAAArg.org focuses again on the text itself - typed out versions of
books - Monoskop works with more modern versions of textual distribution:
scanned versions or full ebooks/pdf’s with all the possibilities they offer,
taking a lot of content from Google books or (Open Access) publishers’
websites. Monoskop also links back to the publishers’ websites or Google
Books, for information about the books or texts (which again proves that the
publishers should know about their activities). To download the text however,
Monoskop links to [Sharebee](http://www.sharebee.com/), keeping the actual
text and the real downloading activity away from its platform.

Another part of the text sharing content consists of platforms offering
documentaries and lectures (so multi-media content) online. One example of the
last is the [Discourse Notebook Archive](http://www.discoursenotebook.com/),
which describes itself as an effort which has as its main goal ‘to make
available lectures in contemporary continental philosophy’ and is maintained
by Todd Kesselman, a PhD Student at The New School for Social Research. Here
you can find lectures from Badiou, Kristeva and Zizek (both audio and video)
and lectures aggregated from the European Graduate School. Kesselman also
links to resources on the web dealing with contemporary continental

![Eule - Society of
control.gif?w=547)Society of Control is a website maintained by [Stephan
an artist living and working in Munich, Germany, offering amongst others an
overview of his work and scientific research. According to
interview conducted by Kristian Ø Dahl and Marit Flåtter his work is a
response to the increased influence of the neo-liberal world order on
education, creating a culture industry that is more than often driven by
commercial interests. He asks the question ‘How can dissidence grow in the
blind spots of the ‘society of control’ and articulate itself?’ His website,
the [Society of Control](http://www.societyofcontrol.com/disclaimer1.htm) is,
as he states, ‘an independent organization whose profits are entirely devoted
to research into truth and meaning.’

Society of Control has a [library
section](http://www.societyofcontrol.com/library/) which contains works from
some of the biggest thinkers of the twentieth century: Baudrillard, Adorno,
Debord, Bourdieu, Deleuze, Habermas, Sloterdijk und so weiter, and so much
more, a lot in German, and all ‘typed out’ texts. The library section offers a
direct search function, a category function and a a-z browse function.
Dillemuth states that he offers this material under fair use, focusing on not
for profit, freedom of information and the maintenance of freedom of speech
and information and making information accessible to all:

_“The Societyofcontrol website site contains information gathered from many
different sources. We see the internet as public domain necessary for the free
flow and exchange of information. However, some of these materials contained
in this site maybe claimed to be copyrighted by various unknown persons. They
will be removed at the copyright holder 's request within a reasonable period
of time upon receipt of such a request at the email address below. It is not
the intent of the Societyofcontrol to have violated or infringed upon any

![Vilem Flusser, Andreas Strohl, Erik Eisel Writings
andreas-strohl-erik-eisel-writings-2002.jpg?w=547)Important in this respect is
that he put the responsibility of reading/using/downloading the texts on his
site with the viewers, and not with himself: _“Anyone reading or looking at
copyright material from this site does so at his/her own peril, we disclaim
any participation or liability in such actions.”_

Fark Yaraları = [Scars of Différance](http://farkyaralari.blogspot.com/) and
[Multitude of blogs](http://multitudeofblogs.blogspot.com/) are maintained by
the same author, Renc-u-ana, a philosophy and sociology student from Istanbul.
The first is his personal blog (with also many links to downloadable texts),
focusing on ‘creating an e-library for a Heideggerian philosophy and
Bourdieuan sociology’ on which he writes ‘market-created inequalities must be
overthrown in order to close knowledge gap.’ The second site has a clear
aggregating function with the aim ‘to give united feedback for e-book
publishing sites so that tracing and finding may become easier.’ And a call
for similar blogs or websites offering free ebook content. The blog is
accompanied by a nice picture of a woman warning to keep quiet, very
paradoxically appropriate to the context. Here again, a statement from the
host on possible copyright infringement _: ‘None of the PDFs are my own
productions. I 've collected them from web (e-mule, avax, libreremo, socialist
bros, cross-x, gigapedia..) What I did was thematizing._’ The same goes for
[pdflibrary](http://pdflibrary.wordpress.com/) (which seems to be from the
same author), offering texts from Derrida, Benjamin, Deleuze and the likes:
_‘_ _None of the PDFs you find here are productions of this blog. They are
collected from different places in the web (e-mule, avax, libreremo, all
socialist bros, cross-x, …). The only work done here is thematizing and

student from Istanbul lists many text sharing sites on Multitude of blogs,
including [Inishark](http://danetch.blogspot.com/) (amongst others Badiou,
Zizek and Derrida), [Revelation](http://revelation-online.blogspot.com/2009/02
/keeping-ten-commandments.html) (a lot of history and bible study), [Museum of
accidents](http://museumofaccidents.blogspot.com/) (many resources relating to
again, critical theory, political theory and continental philhosophy) and
[Makeworlds](http://makeworlds.net/) (initiated from the [make world
festival](http://www.makeworlds.org/1/index.html) 2001).
[Mariborchan](http://mariborchan.wordpress.com/) is mainly a Zizek resource
site (also Badiou and Lacan) and offers next to ebooks also video and audio
(lectures and documentaries) and text files, all via links to file sharing

What is clear is that the text sharing network described above (I am sure
there are many more related to other fields and subjects) is also formed and
maintained by the fact that the blogs and resource sites link to each other in
their blog rolls, which is what in the end makes up the network of text
sharing, only enhanced by RSS feeds and Twitter accounts, holding together
direct communication streams with the rest of the community. That there has
not been one major platform or aggregation site linking them together and
uploading all the texts is logical if we take into account the text sharing
history described before and this can thus be seen as a clear tactic: it is
fear, fear for what happened to textz.com and fear for the issue of scale and
fear of no longer operating at the borders, on the outside or at the fringes.
Because a larger scale means they might really get noticed. The idea of
secrecy and exclusivity which makes for the idea of the underground is very
practically combined with the idea that in this way the texts are available in
a multitude of places and can thus not be withdrawn or disappear so easily.

This is the paradox of the underground: staying small means not being noticed
(widely), but will mean being able to exist for probably an extended period of
time. Becoming (too) big will mean reaching more people and spreading the
texts further into society, however it will also probably mean being noticed
as a treat, as a ‘network of text-piracy’. The true strategy is to retain this
balance of openly dispersed subversivity.

Update 25 November 2005: Another interesting resource site came to my
attention recently: [Bedeutung](http://http://www.bedeutung.co.uk/index.php),
a philosophical and artistic initiative consisting of three projects:
and [Bedeutung Blog](http://bedeutung.wordpress.com/), hosts a
section which links to freely downloadable online e-books, articles, audio
recordings and videos.

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### 17 comments on " Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the
‘underground movement’ of (pirated) theory text sharing"

1. Pingback: [Humanism at the fringe « Snarkmarket](http://snarkmarket.com/2009/3428)

2. Pingback: [Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the 'underground movement' of (pirated) theory text sharing « Mariborchan](http://mariborchan.wordpress.com/2009/09/20/scanners-collectors-and-aggregators-on-the-underground-movement-of-pirated-theory-text-sharing/)

3. Mariborchan

September 20, 2009


I took the liberty to pirate this article.

4. [jannekeadema1979](http://www.openreflections.wordpress.com)

September 20, 2009


Thanks, it's all about the sharing! Hope you liked it.

5. Pingback: [links for 2009-09-20 « Blarney Fellow](http://blarneyfellow.wordpress.com/2009/09/21/links-for-2009-09-20/)

6. [scars of différance](http://farkyaralari.blogspot.com)

September 30, 2009


hi there, I'm the owner of the Scars of Différance blog, I'm grateful for your
reading which nurtures self-reflexivity.

text-sharers phylum is a Tardean phenomena, it works through imitation and
differences differentiate styles and archives. my question was inherited from
aby warburg who is perhaps the first kantian librarian (not books, but the
nomenclatura of books must be thought!), I shape up a library where books
speak to each other, each time fragmentary.

you are right about the "fear", that's why I don't reupload books that are
deleted from mediafire. blog is one of the ways, for ex there are e-mail
groups where chain-sharings happen and there are forums where people ask each
other from different parts of the world, to scan a book that can't be found in
their library/country. I understand publishers' qualms (I also work in a
turkish publishing house and make translations). but they miss a point, it was
the very movement which made book a medium that de-posits "book" (in the
Blanchotian sense): these blogs do indeed a very important service, they save
books from the databanks. I'm not going to make a easy rider argument and
decry technology.what I mean is this: these books are the very bricks which
make up resistance -they are not compost-, it is a sharing "partage" and these
fragmentary impartations (the act in which 'we' emancipate books from the
proper names they bear: author, editor, publisher, queen,…) make words blare.
our work: to disenfranchise.

to get larger, to expand: these are too ambitious terms, one must learn to
stay small, remain finite. a blog can not supplant the non-place of the
friendships we make up around books.

the epigraph at the top of my blog reads: "what/who exorbitates mutates into
its opposite" from a Turkish poet Cahit Zarifoğlu. and this logic is what
generates the slithering of the word. we must save books from its own ends.

thanks again, best.

p.s. I'm not the owner of pdf library.

7. Bedeutung

November 24, 2009


Here, an article that might interest:


8. [jannekeadema1979](http://www.openreflections.wordpress.com)

November 24, 2009


Thanks for the link, good article, agree with the contents, especially like
the part 'Could, for instance, the considerable resources that might be
allocated to protecting, policing and, ultimately, sanctioning online file-
sharing not be used for rendering it less financially damaging for the
creative sector?'
I like this kind of pragmatic reasoning, and I know more people do.
By the way, checked Bedeutung, great journal, and love your
section! Will add it to the main article.

9. Pingback: [Borderland › Critical Readings](http://borderland.northernattitude.org/2010/01/07/critical-readings/)

10. Pingback: [Mariborchan » Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the 'underground movement' of (pirated) theory text sharing](http://mariborchan.com/scanners-collectors-and-aggregators-on-the-underground-movement-of-pirated-theory-text-sharing/)

11. Pingback: [Urgh! AAAARG dead? « transversalinflections](http://transversalinflections.wordpress.com/2010/05/29/urgh-aaaarg-dead/)

12. [nick knouf](http://turbulence.org/Works/JJPS)

June 18, 2010


This is Nick, the author of the JJPS project; thanks for the tweet! I actually
came across this blog post while doing background research for the project and
looking for discussions about AAAARG; found out about a lot of projects that I
didn't already know about. One thing that I haven't been able to articulate
very well is that I think there's an interesting relationship between, say,
Kenneth Goldsmith's own poetry and his founding of Ubu Web; a collation and
reconfiguration of the detritus of culture (forgotten works of the avant-
gardes locked up behind pay walls of their own, or daily minutiae destined to
be forgotten), which is something that I was trying to do, in a more
circumscribed space, in JJPS Radio. But the question of distribution of
digital works is something I find fascinating, as there are all sorts of
avenues that we could be investigating but we are not. The issue, as it often
is, is one of technical ability, and that's why one of the future directions
of JJPS is to make some of the techniques I used easier to use. Those who want
to can always look into the code, which is of course freely available, but
that cannot and should not be a prerequisite.

13. [jannekeadema1979](http://www.openreflections.wordpress.com)

June 18, 2010


Hi Nick, thanks for your comment. I love the JJPS and it would be great if the
technology you mention would be easily re-usable. What I find fascinating is
how you use another medium (radio) to translate/re-mediate and in a way also
unlock textual material. I see you also have an Open Access and a Cut-up hour.
I am very much interested in using different media to communicate scholarly
research and even more in remixing and re-mediating textual scholarship. I
think your project(s) is a very valuable exploration of these themes while at
the same time being a (performative) critique of the current system. I am in

14. Pingback: [Text-sharing "in the paradise of too many books" – SLOTHROP](http://slothrop.com/2012/11/16/text-sharing-in-the-paradise-of-too-many-books/)

15. [Jason Kennedy](http://www.facebook.com/903035234)

May 6, 2015


Some obvious fails suggest major knowledge gaps regarding sourcing texts
online (outside of legal channels).

And featuring Scribd doesn't help.

Q: What's the largest pirate book site on the net, with an inventory almost as
large as Amazon?

And it's not L_____ G_____

16. [Janneke Adema](http://www.openreflections.wordpress.com)

May 6, 2015


Do enlighten us Jason… And might I remind you that this post was written in

17. Mike Andrews

May 7, 2015


Interesting topic, but also odd in some respects. Not translating the German
quotes is very unthoughtful and maybe even arrogant. If you are interested in
open access accessibility needs to be your top priority. I can read German,
but many of my friends (and most of the world) can't. It take a little effort
to just fix this, but you can do it.

digitization in Barok 2014

Poetics of Research

_An unedited version of a talk given at the conference[Public
held at Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart, 1 November 2014._

_Bracketed sequences are to be reformulated._

Poetics of Research

In this talk I'm going to attempt to identify [particular] cultural
algorithms, ie. processes in which cultural practises and software meet. With
them a sphere is implied in which algorithms gather to form bodies of
practices and in which cultures gather around algorithms. I'm going to
approach them through the perspective of my practice as a cultural worker,
editor and artist, considering practice in the same rank as theory and
poetics, and where theorization of practice can also lead to the
identification of poetical devices.

The primary motivation for this talk is an attempt to figure out where do we
stand as operators, users [and communities] gathering around infrastructures
containing a massive body of text (among other things) and what sort of things
might be considered to make a difference [or to keep making difference].

The talk mainly [considers] the role of text and the word in research, by way
of several figures.


A reference, list, scheme, table, index; those things that intervene in the
flow of narrative, illustrating the point, perhaps in a more economic way than
the linear text would do. Yet they don't function as pictures, they are
primarily texts, arranged in figures. Their forms have been
standardised[normalised] over centuries, withstood the transition to the
digital without any significant change, being completely intuitive to the
modern reader. Compared to the body of text they are secondary, run parallel
to it. Their function is however different to that of the punctuation. They
are there neither to shape the narrative nor to aid structuring the argument
into logical blocks. Nor is their function spatial, like in visual poems.
Their positions within a document are determined according to the sequential
order of the text, [standing as attachments] and are there to clarify the
nature of relations among elements of the subject-matter, or to establish
relations with other documents. The [premise] of my talk is that these
_textual figures_ also came to serve as the abstract[relational] models
determining possible relations among documents as such, and in consequence [to
structure conditions [of research]].


It can be said that research, as inquiry into a subject-matter, consists of
discrete queries. A query, such as a question about what something is, what
kinds, parts and properties does it have, and so on, can be consulted in
existing documents or generate new documents based on collection of data [in]
the field and through experiment, before proceeding to reasoning [arguments
and deductions]. Formulation of a query is determined by protocols providing
access to documents, which means that there is a difference between collecting
data outside the archive (the undocumented, ie. in the field and through
experiment), consulting with a person--an archivist (expert, librarian,
documentalist), and consulting with a database storing documents. The
phenomena such as [deepening] of specialization and throughout digitization
[have given] privilege to the database as [a|the] [fundamental] means for
research. Obviously, this is a very recent [phenomenon]. Queries were once
formulated in natural language; now, given the fact that databases are queried
[using] SQL language, their interfaces are mere extensions of it and
researchers pose their questions by manipulating dropdowns, checkboxes and
input boxes mashed together on a flat screen being ran by software that in
turn translates them into a long line of conditioned _SELECTs_ and _JOINs_
performed on tables of data.

Specialization, digitization and networking have changed the language of
questioning. Inquiry, once attached to the flesh and paper has been
[entrusted] to the digital and networked. Researchers are querying the black


Searching in a collection of [amassed/assembled] [tangible] documents (ie.
bookshelf) is different from searching in a systematically structured
repository (library) and even more so from searching in a digital repository
(digital library). Not that they are mutually exclusive. One can devise
structures and algorithms to search through a printed text, or read books in a
library one by one. They are rather [models] [embodying] various [processes]
associated with the query. These properties of the query might be called [the
sequence], the structure and the index. If they are present in the ways of
querying documents, and we will return to this issue, are they persistent
within the inquiry as such? [wait]


This question itself is a rupture in the sequence. It makes a demand to depart
from one narrative [a continuous flow of words] to another, to figure out,
while remaining bound to it [it would be even more as a so-called rhetorical
question]. So there has been one sequence, or line, of the inquiry--about the
kinds of the query and its properties. That sequence itself is a digression,
from within the sequence about what is research and describing its parts
(queries). We are thus returning to it and continue with a question whether
the properties of the inquiry are the same as the properties of the query.


But isn't it true that every single utterance occurring in a sequence yields a
query as well? Let's consider the word _utterance_. [wait] It can produce a
number of associations, for example with how Foucault employs the notion of
_énoncé_ in his _Archaeology of Knowledge_ , giving hard time to his English
translators wondering whether _utterance_ or _statement_ is more appropriate,
or whether they are interchangeable, and what impact would each choice have on
his reception in the Anglophone world. Limiting ourselves to textual forms for
now (and not translating his work but pursing a different inquiry), let us say
the utterance is a word [or a phrase or an idiom] in a sequence such as a
sentence, a paragraph, or a document.

## (F) The
"Edit section: \(F\) The structure")]

This distinction is as old as recorded Western thought since both Plato and
Aristotle differentiate between a word on its own ("the said", a thing said)
and words in the company of other words. For example, Aristotle's _Categories_
[lay] on the [notion] of words on their own, and they are made the subject-
matter of that inquiry. [For him], the ambiguity of connotation words
[produce] lies in their synonymity, understood differently from the moderns--
not as more words denoting a similar thing but rather one word denoting
various things. Categories were outlined as a device to differentiate among
words according to kinds of these things. Every word as such belonged to not
less and not more than one of ten categories.

So it happens to the word _utterance_ , as to any other word uttered in a
sequence, that it poses a question, a query about what share of the spectrum
of possibly denoted things might yield as the most appropriate in a given
context. The more context the more precise share comes to the fore. When taken
out of the context ambiguity prevails as the spectrum unveils in its variety.

Thus single words [as any other utterances] are questions, queries,
themselves, and by occuring in statements, in context, their [means] are being
singled out.

This process is _conditioned_ by what has been formalized as the techniques of
_regulating_ definitions of words.

### (G) The structure: words as
"Edit section: \(G\) The structure: words as words")]

* [![](/images/thumb/c/c8/Philitas_in_P.Oxy.XX_2260_i.jpg/144px-Philitas_in_P.Oxy.XX_2260_i.jpg)](/File:Philitas_in_P.Oxy.XX_2260_i.jpg)

P.Oxy.XX 2260 i: Oxyrhynchus papyrus XX, 2260, column i, with quotation from
Philitas, early 2nd c. CE. 1(

* [![](/images/thumb/9/9e/Cyclopaedia_1728_page_210_Dictionary_entry.jpg/88px-Cyclopaedia_1728_page_210_Dictionary_entry.jpg)](/File:Cyclopaedia_1728_page_210_Dictionary_entry.jpg)

Ephraim Chambers, _Cyclopaedia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and
Sciences_ , 1728, p. 210. 3(http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-

* [![](/images/thumb/b/b8/Detail_from_the_Liddell-Scott_Greek-English_Lexicon_c1843.jpg/160px-Detail_from_the_Liddell-Scott_Greek-English_Lexicon_c1843.jpg)](/File:Detail_from_the_Liddell-Scott_Greek-English_Lexicon_c1843.jpg)

Detail from the Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon, c1843.

Dictionaries have had a long life. The ancient Greek scholar and poet Philitas
of Cos living in the 4th c. BCE wrote a vocabulary explaining the meanings of
rare Homeric and other literary words, words from local dialects, and
technical terms. The vocabulary, called _Disorderly Words_ (Átaktoi glôssai),
has been lost, with a few fragments quoted by later authors. One example is
that the word πέλλα (pélla) meant "wine cup" in the ancient Greek region of
Boeotia; contrasted to the same word meaning "milk pail" in Homer's _Iliad_.

Not much has changed in the way how dictionaries constitute order. Selected
archives of statements are queried to yield occurrences of particular words,
various _criteria[indicators]_ are applied to filtering and sorting them and
in turn the spectrum of [denoted] things allocated in this way is structured
into groups and subgroups which are then given, according to other set of
rules, shorter or longer names. These constitute facets of [potential]
meanings of a word.

So there are at least _four_ sets of conditions [structuring] dictionaries.
One is required to delimit an archive[corpus of texts], one to select and give
preference[weights] to occurrences of a word, another to cluster them, and yet
another to abstract[generalize] the subject-matter of each of these clusters.
Needless to say, this is a craft of a few and these criteria are rarely being
disclosed, despite their impact on research, and more generally, their
influence as conditions for production[making] of a so called _common sense_.

It doesn't take that much to reimagine what a dictionary is and what it could
be, especially having large specialized corpora of texts at hand. These can
also serve as aids in production of new words and new meanings.

### (H) The structure: words as knowledge and the
"Edit section: \(H\) The structure: words as knowledge and the world")]

* [![](/images/thumb/0/02/Boethius_Porphyrys_Isagoge.jpg/120px-Boethius_Porphyrys_Isagoge.jpg)](/File:Boethius_Porphyrys_Isagoge.jpg)

Boethius's rendering of a classification tree described in Porphyry's Isagoge
(3th c.), [6th c.] 10th c.

* [![](/images/thumb/d/d0/Cyclopaedia_1728_page_ii_Division_of_Knowledge.jpg/94px-Cyclopaedia_1728_page_ii_Division_of_Knowledge.jpg)](/File:Cyclopaedia_1728_page_ii_Division_of_Knowledge.jpg)

Ephraim Chambers, _Cyclopaedia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and
Sciences_ , London, 1728, p. II. 5(http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-

* [![](/images/thumb/d/d6/Encyclopedie_1751_Systeme_figure_des_connaissances_humaines.jpg/116px-Encyclopedie_1751_Systeme_figure_des_connaissances_humaines.jpg)](/File:Encyclopedie_1751_Systeme_figure_des_connaissances_humaines.jpg)

Système figuré des connaissances humaines, _Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire
raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers_ , 1751.

* [![](/images/thumb/9/96/Haeckel_Ernst_1874_Stammbaum_des_Menschen.jpg/96px-Haeckel_Ernst_1874_Stammbaum_des_Menschen.jpg)](/File:Haeckel_Ernst_1874_Stammbaum_des_Menschen.jpg)

Haeckel - Darwin's tree.

Another _formalized_ and [internalized] process being at play when figuring
out a word is its [containment]. Word is not only structured by way of things
it potentially denotes but also by words it is potentially part of and those
it contains.

The fuzz around categorization of knowledge _and_ the world in the Western
thought can be traced back to Porphyry, if not further. In his introduction to
Aristotle's _Categories_ this 3rd century AD Neoplatonist began expanding the
notions of genus and species into their hypothetic consequences. Aristotle's
brief work outlines ten categories of 'things that are said' (legomena,
λεγόμενα), namely substance (or substantive, {not the same as matter!},
οὐσία), quantity (ποσόν), qualification (ποιόν), a relation (πρός), where
(ποῦ), when (πότε), being-in-a-position (κεῖσθαι), having (or state,
condition, ἔχειν), doing (ποιεῖν), and being-affected (πάσχειν). In his
different work, _Topics_ , Aristotle outlines four kinds of subjects/materials
indicated in propositions/problems from which arguments/deductions start.
These are a definition (όρος), a genus (γένος), a property (ἴδιος), and an
accident (συμβεβηϰόϛ). Porphyry does not explicitly refer _Topics_ , and says
he omits speaking "about genera and species, as to whether they subsist (in
the nature of things) or in mere conceptions only"
which means he avoids explicating whether he talks about kinds of concepts or
kinds of things in the sensible world. However, the work sparked confusion, as
the following passage [suggests]:

> "[I]n each category there are certain things most generic, and again, others
most special, and between the most generic and the most special, others which
are alike called both genera and species, but the most generic is that above
which there cannot be another superior genus, and the most special that below
which there cannot be another inferior species. Between the most generic and
the most special, there are others which are alike both genera and species,
referred, nevertheless, to different things, but what is stated may become
clear in one category. Substance indeed, is itself genus, under this is body,
under body animated body, under which is animal, under animal rational animal,
under which is man, under man Socrates, Plato, and men particularly." (Owen

Porphyry took one of Aristotle's ten categories of the word, substance, and
dissected it using one of his four rhetorical devices, genus. Employing
Aristotle's categories, genera and species as means for logical operations,
for dialectic, Porphyry's interpretation resulted in having more resemblance
to the perceived _structures_ of the world. So they began to bloom.

There were earlier examples, but Porphyry was the most influential in
injecting the _universalist_ version of classification [implying] the figure
of a tree into the [locus] of Aristotle's thought. Knowledge became

Classification schemes [growing from one point] play a major role in
untangling the format of modern encyclopedia from that of the dictionary
governed by alphabet. Two of the most influential encyclopedias of the 18th
century are cases in the point. Although still keeping 'dictionary' in their
titles, they are conceived not to represent words but knowledge. The [upper-
most] genus of the body was set as the body of knowledge. The English
_Cyclopaedia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences_ (1728) splits
into two main branches: "natural and scientifical" and "artificial and
technical"; these further split down to 47 classes in total, each carrying a
structured list (on the following pages) of thematic articles, serving as
table of contents. The French _Encyclopedia: or a Systematic Dictionary of the
Sciences, Arts, and Crafts_ (1751) [unwinds] from judgement ( _entendement_ ),
branches into memory as history, reason as philosophy, and imagination as
poetry. The logic of containers was employed as an aid not only to deal with
the enormous task of naming and not omiting anything from what is known, but
also for the management of labour of hundreds of writers and researchers, to
create a mechanism for delegating work and the distribution of
responsibilities. Flesh was also more present, in the field research, with
researchers attending workshops and sites of everyday life to annotate it.

The world came forward to unshine the word in other schemes. Darwin's tree of
evolution and some of the modern document classification systems such as
Charles A. Cutter's _Expansive Classification_ (1882) set to classify the
world itself and set the field for what has came to be known as authority
lists structuring metadata in today's computing.

### The structure
"Edit section: The structure \(summary\)")]

Facetization of meaning and branching of knowledge are both the domain of the
unit of utterance.

While lexicographers[dictionarists] structure thought through multi-layered
processes of abstraction of the written record, knowledge growers dissect it
into hierarchies of [mutually] contained notions.

One seek to describe the word as a faceted list of small worlds, another to
describe the world as a structured lists of words. One play prime in the
domain of epistemology, in what is known, controlling the vocabulary, another
in the domain of ontology, in what is, controlling reality.

Every [word] has its given things, every thing has its place, closer or
further from a single word.

The schism between classifying words and classifying the world implies it is
not possible to construct a universal classification scheme[system]. On top of
that, any classification system of words is bound to a corpus of texts it is
operating upon and any classification system of the world again operates with
words which are bound to a vocabulary[lexicon] which is again bound to a
corpus [of texts]. It doesn't mean it would prevent people from trying.
Classifications function as descriptors of and 'inscriptors' upon the world,
imprinting their authority. They operate from [a locus of] their
corpus[context]-specificity. The larger the corpus, the more power it has on
shaping the world, as far as the word shapes it (yes, I do imply Google here,
for which it is a domain to be potentially exploited).

## (J) The
"Edit section: \(J\) The sequence")]

The structure-yielding query [of] the single word [shrinks][zuzuje
sa,spresnuje] with preceding and following words. Inquiry proceeds in the flow
that establishes another kind[mode] of relationality, chaining words into the
sequence. While the structuring property of the query brings words apart from
each other, its sequential property establishes continuity and brings these
units into an ordered set.

This is what is responsible for attaching textual figures mentioned earlier
(lists, schemes, tables) to the body of the text. Associations can be also
stated explicitly, by indexing tables and then referring them from a
particular point in the text. The same goes for explicit associations made
between blocks of the text by means of indexed paragraphs, chapters or pages.

From this follows that all utterances point to the following utterance by the
nature of sequential order, and indexing provides means for pointing elsewhere
in the document as well.

A lot can be said about references to other texts. Here, to spare time, I
would refer you to a talk I gave a few months ago and which is online

This is still the realm of print. What happens with document when it is

Digitization breaks a document into units of which each is assigned a numbered
position in the sequence of the document. From this perspective digitization
can be viewed as a total indexation of the document. It is converted into
units rendered for machine operations. This sequentiality is made explicit, by
means of an underlying index.

Sequences and chains are orders of one dimension. Their one-dimensional
ordering allows addressability of each element and [random] access. [Jumps]
between [random] addresses are still sequential, processing elements one at a

## (K) The
"Edit section: \(K\) The index")]

* [![](/images/thumb/2/27/Summa_confessorum.1310.jpg/103px-Summa_confessorum.1310.jpg)](/File:Summa_confessorum.1310.jpg)

Summa confessorum [1297-98], 1310.

[The] sequencing not only weaves words into statements but activates other
temporalities, and _presents occurrences of words from past statements_. As
now when I am saying the word _utterance_ , each time there surface contexts
in which I have used it earlier.

A long quote from Frederick G. Kilgour, _The Evolution of the Book_ , 1998, pp

> "A century of invention of various types of indexes and reference tools
preceded the advent of the first subject index to a specific book, which
occurred in the last years of the thirteenth century. The first subject
indexes were "distinctions," collections of "various figurative or symbolic
meanings of a noun found in the scriptures" that "are the earliest of all
alphabetical tools aside from dictionaries." (Richard and Mary Rouse supply an
example: "Horse = Preacher. Job 39: 'Hast thou given the horse strength, or
encircled his neck with whinning?')


> [Concordance] By the end of the third decade of the thirteenth century Hugh
de Saint-Cher had produced the first word concordance. It was a simple word
index of the Bible, with every location of each word listed by [its position
in the Bible specified by book, chapter, and letter indicating part of the
chapter]. Hugh organized several dozen men, assigning to each man an initial
letter to search; for example, the man assigned M was to go through the entire
Bible, list each word beginning with M and give its location. As it was soon
perceived that this original reference work would be even more useful if words
were cited in context, a second concordance was produced, with each word in
lengthy context, but it proved to be unwieldy. [Soon] a third version was
produced, with words in contexts of four to seven words, the model for
biblical concordances ever since.


> [Subject index] The subject index, also an innovation of the thirteenth
century, evolved over the same period as did the concordance. Most of the
early topical indexes were designed for writing sermons; some were organized,
while others were apparently sequential without any arrangement. By midcentury
the entries were in alphabetical order, except for a few in some classified
arrangement. Until the end of the century these alphabetical reference works
indexed a small group of books. Finally John of Freiburg added an alphabetical
subject index to his own book, _Summa Confessorum_ (1297—1298). As the Rouses
have put it, 'By the end of the [13]th century the practical utility of the
subject index is taken for granted by the literate West, no longer solely as
an aid for preachers, but also in the disciplines of theology, philosophy, and
both kinds of law.'"

In one sense neither subject-index nor concordane are indexes, they are words
or group of words selected according to given criteria from the body of the
text, each accompanied with a list of identifiers. These identifiers are
elements of an index, whether they represent a page, chapter, column, or other
[kind of] block of text. Every identifier is an unique _address_.

The index is thus an ordering of a sequence by means of associating its
elements with a set of symbols, when each element is given unique combination
of symbols. Different sizes of sets yield different number of variations.
Symbol sets such as an alphabet, arabic numerals, roman numerals, and binary
digits have different proportions between the length of a string of symbols
and the number of possible variations it can contain. Thus two symbols of
English alphabet can store 26^2 various values, of arabic numerals 10^2, of
roman numberals 8^2 and of binary digits 2^2.

Indexation is segmentation, a breaking into segments. From as early as the
13th century the index such as that of sections has served as enabler of
search. The more [detailed] indexation the more precise search results it

The subject-index and concordance are tables of search results. There is a
direct lineage from the 13th-century biblical concordances and the birth of
computational linguistic analysis, they were both initiated and realised by

During the World War II, Jesuit Father Roberto Busa began to look for machines
for the automation of the linguistic analysis of the 11 million-word Latin
corpus of Thomas Aquinas and related authors.

Working on his Ph.D. thesis on the concept of _praesens_ in Aquinas he
realised two things:

> "I realized first that a philological and lexicographical inquiry into the
verbal system of an author has t o precede and prepare for a doctrinal
interpretation of his works. Each writer expresses his conceptual system in
and through his verbal system, with the consequence that the reader who
masters this verbal system, using his own conceptual system, has to get an
insight into the writer's conceptual system. The reader should not simply
attach t o the words he reads the significance they have in his mind, but
should try t o find out what significance they had in the writer's mind.
Second, I realized that all functional or grammatical words (which in my mind
are not 'empty' at all but philosophically rich) manifest the deepest logic of
being which generates the basic structures of human discourse. It is .this
basic logic that allows the transfer from what the words mean today t o what
they meant to the writer.


> In the works of every philosopher there are two philosophies: the one which
he consciously intends to express and the one he actually uses to express it.
The structure of each sentence implies in itself some philosophical
assumptions and truths. In this light, one can legitimately criticize a
philosopher only when these two philosophies are in contradiction."

Collaborating with the IBM in New York from 1949, the work, a concordance of
all the words of Thomas Aquinas, was finally published in the 1970s in 56
printed volumes (a version is online since 2005
12(http://www.corpusthomisticum.org/it/index.age)). Besides that, an
electronic lexicon for automatic lemmatization of Latin words was created by a
team of ten priests in the scope of two years (in two phases: grouping all the
forms of an inflected word under their lemma, and coding the morphological
categories of each form and lemma), containing 150,000 forms
13(http://www.alice.id.tue.nl/references/busa-1980.pdf#page=4). Father
Busa has been dubbed the father of humanities computing and recently also of
digital humanities.

The subject-index has a crucial role in the printed book. It is the only means
for search the book offers. Subjects composing an index can be selected
according to a classification scheme (specific to a field of an inquiry), for
example as elements of a certain degree (with a given minimum number of

Its role seemingly vanishes in the digital text. But it can be easily
transformed. Besides serving as a table of pre-searched results the subject-
index also gives a distinct idea about content of the book. Two patterns give
us a clue: numbers of occurrences of selected words give subjects weights,
while words that seem specific to the book outweights other even if they don't
occur very often. A selection of these words then serves as a descriptor of
the whole text, and can be thought of as a specific kind of 'tags'.

This process was formalized in a mathematical function in the 1970s, thanks to
a formula by Karen Spärck Jones which she entitled 'inverse document
frequency' (IDF), or in other words, "term specificity". It is measured as a
proportion of texts in the corpus where the word appears at least once to the
total number of texts. When multiplied by the frequency of the word _in_ the
text (divided by the maximum frequency of any word in the text), we get _term
frequency-inverse document frequency_ (tf-idf). In this way we can get an
automated list of subjects which are particular in the text when compared to a
group of texts.

We came to learn it by practice of searching the web. It is a mechanism not
dissimilar to thought process involved in retrieving particular information
online. And search engines have it built in their indexing algorithms as well.

There is a paper proposing attaching words generated by tf-idf to the
hyperlinks when referring websites 14(http://bscit.berkeley.edu/cgi-
This would enable finding the referred content even after the link is dead.
Hyperlinks in references in the paper use this feature and it can be easily
tested: 15(http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~phelps/papers/dissertation-

There is another measure, cosine similarity, which takes tf-idf further and
can be applied for clustering texts according to similarities in their
specificity. This might be interesting as a feature for digital libraries, or
even a way of organising library bottom-up into novel categories, new
discourses could emerge. Or as an aid for researchers to sort through texts,
or even for editors as an aid in producing interesting anthologies.

## Final
"Edit section: Final remarks")]


New disciplines emerge all the time - most recently, for example, cultural
techniques, software studies, or media archaeology. It takes years, even
decades, before they gain dedicated shelves in libraries or a category in
interlibrary digital repositories. Not that it matters that much. They are not
only sites of academic opportunities but, firstly, frameworks of new
perspectives of looking at the world, new domains of knowledge. From the
perspective of researcher the partaking in a discipline involves negotiating
its vocabulary, classifications, corpus, reference field, and specific
terms[subjects]. Creating new fields involves all that, and more. Even when
one goes against all disciplines.


Google can still surprise us.


Knowledge has been in the making for millenia. There have been (abstract)
mechanisms established that govern its conditions. We now possess specialized
corpora of texts which are interesting enough to serve as a ground to discuss
and experiment with dictionaries, classifications, indexes, and tools for
references retrieval. These all belong to the poetic devices of knowledge-


Command-line example of tf-idf and concordance in 3 steps.

* 1\. Process the files text.1-5.txt and produce freq.1-5.txt with lists of (nonlemmatized) words (in respective texts), ordered by frequency:

> for i in {1..5}; do tr '[A-Z]' '[a-z]' < text.$i.txt | tr -c '[a-z]'
'[\012*]' | tr -d '[:punct:]' | sort | uniq -c | sort -k 1nr | sed '1,1d' >
temp.txt; max=$(awk -vvar=1 -F" " 'NR

1 {print $var}' temp.txt); awk
-vmaxx=$max -F' ' '{printf "%-7.7f %s\n", $1=0.5+($1/(maxx*2)), $2}' > freq.$i.txt; done && rm temp.txt

* 2\. Process the files freq.1-5.txt and produce tfidf.1-5.txt containing a list of words (out of 500 most frequent in respective lists), ordered by weight (specificity for each text):

> for j in {1..5}; do rm freq.$j.txt.temp; lines=$(wc -l freq.$j.txt) && for i
in {1..500}; do word=$(awk -vline="$i" -vfield=2 -F" " 'NR

line {print
$field}' freq.$j.txt); tf=$(awk -vline="$i" -vfield=1 -F" " 'NR

line {print
$field}' freq.$j.txt); count=$(egrep -lw $word freq.?.txt | wc -l); idf=$(echo
"1+l(5/$count)" | bc -l); tfidf=$(echo $tf*$idf | bc); echo $word $tfidf >>
freq.$j.txt.temp; done; sort -k 2nr < freq.$j.txt.temp > tfidf.$j.txt; done

* 3\. Process the files tfidf.1-5.txt and their source text, text.txt, and produce occ.txt with concordance of top 3 words from each of them:

> rm occ.txt && for j in {1..5}; do echo "$j" >> occ.txt; ptx -f -w 150
text.txt.$j > occ.$j.txt; for i in {1..3}; do word=$(awk -vline="$i" -vfield=1
-F" " 'NR

line {print $field}' tfidf.$j.txt); egrep -i
"[alpha:](/index.php?title=Alpha:&action=edit&redlink=1 "Alpha: \(page does
not exist\)") $word" occ.$j.txt >> occ.txt; done; done

Dušan Barok

_Written 23 October - 1 November 2014 in Bratislava and Stuttgart._

digitization in Barok 2014

Techniques of Publishing

Techniques of Publishing

Draft translation of a talk given at the seminar Informace mezi komoditou a komunitou [The Information Between Commodity and Community] held at Tranzitdisplay in Prague, Czech Republic, on May 6, 2014

My contribution has three parts. I will begin by sketching the current environment of publishing in general, move on to some of the specificities of publishing
in the humanities and art, and end with a brief introduction to the Monoskop
initiative I was asked to include in my talk.
I would like to thank Milos Vojtechovsky, Matej Strnad and CAS/FAMU for
the invitation, and Tranzitdisplay for hosting this seminar. It offers itself as an
opportunity for reflection for which there is a decent distance from a previous
presentation of Monoskop in Prague eight years ago when I took part in a new
media education workshop prepared by Miloš and Denisa Kera. Many things
changed since then, not only in new media, but in the humanities in general,
and I will try to articulate some of these changes from today’s perspective and
primarily from the perspective of publishing.

I. The Environment of Publishing
One change, perhaps the most serious, and which indeed relates to the humanities
publishing as well, is that from a subject that was just a year ago treated as a paranoia of a bunch of so called technological enthusiasts, is today a fact with which
the global public is well acquainted: we are all being surveilled. Virtually every
utterance on the internet, or rather made by means of the equipment connected
to it through standard protocols, is recorded, in encrypted or unencrypted form,
on servers of information agencies, besides copies of a striking share of these data
on servers of private companies. We are only at the beginning of civil mobilization towards reversal of the situation and the future is open, yet nothing suggests
so far that there is any real alternative other than “to demand the impossible.”
There are at least two certaintes today: surveillance is a feature of every communication technology controlled by third parties, from post, telegraphy, telephony
to internet; and at the same time it is also a feature of the ruling power in all its
variants humankind has come to know. In this regard, democracy can be also understood as the involvement of its participants in deciding on the scale and use of
information collected in this way.
I mention this because it suggests that also all publishing initiatives, from libraries,
through archives, publishing houses to schools have their online activities, back1

ends, shared documents and email communication recorded by public institutions–
which intelligence agencies are, or at least ought to be.
In regard to publishing houses it is notable that books and other publications today are printed from digital files, and are delivered to print over email, thus it is
not surprising to claim that a significant amount of electronically prepared publications is stored on servers in the public service. This means that besides being
required to send a number of printed copies to their national libraries, in fact,
publishers send their electronic versions to information agencies as well. Obviously, agencies couldn’t care less about them, but it doesn’t change anything on
the likely fact that, whatever it means, the world’s largest electronic repository of
publications today are the server farms of the NSA.
Information agencies archive publications without approval, perhaps without awareness, and indeed despite disapproval of their authors and publishers, as an
“incidental” effect of their surveillance techniques. This situation is obviously
radically different from a totalitarianism we got to know. Even though secret
agencies in the Eastern Bloc were blackmailing people to produce miserable literature as their agents, samizdat publications could at least theoretically escape their
This is not the only difference. While captured samizdats were read by agents of
flesh and blood, publications collected through the internet surveillance are “read”
by software agents. Both of them scan texts for “signals”, ie. terms and phrases
whose occurrences trigger interpretative mechanisms that control operative components of their organizations.
Today, publishing is similarly political and from the point of view of power a potentially subversive activity like it was in the communist Czechoslovakia. The
difference is its scale, reach and technique.
One of the messages of the recent “revelations” is that while it is recommended
to encrypt private communication, the internet is for its users also a medium of
direct contact with power. SEO, or search engine optimization, is now as relevant technique for websites as for books and other publications since all of them
are read by similar algorithms, and authors can read this situation as a political
dimension of their work, as a challenge to transform and model these algorithms
by texts.


II. Techniques of research in the humanities literature
Compiling the bibliography
Through the circuitry we got to the audience, readers. Today, they also include
software and algorithms such as those used for “reading” by information agencies
and corporations, and others facilitating reading for the so called ordinary reader,
the reader searching information online, but also the “expert” reader, searching
primarily in library systems.
Libraries, as we said, are different from information agencies in that they are
funded by the public not to hide publications from it but to provide access to
them. A telling paradox of the age is that on the one hand information agencies
are storing almost all contemporary book production in its electronic version,
while generally they absolutely don’t care about them since the “signal” information lies elsewhere, and on the other in order to provide electronic access, paid or
direct, libraries have to costly scan also publications that were prepared for print
A more remarkable difference is, of course, that libraries select and catalogize
Their methods of selection are determined in the first place by their public institutional function of the protector and projector of patriotic values, and it is reflected
in their preference of domestic literature, ie. literature written in official state languages. Methods of catalogization, on the other hand, are characterized by sorting
by bibliographic records, particularly by categories of disciplines ordered in the
tree structure of knowledge. This results in libraries shaping the research, including academic research, towards a discursivity that is national and disciplinary, or
focused on the oeuvre of particular author.
Digitizing catalogue records and allowing readers to search library indexes by their
structural items, ie. the author, publisher, place and year of publication, words in
title, and disciplines, does not at all revert this tendency, but rather extends it to
the web as well.
I do not intend to underestimate the value and benefits of library work, nor the
importance of discipline-centered writing or of the recognition of the oeuvre of
the author. But consider an author working on an article who in the early phase
of his research needs to prepare a bibliography on the activity of Fluxus in central Europe or on the use of documentary film in education. Such research cuts
through national boundaries and/or branches of disciplines and he is left to travel
not only to locate artefacts, protagonists and experts in the field but also to find
literature, which in turn makes even the mere process of compiling bibliography
relatively demanding and costly activity.

In this sense, the digitization of publications and archival material, providing their
free online access and enabling fulltext search, in other words “open access”, catalyzes research across political-geographical and disciplinary configurations. Because while the index of the printed book contains only selected terms and for
the purposes of searching the index across several books the researcher has to have
them all at hand, the software-enabled search in digitized texts (with a good OCR)
works with the index of every single term in all of them.
This kind of research also obviously benefits from online translation tools, multilingual case bibliographies online, as well as second hand bookstores and small
specialized libraries that provide a corrective role to public ones, and whose “open
access” potential has been explored to the very small extent until now, but which
I won’t discuss here further for the lack of time.
The disciplinarity and patriotism are “embedded” in texts themselves, while I repeat that I don’t say this in a pejorative way.
Bibliographic records in bodies of texts, notes, attributions of sources and appended references can be read as formatted addresses of other texts, making apparent a kind of intertextual structure, well known in hypertext documents. However, for the reader these references are still “virtual”. When following a reference
she is led back to a library, and if interested in more references, to more libraries.
Instead, authors assume certain general erudition of their readers, while following references to their very sources is perceived as an exception from the standard
self-limitation to reading only the body of the text. Techniques of writing with
virtual bibliography thus affirm national-disciplinary discourses and form readers
and authors proficient in the field of references set by collections of local libraries
and so called standard literature of fields they became familiar with during their
When in this regime of writing someone in the Czech Republic wants to refer to
the work of Gilbert Simondon or Alexander Bogdanov, to give an example, the
effect of his work will be minimal, since there was practically nothing from these
authors translated into Czech. His closely reading colleague is left to try ordering
books through a library and wait for 3-4 weeks, or to order them from an online
store, travel to find them or search for them online. This applies, in the case of
these authors, for readers in the vast majority of countries worldwide. And we can
tell with certainty that this is not only the case of Simondon and Bogdanov but
of the vast majority of authors. Libraries as nationally and pyramidally situated
institutions face real challenges in regard to the needs of free research.
This is surely merely one aspect of techniques of writing.

Reading texts with “live” references and bibliographies using electronic devices is
today possible not only to imagine but to realise as well. This way of reading
allows following references to other texts, visual material, other related texts of
an author, but also working with occurrences of words in the text, etc., bringing
reading closer to textual analysis and other interesting levels. Due to the time
limits I am going to sketch only one example.
Linear reading is specific by reading from the beginning of the text to its end,
as well as ‘tree-like’ reading through the content structure of the document, and
through occurrences of indexed words. Still, techniques of close reading extend
its other aspect – ‘moving’ through bibliographic references in the document to
particular pages or passages in another. They make the virtual reference plastic –
texts are separated one from another merely by a click or a tap.
We are well familiar with a similar movement through the content on the web
– surfing, browsing, and clicking through. This leads us to an interesting parallel: standards of structuring, composing, etc., of texts in the humanities has been
evolving for centuries, what is incomparably more to decades of the web. From
this stems also one of the historical challenges the humanities are facing today:
how to attune to the existence of the web and most importantly to epistemological consequences of its irreversible social penetration. To upload a PDF online is
only a taste of changes in how we gain and make knowledge and how we know.
This applies both ways – what is at stake is not only making production of the
humanities “available” online, it is not only about open access, but also about the
ways of how the humanities realise the electronic and technical reality of their
own production, in regard to the research, writing, reading, and publishing.
The analogy between information agencies and national libraries also points to
the fact that large portion of publications, particularly those created in software,
is electronic. However the exceptions are significant. They include works made,
typeset, illustrated and copied manually, such as manuscripts written on paper
or other media, by hand or using a typewriter or other mechanic means, and
other pre-digital techniques such as lithography, offset, etc., or various forms of
writing such as clay tablets, rolls, codices, in other words the history of print and
publishing in its striking variety, all of which provide authors and publishers with
heterogenous means of expression. Although this “segment” is today generally
perceived as artists’ books interesting primarily for collectors, the current process
of massive digitization has triggered the revival, comebacks, transformations and

novel approaches to publishing. And it is these publications whose nature is closer
to the label ‘book’ rather than the automated electro-chemical version of the offset
lithography of digital files on acid-free paper.
Despite that it is remarkable to observe a view spreading among publishers that
books created in software are books with attributes we have known for ages. On
top of that there is a tendency to handle files such as PDFs, EPUBs, MOBIs and
others as if they are printed books, even subject to the rules of limited edition, a
consequence of what can be found in the rise of so called electronic libraries that
“borrow” PDF files and while someone reads one, other users are left to wait in
the line.
Whilst, from today’s point of view of the humanities research, mass-printed books
are in the first place archives of the cultural content preserved in this way for the
time we run out of electricity or have the internet ‘switched off’ in some other

III. Monoskop
Finally, I am getting to Monoskop and to begin with I am going to try to formulate
its brief definition, in three versions.
From the point of view of the humanities, Monoskop is a research, or questioning, whose object’s nature renders no answer as definite, since the object includes
art and culture in their widest sense, from folk music, through visual poetry to
experimental film, and namely their history as well as theory and techniques. The
research is framed by the means of recording itself, what makes it a practise whose
record is an expression with aesthetic qualities, what in turn means that the process of the research is subject to creative decisions whose outcomes are perceived
esthetically as well.
In the language of cultural management Monoskop is an independent research
project whose aim is subject to change according to its continual findings; which
has no legal body and thus as organisation it does not apply for funding; its participants have no set roles; and notably, it operates with no deadlines. It has a reach
to the global public about which, respecting the privacy of internet users, there
are no statistics other than general statistics on its social networks channels and a
figure of numbers of people and bots who registered on its website and subscribed
to its newsletter.
At the same time, technically said, Monoskop is primarily an internet website
and in this regard it is no different from any other communication media whose
function is to complicate interpersonal communication, at least due to the fact
that it is a medium with its own specific language, materiality, duration and access.

Contemporary media
Monoskop has began ten years ago in the milieu of a group of people running
a cultural space where they had organised events, workshops, discussion, a festival,
etc. Their expertise, if to call that way the trace left after years spent in the higher
education, varied well, and it spanned from fine art, architecture, philosophy,
through art history and literary theory, to library studies, cognitive science and
information technology. Each of us was obviously interested in these and other
fields other than his and her own, but the praxis in naming the substance whose
centripetal effects brought us into collaboration were the terms new media, media
culture and media art.
Notably, it was not contemporary art, because a constituent part of the praxis was
also non-visual expression, information media, etc., so the research began with the
essentially naive question ‘of what are we contemporary?’. There had been not
much written about media culture and art as such, a fact I perceived as drawback
but also as challenge.
The reflection, discussion and critique need to be grounded in reality, in a wider
context of the field, thus the research has began in-field. From the beginning, the
website of Monoskop served to record the environment, including people, groups,
organizations, events we had been in touch with and who/which were more or
less explicitly affiliated with media culture. The result of this is primarily a social
geography of live media culture and art, structured on the wiki into cities, with
a focus on the two recent decades.
Cities and agents
The first aim was to compile an overview of agents of this geography in their
wide variety, from eg. small independent and short-lived initiatives to established
museums. The focus on the 1990s and 2000s is of course problematic. One of
its qualities is a parallel to the history of the World Wide Web which goes back
precisely to the early 1990s and which is on the one hand the primary recording
medium of the Monoskop research and on the other a relevant self-archiving and–
stemming from its properties–presentation medium, in other words a platform on
which agents are not only meeting together but potentially influence one another
as well.
The records are of diverse length and quality, while the priorities for what they
consist of can be generally summed up in several points in the following order:


1. Inclusion of a person, organisation or event in the context of the structure.
So in case of a festival or conference held in Prague the most important is to
mention it in the events section on the page on Prague.
2. Links to their web presence from inside their wiki pages, while it usually
implies their (self-)presentation.
3. Basic information, including a name or title in an original language, dates
of birth, foundation, realization, relations to other agents, ideally through
links inside the wiki. These are presented in narrative and in English.
4. Literature or bibliography in as many languages as possible, with links to
versions of texts online if there are any.
5. Biographical and other information relevant for the object of the research,
while the preference is for those appearing online for the first time.
6. Audiovisual material, works, especially those that cannot be found on linked
Even though pages are structured in the quasi same way, input fields are not structured, so when you create a wiki account and decide to edit or add an entry, the
wiki editor offers you merely one input box for the continuous text. As is the case
on other wiki websites. Better way to describe their format is thus articles.
There are many related questions about representation, research methodology,
openness and participation, formalization, etc., but I am not going to discuss them
due to the time constraint.
The first research layer thus consists of live and active agents, relations among
them and with them.
Another layer is related to a question about what does the field of media culture
and art stem from; what and upon what does it consciously, but also not fully
consciously, builds, comments, relates, negates; in other words of what it may be
perceived a post, meta, anti, retro, quasi and neo legacy.
An approach of national histories of art of the 20th century proved itself to be
relevant here. These entries are structured in the same way like cities: people,
groups, events, literature, at the same time building upon historical art forms and
periods as they are reflected in a range of literature.

The overviews are organised purposely without any attempts for making relations
to the present more explicit, in order to leave open a wide range of intepretations
and connotations and to encourage them at the same time.
The focus on art of the 20th century originally related to, while the researched
countries were mostly of central and eastern Europe, with foundations of modern
national states, formations preserving this field in archives, museums, collections
but also publications, etc. Obviously I am not saying that contemporary media
culture is necessarily archived on the web while art of the 20th century lies in
collections “offline”, it applies vice versa as well.
In this way there began to appear new articles about filmmakers, fine artists, theorists and other partakers in artistic life of the previous century.
Since then the focus has considerably expanded to more than a century of art and
new media on the whole continent. Still it portrays merely another layer of the
research, the one which is yet a collection of fragmentary data, without much
context. Soon we also hit the limit of what is about this field online. The next
question was how to work in the internet environment with printed sources.
When I was installing this blog five years ago I treated it as a side project, an offshoot, which by the fact of being online may not be only an archive of selected
source literature for the Monoskop research but also a resource for others, mainly
students in the humanities. A few months later I found Aaaarg, then oriented
mainly on critical theory and philosophy; there was also Gigapedia with publications without thematic orientation; and several other community library portals
on password. These were the first sources where I was finding relevant literature
in electronic version, later on there were others too, I began to scan books and catalogues myself and to receive a large number of scans by email and soon came to
realise that every new entry is an event of its own not only for myself. According
to the response, the website has a wide usership across all the continents.
At this point it is proper to mention the copyright. When deciding about whether
to include this or that publication, there are at least two moments always present.
One brings me back to my local library at the outskirts of Bratislava in the early
1990s and asks that if I would have found this book there and then, could it change
my life? Because books that did I was given only later and elsewhere; and here I
think of people sitting behind computers in Belarus, China or Kongo. And even

if not, the latter is a wonder on whether this text has a potential to open up some
serious questions about disciplinarity or national discursivity in the humanities,
while here I am reminded by a recent study which claims that more than half
of academic publications are not read by more than three people: their author,
reviewer and editor. What does not imply that it is necessary to promote them
to more people but rather to think of reasons why is it so. It seems that the
consequences of the combination of high selectivity with open access resonate
also with publishers and authors from whom the complaints are rather scarce and
even if sometimes I don’t understand reasons of those received, I respect them.
Media technology
Throughout the years I came to learn, from the ontological perspective, two main
findings about media and technology.
For a long time I had a tendency to treat technologies as objects, things, while now
it seems much more productive to see them as processes, techniques. As indeed
nor the biologist does speak about the dear as biology. In this sense technology is
the science of techniques, including cultural techniques which span from reading,
writing and counting to painting, programming and publishing.
Media in the humanities are a compound of two long unrelated histories. One of
them treats media as a means of communication, signals sent from point A to the
point B, lacking the context and meaning. Another speaks about media as artistic
means of expression, such as the painting, sculpture, poetry, theatre, music or
film. The term “media art” is emblematic for this amalgam while the historical
awareness of these two threads sheds new light on it.
Media technology in art and the humanities continues to be the primary object of
research of Monoskop.
I attempted to comment on political, esthetic and technical aspects of publishing.
Let me finish by saying that Monoskop is an initiative open to people and future
and you are more than welcome to take part in it.

Dušan Barok
Written May 1-7, 2014, in Bergen and Prague. Translated by the author on May 10-13,
2014. This version generated June 10, 2014.

digitization in Bodo 2014

A Short History of the Russian Digital Shadow Libraries

Draft Manuscript, 11/4/2014, DO NOT CITE!

A short history of the Russian digital shadow libraries
Balazs Bodo, Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam

“What I see as a consequence of the free educational book distribution: in decades generations of people
everywhere in the World will grow with the access to the best explained scientific texts of all times.
[…]The quality and accessibility of education to poors will drastically grow too. Frankly, I'm seeing this as
the only way to naturally improve mankind: by breeding people with all the information given to them at
any time.” – Anonymous admin of Aleph, explaining the reason d’étre of the site

RuNet, the Russian segment of the internet is now the home of the most comprehensive scientific pirate
libraries on the net. These sites offer free access to hundreds of thousands of books and millions of
journal articles. In this contribution we try to understand the factors that led to the development of
these sites, and the sociocultural and legal conditions that enable them to operate under hostile legal
and political conditions. Through the reconstruction of the micro-histories of peer produced online text
collections that played a central role in the history of RuNet, we are able to link the formal and informal
support for these sites to the specific conditions developed under the Soviet and post Soviet times.

(pirate) libraries on the net
The digitization and collection of texts was one of the very first activities enabled by computers. Project
Gutenberg, the first in line of digital libraries was established as early as 1971. By the early nineties, a
number of online electronic text archives emerged, all hoping to finally realize the dream that was
chased by humans every since the first library: the collection of everything (Battles, 2004), the Memex
(Bush, 1945), the Mundaneum (Rieusset-Lemarié, 1997), the Library of Babel (Borges, 1998). It did not
take long to realize that the dream was still beyond reach: the information storage and retrieval
technology might have been ready, but copyright law, for the foreseeable future was not. Copyright
protection and enforcement slowly became one of the most crucial issues around digital technologies.

Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2616631

Draft Manuscript, 11/4/2014, DO NOT CITE!
And as that happened, the texts, which were archived without authorization were purged from the
budding digital collections. Those that survived complete deletion were moved into the dark, locked
down sections of digital libraries that sometimes still lurk behind the law-abiding public façades. Hopes
for a universal digital library can be built was lost in just a few short years as those who tried it (such as
Google or Hathitrust) got bogged down in endless court battles.
There are unauthorized texts collections circulating on channels less susceptible to enforcement, such as
DVDs, torrents, or IRC channels. But the technical conditions of these distribution channels do not enable
the development of a library. Two of the most essential attributes of any proper library: the catalogue
and the community are hard to provide on such channels. The catalog doesn’t just organize the
knowledge stored in the collection; it is not just a tool of searching and browsing. It is a critical
component in the organization of the community of “librarians” who preserve and nourish the
collection. The catalog is what distinguishes an unstructured heap of computer files from a wellmaintained library, but it is the same catalog, which makes shadow libraries, unauthorized texts
collections an easy target of law enforcement. Those few digital online libraries that dare to provide
unauthorized access to texts in an organized manner, such as textz.org, a*.org, monoskop or Gigapedia/
library.nu, all had their bad experiences with law enforcement and rights holder dismay.
Of these pirate libraries, Gigapedia—later called Library.nu—was the largest at the turn of the 2010’s. At
its peak, it was several orders of magnitudes bigger than its peers, offering access to nearly a million
English language documents. It was not just size that made Gigapedia unique. Unlike most sites, it
moved beyond its initial specialization in scientific texts to incorporate a wide range of academic
disciplines. Compared to its peers, it also had a highly developed central metadata database, which
contained bibliographic details on the collection and also, significantly, on gaps in the collection, which
underpinned a process of actively solicited contributions from users. With the ubiquitous
scanner/copiers, the production of book scans was as easy as copying them, thus the collection grew
Gigapedia’s massive catalog made the site popular, which in turn made it a target. In early 2012, a group
of 17 publishers was granted an injunction against the site (now called Library.nu; and against iFile.it—
the hosting site that stored most of Library.nu’s content). Unlike the record and movie companies,
which had collaborated on dozens of lawsuits over the past decade, the Library.nu injunction and lawsuit
were the first coordinated publisher actions against a major file-sharing site, and the first to involve
major university publishers in particular. Under the injunction, the Library.nu adminstrators closed the
site. The collection disappeared and the community around it dispersed. (Liang, 2012)
Gigapedia’s collection was integrated into Aleph’s predominantly Russian language collection before the
shutdown, making Aleph the natural successor of Gigapedia/library.nu.

Libraries in the RuNet

Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2616631

Draft Manuscript, 11/4/2014, DO NOT CITE!
The search soon zeroed in on a number of sites with strong hints to their Russian origins. Sites like Aleph,
[sc], [fi], [os] are open, completely free to use, and each offers access to a catalog comparable to the late
The similarity of these seemingly distinct services is no coincidence. These sites constitute a tightly knit
network, in which Aleph occupies the central position. Aleph, as its name suggests, is the source library,
it aims to seed of all scientific digital libraries on the net. Its mission is simple and straightforward. It
collects free-floating scientific texts and other collections from the Internet and consolidates them (both
content and metadata) into a single, open database. Though ordinary users can search the catalog and
retrieve the texts, its main focus is the distribution of the catalog and the collection to anyone who
wants to build services upon them. Aleph has regularly updated links that point to its own, neatly packed
source code, its database dump, and to the terabytes worth of collection. It is a knowledge infrastructure
that can be freely accessed, used and built upon by anyone. This radical openness enables a number of
other pirate libraries to offer Aleph’s catalogue along with books coming from other sources. By
mirroring Aleph they take over tasks that the administrators of Aleph are unprepared or unwilling to do.
Handling much of the actual download traffic they relieve Aleph from the unavoidable investment in
servers and bandwidth, which, in turn puts less pressure on Aleph to engage in commercial activities to
finance its operation. While Aleph stays in the background, the network of mirrors compete for
attention, users and advertising revenue as their design, business model, technical sophistication is finetuned to the profile of their intended target audience.
This strategy of creating an open infrastructure serves Aleph well. It ensures the widespread distribution
of books while it minimizes (legal) exposure. By relinquishing control, Aleph also ensures its own longterm survival, as it is copied again and again. In fact, openness is the core element in the philosophy of
Aleph, which was summed up by one of its administrators as to:
“- collect valuable science/technology/math/medical/humanities academic literature. That is,
collect humanity's valuable knowledge in digital form. Avoid junky books. Ignore "bestsellers".
- build a community of people who share knowledge, improve quality of books, find good and
valuable books, and correct errors.
- share the files freely, spreading the knowledge altruistically, not trying to make money, not
charging money for knowledge. Here people paid money for many books that they considered
valuable and then shared here on [Aleph], for free. […]
This is the true spirit of the [Aleph] project.”


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Reading, publishing, censorship and libraries in Soviet-Russia
“[T]he library of the Big Lubyanka was unique. In all probability it had been assembled out of confiscated
private libraries. The bibliophiles who had collected those books had already rendered up their souls to
God. But the main thing was that while State Security had been busy censoring and emasculating all the
libraries of the nation for decades, it forgot to dig in its own bosom. Here, in its very den, one could read
Zamyatin, Pilnyak, Panteleimon Romanov, and any volume at all of the complete works of Merezhkovsky.
(Some people wisecracked that they allowed us to read forbidden books because they already regarded
us as dead. But I myself think that the Lubyanka librarians hadn't the faintest concept of what they were
giving us—they were simply lazy and ignorant.)”
(Solzhenitsyn, 1974)
In order to properly understand the factors that shaped Russian pirate librarians’ and their wider
environments’ attitudes towards bottom-up, collaborative, copyright infringing open source digital
librarianship, we need to go back nearly a century and take a close look at the specific social and political
conditions of the Soviet times that shaped the contemporary Russian intelligentsia’s attitudes towards

The communist ideal of a reading nation
Russian culture always had a reverence for the printed word, and the Soviet state, with its Leninist
program of mass education further stressed the idea of the educated, reading public. As Stelmach (1993)
put it:
Reading almost transplanted religion as a sacred activity: in the secularized socialist state, where the
churches were closed, the free press stifled and schools and universities politicized, literature became the
unique source of moral truth for the population. Writers were considered teachers and prophets.
The Soviet Union was a reading culture: in the last days of the USSR, a quarter of the adult population
were considered active readers, and almost everyone else categorized as an occasional reader. Book
prices were low, alternative forms of entertainment were scarce, and people were poor, making reading
one of the most attractive leisure activities.
The communist approach towards intellectual property protection reflected the idea of the reading
nation. The Soviet Union inherited a lax and isolationist copyright system from the tsarist Russia. Neither
the tsarist Russian state nor the Soviet state adhered to international copyright treaties, nor did they
enter into bilateral treaties. Tsarist Russia’s refusal to grant protection to foreign authors and
translations had primarily an economic rationale. The Soviet regime added a strong ideological claim:
granting exclusive ownership to authors was against the interests of the reading public, and “the cultural
development of the masses,” and only served the private interests of authors and heirs.
“If copyright had an economic function, that was only as a right of remuneration for his contribution to
the extension of the socialist art heritage. If copyright had a social role, this was not to protect the author


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from the economically stronger exploiter, but was one of the instruments to get the author involved in
the great communist educational project.” (Elst, 2005, p 658)
The Soviet copyright system, even in its post-revolutionary phase, maintained two persistent features
that served as important instruments of knowledge dissemination. First, the statutorily granted
“freedom of translation” meant that translation was treated as an exception to copyright, which did not
require rights holder authorization. This measure dismantled a significant barrier to access in a
multicultural and multilingual empire. By the same token, the denial of protection to foreign authors and
rights holders eased the imports of foreign texts (after, of course the appropriate censorship review).
Due to these instruments:
“[s]oon after its founding, the Soviet Union became as well the world's leading literary pirate, not only
publishing in translation the creations of its own citizens but also publishing large numbers of copies of
the works of Western authors both in translation and in the original language.” (Newcity, 1980, p 6.)
Looking simply at the aggregate numbers of published books, the USSR had an impressive publishing
industry on a scale appropriate to a reading nation. Between 1946 and 1970 more than 1 billion copies of
over 26 thousand different work were published, all by foreign authors (Newcity, 1978). In 1976 alone,
more than 1.7 billion copies of 84,304 books were printed. (Friedberg, Watanabe, & Nakamoto, 1984, fn
Of course these impressive numbers reflected neither a healthy public sphere, nor a well-functioning
print ecology. The book-based public sphere was both heavily censored and plagued by the peculiar
economic conditions of the Soviet, and later the post-Soviet era.

The totalitarian Soviet state had many instruments to control the circulation of literary and scientific
works. 1 Some texts never entered official circulation in the first hand: “A particularly harsh
prepublication censorship [affected] foreign literature, primarily in the humanities and socioeconomic
disciplines. Books on politics, international relations, sociology, philosophy, cybernetics, semiotics,
linguistics, and so on were hardly ever published.” (Stelmakh, 2001, p 145.)
Many ‘problematic’ texts were only put into severely limited circulation. Books were released in small
print runs; as in-house publications, or they were only circulated among the trustworthy few. As the
resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of June 4, 1959, stated: “Writings by
bourgeois authors in the fields of philosophy, history, economics, diplomacy, and law […] are to be
published in limited quantities after the excision from them of passages of no scholarly or practical


We share Helen Freshwater’s (2003) approach that censorship is a more complex phenomenon than the state just
blocking the circulation of certain texts. Censorship manifested itself in more than one ways and its dominant
modus operandi, institutions, extent, focus, reach, effectiveness showed extreme variations over time. This short
chapter however cannot go into the intricate details of the incredibly rich history of censorship in the Soviet Union.
Instead, through much simplification we try to demonstrate that censorship did not only affect literary works, but
extended deep into scholarly publishing, including natural science disciplines.


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interest. They are to be supplied with extensive introductions and detailed annotations." (quoted in
Friedberg et al., 1984)
Truncation and mutilation of texts was also frequent. Literary works and texts from humanities and
social sciences were obvious subjects of censorship, but natural sciences and technical fields did not
“In our film studios we received an American technical journal, something like Cinema, Radio and
Television. I saw it on the chief engineer's desk and noticed that it had been reprinted in Moscow.
Everything undesirable, including advertisements, had been removed, and only those technical articles
with which the engineer could be trusted were retained. Everything else, even whole pages, was missing.
This was done by a photo copying process, but the finished product appeared to be printed.” (Dewhirst &
Farrell, 1973, p. 127)
Mass cultural genres were also subject to censorship and control. Women's fiction, melodrama, comics,
detective stories, and science fiction were completely missing or heavily underrepresented in the mass
market. Instead, “a small group of officially approved authors […] were published in massive editions
every year, [and] blocked readers' access to other literature. […]Soviet literature did not fit the formula
of mass culture and was simply bad literature, but it was issued in huge print-runs.” (Stelmakh, 2001, p.
Libraries were also important instruments of censorship. When not destroyed altogether, censored
works ended up in the spetskhrans, limited access special collections established in libraries to contain
censored works. Besides obvious candidates such as anti-Soviet works and western ‘bourgeois’
publications, many scientific works from the fields of biology, nuclear physics, psychology, sociology,
cybernetics, and genetics ended up in these closed collections (Ryzhak, 2005). Access to the spetskhrans
was limited to those with special permits issued by their employers. “Only university educated readers
were enrolled and only those holding positions of at least junior scientific workers were allowed to read
the publications kept by the spetskhran” (Ryzhak, 2005). In the last years of the USSR, the spetskhran of
the Russian State Library—the largest of them with more than 1 million items in the collection—had 43
seats for its roughly 4500 authorized readers. Yearly circulation was around 200,000 items, a figure that
included “the history and literature of other countries, international relations, science of law, technical
sciences and others.” (Ryzhak, 2005)
Librarians thus played a central role in the censorship machinery. They did more than guard the contents
of limited-access collections and purge the freely accessible stocks according to the latest Party
directives. As the intermediaries between the readers and the closed stacks, their task was to carefully
guide readers’ interests:
“In the 1970s, among the staff members of the service department of the Lenin State Library of the
U.S.S.R., there were specially appointed persons-"politcontrollers"-who, apart from their regular
professional functions, had to perform additional control over the literature lent from the general stocks
(not from the restricted access collections), thus exercising censorship over the percolation of avant-garde


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aesthetics to the reader, the aesthetics that introduced new ways of thinking and a new outlook on life
and social behavior.” (Stelmakh, 2001)
Librarians also used library cards and lending histories to collect and report information on readers and
suspicious reading habits.
Soviet economic dysfunction also severely limited access to printed works. Acute and chronic shortages
of even censor-approved texts were common, both on the market and in libraries. When the USSR
joined its first first international copyright treaty in its history in 1973 (the UNESCO-backed Universal
Copyright Convention), which granted protection to foreign authors and denied “freedom of
translation,” the access problems only got worse. Soviet concern that granting protection to foreign
authors would result in significant royalty payments to western rightsholders proved valid. By 1976, the
yearly USSR trade deficit in publishing reached a million rubles (~5.5 million current USD) (Levin, 1983, p.
157). This imbalance not only affected the number of publications that were imported into the cashpoor country, but also raised the price of translated works to the double that of Russian-authored books
(Levin, 1983, p. 158).

The literary and scientific underground in Soviet times
Various practices and informal institutions evolved to address the problems of access. Book black
markets flourished: “In the 1970s and 1980s the black market was an active part of society. Buying books
directly from other people was how 35 percent of Soviet adults acquired books for their own homes, and
68 percent of families living in major cities bought books only on the black market.” (Stelmakh, 2001, p
146). Book copying and hoarding was practiced to supplement the shortages:
“People hoarded books: complete works of Pushkin, Tolstoy or Chekhov. You could not buy such things.
So you had the idea that it is very important to hoard books. High-quality literary fiction, high quality
science textbooks and monographs, even biographies of famous people (writers, scientists, composers,
etc.) were difficult to buy. You could not, as far as I remember, just go to a bookstore and buy complete
works of Chekhov. It was published once and sold out and that's it. Dostoyevsky used to be prohibited in
the USSR, so that was even rarer. Lots of writers were prohibited, like Nabokov. Eventually Dostoyevsky
was printed in the USSR, but in very small numbers.
And also there were scientists who wanted scientific books and also could not get them. Mathematics
books, physics - only very few books were published every year, you can't compare this with the market in
the U.S. Russian translations of classical monographs in mathematics were difficult to find.
So, in the USSR, everyone who had a good education shared the idea that hoarding books is very, very
important, and did just that. If someone had free access to a Xerox machine, they were Xeroxing
everything in sight. A friend of mine had entire room full of Xeroxed books.”2
From the 1960s onwards, the ever-growing Samizdat networks tried to counterbalance the effects of
censorship and provide access to both censored classics and information on the current state of Soviet


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society. Reaching a readership of around 200,000, these networks operated in a networked, bottom-up
manner. Each node in the chain of distribution copied the texts it received, and distributed the copies.
The nodes also carried information backwards, towards the authors of the samizdat publications.
In the immediate post-Soviet political turmoil and economic calamity, access to print culture did not get
any easier. Censorship officially ended, but so too did much of the funding for the state-funded
publishing sector. Mass unemployment, falling wages, and the resulting loss of discretionary income did
not facilitate the shift toward market-based publishing models. The funding of libraries also dwindled,
limiting new acquisitions (Elst, 2005, p. 299-300). Economic constraints took the place of political ones.
But in the absence of political repression, self-organizing efforts to address these constraints acquired
greater scope of action. Slowly, the informal sphere began to deliver alternative modes of access to
otherwise hard-to-get literary and scientific works.
Russian pirate libraries emerged from these enmeshed contexts: communist ideologies of the reading
nation and mass education; the censorship of texts; the abused library system; economic hardships and
dysfunctional markets, and, most importantly, the informal practices that ensured the survival of
scholarship and literary traditions under hostile political and economic conditions. The prominent place
of Russian pirate libraries in the larger informal media economy—and of Russian piracy of music, film,
and other copyrighted work more generally—cannot be understood outside this history.

The emergence of DIY digital libraries in RuNet
The copying of censored and uncensored works (by hand, by typewriters, by photocopying or by
computers), the hoarding of copied texts, the buying and selling of books on the black market, and the
informal, peer-to-peer distribution of samizdat material were integral parts of the everyday experience
of much of educated Soviet and post-Soviet readers. The building and maintenance of individual
collections and the participation in the informal networks of exchange offered a sense of political,
economic and cultural agency—especially as the public institutions that supported the core professions
of the intelligentsia fell into sustained economic crisis.
Digital technologies were embraced by these practices as soon as they appeared:
"From late 1970s, when first computers became used in the USSR and printers became available,
people started to print forbidden books, or just books that were difficult to find, not necessarily
forbidden. I have seen myself a print-out on a mainframe computer of a science fiction novel,
printed in all caps! Samizdat was printed on typewriters, xeroxed, printed abroad and xeroxed, or
printed on computers. Only paper circulated, files could not circulate until people started to have
PCs at home. As late as 1992 most people did not have a PC at home. So the only reason to type
a big text into a computer was to print it on paper many times.”3
People who worked in academic and research institutions were well positioned in this process: they had
access to computers, and many had access to the materials locked up in the spetskhrans. Many also had

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the time and professional motivations to collect and share otherwise inaccessible texts. The core of
current digital collections was created in this late-Soviet/early post-Soviet period by such professionals.
Their home academic and scientific institutions continued to play an important role in the development
of digital text collections well into the era of home computing and the internet.
Digitized texts first circulated in printouts and later on optical/magnetic storage media. With the
emergence of digital networking these texts quickly found their way to the early Internet as well. The
first platform for digital text sharing was the Russian Fidonet, a network of BBS systems similar to
Usenet, which enabled the mass distribution of plain text files. The BBS boards, such as the Holy Spirit
BBS’ “SU.SF & F.FANDOM” group whose main focus was Soviet-Russian science fiction and fantasy
literature, connected fans around emerging collections of shared texts. As an anyonmous interviewee
described his experience in the early 1990s…
“Fidonet collected a large number of plaintext files in literature / fiction, mostly in Russian, of course.
Fidonet was almost all typed in by hand. […] Maybe several thousand of the most important books,
novels that "everyone must read" and such stuff. People typed in poetry, smaller prose pieces. I have
myself read a sci-fi novel printed on a mainframe, which was obviously typed in. This novel was by
Strugatski brothers. It was not prohibited or dissident, but just impossible to buy in the stores. These
were culturally important, cult novels, so people typed them in. […] At this point it became clear that
there was a lot of value in having a plaintext file with some novels, and the most popular novels were first
digitized in this way.”
The next stage in the text digitization started around 1994. By that time growing numbers of people had
computers, scanning peripherals, OCR software. Russian internet and PC penetration while extremely
low overall in the 1990s (0.1% of the population having internet access in 1994, growing to 8.3% by
2003), began to make inroads in educational and scientific institutions and among Moscow and
St.Petersburg elites, who were often the critical players in these networks. As access to technologies
increased a much wider array of people began to digitize their favorite texts, and these collections began
to circulate, first via CD-ROMs, later via the internet.
One of such collection belonged to Maxim Moshkov, who published his library under the name lib.ru in
1994. Moshkov was a graduate of the Moscow State University Department of Mechanics and
Mathematics, which played a large role in the digitization of scientific works. After graduation, he started
to work for the Scientific Research Institute of System Development, a computer science institute
associated with the Russian Academy of Sciences. He describes the early days of his collection as follows:
“ I began to collect electronic texts in 1990, on a desktop computer. When I got on the Internet in 1994, I
found lots of sites with texts. It was like a dream came true: there they were, all the desired books. But
these collections were in a dreadful state! Incompatible formats, different encodings, missing content. I
had to spend hours scouring the different sites and directories to find something.
As a result, I decided to convert all the different file-formats into a single one, index the titles of the books
and put them in thematic directories. I organized the files on my work computer. I was the main user of
my collection. I perfected its structure, made a simple, fast and convenient search interface and


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developed many other useful functions and put it all on the Internet. Soon, people got into the habit of
visiting the site. […]
For about 2 years I have scoured the internet: I sought out and pulled texts from the network, which were
lying there freely accessible. Slowly the library grew, and the audience increased with it. People started
to send books to me, because they were easier to read in my collection. And the time came when I
stopped surfing the internet for books: regular readers are now sending me the books. Day after day I get
about 100 emails, and 10-30 of them contain books. So many books were sent in, that I did not have time
to process them. Authors, translators and publishers also started to send texts. They all needed the
library.”(Мошков, 1999)

In the second half of the 1990’s, the Russian Internet—RuNet—was awash in book digitization projects.
With the advent of scanners, OCR technology, and the Internet, the work of digitization eased
considerably. Texts migrated from print to digital and sometimes back to print again. They circulated
through different collections, which, in turn, merged, fell apart, and re-formed. Digital libraries with the
mission to collect and consolidate these free-floating texts sprung up by the dozens.
Such digital librarianship was the antithesis of official Soviet book culture: it was free, bottom-up,
democratic, and uncensored. It also offered a partial remedy to problems created by the post-Soviet
collapse of the economy: the impoverishment of libraries, readers, and publishers. In this context, book
digitization and collecting also offered a sense of political, economic and cultural agency, with parallels
to the copying and distribution of texts in Soviet times. The capacity to scale up these practices coincided
with the moment when anti-totalitarian social sentiments were the strongest, and economic needs the
The unprecedented bloom of digital librarianship is the result of the superimposition of multiple waves
of distinct transformations: technological, political, economical and social. “Maksim Moshkov's Library”
was ground zero for this convergence and soon became a central point of exchange for the community
engaged in text digitization and collection:
[At the outset] there were just a couple of people who started scanning books in large quantities. Literally
hundreds of books. Others started proofreading, etc. There was a huge hole in the market for books.
Science fiction, adventure, crime fiction, all of this was hugely in demand by the public. So lib.ru was to a
large part the response, and was filled by those books that people most desired and most valued.
For years, lib.ru integrated as much as it could of the different digital libraries flourishing in the RuNet. By
doing so, it preserved the collections of the many short-lived libraries.
This process of collection slowed in the early 2000’s. By that time, lib.ru had all of the classics, resulting
in a decrease in the flow of new digitized material. By the same token, the Russian book market was
finally starting to offer works aimed at the popular mainstream, and was flooded by cheap romances,
astrology, crime fiction, and other genres. Such texts started to appear in, and would soon flood lib.ru.
Many contributors, including Moshkov, were concerned that such ephemera would dilute the original

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library. And so they began to disaggregate the collection. Self-published literature, “user generated
content,” and fan fiction was separated into the aptly named samizdat.lib.ru, which housed original texts
submitted by readers. Popular fiction--“low-brow literature”—was copied from the relevant subsections
of lib.ru and split off. Sites specializing in those genres quickly formed their own ecosystem. [L], the first
of its kind, now charges a monthly fee to provide access to the collection. The [f] community split off
from [L] the same way that [L] split off from lib.ru, to provide free and unrestricted access to a
fundamentally similar collection. Finally, some in the community felt the need to focus their efforts on a
separate collection of scientific works. This became Kolhoz collection.

The genesis of a million book scientific library
A Kolhoz (Russian: колхо́ з) was one of the types of collective farm that emerged in the early Soviet
period. In the early days, it was a self-governing, community-owned collaborative enterprise, with many
of the features of a commons. For the Russian digital librarians, these historical resonances were
The kolhoz group was initially a community that scanned and processed scientific materials: books and,
occasionally, articles. The ethos was free sharing. Academic institutes in Russia were in dire need of
scientific texts; they xeroxed and scanned whatever they could. Usually, the files were then stored on the
institute's ftp site and could be downloaded freely. There were at least three major research institutes
that did this, back in early 2000s, unconnected to each other in any way, located in various faraway parts
of Russia. Most of these scans were appropriated by the kolhoz group and processed into DJVU4.
The sources of files for kolhoz were, initially, several collections from academic institutes (downloaded
whenever the ftp servers were open for anonymous access; in one case, from one of the institutes of the
Chinese academy of sciences, but mostly from Russian academic institutes). At that time (around 2002),
there were also several commercialized collections of scanned books on sale in Russia (mostly, these were
college-level textbooks on math and physics); these files were also all copied to kolhoz and processed into
DJVU. The focus was on collecting the most important science textbooks and monographs of all time, in
all fields of natural science.
There was never any commercial support. The kolhoz group never had a web site with a database, like
most projects today. They had an ftp server with files, and the access to ftp was given by PM in a forum.
This ftp server was privately supported by one of the members (who was an academic researcher, like
most kolhoz members). The files were distributed directly by burning files on writable DVDs and giving the


DJVU is a file format that revolutionized online book distribution the way mp3 revolutionized the online music
distribution. For books that contain graphs, images and mathematical formulae scanning is the only digitization
option. However, the large number of resulting image files is difficult to handle. The DJVU file format allows for the
images of scanned book pages to be stored in the smallest possible file size, which makes it the perfect medium for
the distribution of scanned e-books.


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DVDs away. Later, the ftp access was closed to the public, and only a temporary file-swapping ftp server
remained. Today the kolhoz DVD releases are mostly spread via torrents.” 5
Kolhoz amassed around fifty thousand documents, the mexmat collection of the Moscow State
University Department of Mechanics and Mathematics (Moshkov’s alma mater) was around the same
size, the “world of books” collection (mirknig) had around thirty thousand files, and there were around a
dozen other smaller archives, each with approximately 10 thousand files in their respective collections.
The Kolhoz group dominated the science-minded ebook community in Russia well into the late 2000’s.
Kolhoz, however, suffered from the same problems as the early Fidonet-based text collections. Since it
was distributed in DVDs, via ftp servers and on torrents, it was hard to search, it lacked a proper catalog
and it was prone to fragmentation. Parallel solutions soon emerged: around 2006-7, an existing book site
called Gigapedia copied the English books from Kolhoz, set up a catalog, and soon became the most
influential pirate library in the English speaking internet.
Similar cataloguing efforts soon emerged elsewhere. In 2007, someone on rutracker.ru, a Russian BBS
focusing on file sharing, posted torrent links to 91 DVDs containing science and technology titles
aggregated from various other Russian sources, including Kolhoz. This massive collection had no
categorization or particular order. But it soon attracted an archivist: a user of the forum started the
laborious task of organizing the texts into a usable, searchable format—first filtering duplicates and
organizing existing metadata first into an excel spreadsheet, and later moving to a more open, webbased database operating under the name Aleph.
Aleph inherited more than just books from Kolhoz and Moshkov’s lib.ru. It inherited their elitism with
regard to canonical texts, and their understanding of librarianship as a community effort. Like the earlier
sites, Aleph’s collections are complemented by a stream of user submissions. Like the other sites, the
number of submissions grew rapidly as the site’s visibility, reputation and trustworthiness was
established, and like the others it later fell, as more and more of what was perceived as canonical
literature was uploaded:
“The number of mankind’s useful books is about what we already have. So growth is defined by newly
scanned or issued books. Also, the quality of the collection is represented not by the number of books but
by the amount of knowledge it contains. [ALEPH] does not need to grow more and I am not the only one
among us who thinks so. […]
We have absolutely no idea who sends books in. It is practically impossible to know, because there are a
million books. We gather huge collections which eliminate any traces of the original uploaders.
My expectation is that new arrivals will dry up. Not completely, as I described above, some books will
always be scanned or rescanned (it nowadays happens quite surprisingly often) and the overall process of
digitization cannot and should not be stopped. It is also hard to say when the slowdown will occur: I
expected it about a year ago, but then library.nu got shut down and things changed dramatically in many
respects. Now we are "in charge" (we had been the largest anyways, just now everyone thinks we are in

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charge) and there has been a temporary rise in the book inflow. At the moment, relatively small or
previously unseen collections are being integrated into [ALEPH]. Perhaps in a year it will saturate.
However, intuition is not a good guide. There are dynamic processes responsible for eBook availability. If
publishers massively digitize old books, they'll obviously be harvested and that will change the whole
picture.” 6
Aleph’s ambitions to create a universal library are limited , at least in terms of scope. It does not want to
have everything, or anything. What it wants is what is thought to be relevant by the community,
measured by the act of actively digitizing and sharing books. But it has created a very interesting strategy
to establish a library which is universal in terms of its reach. The administrators of Aleph understand that
Gigapedia’s downfall was due to its visibility and they wish to avoid that trap:
“Well, our policy, which I control as strictly as I can, is to avoid fame. Gigapedia's policy was to gain as
much fame as possible. Books should be available to you, if you need them. But let the rest of the world
stay in its equilibrium. We are taking great care to hide ourselves and it pays off.”7
They have solved the dilemma of providing access without jeopardizing their mission by open sourcing
the collection and thus allowing others to create widely publicized services that interface with the
public.They let others run the risk of getting famous.

Mirrors and communities
Aleph serves as a source archive for around a half-dozen freely accessible pirate libraries on the net. The
catalog database is downloadable, the content is downloadable, even the server code is downloadable.
No passwords are required to download and there are no gatekeepers. There are no obstacle to setting
up a similar library with a wider catalog, with improved user interface and better services, with a
different audience or, in fact, a different business model.
This arrangement creates a two-layered community. The core group of the Aleph admins maintains the
current service, while a loose and ever changing network of ‘mirror sites’ build on the Aleph
“The unspoken agreement is that the mirrors support our ideas. Otherwise we simply do not interact with
them. If the mirrors do support this, they appear in the discussions, on the Web etc. in a positive context.
This is again about building a reputation: if they are reliable, we help with what we can, otherwise they
should prove the World they are good on their own. We do not request anything from them. They are free
to do anything they like. But if they do what we do not agree with, it'll be taken into account in future
relations. If you think for a while, there is no other democratic way of regulation: everyone expresses his
own views and if they conform with ours, we support them. If the ideology does not match, it breaks


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The core Aleph team claims to exclusively control only two critical resources: the BBS that is the home of
the community, and the book-uploading interface. That claim is, however, not entirely accurate. For the
time being, the academic minded e-book community indeed gathers on the BBS managed by Aleph, and
though there is little incentive to move on, technically nothing stands in the way of alternatives to spring
up. As for the centralization of the book collection: many of the mirrors have their own upload pages
where one can contribute to a mirror’s collection, and it is not clear how or whether books that land at
one of the mirrors find their way back to the central database. Aleph also offers a desktop library
management tool, which enables dedicated librarians to see the latest Aleph database on their desktop
and integrate their local collections with the central database via this application. Nevertheless, it seems
that nothing really stands in the way of the fragmentation of the collection, apart from the willingness of
uploaders to contribute directly to Aleph rather than to one of its mirrors (or other sites).
Funding for Aleph comes from the administrators’ personal resources as well as occasional donations
when there is a need to buy or rent equipment or services:
“[W]e've been asking and getting support for this purpose for years. […] All our mirrors are supported
primarily from private pockets and inefficient donation schemes: they bring nothing unless a whole
campaign is arranged. I asked the community for donations 3 or 4 times, for a specific purpose only and
with all the budget spoken for. And after getting the requested amount of money we shut down the
Mirrors, however, do not need to be non-commercial to enjoy the support of the core Aleph community,
they just have to provide free access. Ad-supported business models that do not charge for individual
access are still acceptable to the community, but there has been serious fallout with another site, which
used the Aleph stock to seed its own library, but decided to follow a “collaborative piracy” business
“To make it utmost clear: we collaborate with anyone who shares the ideology of free knowledge
distribution. No conditions. [But] we can't suddenly start supporting projects that earn money. […]
Moreover, we've been tricked by commercial projects in the past when they used the support of our
community for their own benefit.”10
The site in question, [e], is based on a simple idea: If a user cannot find a book in its collection, the
administrators offer to purchase a digital or print copy, rip it, and sell it to the user for a fraction of the
original price—typically under $1. Payments are to be made in Amazon gift cards which make the
purchases easy but the de-anonymization of users difficult. [e] recoups its investment, in principle,
through resale. While clearly illegal, the logic is not that different from that of private subscription
libraries, which purchase a resource and distribute the costs and benefits among club members.


BBS comment posted on Jan 15, 2013
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Although from the rights holders’ perspective there is little difference between the two approaches,
many participants in the free access community draw a sharp line between the two, viewing the sales
model as a violation of community norms.
“[e] is a scam. They were banned in our forum. Yes, most of the books in [e] came from [ALEPH], because
[ALEPH] is open, but we have nothing to do with them... If you wish to buy a book, do it from legal
sources. Otherwise it must be free.[…]
What [e] wants:
- make money on ebook downloads, no matter what kind of ebooks.
- get books from all the easy sources - spend as little effort as possible on books - maximize profit.
- no need to build a community, no need to improve quality, no need to correct any errors - just put all
files in a big pile - maximize profit.
- files are kept in secret, never given away, there is no listing of files, there is no information about what
books are really there or what is being done.
There are very few similarities in common between [e]and [ALEPH], and these similarities are too
superficial to serve as a common ground for communication. […]
They run an illegal business, making a profit.”11
Aleph administrators describe a set of values that differentiates possible site models. They prioritize the
curatorial mission and the provision of long term free access to the collection with all the costs such a
position implies, such as open sourcing the collection, ignoring takedown requests, keeping a low profile,
refraining from commercial activities, and as a result, operating on a reduced budget . [e] prioritizes the
expansion of its catalogue on demand but that implies a commercial operation, a larger budget and the
associated high legal risk. Sites carrying Aleph’s catalogue prioritize public visibility, carry ads to cover
costs but respond to takedown requests to avoid as much trouble as they can. From the perspective of
expanding access, these are not easy or straightforward tradeoffs. In Aleph’s case, the strong
commitment to the mission of providing free access comes with significant sacrifices, the most important
of which is relinquishing control over its most valuable asset: its collection of 1.2 million scientific books.
But they believe that these costs are justified by the promise, that this way the fate of free access is not
tied to the fate of Aleph.
The fact that piratical file sharing communities are willing to make substantial sacrifices (in terms of selfrestraint) to ensure their long term survival has been documented in a number of different cases. (Bodó,
2013) Aleph is unique, however in its radical open source approach. No other piratical community has
given up all the control over itself entirely. This approach is rooted in the way how it regards the legal
status of its subject matter, i.e. scholarly publications in the first place. While norms of openness in the
field of scientific knowledge production were first formed in the Enlightenment period, Aleph’s

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copynorms are as much shaped by the specificities of post-Soviet era as by the age old realization that in
science we can see further if we are allowed “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

Copyright and copynorms around Russian pirate libraries
The struggle to re-establish rightsholders’ control over digitized copyrighted works has defined the
copyright policy arena since Napster emerged in 1999. Russia brought a unique history to this conflict. In
Russia, digital libraries and their emerged in a period a double transformation: the post-Soviet copyright
system had to adopt global norms, while the global norms struggled to adapt to the emergence of digital
The first post-Soviet decade produced new copyright laws that conformed with some of the international
norms advocated by Western rightsholders, but little legal clarity or enforceability (Sezneva & Karaganis,
2011). Under such conditions, informally negotiated copynorms set in to fill the void of non-existent,
unreasonable, or unenforceable laws. The pirate libraries in the RuNet are as much regulated by such
norms as by the actual laws themselves.
During most of the 1990’s user-driven digitization and archiving was legal, or to be more exact, wasn’t
illegal. The first Russian copyright law, enacted in 1993, did not cover “internet rights” until a 2006
amendment (Budylin & Osipova, 2007; Elst, 2005, p. 425). As a result, many argued (including the
Moscow prosecutor’s office), that the distribution of copyrighted works via the internet was not
copyright infringement. Authors and publishers, who saw their works appear in digital form, and
circulated via CD-ROMs and the internet, had to rely on informal norms, still in development, to establish
control over their texts vis-à-vis enthusiastic collectors and for-profit entrepreneurs.
The HARRYFAN CD was one of the early examples of a digital text collection in circulation before internet
access was widespread. The CD contained around ten thousand texts, mostly Russian science fiction. It
was compiled in 1997 by Igor Zagumenov, a book enthusiast, from the texts that circulated on the Holy
Spirit BBS. The CD was a non-profit project, planned to be printed and sold in around 1000 copies.
Zagumenov did get in touch with some of the authors and publishers, and got permission to release
some of their texts, but the CD also included many other works that were uploaded to the BBS without
authorization. The CD included the following copyright notice, alongside the name and contact of
Zagumenov and those who granted permission:
Texts on this CD are distributed in electronic format with the consent of the copyright holders or their
literary agent. The disk is aimed at authors, editors, translators and fans SF & F as a compact reference
and information library. Copying or reproduction of this disc is not allowed. For the commercial use of
texts please refer directly to the copyright owners at the following addresses.
The authors whose texts and unpublished manuscripts appeared in the collection without authorization
started to complain to those whose contact details were in the copyright notice. Some complained
about the material damage the collection may have caused to them, but most complaints focused on
moral rights: unauthorized publication of a manuscript, the mutilation of published works, lack of
attribution, or the removal of original copyright and contact notices. Some authors had no problem

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appearing in non-commercially distributed collections but objected to the fact that the CDs were sold
(and later overproduced in spite of Zagumenov’s intentions).
The debate, which took place in the book-related fora of Fidonet, had some important points.
Participants again drew a significant distinction between free access provided first by Fidonet (and later
by lib.ru, which integrated some parts of the collection) and what was perceived as Zagumenov’s forprofit enterprise—despite the fact that the price of the CD only covered printing costs. The debate also
drew authors’ and publishers’ attention to the digital book communities’ actions, which many saw as
beneficial as long as it respected the wishes of the authors. Some authors did not want to appear online
at all, others wanted only their published works to be circulated.
Lib.ru of course integrated the parts of the HARRYFAN CD into its collection. Moshkov’s policy towards
authors’ rights was to ask for permission, if he could contact the author or publisher. He also honored
takedown requests sent to him. In 1999 he wrote on copyright issues as follows:
The author’s interests must be protected on the Internet: the opportunity to find the original copy, the
right of attribution, protection from distorting the work. Anyone who wants to protect his/her rights,
should be ready to address these problems, ranging from the ability to identify the offending party, to the
possibility of proving infringement.[…]
Meanwhile, it has become a stressing question how to protect authors-netizens' rights regarding their
work published on the Internet. It is known that there are a number of periodicals that reprint material
from the Internet without the permission of the author, without payment of a fee, without prior
arrangement. Such offenders need to be shamed via public outreach. The "Wall of shame" website is one
of the positive examples of effective instruments established by the networked public to protect their
rights. It manages to do the job without bringing legal action - polite warnings, an indication of potential
trouble and shaming of the infringer.
Do we need any laws for digital libraries? Probably we do, but until then we have to do without. Yes, of
course, it would be nice to have their status established as “cultural objects” and have the same rights as
a "real library" to collect information, but that might be in the distant future. It would also be nice to
have the e-library "legal deposits" of publications in electronic form, but when even Leninka [the Russian
State Library] cannot always afford that, what we really need are enthusiastic networkers. […]
The policy of the library is to take everything they give, otherwise they cease to send books. It is also to
listen to the authors and strictly comply with their requirements. And it is to grow and prosper. […] I
simply want the books to find their readers because I am afraid to live in a world where no one reads
books. This is already the case in America, and it is speeding up with us. I don’t just want to derail this
process, I would like to turn it around.”


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Moshkov played a crucial role in consolidating copynorms in the Russian digital publishing domain. His
reputation and place in the Russian literary domain is marked by a number of prizes12, and the library’s
continued existence. This place was secured by a number of closely intertwined factors:

Framing and anchoring the digitization and distribution practice in the library tradition.
The non-profit status of the enterprise.
Respecting the wishes of the rights holders even if he was not legally obliged to do so.
Maintaining active communication with the different stakeholders in the community,
including authors and readers.
Responding to a clear gap in affordable, legal access.
Conservatism with regard to the book, anchored in the argument that digital texts are not
substitutes for printed matter.

Many other digital libraries tried to follow Moshkov’s formula, but the times were changing. Internet and
computer access left the sub-cultural niches and became mainstream; commercialization became a
viable option and thus an issue for both the community and rightsholders; and the legal environment
was about to change.

Formalization of the IP regime in the 2000s
As soon as the 1993 copyright law passed, the US resumed pressure on the Russian government for
further reform. Throughout the period—and indeed to the present day—US Trade Representative
Special 301 reports cited inadequate protections and lack of enforcement of copyright. Russia’s plans to
join the WTO, over which the US had effective veto power, also became leverage to bring the Russian
copyright regime into compliance with US norms.
Book piracy was regularly mentioned in Special 301 reports in the 2000s, but the details, alleged losses,
and analysis changed little from year to year. The estimated $40M USD losses per year throughout this
period were dwarfed by claims from the studios and software vendors, and clearly were not among the
top priorities of the USTR. For most of the decade, the electronic availability of bestsellers and academic
textbooks was seen in the context of print substitution, rather than damage to the non-existent
electronic market. And though there is little direct indication, the Special 301 reports name sites which
(unlike lib.ru) were serving audiences beyond the RuNet, indicating that the focus of enforcement was
not to protect US interests in the Russian market, but to prevent sites based in Russia to cater for
demand in the high value Western-European and US markets.
A 1998 amendment to the 1993 copyright law extended the legal framework to encompass digital rights,
though in a fashion that continued to produce controversy. After 1998, digital services had to license
content from collecting societies, but those societies needed no permission from rightsholders provided
they paid royalites. The result was a proliferation of collective management organizations, competing to
license the material to digital services (Sezneva and Karaganis, 2011), which under this arrangement

ROTOR, the International Union of Internet Professionals in Russia voted lib.ru as the “literary site of the year” in
1999,2001 and 2003, “electronic library of the year” in 2004,2006,2008,2009, and 2010, “programmer of the year”
in 1999, and “man of the year” in 2004 and 2005.


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were compliant with Russian law, but were regarded as illegal by Western rights holders who claimed
that the Russian collecting societies were not representing them.
The best known of dispute from this time was the one around the legality of Allofmp3.com, a site that
sold music from western record labels at prices far below those iTunes or other officially licensed
vendors. AllofMP3.com claimed that it was licensed by ROMS, the Russian Society for Multimedia and
Internet (Российское общество по мультимедиа и цифровым сетям (НП РОМС)), but despite of that
became the focal point of US (and behind them, major label) pressure, leading to an unsuccessful
criminal prosecution of the site owner and eventual closure of the site in 2007. Although Lib.ru had
some direct agreements with authors, it also licensed much of its collection from ROMS, and thus was in
the same legal situation as AllofMP3.com. .
Lib.ru avoided the attention of foreign rightholders and Russian state pressure and even benefited from
state support during the period, the receiving a $30,000 grant from the Federal Agency for Press and
Mass Communications to digitize the most important works from the 1930’s. But the chaotic licensing
environment that governed their legal status also came back to haunt them. In 2005, a lawsuit was
brought against Moshkov by KM Online (KMO), an online vendor that sold digital texts for a small fee.
Although the KMO collection—like every other collection—had been assembled from a wide range of
sources on the Internet, KMO claimed to pay a 20% royalty on its income to authors. In 2004 KMO
requested that lib.ru take down works by several authors with whom (or with whose heirs) KMO claimed
to be in exclusive contract to distribute their texts online. KMO’s claims turned out to be only partly true.
KMO had arranged contracts with a number of the heirs to classics of the Soviet period, who hoped to
benefit from an obscure provision in the 1993 Russian copyright law that granted copyrights to the heirs
of politically prosecuted and later rehabilitated Soviet-era authors. Moshkov, in turn, claimed that he
had written or oral agreements with many of the same authors and heirs, in addition to his agreement
with ROMS.
The lawsuit was a true public event. It generated thousands of news items both online and in the
mainstream press. Authors, members of the publishing industry, legal professionals, librarians, internet
professionals publicly supported Moshkov, while KMO was seen as a rogue operator that would lie to
make easy money on freely-available digital resources.
Eventually, the court ruled that KMO indeed had one exclusive contract with Eduard Gevorgyan, and that
the publication of his texts by Moshkov infringed the moral (but not the economic) rights of the author.
Moshkov was ordered to pay 3000 Rubles (approximately $100) in compensation.
The lawsuit was a sign of a slow but significant transformation in the Russian print ecosystem. The idea
of a viable market for electronic books began to find a foothold. Electronic versions of texts began to be
regarded as potential substitutes for the printed versions, not advertisements for them or supplements
to them. More and more commercial services emerged, which regard the well-entrenched free digital
libraries as competitors. As Russia continued to bring its laws into closer conformance with WTO
requirements, ahead of Russia’s admission in 2012, western rightsholders gained enough power to
demand enforcement against RuNet pirate sites. The kinds of selective enforcement for political or


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business purposes, which had marked the Russian IP regime throughout the decade (Sezneva &
Karaganis, 2011), slowly gave way to more uniform enforcement.

Closure of the Legal Regime
The legal, economic, and cultural conditions under which Aleph and its mirrors operate today are very
different from those of two decades earlier. The major legal loopholes are now closed, though Russian
authorities have shown little inclination to pursue Aleph so far:
I can't say whether it's the Russian copyright enforcement or the Western one that's most dangerous for
Aleph; I'd say that Russian enforcement is still likely to tolerate most of the things that Western
publishers won't allow. For example, lib.ru and [L] and other unofficial Russian e-libraries are tolerated
even though far from compliant with the law. These kinds of e-libraries could not survive at all in western
Western publishers have been slow to join record, film, and software companies in their aggressive
online enforcement campaigns, and academic publishers even more so. But such efforts are slowly
increasing, as the market for digital texts grows and as publishers benefit from the enforcement
precedents set or won by the more aggressive rightsholder groups. The domain name of [os], one of the
sites mirroring the Aleph collection was seized, apparently due to the legal action taken by a US
rightholder, and it also started to respond to DMCA notices, removing links to books reported to be
infringing. Aleph responds to this with a number of tactical moves:
We want books to be available, but only for those who need them. We do not want [ALEPH] to be visible.
If one knows where to get books, there are here for him or her. In this way we stay relatively invisible (in
search engines, e.g.), but all the relevant communities in the academy know about us. Actually, if you
question people at universities, the percentage of them is quite low. But what's important is that the
news about [ALEPH] is spread mostly by face-to-face communication, where most of the unnecessary
people do not know about it. (Unnecessary are those who aim profit)14
The policy of invisibility is radically different from Moshkov’s policy of maximum visibility. Aleph hopes
that it can recede into the shadows where it will be protected by the omerta of academics sharing the
sharing ethos:
In Russian academia, [Aleph] is tacitly or actively supported. There are people that do not want to be
included, but it is hard to say who they are in most cases. Since there are DMCA complaints, of course
there are people who do not want stuff to appear here. But in our experience the complainers are only
from the non-scientific fellows. […] I haven't seen a single complaint from the authors who should
constitute our major problem: professors etc. No, they don't complain. Who complains are either of such
type I have mentioned or the ever-hungry publishers.15


Anonymous source #1
Anonymous source #1
Anonymous source #1


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The protection the academic community has to offer may not be enough to fend off the publishers’
enforcement actions. The option to recede further into the darknets and hide behind the veil of privacy
technologies is one option the Aleph site has: the first mirror on I2P, an anonymizing network designed
to hide the whereabouts and identity of web services is already operational. But
[i]f people are physically served court invitations, they will have to close the site. The idea is, however,
that the entire collection is copied throughout the world many times over, the database is open, the code
for the site is open, so other people can continue.16

On methodology
We tried to reconstruct the story behind Aleph by conducting interviews and browsing through the BBS
of the community. Access to the site and community members was given under a strict condition of
anonymity. We thus removed any reference to the names and URLs of the services in question.
At one point we shared an early draft of this paper with interested members and asked for their
feedback. Beyond access and feedback, community members were helping the writing of this article by
providing translations of some Russian originals, as well as reviewing the translations made by the
author. In return, we provided financial contributions to the community, in the value of 100 USD.
We reproduced forum entries without any edits to the language, we, however, edited interviews
conducted via IM services to reflect basic writing standards.


Anonymous source #1


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digitization in Bodo 2015

Libraries in the Post-Scarcity Era

Libraries in the Post-Scarcity Era
Balazs Bodo

In the digital era where, thanks to the ubiquity of electronic copies, the book is no longer a scarce
resource, libraries find themselves in an extremely competitive environment. Several different actors are
now in a position to provide low cost access to knowledge. One of these competitors are shadow libraries
- piratical text collections which have now amassed electronic copies of millions of copyrighted works
and provide access to them usually free of charge to anyone around the globe. While such shadow
libraries are far from being universal, they are able to offer certain services better, to more people and
under more favorable terms than most public or research libraries. This contribution offers insights into
the development and the inner workings of one of the biggest scientific shadow libraries on the internet in
order to understand what kind of library people create for themselves if they have the means and if they
don’t have to abide by the legal, bureaucratic and economic constraints that libraries usually face. I argue
that one of the many possible futures of the library is hidden in the shadows, and those who think of the
future of libraries can learn a lot from book pirates of the 21 st century about how users and readers expect
texts in electronic form to be stored, organized and circulated.
“The library is society’s last non-commercial meeting place which the majority of the population uses.”
(Committee on the Public Libraries in the Knowledge Society, 2010)
“With books ready to be shared, meticulously cataloged, everyone is a librarian. When everyone is
librarian, library is everywhere.” – Marcell Mars, www.memoryoftheworld.org
I have spent the last few months in various libraries visiting - a library. I spent countless hours in the
modest or grandiose buildings of the Harvard Libraries, the Boston and Cambridge Public Library
systems, various branches of the Openbare Bibliotheek in Amsterdam, the libraries of the University of
Amsterdam, with a computer in front of me, on which another library was running, a library which is
perfectly virtual, which has no monumental buildings, no multi-million euro budget, no miles of stacks,
no hundreds of staff, but which has, despite lacking all what apparently makes a library, millions of
literary works and millions of scientific books, all digitized, all available at the click of the mouse for
everyone on the earth without any charge, library or university membership. As I was sitting in these


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

physical spaces where the past seemed to define the present, I was wondering where I should look to find
the library of the future: down to my screen or up around me.
The library on my screen was Aleph, one of the biggest of the countless piratical text collections on the
internet. It has more than a million scientific works and another million literary works to offer, all free to
download, without any charge or fee, for anyone on the net. I’ve spent months among its virtual stacks,
combing through the catalogue, talking to the librarians who maintain the collection, and watching the
library patrons as they used the collection. I kept going back to Aleph both as a user and as a researcher.
As a user, Aleph offered me books that the local libraries around me didn’t, in formats that were more
convenient than print. As a researcher, I was interested in the origins of Aleph, its modus operandi, its
future, and I was curious where the journey to which it has taken the book-readers, authors, publishers
and libraries would end.
In this short essay I will introduce some of the findings of a two year research project conducted on
Aleph. In the project I looked at several things. I reconstructed the pirate library’s genesis in order to
understand the forces that called it to life and shaped its development. I looked at its catalogue to
understand what it has to offer and how that piratical supply of books is related to the legal supply of
books through libraries and online distributors. I also acquired data on its usage, so was able to
reconstruct some aspects of piratical demand. After a short introduction, in the first part of this essay I
will outline some of the main findings, and in the second part will situate the findings in the wider context
of the future of libraries.

Book pirates and shadow librarians
Book piracy has a fascinating history, tightly woven into the history of the printing press (Judge, 1934),
into the history of censorship (Wittmann, 2004), into the history of copyright (Bently, Davis, & Ginsburg,
2010; Bodó, 2011a) and into the history of European civilization (Johns, 2010). Book piracy, in the 21st or
in the mid-17th century is an activity that has deep cultural significance, because ultimately it is a story
about how knowledge is circulated beyond and often against the structures of political and economic
power (Bodó, 2011b), and thus it is a story about the changes this unofficial circulation of knowledge
There are many different types of book pirates. Some just aim for easy money, others pursue highly
ideological goals, but they are invariably powerful harbingers of change. The emergence of black markets
whether they be of culture, of drugs or of arms is always a symptom, a warning sign of a friction between


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

supply and demand. Increased activity in the grey and black zones of legality marks the emergence of a
demand which legal suppliers are unwilling or unable to serve (Bodó, 2011a). That friction, more often
than not, leads to change. Earlier waves of book piracy foretold fundamental economic, political, societal
or technological shifts (Bodó, 2011b): changes in how the book publishing trade was organized (Judge,
1934; Pollard, 1916, 1920); the emergence of the new, bourgeois reading class (Patterson, 1968; Solly,
1885); the decline of pre-publication censorship (Rose, 1993); the advent of the Reformation and of the
Enlightenment (Darnton, 1982, 2003), or the rapid modernization of more than one nation (Khan &
Sokoloff, 2001; Khan, 2004; Yu, 2000).
The latest wave of piracy has coincided with the digital revolution which, in itself, profoundly upset the
economics of cultural production and distribution (Landes & Posner, 2003). However technology is not
the primary cause of the emergence of cultural black markets like Aleph. The proliferation of computers
and the internet has just revealed a more fundamental issue which all has to do with the uneven
distribution of the access to knowledge around the globe.
Sometimes book pirates do more than just forecast and react to changes that are independent of them.
Under certain conditions, they themselves can be powerful agents of change (Bodó, 2011b). Their agency
rests on their ability to challenge the status quo and resist cooptation or subjugation. In that effect, digital
pirates seem to be quite resilient (Giblin, 2011; Patry, 2009). They have the technological upper hand and
so far they have been able to outsmart any copyright enforcement effort (Bodó, forthcoming). As long as
it is not completely possible to eradicate file sharing technologies, and as long as there is a substantial
difference between what is legally available and what is in demand, cultural black markets will be here to
compete with and outcompete the established and recognized cultural intermediaries. Under this constant
existential threat, business models and institutions are forced to adapt, evolve or die.
After the music and audiovisual industries, now the book industry has to address the issue of piracy.
Piratical book distribution services are now in direct competition with the bookstore on the corner, the
used book stall on the sidewalk, they compete with the Amazons of the world and, like it or not, they
compete with libraries. There is, however, a significant difference between the book and the music
industries. The reluctance of music rights holders to listen to the demands of their customers caused little
damage beyond the markets of recorded music. Music rights holders controlled their own fates and those
who wanted to experiment with alternative forms of distribution had the chance to do so. But while the
rapid proliferation of book black markets may signal that the book industry suffers from similar problems
as the music industry suffered a decade ago, the actions of book publishers, the policies they pursue have
impact beyond the market of books and directly affect the domain of libraries.


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

The fate of libraries is tied to the fate of book markets in more than one way. One connection is structural:
libraries emerged to remedy the scarcity in books. This is true both for the pre-print era as well as in the
Gutenberg galaxy. In the era of widespread literacy and highly developed book markets, libraries offer
access to books under terms publishers and booksellers cannot or would not. Libraries, to a large extent,
are defined to complement the structure of the book trade. The other connection is legal. The core
activities of the library (namely lending, copying) are governed by the same copyright laws that govern
authors and publishers. Libraries are one of the users in the copyright system, and their existence depends
on the limitations of and exceptions to the exclusive rights of the rights holders. The space that has been
carved out of copyright to enable the existence of libraries has been intensely contested in the era of
postmodern copyright (Samuelson, 2002) and digital technologies. This heavy legal and structural
interdependence with the market means that libraries have only a limited control over their own fate in the
digital domain.
Book pirates compete with some of the core services of libraries. And as is usually the case with
innovation that has no economic or legal constraints, pirate libraries offer, at least for the moment,
significantly better services than most of the libraries. Pirate libraries offer far more electronic books,
with much less restrictions and constraints, to far more people, far cheaper than anyone else in the library
domain. Libraries are thus directly affected by pirate libraries, and because of their structural
interdependence with book markets, they also have to adjust to how the commercial intermediaries react
to book piracy. Under such conditions libraries cannot simply count on their survival through their legacy.
Book piracy must be taken seriously, not just as a threat, but also as an opportunity to learn how shadow
libraries operate and interact with their users. Pirate libraries are the products of readers (and sometimes
authors), academics and laypeople, all sharing a deep passion for the book, operating in a zone where
there is little to no obstacle to the development of the “ideal” library. As such, pirate libraries can teach
important lessons on what is expected of a library, how book consumption habits evolve, and how
knowledge flows around the globe.

Pirate libraries in the digital age
The collection of texts in digital formats was one of the first activities that computers enabled: the text file
is the native medium of the computer, it is small, thus it is easy to store and copy. It is also very easy to
create, and as so many projects have since proved, there are more than enough volunteers who are willing
to type whole books into the machine. No wonder that electronic libraries and digital text repositories
were among the first “mainstream” application of computers. Combing through large stacks of matrix-


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

printer printouts of sci-fi classics downloaded from gopher servers is a shared experience of anyone who
had access to computers and the internet before it was known as the World Wide Web.
Computers thus added fresh momentum to the efforts of realizing the age-old dream of the universal
library (Battles, 2004). Digital technologies offered a breakthrough in many of the issues that previously
posed serious obstacles to text collection: storage, search, preservation, access have all become cheaper
and easier than ever before. On the other hand, a number of key issues remained unresolved: digitization
was a slow and cumbersome process, while the screen proved to be too inconvenient, and the printer too
costly an interface between the text file and the reader. In any case, ultimately it wasn’t these issues that
put a break to the proliferation of digital libraries. Rather, it was the realization, that there are legal limits
to the digitization, storage, distribution of copyrighted works on the digital networks. That realization
soon rendered many text collections in the emerging digital library scene inaccessible.
Legal considerations did not destroy this chaotic, emergent digital librarianship and the collections the adhoc, accidental and professional librarians put together. The text collections were far too valuable to
simply delete them from the servers. Instead, what happened to most of these collections was that they
retreated from the public view, back into the access-controlled shadows of darknets. Yesterday’s gophers
and anonymous ftp servers turned into closed, membership only ftp servers, local shared libraries residing
on the intranets of various academic, business institutions and private archives stored on local hard drives.
The early digital libraries turned into book piracy sites and into the kernels of today’s shadow libraries.
Libraries and other major actors, who decided to start large scale digitization programs soon needed to
find out that if they wanted to avoid costly lawsuits, then they had to limit their activities to work in the
public domain. While the public domain is riddled with mind-bogglingly complex and unresolved legal
issues, but at least it is still significantly less complicated to deal with than copyrighted and orphan works.
Legally more innovative, (or as some would say, adventurous) companies, such as Google and Microsoft,
who thought they had sufficient resources to sort out the legal issues soon had to abandon their programs
or put them on hold until the legal issues were sorted out.
There were, however, a large group of disenfranchised readers, library patrons, authors and users who
decided to ignore the legal problems and set out to build the best library that could possibly be built using
the digital technologies. Despite the increased awareness of rights holders to the issue of digital book
piracy, more and more communities around text collections started defy the legal constraints and to
operate and use more or less public piratical shadow libraries.


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

Aleph2 is a meta-library, and currently one of the biggest online piratical text collections on the internet.
The project started on a Russian bulletin board devoted to piracy in around 2008 as an effort to integrate
various free-floating text collections that circulated online, on optical media, on various public and private
ftp servers and on hard-drives. Its aim was to consolidate these separate text collections, many of which
were created in various Russian academic institutions, into a single, unified catalog, standardize the
technical aspects, add and correct missing or incorrect metadata, and offer the resulting catalogue,
computer code and the collection of files as an open infrastructure.

From Russia with love
It is by no means a mistake that Aleph was born in Russia. In post-Soviet Russia the unique constellation
of several different factors created the necessary conditions for the digital librarianship movement that
ultimately led to the development of Aleph. A rich literary legacy, the Soviet heritage, the pace with
which various copying technologies penetrated the market, the shortcomings of the legal environment and
the informal norms that stood in for the non-existent digital copyrights all contributed to the emergence of
the biggest piratical library in the history of mankind.
Russia cherishes a rich literary tradition, which suffered and endured extreme economic hardships and
political censorship during the Soviet period (Ermolaev, 1997; Friedberg, Watanabe, & Nakamoto, 1984;
Stelmakh, 2001). The political transformation in the early 1990’s liberated authors, publishers, librarians
and readers from much of the political oppression, but it did not solve the economic issues that stood in
the way of a healthy literary market. Disposable income was low, state subsidies were limited, the dire
economic situation created uncertainty in the book market. The previous decades, however, have taught
authors and readers how to overcome political and economic obstacles to access to books. During the
Soviet times authors, editors and readers operated clandestine samizdat distribution networks, while
informal book black markets, operating in semi-private spheres, made uncensored but hard to come by
books accessible (Stelmakh, 2001). This survivalist attitude and the skills that came with it became handy
in the post-Soviet turmoil, and were directly transferable to the then emerging digital technologies.


I have conducted extensive research on the origins of Aleph, on its catalogue and its users. The detailed findings, at
the time of writing this contribution are being prepared for publication. The following section is brief summary of
those findings and is based upon two forthcoming book chapters on Aleph in a report, edited by Joe Karaganis, on
the role of shadow libraries in the higher education systems of multiple countries.
Aleph is a pseudonym chosen to protect the identity of the shadow library in question.


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

Russia is not the only country with a significant informal media economy of books, but in most other
places it was the photocopy machine that emerged to serve such book grey/black markets. In pre-1990
Russia and in other Eastern European countries the access to this technology was limited, and when
photocopiers finally became available, computers were close behind them in terms of accessibility. The
result of the parallel introduction of the photocopier and the computer was that the photocopy technology
did not have time to lock in the informal market of texts. In many countries where the photocopy machine
preceded the computer by decades, copy shops still capture the bulk of the informal production and
distribution of textbooks and other learning material. In the Soviet-bloc PCs instantly offered a less costly
and more adaptive technology to copy and distribute texts.
Russian academic and research institutions were the first to have access to computers. They also had to
somehow deal with the frustrating lack of access to up-to-date and affordable western works to be used in
education and research (Abramitzky & Sin, 2014). This may explain why the first batch of shadow
libraries started in a number of academic/research institutions such as the Department of Mechanics and
Mathematics (MexMat) at Moscow State University. The first digital librarians in Russia were
mathematicians, computer scientists and physicists, working in those institutions.
As PCs and internet access slowly penetrated Russian society, an extremely lively digital librarianship
movement emerged, mostly fuelled by enthusiastic readers, book fans and often authors, who spared no
effort to make their favorite books available on FIDOnet, a popular BBS system in Russia. One of the
central figures in these tumultuous years, when typed-in books appeared online by the thousands, was
Maxim Moshkov, a computer scientist, alumnus of the MexMat, and an avid collector of literary works.
His digital library, lib.ru was at first mostly a private collection of literary texts, but soon evolved into the
number one text repository which everyone used to depose the latest digital copy on a newly digitized
book (Мошков, 1999). Eventually the library grew so big that it had to be broken up. Today it only hosts
the Russian literary classics. User generated texts, fan fiction and amateur production was spin off into the
aptly named samizdat.lib.ru collection, low brow popular fiction, astrology and cheap romance found its
way into separate collections, and so did the collection of academic/scientific books, which started an
independent life under the name of Kolkhoz. Kolkhoz, which borrowed its name from the commons
based agricultural cooperative of the early Soviet era, was both a collection of scientific texts, and a
community of amateur librarians, who curated, managed and expanded the collection.
Moshkov and his library introduced several important norms into the bottom-up, decentralized, often
anarchic digital library movement that swept through the Russian internet in the late 1990’s, early 2000’s.
First, lib.ru provided the technological blueprint for any future digital library. But more importantly,


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

Moshkov’s way of handling the texts, his way of responding to the claims, requests, questions, complaints
of authors and publishers paved the way to the development of copynorms (Schultz, 2007) that continue
to define the Russian digital library scene until today. Moshkov was instrumental in the creation of an
enabling environment for the digital librarianship while respecting the claims of authors, during times
when the formal copyright framework and the enforcement environment was both unable and unwilling to
protect works of authorship (Elst, 2005; Sezneva, 2012).

Guerilla Open Access
Around the time of the late 2000’s when Aleph started to merge the Kolkhoz collection with other, freefloating texts collections, two other notable events took place. It was in 2008 when Aaron Swartz penned
his Guerilla Open Access Manifesto (Swartz, 2008), in which he called for the liberation and sharing of
scientific knowledge. Swartz forcefully argued that scientific knowledge, the production of which is
mostly funded by the public and by the voluntary labor of academics, cannot be locked up behind
corporate paywalls set up by publishers. He framed the unauthorized copying and transfer of scientific
works from closed access text repositories to public archives as a moral act, and by doing so, he created
an ideological framework which was more radical and promised to be more effective than either the
creative commons (Lessig, 2004) or the open access (Suber, 2013) movements that tried to address the
access to knowledge issues in a more copyright friendly manner. During interviews, the administrators of
Aleph used the very same arguments to justify the raison d'être of their piratical library. While it seems
that Aleph is the practical realization of Swartz’s ideas, it is hard to tell which served as an inspiration for
the other.
It was also in around the same time when another piratical library, gigapedia/library.nu started its
operation, focusing mostly on making freely available English language scientific works (Liang, 2012).
Until its legal troubles and subsequent shutdown in 2012, gigapedia/library.nu was the biggest English
language piratical scientific library on the internet amassing several hundred thousand books, including
high-quality proofs ready to print and low resolution scans possibly prepared by a student or a lecturer.
During 2012 the mostly Russian-language and natural sciences focused Alephs absorbed the English
language, social sciences rich gigapedia/library.nu, and with the subsequent shutdown of
gigapedia/library.nu Aleph became the center of the scientific shadow library ecosystem and community.

Aleph by numbers


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

By adding pre-existing text collections to its catalogue Aleph was able to grow at an astonishing rate.
Aleph added, on average 17.500 books to its collection each month since 2009, and as a result, by April
2014 is has more than 1.15 million documents. Nearly two thirds of the collection is in English, one fifth
of the documents is in Russian, while German works amount to the third largest group with 8.5% of the
collection. The rest of the major European languages, like French or Spanish have less than 15000 works
each in the collection.
More than 50 thousand publishers have works in the library, but most of the collection is published by
mainstream western academic publishers. Springer published more than 12% of the works in the
collection, followed by the Cambridge University Press, Wiley, Routledge and Oxford University Press,
each having more than 9000 works in the collection.
Most of the collection is relatively recent, more than 70% of the collection being published in 1990 or
after. Despite the recentness of the collection, the electronic availability of the titles in the collection is
limited. While around 80% of the books that had an ISBN number registered in the catalogue3 was
available in print either as a new copy or a second hand one, only about one third of the titles were
available in e-book formats. The mean price of the titles still in print was 62 USD according to the data
gathered from Amazon.com.
The number of works accessed through of Aleph is as impressive as its catalogue. In the three months
between March and June, 2012, on average 24.000 documents were downloaded every day from one of
its half-a-dozen mirrors.4 This means that the number of documents downloaded daily from Aleph is
probably in the 50 to 100.000 range. The library users come from more than 150 different countries. The
biggest users in terms of volume were the Russian Federation, Indonesia, USA, India, Iran, Egypt, China,
Germany and the UK. Meanwhile, many of the highest per-capita users are Central and Eastern European

What Aleph is and what it is not
Aleph is an example of the library in the post scarcity age. It is founded on the idea that books should no
longer be a scarce resource. Aleph set out to remove both sources of scarcity: the natural source of

Market availability data is only available for that 40% of books in the Aleph catalogue that had an ISBN number
on file. The titles without a valid ISBN number tend to be older, Russian language titles, in general with low
expected print and e-book availability.
Download data is based on the logs provided by one of the shadow library services which offers the books in
Aleph’s catalogue as well as other works also free and without any restraints or limitations.


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

scarcity in physical copies is overcome through distributed digitization; the artificial source of scarcity
created by copyright protection is overcome through infringement. The liberation from both constraints is
necessary to create a truly scarcity free environment and to release the potential of the library in the postscarcity age.
Aleph is also an ongoing demonstration of the fact that under the condition of non-scarcity, the library can
be a decentralized, distributed, commons-based institution created and maintained through peer
production (Benkler, 2006). The message of Aleph is clear: users left to their own devices, can produce a
library by themselves for themselves. In fact, users are the library. And when everyone has the means to
digitize, collect, catalogue and share his/her own library, then the library suddenly is everywhere. Small
individual and institutional collections are aggregated into Aleph, which, in turn is constantly fragmented
into smaller, local, individual collections as users download works from the collection. The library is
breathing (Battles, 2004) books in and out, but for the first time, this circulation of books is not a zero
sum game, but a cumulative one: with every cycle the collection grows.
On the other hand Aleph may have lots of books on offer, but it is clear that it is neither universal in its
scope, nor does it fulfill all the critical functions of a library. Most importantly Aleph is disembedded
from the local contexts and communities that usually define the focus of the library. While it relies on the
availability of local digital collections for its growth, it has no means to play an active role in its own
development. The guardians of Aleph can prevent books from entering the collection, but they cannot
pay, ask or force anyone to provide a title if it is missing. Aleph is reliant on the weak copy-protection
technologies of official e-text repositories and the goodwill of individual document submitters when it
comes to the expansion of the collection. This means that the Aleph collection is both fragmented and
biased, and it lacks the necessary safeguards to ensure that it stays either current or relevant.
Aleph, with all its strengths and weaknesses carries an important lesson for the discussions on the future
of libraries. In the next section I’ll try situate these lessons in the wider context of the library in the post
scarcity age.

The future of the library
There is hardly a week without a blog post, a conference, a workshop or an academic paper discussing the
future of libraries. While existing libraries are buzzing with activity, librarians are well aware that they
need to re-define themselves and their institutions, as the book collections around which libraries were
organized slowly go the way the catalogue has gone: into the digital realm. It would be impossible to give


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

a faithful summary of all the discussions on the future of libraries is such a short contribution. There are,
however, a few threads, to which the story of Aleph may contribute.

It is very rare to find the two words: libraries and competition in the same sentence. No wonder: libraries
enjoyed a near perfect monopoly in their field of activity. Though there may have been many different
local initiatives that provided free access to books, as a specialized institution to do so, the library was
unmatched and unchallenged. This monopoly position has been lost in a remarkably short period of time
due to the internet and the rapid innovations in the legal e-book distribution markets. Textbooks can be
rented, e-books can be lent, a number of new startups and major sellers offer flat rate access to huge
collections. Expertise that helps navigate the domains of knowledge is abundant, there are multiple
authoritative sources of information and meta-information online. The search box of the library catalog is
only one, and not even the most usable of all the different search boxes one can type a query in5.
Meanwhile there are plenty of physical spaces which offer good coffee, an AC plug, comfortable chairs
and low levels of noise to meet, read and study from local cafes via hacker- and maker spaces, to coworking offices. Many library competitors have access to resources (human, financial, technological and
legal) way beyond the possibilities of even the richest libraries. In addition, publishers control the
copyrights in digital copies which, absent of well fortified statutory limitations and exceptions, prevent
libraries keeping up with the changes in user habits and with the competing commercial services.
Libraries definitely feel the pressure. “Libraries’ offers of materials […] compete with many other offers
that aim to attract the attention of the public. […] It is no longer enough just to make a good collection
available to the public.” (Committee on the Public Libraries in the Knowledge Society, 2010) As a
response, libraries have developed different strategies to cope with this challenge. The common thread in
the various strategy documents is that they try to redefine the library as a node in the vast network of
institutions that provide knowledge, enable learning, facilitate cooperation and initiate dialogues. Some of
the strategic plans redefine the library space as an “independent medium to be developed” (Committee on
the Public Libraries in the Knowledge Society, 2010), and advise libraries to transform themselves into
culture and community centers which establish partnerships with citizens, communities and with other
public and private institutions. Some librarians propose even more radical ways of keeping the library


ArXiv, SSRN, RePEc, PubMed Central, Google Scholar, Google Books, Amazon, Mendeley, Citavi,
ResearchGate, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, Khan Academy, specialized twitter and other
social media accounts are just a few of the available discovery services.


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

relevant by, for example, advocating more opening hours without staff and hosting more user-governed
In the research library sphere, the Commission on the Future of the Library, a task force set up by the
University of California Berkeley defined the values the university research library will add in the digital
age as “1) Human expertise; 2) Enabling infrastructure; and 3) Preservation and dissemination of
knowledge for future generations.” (Commission on the Future of the Library, 2013). This approach is
from among the more conservative ones, still relying on the hope that libraries can offer something
unique that no one else is able to provide. Others, working at the Association of Research Libraries are
more like their public library counterparts, defining the future role of the research libraries as a “convener
of ‘conversations’ for knowledge construction, an inspiring host; a boundless symposium; an incubator;
a 3rd space both physically and virtually; a scaffold for independence of mind; and a sanctuary for
freedom of expression, a global entrepreneurial engine” (Pendleton-Jullian, Lougee, Wilkin, & Hilton,
2014), in other words, as another important, but in no way unique node in the wider network of
institutions that creates and distributes knowledge.
Despite the differences in priorities, all these recommendations carry the same basic message. The unique
position of libraries in the center of a book-based knowledge economy, on the top of the paper-bound
knowledge hierarchy is about to be lost. As libraries are losing their monopoly of giving low cost, low
restrictions access to books which are scarce by nature, and they are losing their privileged and powerful
position as the guardians of and guides to the knowledge stored in the stacks. If they want to survive, they
need to find their role and position in a network of institutions, where everyone else is engaged in
activities that overlap with the historic functions of the library. Just like the books themselves, the power
that came from the privileged access to books is in part dispersed among the countless nodes in the
knowledge and learning networks, and in part is being captured by those who control the digital rights to
digitize and distribute books in the digital era.
One of the main reasons why libraries are trying to redefine themselves as providers of ancillary services
is because the lack of digital lending rights prevents them from competing on their own traditional home
turf - in giving free access to knowledge. The traditional legal limitations and exceptions to copyright that
enabled libraries to fulfill their role in the analogue world do not apply in the digital realm. In the
European Union, the Infosoc Directive (“Directive 2001/29/EC on the harmonisation of certain aspects of
copyright and related rights in the information society,” 2001) allows for libraries to create digital copies
for preservation, indexing and similar purposes and allows for the display of digital copies on their
premises for research and personal study (Triaille et al., 2013). While in theory these rights provide for


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

the core library services in the digital domain, their practical usefulness is rather limited, as off-premises
e-lending of copyrighted works is in most cases6 only possible through individual license agreements with
Under such circumstances libraries complain that they cannot fulfill their public interest mission in the
digital era. What libraries are allowed to do under their own under current limitations and exceptions, is
seen as inadequate for what is expected of them. But to do more requires the appropriate e-lending
licenses from rights holders. In many cases, however, libraries simply cannot license digitally for e-lending. In those cases when licensing is possible, they see transaction costs as prohibitively high; they
feel that their bargaining positions vis-à-vis rightholders is unbalanced; they do not see that the license
terms are adapted to libraries’ policies, and they fear that the licenses provide publishers excessive and
undue influence over libraries (Report on the responses to the Public Consultation on the Review of the
EU Copyright Rules, 2013).
What is more, libraries face substantial legal uncertainties even where there are more-or-less well defined
digital library exceptions. In the EU, questions such as whether the analogue lending rights of libraries
extend to e-books, whether an exhaustion of the distribution right is necessary to enjoy the lending
exception, and whether licensing an e-book would exhaust the distribution right are under consideration
by the Court of Justice of the European Union in a Dutch case (Rosati, 2014b). And while in another case
(Case C-117/13 Technische Universität Darmstadt v Eugen Ulmer KG) the CJEU reaffirmed the rights of
European libraries to digitize books in their collection if that is necessary to give access to them in digital
formats on their premises, it also created new uncertainties by stating that libraries may not digitize their
entire collections (Rosati, 2014a).
US libraries face a similar situation, both in terms of the narrowly defined exceptions in which libraries
can operate, and the huge uncertainty regarding the limits of fair use in the digital library context. US
rights holders challenged both Google’s (Authors Guild v Google) and the libraries (Authors Guild v
HathiTrust) rights to digitize copyrighted works. While there seems to be a consensus of courts that the
mass digitization conducted by these institutions was fair use (Diaz, 2013; Rosati, 2014c; Samuelson,
2014), the accessibility of the scanned works is still heavily limited, subject to licenses from publishers,
the existence of print copies at the library and the institutional membership held by prospective readers.
While in the highly competitive US e-book market many commercial intermediaries offer e-lending

The notable exception being orphan works which are presumed to be still copyrighted, but without an identifiable
rights owner. In the EU, the Directive 2012/28/EU on certain permitted uses of orphan works in theory eases access
to such works, but in practice its practical impact is limited by the many constraints among its provisions. Lacking
any orphan works legislation and the Google Book Settlement still in limbo, the US is even farther from making
orphan works generally accessible to the public.


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

licenses to e-book catalogues of various sizes, these arrangements also carry the danger of a commercial
lock-in of the access to digital works, and render libraries dependent upon the services of commercial
providers who may or may not be the best defenders of public interest (OECD, 2012).
Shadow libraries like Aleph are called into existence by the vacuum that was left behind by the collapse
of libraries in the digital sphere and by the inability of the commercial arrangements to provide adequate
substitute services. Shadow libraries are pooling distributed resources and expertise over the internet, and
use the lack of legal or technological barriers to innovation in the informal sphere to fill in the void left
behind by libraries.

What can Aleph teach us about the future of libraries?
The story of Aleph offers two, closely interrelated considerations for the debate on the future of libraries:
a legal and an organizational one. Aleph operates beyond the limits of legality, as almost all of its
activities are copyright infringing, including the unauthorized digitization of books, the unauthorized
mass downloads from e-text repositories, the unauthorized acts of uploading books to the archive, the
unauthorized distribution of books, and, in most countries, the unauthorized act of users’ downloading
books from the archive. In the debates around copyright infringement, illegality is usually interpreted as a
necessary condition to access works for free. While this is undoubtedly true, the fact that Aleph provides
no-cost access to books seems to be less important than the fact that it provides an access to them in the
first place.
Aleph is a clear indicator of the volume of the demand for current books in digital formats in developed
and in developing countries. The legal digital availability, or rather, unavailability of its catalogue also
demonstrates the limits of the current commercial and library based arrangements that aim to provide low
cost access to books over the internet. As mentioned earlier, Aleph’s catalogue is mostly of recent books,
meaning that 80% of the titles with a valid ISBN number are still in print and available as a new or used
print copy through commercial retailers. What is also clear, that around 66% of these books are yet to be
made available in electronic format. While publishers in theory have a strong incentive to make their most
recent titles available as e-books, they lag behind in doing so.
This might explain why one third of all the e-book downloads in Aleph are from highly developed
Western countries, and two third of these downloads are of books without a kindle version. Having access
to print copies either through libraries or through commercial retailers is simply not enough anymore.
Developing countries are a slightly different case. There, compared to developed countries, twice as many


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

of the downloads (17% compared to 8% in developed countries) are of titles that aren’t available in print
at all. Not having access to books in print seems to be a more pressing problem for developing countries
than not having access to electronic copies. Aleph thus fulfills at least two distinct types of demand: in
developed countries it provides access to missing electronic versions, in developing countries it provides
access to missing print copies.
The ability to fulfill an otherwise unfulfilled demand is not the only function of illegality. Copyright
infringement in the case of Aleph has a much more important role: it enables the peer production of the
library. Aleph is an open source library. This means that every resource it uses and every resource it
creates is freely accessible to anyone for use without any further restrictions. This includes the server
code, the database, the catalogue and the collection. The open source nature of Aleph rests on the
ideological claim that the scientific knowledge produced by humanity, mostly through public funds
should be open for anyone to access without any restrictions. Everything else in and around Aleph stems
from this claim, as they replicate the open access logic in all the other aspects of Aleph’s operation. Aleph
uses the peer produced Open Library to fetch book metadata, it uses the bittorrent and ed2k P2P networks
to store and make books accessible, it uses Linux and MySQL to run its code, and it allows its users to
upload books and edit book metadata. As a consequence of its open source nature, anyone can contribute
to the project, and everyone can enjoy its benefits.
It is hard to quantify the impact of this piratical open access library on education, science and research in
various local contexts where Aleph is the prime source of otherwise inaccessible books. But it is
relatively easy to measure the consequences of openness at the level of the Aleph, the library. The
collection of Aleph was created mostly by those individuals and communities who decided to digitize
books by themselves for their own use. While any single individual is only capable of digitizing a few
books at the maximum, the small contributions quickly add up. To digitize the 1.15 million documents in
the Aleph collection would require an investment of several hundred million Euros, and a substantial
subsequent investment in storage, collection management and access provision (Poole, 2010). Compared
to these figures the costs associated with running Aleph is infinitesimal, as it survives on the volunteer
labor of a few individuals, and annual donations in the total value of a few thousand dollars. The hundreds
of thousands who use Aleph on a more or less regular basis have an immense amount of resources, and by
disregarding the copyright laws Aleph is able to tap into those resources and use them for the
development of the library. The value of these resources and of the peer produced library is the difference
between the actual costs associated with Aleph, and the investment that would be required to create
something remotely similar.


Bodó B. (2015): Libraries in the post-scarcity era.
in: Porsdam (ed): Copyrighting Creativity: Creative values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property, Ashgate

The decentralized, collaborative mass digitization and making available of current, thus most relevant
scientific works is only possible at the moment through massive copyright infringement. It is debatable
whether the copyrighted corpus of scientific works should be completely open, and whether the blatant
disregard of copyrights through which Aleph achieved this openness is the right path towards a more
openly accessible body of scientific knowledge. It is also yet to be measured what effects shadow libraries
may have on the commercial intermediaries and on the health of scientific publishing and science in
general. But Aleph, in any case, is a case study in the potential benefits of open sourcing the library.

If we can take Aleph as an expression of what users around the globe want from a library, then the answer
is that there is a strong need for a universally accessible collection of current, relevant (scientific) books
in restrictions-free electronic formats. Can we expect any single library to provide anything even remotely
similar to that in the foreseeable future? Does such a service have a place in the future of libraries? It is as
hard to imagine the future library with such a service as without.
While the legal and financial obstacles to the creation of a scientific library with as universal reach as
Aleph may be difficult the overcome, other aspects of it may be more easily replicable. The way Aleph
operates demonstrates the amount of material and immaterial resources users are willing to contribute to
build a library that responds to their needs and expectations. If libraries plan to only ‘host’ user-governed
activities, it means that the library is still imagined to be a separate entity from its users. Aleph teaches us
that this separation can be overcome and users can constitute a library. But for that they need
opportunities to participate in the production of the library: they need the right to digitize books and copy
digital books to and from the library, they need the opportunity to participate in the cataloging and
collection building process, they need the opportunity to curate and program the collection. In other
words users need the chance to be librarians in the library if they wish to do so, and so libraries need to be
able to provide access not just to the collection but to their core functions as well. The walls that separate
librarians from library patrons, private and public collections, insiders and outsiders can all prevent the
peer production of the library, and through that, prevent the future that is the closest to what library users
think of as ideal.


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digitization in Constant 2015


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 (http://www.samedies.be)


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. http://tug.org/interviews/hagen.html, 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 http://code.dyne.org/brainch


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, http://www.ietf.org/


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), http://www.iso.org
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: http://acid3.acidtests.org is comprehensive in comparison to more detailed,
but fragmented SVG tests:
Acid Test Gallery http://moonbase.rydia.net/mental/writings/box-acid-test/
The Web Standards Project is a grassroots coalition fighting for standards which ensure simple,
affordable access to web technologies for all http://www.webstandards.org/


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 http://www.typeculture.com/academic_resource/articles_essays/, 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 http://www.typefacedesign.net 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 www.typophile.org, 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 OpenHatch.org 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
writers. http://www.graffitimarkuplanguage.com


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 http://www.theowatson.com
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. http://www.eyewriter.org
Chris Sugrue http://csugrue.com
Jamie Wilkinson http://www.jamiedubs.com


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



http://000000book.com. 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 http://www.chevalvert.fr/portfolio/numerique/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. http://www.stylewars.com


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


KATSU http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=graffiti+katsu
Mark Jenkins tapesculptures http://tapesculpture.org


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. http://fffff.at
Blender is a free Open Source 3D content creation suite. http://www.blender.org/


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 http://www.adafruit.com
Phillip Torrone, Makezine http://makezine.com/pub/au/Phillip_Torrone


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 http://kylemcdonald.net
Michael Auger http://lm4k.com
Golan Levin http://www.flong.com


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. http://ospublish.constantvzw.org
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 http://www.graffitimarkuplanguage.com/kml2GML


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 http://vimeo.com/16997642


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.


momo3010 http://momo1030.com
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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayPcaGVKJHg
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. http://www.vj13.constantvzw.org
Joshua Noble http://www.thefactoryfactory.com/gmlchallenge/


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




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 http://reader.lgru.net


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! http://x.cygwin.com/, 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 http://craphound.com/bio.php








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. http://letterror.com/writing/is-best-really-better


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: http://libregraphicsmeeting.org/2013/


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 hotglue2svg.sh, 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
-> http://github.com/b3nson/petter

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: http://conversations.tools
Software: https://github.com/lafkon/conversations
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
processing.org, 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

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Mondotheque: A Radiated Book





• Mondotheque::a radiated book/un livre irradiant/een
irradiërend boek
◦ Property:Person (agents + actors)
◦ EN Introduction
◦ FR Préface
◦ NL Inleiding
• Embedded hierarchies
◦ FR+NL+EN A radiating interview/Un entrevue irradiant/Een irradiërend gesprek
◦ EN Amateur Librarian - A Course in Critical Pedagogy TOMISLAV MEDAK &
MARCELL MARS (Public Library project)
◦ FR Bibliothécaire amateur - un cours de pédagogie critique TOMISLAV MEDAK


A bag but is language nothing of words MICHAEL MURTAUGH
A Book of the Web DUSAN BAROK
Une lecture-écriture du livre sur le livre ALEXIA DE VISSCHER

• Disambiguation
◦ EN An experimental transcript SÎNZIANA PĂLTINEANU
◦ EN+FR LES UTOPISTES and their common logos/et leurs logos communs


A Pre-emptive History of the Google Cultural Institute GERALDINE



Une histoire préventive du Google Cultural Institute GERALDINE JUÁREZ

• Location, location, location
◦ EN From Paper Mill to Google Data Center SHINJOUNG YEO
◦ EN House, City, World, Nation, Globe NATACHA ROUSSEL
◦ EN The Smart City - City of Knowledge DENNIS POHL
◦ FR La ville intelligente - Ville de la connaissance DENNIS POHL
◦ EN The Itinerant Archive
• Cross-readings
◦ EN Les Pyramides
◦ EN Transclusionism
◦ EN Reading list
◦ FR+EN+NL Colophon/Colofon



Meet the cast of historical, contemporary and fictional people that populate La

Unknown man,Andrew
Warden Boyd Carnegie
Rayward, Françoise
Levie, Alex Wright

André CanonneArni Jonsson , Barack ObamaBernard Otlet Bernard Otlet, Bernard Otlet, Bill Echikson
Sauli Niinistö
Lafontaine Lafontaine

Bill Echikson, Delphine JenartDelphine Jenart,
Elio Di Rupo Unknown man,Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo, Sylvia Van
Delphine Jenart
Nooka Kiili ,
Elio Di Rupo, Sylvia Van Sylvia Van Thierry GeertsPeteghem, Elio
Joyce Proot
Roi Albert II, Peteghem
Di Rupo, JeanJean-Claude
Paul Deplus

Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo, Elio Di Rupo Alexander De Elio Di Rupo, Nicolas Sarkozy,
Eric E. SchmidtErnest de Potter
Thierry Geerts,Guy Quaden , Rudy Demotte
Croo, Elio Di Unknown man,Eric E. Schmidt
Unknown man Yves Vasseur
Roi Albert II,



Alexia de Visscher,
Femke Snelting,Robert M. Nicolas Malevé,
Manfroid, Femke
Michael Murtaugh,
Dennis Pohl, Ochshorn, JanMichael
Manfroid, Femke
Manfroid, Femke
Snelting, Dick Femke Snelting,Alexia de
Gerber , FemkeMurtaugh, Alexia
Snelting, Natacha
Snelting, Natacha
Visscher, Andre
Snelting, Marcell
de Visscher, Roussel, Dick Roussel, Dick
Mars, Sebastian
Femke Snelting,Reckard
Păltineanu, Nicolas
Luetgert , Donatella
Portoghese Păltineanu


Gustave AbeelsHarm Post

Henri La

Henri La

Henri La

Mathilde Lhoest,
Henri La
Henri La

Igor PlatounoffWilhelmina
Coops, Igor

Annie Besant, Jean François Jean Otlet Jr. Bill Echikson, Jean-Paul Deplus
Annie Besant, Louis Masure,Unidentified Woman,
Marcel Flamion
Jean Delville Fueg
Jean-Paul Deplus
Mademoiselle Poels,
Mademoiselle Poels
Krishnamurti Mademoiselle de

Marie-Louise Paul Otlet, Paul Otlet
Madame Taupin
, Pierre

Paul Otlet

Wilhelmina Paul Otlet
Coops, Paul

Marie Van Paul Otlet, Cato
Paul Otlet, Cato
Mons , Paul van Nederhasselt
van Nederhasselt

Unidentified Wilhelmina Paul Otlet
Woman, Paul Coops, Paul

Paul Otlet

Jiddu Krishnamurti
Paul Otlet
, Paul Otlet, Jean

Unidentified Paul Otlet
Woman, Paul
Otlet, Georges


Paul Otlet


Cato van
Le Corbusier, Paul Otlet,
Nederhasselt, Paul
Paul Otlet, Georges
Hélène de

Unidentified Paul Otlet, Henri
Paul Otlet
Woman, Jean La Fontaine,
Delville, Paul Mathilde Lhoest
Otlet, Henri La

Unidentified Unidentified Paul Otlet, Unidentified Paul Otlet,
Woman, Paul Woman, Paul Mathilde La Woman, W.E.B.
Otlet, GeorgesFontaine , Henri
Du Bois, Paul Woman
La Fontaine Otlet, Henri La
Fontaine, Jean

Paul Panda, Unidentified Paul Otlet
Unidentified Woman, Paul
Woman, HenriOtlet
Fontaine, Cato van
Nederhasselt, Paul
Otlet, W.E.B. Du
Bois, Blaise Diagne
, Mathilde Lhoest

Unidentified Woman,
Paul Otlet, Cato
Nederhasselt, Georges
Lorphèvre, André
Colet, Thea Coops,
Broese van Groenou

Steve Crossan Stéphanie

Sylvia Van

Thea Coops Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified
Woman, LouisWoman
Woman, LouisWoman

Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Vint Cerf, Chris
Vint Cerf


Vint Cerf






Yves Bernard

This Radiated Book started three years ago with an e-mail from the Mundaneum archive
center in Mons. It announced that Elio di Rupo, then prime minister of Belgium, was about
to sign a collaboration agreement between the archive center and Google. The newsletter
cited an article in the French newspaper Le Monde that coined the Mundaneum as 'Google
on paper' [1]. It was our first encounter with many variations on the same theme.
The former mining area around Mons is also where Google has installed its largest
datacenter in Europe, a result of negotiations by the same Di Rupo[2]. Due to the re-branding
of Paul Otlet as ‘founding father of the Internet’, Otlet's oeuvre finally started to receive
international attention. Local politicians wanting to transform the industrial heartland into a
home for The Internet Age seized the moment and made the Mundaneum a central node in
their campaigns. Google — grateful for discovering its posthumous francophone roots — sent
chief evangelist Vint Cerf to the Mundaneum. Meanwhile, the archive center allowed the
company to publish hundreds of documents on the website of Google Cultural Institute.
While the visual resemblance between a row of index drawers and a server park might not
be a coincidence, it is something else to conflate the type of universalist knowledge project
imagined by Paul Otlet and Henri Lafontaine with the enterprise of the search giant. The
statement 'Google on paper' acted as a provocation, evoking other cases in other places
where geographically situated histories are turned into advertising slogans, and cultural
infrastructures pushed into the hands of global corporations.
An international band of artists, archivists and activists set out to unravel the many layers of
this mesh. The direct comparison between the historical Mundaneum project and the mission
of Alphabet Inc[3] speaks of manipulative simplification on multiple levels, but to de-tangle its
implications was easier said than done. Some of us were drawn in by misrepresentations of
the oeuvre of Otlet himself, others felt the need to give an account of its Brussels' roots, to reinsert the work of maintenance and caretaking into the his/story of founding fathers, or joined
out of concern with the future of cultural institutions and libraries in digital times.
We installed a Semantic MediaWiki and named it after the Mondotheque, a device
imagined by Paul Otlet in 1934. The wiki functioned as an online repository and frame of
reference for the work that was developed through meetings, visits and presentations[4]. For
Otlet, the Mondotheque was to be an 'intellectual machine': at the same time archive, link
generator, writing desk, catalog and broadcast station. Thinking the museum, the library, the
encyclopedia, and classificatory language as a complex and interdependent web of relations,
Otlet imagined each element as a point of entry for the other. He stressed that responses to



displays in a museum involved intellectual and social processes that where different from
those involved in reading books in a library, but that one in a sense entailed the other. [5]. The
dreamed capacity of his Mondotheque was to interface scales, perspectives and media at the
intersection of all those different practices. For us, by transporting a historical device into the
future, it figured as a kind of thinking machine, a place to analyse historical and social
locations of the Mundaneum project, a platform to envision our persistent interventions
together. The speculative figure of Mondotheque enabled us to begin to understand the
situated formations of power around the project, and allowed us to think through possible
forms of resistance. [6]
The wiki at http://mondotheque.be grew into a labyrinth of images, texts, maps and semantic
links, tools and vocabularies. MediaWiki is a Free software infrastructure developed in the
context of Wikipedia and comes with many assumptions about the kind of connections and
practices that are desirable. We wanted to work with Semantic extensions specifically
because we were interested in the way The Semantic Web[7] seemed to resemble Otlet's
Universal Decimal Classification system. At many moments we felt ourselves going down
rabbit-holes of universal completeness, endless categorisation and nauseas of scale. It made
the work at times uncomfortable, messy and unruly, but it allowed us to do the work of
unravelling in public, mixing political urgency with poetic experiments.
This Radiated Book was made because we wanted to create a moment, an incision into that
radiating process that allowed us to invite many others a look at the interrelated materials
without the need to provide a conclusive document. As a salute to Otlet's ever expanding
Radiated Library, we decided to use the MediaWiki installation to write, edit and generate
the publication which explains some of the welcome anomalies on the very pages of this
The four chapters that we propose each mix fact and fiction, text and image, document and
catalogue. In this way, process and content are playing together and respond to the specific
material entanglements that we encountered. Mondotheque, and as a consequence this
Radiated book, is a multi-threaded, durational, multi-scalar adventure that in some way
diffracts the all-encompassing ambition that the 19th century Utopia of Mundaneum stood
Embedded hierarchies addresses how classification systems, and the dream of their universal
application actually operate. It brings together contributions that are concerned with
knowledge infrastructures at different scales, from disobedient libraries, institutional practices
of the digital archive, meta-data structures to indexing as a pathological condition.
Disambiguation dis-entangles some of the similarities that appear around the heritage of Paul
Otlet. Through a close-reading of seemingly similar biographies, terms and vocabularies it relocates ambiguity to other places.

Location, location, location is an account of geo-political layers at work. Following the
itinerant archive of Mundaneum through the capital of Europe, we encounter local, national
and global Utopias that in turn leave their imprint on the way the stories play out. From the
hyperlocal to the global, this chapter traces patterns in the physical landscape.
Cross-readings consists of lists, image collections and other materials that make connections
emerge between historical and contemporary readings, unearthing possible spiritual or
mystical underpinnings of the Mundaneum, and transversal inclusions of the same elements in
between different locations.
The point of modest operations such as Mondotheque is to build the collective courage to
persist in demanding access to both the documents and the intellectual and technological
infrastructures that interface and mediate them. Exactly because of the urgency of the
situation, where the erosion of public institutions has become evident, and all forms of
communication seem to feed into neo-liberal agendas eventually, we should resist
simplifications and find the patience to build a relation to these histories in ways that makes
sense. It is necessary to go beyond the current techno-determinist paradigm of knowledge
production, and for this, imagination is indispensable.

Paul Otlet, design for Mondotheque (Mundaneum archive center, Mons)

1. Jean-Michel Djian, Le Mundaneum, Google de papier, Le Monde Magazine, 19 december 2009



2. « À plusieurs
reprises, on a eu chaud, parce qu’il était prévu qu’au moindre couac sur ce point, Google arrêtait tout » Libre Belgique, 27 april
3. Sergey and I are seriously in the business of starting new things. Alphabet will also include our X lab, which incubates new
efforts like Wing, our drone delivery effort. We are also stoked about growing our investment arms, Ventures and Capital, as
part of this new structure. Alphabet Inc. will replace Google Inc. as the publicly-traded entity (...) Google will become a whollyowned subsidiary of Alphabet https://abc.xyz/
4. http://mondotheque.be
5. The Mundaneum is an Idea, an Institution, a Method, a Body of workmaterials and Collections, a Building, a Network. Paul
Otlet, Monde (1935)
6. The analyses of these themes are transmitted through narratives -- mythologies or fictions, which I have renamed as "figurations"
or cartographies of the present. A cartography is a politically informed map of one's historical and social locations, enabling the
analysis of situated formations of power and hence the elaboration of adequate forms of resistance Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic
Theory (2011)
7. Some people have said, "Why do I need the Semantic Web? I have Google!" Google is great for helping people find things, yes!
But finding things more easily is not the same thing as using the Semantic Web. It's about creating things from data you've
complied yourself, or combining it with volumes (think databases, not so much individual documents) of data from other sources
to make new discoveries. It's about the ability to use and reuse vast volumes of data. Yes, Google can claim to index billions of
pages, but given the format of those diverse pages, there may not be a whole lot more the search engine tool can reliably do.
We're looking at applications that enable transformations, by being able to take large amounts of data and be able to run models
on the fly - whether these are financial models for oil futures, discovering the synergies between biology and chemistry researchers
in the Life Sciences, or getting the best price and service on a new pair of hiking boots. Tim Berners-Lee interviewed in
Consortium Standards Bulletin, 2005 http://www.consortiuminfo.org/bulletins/semanticweb.php





Stéphanie Manfroid and Raphaèle Cornille are responsible for the
Mundaneum archives in Mons. We speak with them about the relationship
between the universe of Otlet and the concrete practice of scanning, meta-data
and on-line publishing, and the possibilities and limitations of their work with
Google. How to imagine a digital archive that could include the multiple
relationships between all documents in the collection? How the make visible
the continuous work of describing, maintaining and indexing?


The interview is part of a series of interviews with Belgian knowledge
institutions and their vision on digital information sharing. The voices of Sylvia
Van Peteghem and Dries Moreels (Ghent University), Églantine Lebacq and
Marc d'Hoore (Royal library of Belgium) resonate on the following pages.
We hear from them about the differences and similarities in how the three
institutions deal with the unruly practice of digital heritage.

The full interviews with the Royal Library of Belgium and Ghent University
Library can be found in the on-line publication.

• RC = Raphaèle Cornille (Mundaneum archive center, responsable des collections
• SM = Stéphanie Manfroid (Mundaneum archive center, responsable des archives)
• ADV = Alexia de Visscher
• FS = Femke Snelting

Mons, 21 avril 2016

ADV : Dans votre politique de numérisation, quelle infrastructure d’accès envisagez-vous et
pour quel type de données et de métadonnées ?
RC : On numérise depuis longtemps au Mundaneum, depuis 1995. À l’époque, il y avait
déjà du matériel de numérisation. Forcément pas avec les même outils que l’on a aujourd’hui,
on n’imaginait pas avoir accès aux bases de données sur le net. Il y a eu des évolutions
techniques, technologiques qui ont été importantes. Ce qui fait que pendant quelques années
on a travaillé avec le matériel qui était toujours présent en interne, mais pas vraiment avec un
plan de numérisation sur le long terme. Juste pour répondre à des demandes, soit pour nous,
parce qu’on avait des publications ou des expositions ou parce qu’on avait des demandes
extérieures de reproductions.
L’objectif évidemment c’est de pouvoir mettre à la disposition du public tout ce qui a été
numérisé. Il faut savoir que nous avons une base de données qui s’appelle Pallas[1] qui a été
soutenue par la Communauté Française depuis 2003. Malheureusement, le logiciel nous
pose pas mal de problème. On a déjà tenté des intégrations d’images et ça ne s’affiche pas
toujours correctement. Parfois on a des fiches descriptives mais nous n’avons pas l’image qui
SM : Les archives soutenues par la Communauté française, mais aussi d’autres centres, ont
opté pour Pallas. C’est ainsi que ce système permettait une compréhension des archives en
Belgique et en Communauté française notamment.

L’idée c’est que les centres d’archives utilisent tous un même système. C’est une belle
initiative, et dans ce cadre là, c’était l’idée d’avoir une plateforme générale, où toutes les
sources liées aux archives publiques, enfin les archives soutenues par la Communauté
Française - qui ne sont pas publiques d’ailleurs - puissent être accessibles à un seul et même
RC : Il y avait en tout cas cette idée par la suite, d’avoir une plate-forme commune, qui
s’appelle numériques.be[2]. Malheureusement, ce qu’on trouve sur numeriques.be ne
correspond au contenu sur Pallas, ce sont deux structures différentes. En gros, si on veut
diffuser sur les deux, c’est deux fois le travail.
En plus, ils n’ont pas configuré numérique.be pour qu’il puisse être moissonné par
Europeana[3]. Il y a des normes qui ne correspondent pas encore.
SM : Ce sont des choix politiques là. Et nous on dépend de ça. Et nous, nous dépendons de
choix généraux. Il est important que l’on comprenne bien la situation d'centre d’archives
comme le nôtre. Sa place dans le paysage patrimoniale belge et francophone également.
Notre intention est de nous situer tant dans ce cadre qu’à un niveau européen mais aussi
international. Ce ne sont pas des combinaisons si aisées que cela à mettre en place pour ces
différents publics ou utilisateurs par exemple.
RC : Soit il y a un problème technique, soit il y a un problème d’autorisation. Il faut savoir
que c’est assez complexe au niveau des métadonnées, il y a pas mal de choses à faire. On a
pendant tout un temps numérisé, mais on a généré les métadonnées au fur et à mesure, donc
il y aussi un gros travail à réaliser par rapport à ça. Normalement, pour le début 2017 on
envisagera le passage à Europeana avec des métadonnées correctes et le fait qu’on puisse
verser des fichiers corrects.
C’est assez lourd comme travail parce que nous devons générer les métadonnées à chaque
fois. Si vous prenez le Dublin Core[4], c’est à chaque fois 23 champs à remplir par document.
On essaye de remplir le maximum. De temps en temps, ça peut être assez lourd quand

FS : Pouvez-vous nous parler du détail de la lecture des documents d’Otlet et de la rédaction
de leur description, le passage d’un document « Otletien » à une version numérisée ?



RC : Il faut déjà au minimum avoir un inventaire. Il faut
que les pièces soient numérotées, sinon c’est un peu
difficile de retracer tout le travail. Parfois, ça passe par
une petite phase de restauration parce qu’on a des
documents poussiéreux et quand on scanne ça se voit.
Parfois, on doit faire des mises à plat, pour les journaux
par exemple, parce qu’ils sont pliés dans les boîtes. Ça
prend déjà un petit moment avant de pouvoir les
numériser. Ensuite, on va scanner le document, ça c’est la
partie la plus facile. On le met sur le scanner, on appuie
sur un bouton, presque.
Si c’est un manuscrit, on ne va pas pouvoir océriser. Par
contre, si c’est un document imprimé, là, on va l’océriser
en sachant qu’il va falloir le revérifier par la suite, parce
qu’il y a toujours un pourcentage d’erreur. Par exemple,
dans les journaux, en fonction de la typographie, si vous
avez des mots qui sont un peu effacés avec le temps, il
faut vérifier tout ça. Et puis, on va générer les
métadonnées Dublin Core. L’identifiant, un titre, tout ce
qui concerne les contributeurs : éditeurs, illustrateurs,
imprimeurs etc . c’est une description, c’est une
indexation par mots clefs, c’est une date, c’est une
localisation géographique, si il y en a une. C’est aussi,
faire des liens avec soit des ressources en interne soit des
ressources externes. Donc par exemple, moi si je pense à
une affiche, si elle a été dans une exposition si elle a été
publiée, il faut mettre toutes les références.

From Voor elk boek is een gebruiker:
SVP: Wij scannen op een totaal
andere manier. Bij Google gaat het
om massa-productie. Wij kiezen zelf
voor kleinere projecten. We hebben
een vaste ploeg, twee mensen die
voltijds scannen en beelden
verwerken, maar daarmee begin je
niet aan een project van 250.000
boeken. We doen wel een scan-ondemand of selecteren volledige
collecties. Toen we al onze
2.750.000 fiches enkele jaren
geleden door een externe firma lieten
scannen had ik medelijden met de
meisjes die de hele dag de
invoerscanner bedienden. Hopeloos
From X = Y:
According to the ideal image
described in "Traité", all the tasks of
collecting, translating, distributing,
should be completely automatic,
seemingly without the necessity of
human intervention. However, the
Mundaneum hired dozens of women
to perform these tasks. This humanrun version of the system was not
considered worth mentioning, as if it
was a temporary in-between phase
that should be overcome as soon as
possible, something that was staining
the project with its vulgarity.

SM : La vie de la pièce.
RC : Et faire le lien par exemple vers d’autres fonds, une autre lettre… Donc, vous avez
vraiment tous les liens qui sont là. Et puis, vous avez la description du fichier numérique en
lui-même. Nous on a à chaque fois quatre fichiers numériques : Un fichier RAW, un fichier
Tiff en 300 DPI, un JPEG en 300 DPI et un dernier JPE en 72 DPI, qui sont en fait les
trois formats qu’on utilise le plus. Et puis, là pareil, vous remettez un titre, une date, vous
avez aussi tout ce qui concerne les autorisations, les droits… Pour chaque document il y a
tout ces champs à remplir.
SM : Face à un schéma d’Otlet, on se demandait parfois ce que sont tous ces gribouillons.
On ne comprend pas tout de suite grand chose.
FS : Qui fait la description ? Plusieurs personnes ou quelqu’un qui travaille seul ?

RC : Ça demande quand même une certaine discipline, de la concentration et du temps pour
pouvoir le faire bien.
RC : Généralement c’est quelqu’un seul qui décrit. Là c’est un texte libre, donc c’est encore
assez facile. Maintenant quand vous devez indexer, il faut utiliser des Thesaurus existants, ce
qui n’est pas toujours facile parce que parfois ce sont des contraintes, et que ce n’est pas tout
à fait le vocabulaire que vous avez l’habitude d’utiliser.
SM : On a rencontré une firme, effectivement, quelqu’un qui pensait qu’on allait pouvoir
automatiser la chaîne de description des archives avec la numérisation y compris. Il ne
comprenait pas que c’était une tâche impossible. C’est une tâche humaine. Et franchement,
toute l’expérience qu’on peut avoir par rapport à ça aide énormément. Je ne pense pas, là
maintenant, qu’un cerveau humain puisse être remplacé par une machine dans ce cadre. Je
n’y crois pas.

FS : Votre travail touche très intimement à la pratique d’Otlet même. En fait, dans les
documents que nous avons consultés, nous avons vus plusieurs essais d’indexation, plusieurs
niveaux de systèmes de classement. Comment cela se croise-t-il avec votre travail de
numérisation ? Gardez-vous une trace de ces systèmes déjà projetés sur les documents euxmêmes ?
SM : Je crois qu’il y a deux éléments. Ici, si la question portait sur les étapes de la
numérisation, on part du document lui-même pour arriver à un nommage de fichier et il y a
une description avec plusieurs champs. Si finalement la pièce qui est numérisée, elle a sa
propre vie, sa propre histoire et c’est ça qu’on comprend. Par contre, au départ, on part du
principe que le fond est décrit, il y a un inventaire. On va faire comme si c’était toujours le
cas, ce n’est pas vrai d’ailleurs, ce n’est pas toujours le cas.
Et autre chose, aujourd’hui nous sommes un centre d’archives. Otlet était dans une
conception d’ouverture à la documentation, d’ouverture à l’Encyclopédie, vraiment quelque
chose de très très large. Notre norme de travail c’est d’utiliser la norme de description
générale des archives[5], et c’est une autre contrainte. C’est un gros boulot ça aussi.
On doit pouvoir faire des relations avec d’autres éléments qui se trouvent ailleurs, d’autres
documents, d’autres collections. C’est une lecture, je dirais presque en réseau des documents.
Évidemment c’est intéressant. Mais d’un autre côté, nous sommes archivistes, et c’est pas
qu’on n’aime pas la logique d’Otlet, mais on doit se faire à une discipline qui nous impose
aussi de protéger le patrimoine ici, qui appartient à la Communauté Française et qui donc
doit être décrit de manière normée comme dans les autres centres d’archives.



C’est une différence de dialogues. Pour moi ce n’est pas un détail du tout. Le fait que par
exemple, certains vont se dire « vous ne mettez pas l’indice CDU dans ces champs » ... vous
n’avez d’ailleurs pas encore posé cette question … ?
ADV : Elle allait venir !
SM : Aujourd’hui on ne cherche pas par indice CDU, c’est tout. Nous sommes un centre
d’archives, et je pense que ça a été la chance pour le Mundaneum de pouvoir mettre en
avant la protection de ce patrimoine en tant que tel et de pouvoir l’ériger en tant que
patrimoine réel, important pour la communauté.
RC : En fait la classification décimale n’étant pas une méthode d’indexation standardisée,
elle n’est pas demandée dans ces champs. Pour chaque champ à remplir dans le Dublin
Core, vous avez des normes à utiliser. Par exemple, pour les dates, les pays et la langue vous
avez les normes ISO, et la CDU n’est pas reconnue comme une norme.
Quand je décris dans Pallas, moi je mets l’indice CDU. Parce que les collections
iconographiques sont classées par thématique. Les cartes postales géographiques sont
classées par lieu. Et donc, j’ai à chaque fois l’indice CDU, parce que là, ça a un sens de le
FS : C’est très beau d’entendre cela mais c’est aussi tragique dans un sens. Il y a eu tellement
d’efforts faits à cette époque là pour trouver un standard ...

SM : La question de la légitimité du travail d’Otlet se place sur un débat contemporain qui
est amené sur la gestion des bases de données, en gros. Ça c’est un axe qui est de
communication, ce n’est pas le seul axe de travail de fond dans nos archives. Il faut distinguer
des éléments et la politique de numérisation, je ne suis pas en train de vouloir dire : « Tiens,
on est dans la gestion de méga-données chez nous. »
Nous ne gérons pas de grandes quantités de données. Le Big Data ne nous concerne pas
tout à fait, en terme de données conservées chez nous. Le débat nous intéresse au même titre
que ce débat existait sous une autre forme fin du 19e siècle avec l’avènement de la presse
périodique et la multiplication des titres de journaux ainsi que la diffusion rapide d’une
RC : Le fait d’avoir eu Paul Otlet reconnu comme père de l’internet etcetera, d’avoir pu le
rattacher justement à des éléments actuels, c’était des sujets porteurs pour la communication.
Ça ne veut pas dire que nous ne travaillons que là dessus. Il en a fait beaucoup plus que ça.
C’était un axe porteur, parce qu’on est à l’ère de la numérisation, parce qu’on nous demande

de numériser, de valoriser. On est encore à travailler sur les archives, à dépouiller les
archives, à faire des inventaires et donc on est très très loin de ces réflexions justement Big
Data et tout ça.
FS : Est-il imaginable qu’Otlet ait inventé le World Wide Web ?
SM : Franchement, pour dire les choses platement : C’est impossible, quand on a un regard
historique, d’imaginer qu’Otlet a imaginé… enfin il a imaginé des choses, oui, mais est-ce
que c’est parce que ça existe aujourd’hui qu’on peut dire « il a imaginé ça » ?. C’est ce qu’on
appelle de l’anachronisme en Histoire. Déontologiquement, ce genre de choses un historien
ne peut pas le faire. Quelqu’un d’autre peut se permettre de le faire. Par exemple, en
communication c’est possible. Réduire à des idées simples est aussi possible. C’est même un
avantage de pouvoir le faire. Une idée passera donc mieux.
RC : Il y a des concepts qu’il avait déjà compris.
From Voor elk boek is een gebruiker:
Maintenant, en fonction de l’époque, il n’a pas pu tout
Dus in de 19e eeuw wou Vander
mettre en place mais, il y a des choses qu’il avait
Haeghen een catalogus, en Otlet een
comprises dès le départ. Par exemple, standardiser les
bibliografie. En vandaag heeft Google
alles samen met de volledige tekst
choses pour pouvoir les changer. Ça il le comprend dès
erbij die dan nog op elk woord
le départ, c’est pour ça, la rédaction des fiches, c’est
doorzoekbaar is. Dat is de droom van
standardisé, vous ne pouvez pas rédiger n’importe
zowel Vander Haeghen als Otlet
méér dan verder zetten. Vanuit die
comment. C’est pour ça qu’il développe la CDU, il faut
gedachte zijn wij vanzelfsprekend
un langage qui soit utilisable par tous. Il imagine avec les
meegegaan. We hebben aan de
Google onderhandelaars gevraagd:
moyens de communications qu’il a à l’époque, il imagine
waarom doet Google dit? Het
déjà un moment pouvoir les combiner, sans doute parce
antwoord was: “Because it's in the
qu’il a vu un moment l’évolution des techniques et qu’il
heart of the founders”. Moesten wij de
idealen van Vander Haeghen en
pense pouvoir aller plus loin. Il pense à la
Otlet niet als voorbeeld hebben
dématérialisation quand il utilise des microfilms, il se dit
gehad, dan was er misschien twijfel
« attention la conservation papier, il y a un soucis. Il faut
geweest, maar nu niet.
conserver le contenu et donc il faut le passer sur un autre
support ». D’abord il va essayer sur des plaques
photographiques, il calcule le nombre de pages qu’il peut mettre sur une plaque et voilà. Il
transforme ça en autre support.
Je pense qu’il a imaginé des choses, parce qu’il avait cette envie de communiquer le savoir,
ce n’est pas quelqu’un qui a un moment avait envie de collectionner sans diffuser, non. C’était
toujours dans cette idée de diffuser, de communiquer quelques soient les personnes, quelque
soit le pays. C’est d’ailleurs pour ça qu’il adapte le Musée International, pour que tout le
monde puisse y aller, même ceux qui ne savaient pas lire avaient accès aux salles et
pouvaient comprendre, parce qu’il avait organisé les choses de telles façons. Il imagine à
chaque fois des outils de communication qui vont lui servir pour diffuser ses idées, sa pensée.



Qu’il ait imaginé à un moment donné qu’on puisse lire des choses à l’autre bout du monde ?
Il a du y penser, mais maintenant, techniquement et technologiquement, il n’a pas pu
concevoir. Mais je suis sûre qu’il avait envisagé le concept.

SM : Otlet, à son époque, a par moments réussi à se faire détester par pas mal de gens,
parce qu’il y avait une sorte de confusion au niveau des domaines dans lesquels il exerçait. À
la fois, cette fascination de créer une cité politique qui est la Cité Mondiale, et le fait de
vouloir mélanger les genres, de ne pas être dans une volonté de standardisation avec des
spécialistes, mais aussi une volonté de travailler avec le monde de l’industrie, parce que c’est
ce qu’il a réussi. C’est un réel handicap à cette époque là parce que vous avez une
spécialisation dans tous les domaines de la connaissance et finalement celui qui fait un peu de
tout, il le fait un peu mal moins bien. Dans certains milieux ou après une lecture très
superficielle du travail mené par Otlet, on comprend que le personnage bénéficie d’un a
priori négatif car il a mélangé les genres ou les domaines. Par exemple, Otlet s’est attaqué à
différentes institutions pour leur manque d’originalité en terme de bibliographie. La
Bibliothèque Royale en a fait les frais. Ça peut laisser quelques traces inattendues dans
l’histoire. L’héritage d’Otlet en matière bibliographique n’est pas forcément mis en évidence
dans un lieu tel que la bibliothèque nationale. C’est on le comprend difficile d’imaginer une
institution qui explique certains engagements de manière aussi personnalisée ou
individualisée. On va plutôt parler d’un service et de son histoire dans une période plus
longue. On évite ainsi d’entrer dans des détails tels que ceux-là.
Effectivement, il y a à la fois le Monsieur dans son époque, la vision que les scientifiques vont
en garder aujourd’hui et des académiques. Et puis, il y a la fascination de tout un chacun.
Notre travail à nous, c’est de faire de tout. C’est à la fois de faire en sorte que les archives
soient disponibles pour le tout un chacun, mais aussi que le scientifique qui a envie d’étudier,
dans une perspective positive ou négative, puisse le faire.

FS : Le travail d’Otlet met en relation l’organisation du savoir et de la communication.
Comment votre travail peut-il, dans un centre d’archives qui est aussi un lieu de rencontre et
un musée, être inspiré - ou pas - par cette mission qu’Otlet s’était donné ?
SM : Il y a quand même un chose qui est essentielle, c’est qu’on est pas dans l’Otletaneum
ici, on n’est pas dans la fondation Otlet.

Nous sommes un centre d’archives spécialisé, qui a conservé toutes les archives liées à une
institution. Cette institution était animée par des hommes et des femmes. Et donc, ce qui les
animaient, c’était différentes choses, dont le désir de transmission. Et quand à Otlet, on a
identifié son envie de transmettre et il a imaginé tous les moyens. Il n’était pas ingénieur non
plus, il ne faut pas rire. Et donc, c’est un peu comme Jules Verne, il a rêvé le monde, il a
imaginé des choses différentes, des instruments. Il s’est mis à rêver à certaines choses, à des
applications. C’est un passionné, c’est un innovateur et je pense qu’il a passionné des gens
autour de lui. Mais, autour de lui, il y avait d’autres personnes, notamment Henri La
Fontaine, qui n’est pas moins intéressant. Il y avait aussi le Baron Descamps et d’autres
personnes qui gravitaient autour de cette institution. Il y avait aussi tout un contexte
particulier lié notamment à la sociologie, aux sciences sociales, notamment Solvay, et voilà.
Tout ceux qu’on retrouve et qui ont traversé une quarantaine d’années.
Aujourd’hui, nous sommes un centre d’archives avec des supports différents, avec cette
volonté encyclopédique qu’ils ont eu et qui a été multi supports, et donc l’œuvre phare n’a
pas été uniquement Le Traité de Documentation. C’était intéressant de comprendre sa
genèse avec les visites que vous aviez fait, mais il y d’autres fonds, notamment des fonds liés
au pacifisme, à l’anarchisme et au féminisme. Et aussi tout ce département iconographique
avec ces essais un peu particuliers qui ne sont pas super connus.
Donc on n’est pas dans l’Otletaneum et nous ne sommes pas dans le sanctuaire d’Otlet.
ADV : La question est plutôt : comment s’emparer de sa vision dans votre travail ?
SM : J’avais bien compris la question.
En rendant accessible ses archives, son patrimoine et en participant à la meilleure
compréhension à travers nos efforts de valorisation : des publications, visites guidées mais
aussi le programme d’activités qui permettent de mieux comprendre son travail. Ce travail
s’effectue notamment à travers le label du Patrimoine Européen mais aussi dans le cadre de
Mémoire du Monde[6].
RC : Ce n’est pas parce que Otlet a écrit que La Fontaine n’a pas travaillé sur le projet. Ce
n’était pas du tout les mêmes personnalités.
SM : On est sur des stéréotypes.
ADV : Otlet a tout de même énormément écrit ?
SM : Otlet a beaucoup synthétisé, diffusé et lu. Il a été un formidable catalyseur de son
RC : C’est plutôt perdre la pensée d’Otlet en allant dans un seul sens, parce que lui il voulait
justement brasser des savoirs, diffuser l’ensemble de la connaissance. Pour nous l’objectif



c’est vraiment de pouvoir tout exploiter, tous les sujets, tous les supports, toutes les
thématiques… Quand on dit qu’il a préfiguré internet, c’est juste deux schémas d’Otlet et on
tourne autour de deux schémas depuis 2012, même avant d’ailleurs, ces deux schémas A4.
Ils ne sont pas grands.
SM : Ce qui n’est pas juste non plus, c’est le caractère réducteur par lequel on passe quand
on réduit le Mundaneum à Otlet et qu’on ne réduit Otlet qu’à ça. Et d’un autre côté, ce que
je trouve intéressant aussi, c’est les autres personnalités qui ont décidé de refaire aussi le
monde par la fiche et là, notre idée était évidemment de mettre en évidence toutes ces
personnes et les compositions multiformes de cette institution qui avait beaucoup d’originalité
et pas de s’en tenir à une vision « La Fontaine c’est le prix Nobel de la paix, Otlet c’est
monsieur Internet, Léonie La Fontaine c’est Madame féminisme, Monsieur Hem Day[7] c’est
l’anarchiste … » On ne fait pas l’Histoire comme ça, en créant des catégories.
RC : Je me souviens quand je suis arrivée ici en 2002 : Paul Otlet c’était l’espèce de savant
fou qui avait voulu créer une cité mondiale et qui l’avait proposée à Hitler. Les gens avaient
oublié tout ce qu’il avait fait avant.
Vous avez beaucoup de bibliothèques qui aujourd’hui encore classent au nom de la CDU
mais ils ne savent pas d’où ça vient. Tout ce travail on l’a fait et ça remettait, quand même,
les choses à leur place et on l’a ouvert quand même au public. On a eu des ouvertures avec
des différents publics à partir de ce moment là.
SM : C’est aussi d’avoir une vision globale sur ce que les uns et les autres ont fait et aussi de
ce qu’a été l’institution, ce qui est d’ailleurs l’une des plus grosse difficulté qui existe. C’est de
s’appeler Mundaneum dans l’absolu.
On est le « Mundaneum Centre d’archives » depuis 1993. Mais le Mundaneum c’est une
institution qui nait après la première guerre mondiale, dont le nom est postérieur à l'IIB.
Dans ses gênes, elle est bibliographique et peut-être que ce sont ces différentes notions qu’il
faut essayer d’expliquer aux gens.
Mais c’est quand même formidable de dire que Paul Otlet a inventé internet, pourquoi pas.
C’est une formule et je pense que dans l’absolu la formule marque les gens. Maintenant, il
n’a pas inventé Google. J’ai bien dit Internet.

FS : Qu’est ce que votre collaboration avec Google vous a-t-elle apportée ? Est-ce qu'ils vous
ont aidé à numériser des documents?

RC : C’est nous qui avons numérisé. C’est moi qui met les images en ligne sur Google.
Google n’a rien numérisé.
ADV : Mais donc vous vous transmettez des images et des métadonnées à Google mais le
public n’a pas accès à ces images … ?
RC : Ils ont accès, mais ils ne peuvent pas télécharger.
FS : Les images que vous avez mises sur Google Cultural Institute sont aujourd’hui dans le
domaine public et donc en tant que public, je ne peux pas voir que les images sont libres de
droit, parce qu’elles sont toutes sous la licence standard de Google.
RC : Ils ont mis « Collection de la Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles » à chaque fois. Puisque
ça fait partie des métadonnées qui sont transmises avec l’image.
ADV : Le problème, actuellement, comme il n’y a pas de catalogue en ligne, c’est qu’il n’y a
pas tant d’autres accès. À part quelques images sur numeriques.be, quand on tape « Otlet »
sur un moteur de recherche, on a l’impression que ce n’est que via le Google Cultural Institute
par lequel on a accès et en réalité c’est un accès limité.
SM : C’est donc une impression.
RC : Vous avez aussi des images sur Wikimedia commons. Il y a la même chose que sur
Google Cultural Institute. C’est moi qui les met des deux cotés, je sais ce que je mets. Et là
je suis encore en train d’en uploader dessus, donc allez y. Pour l’instant, c’est de nouveau des
schémas d’Otlet, en tout cas des planches qui sont mises en ligne.
Sur Wikimédia Commons je sais pas importer les métadonnées automatiquement. Enfin
j’importe un fichier et puis je dois entrer les données moi-même. Je ne peux pas importer un
fichier Excel. Dans Google je fais ça, j’importe les images et ça se fait tout seul.
AV : Et vous pouvez pas trouver une collaboration avec les gens de Wikimédia Commons ?
RC : En fait, ils proposent des systèmes d’importations mais qui ne fonctionnent pas ou alors
qui ne fonctionnent pas avec Windows. Et donc, moi je ne vais pas commencer à installer un
PC qui fonctionne avec Linux ou Ubuntu juste pour pouvoir uploader sur Wikimédia.
AV : Mais eux peuvent le faire ?
RC : On a eu la collaboration sur Le traité de Documentation, puisque c’est eux qui ont
travaillés. Ils ont tout retranscrit.
Aussi, il faut dédommager les bénévoles. Ça je peux vous garantir. Ils sont bénévoles jusqu’à
un certain point. Mais si vous leur confiez du travail comme ça … Ils sont bénévoles parce



que quand ils retravaillent des fiches sur Wikipédia, parce que c’est leur truc, ils en ont envie,
c’est leur volonté.
Je ne mets pas plus sur Google Cultural Institute que sur Wikipédia. Je ne favorise pas
Google. Ce qu’il y a sur le Cultural Institute, c’est qu’on a la possibilité de réaliser des
expositions virtuelles et quand j’upload là, c’est parce qu’on a une exposition qui va être faite.
On essaye de faire des expositions virtuelles. C’est vrai que ça fonctionne bien pour nous en
matière de communication pour les archives. Ça, il ne faut pas s’en cacher. J’ai beaucoup de
demandes qui arrivent, des demandes d’images, par ce biais là. Ça nous permet de valoriser
des fonds et des thématiques qu’on ne pourrait pas faire dans l’espace.
On a fait une exposition sur Léonie Lafontaine, qui a permis de mettre en ligne une centaine
de documents liés au féminisme, ça n’avait jamais été fait avant. C’était très intéressant et ça
a eu un bon retour pour les autres expositions aussi. Moi, c’est plutôt comme ça que j’utilise
Google Cultural Institute. Je ne suis pas pro Google mais là, j’ai un outil qui me permet de
valoriser les archives.
ADV : Google serait-il la seule solution pour valoriser vos archives ?
SM : Notre solution c’est d’avoir un logiciel à nous. Pourquoi avoir cette envie d’alimenter
d’autres sites ? Parce qu’on ne l’a pas sur le nôtre. Pour rappel, on travaille pour la
Communauté Française qui est propriétaire des collections et avec laquelle on est
conventionné. Elle ne nous demande pas d’avoir un logiciel externe. Elle demande qu’on ait
notre propre produit aussi. Et c’est là dessus que l’on travaille depuis 2014, pour le
remplacement de Pallas, parce que ça fait des années qu’ils nous disent qu’ils ne vont plus
soutenir. C’est plutôt ça qui nous met dans une situation complètement incompréhensible.
Comment voulez vous qu’on puisse faire transparaître ce que nous avons si on n’a pas un
outil qui permette aux chercheurs, quels qu’ils soient, scientifiques ou non, pour qu’ils
puissent être autonomes dans leur recherches ? Et pour nous, le travail que nous avons fait
en terme d’inventaire et de numérisation, qu’il soit exploitable de manière libre ?
Moi, franchement, je me demande, si cette question et cette vision que vous avez, elle ne se
poserait pas si finalement nous étions déjà sur autre chose que Pallas. On est dans un
inconfort de travail de base.
Je pense aussi que l’information à donner de notre part c’est de dire « il y a tout ceci qui
existe, venez le voir ».
On arrive à sensibiliser aussi sur les collections qu’il y a au centre d’archives et c’est bien,
c’est tout à fait intéressant. Maintenant ce serait bien aussi de franchir une autre étape et
d’éduquer sur l'ouverture au patrimoine. C’est ça aussi notre mission.

Donc Google a sa propre politique. Nous avons mis à disposition quelques expositions et
ceci en est l’intérêt. Mais on a quand même tellement de partenaires différents avec lesquels
on a travaillé. On ne privilégie pas un seul partenaire. Aujourd’hui, certaines firmes viennent
vers nous parce qu’elles ont entendu parler justement plus de Google que du Mundaneum et
en même temps du Mundaneum par l’intermédiaire de Google.
Ce sont des éléments qui nous permettent d’ouvrir peut-être le champ du dialogue avec
d’autres partenaires mais qui ne permettent pas d’aller directement en profondeur dans les
archives, enfin, dans le patrimoine réel que l’on a.
Je veux dire, on aura beau dire qu’on fait autre chose, on ne verra que celui là parce que
Google est un mastodonte et parce que ça parle à tout le monde. On est dans une aire de
communication particulière.
RC : Maintenant la collaboration Google et l’image que vous en avez et bien nous on en
pâtit énormément au niveau des archives. Et encore, parce que souvent les gens nous disent
« mais vous avez un gros mécène »
SM : Ils nous réduisent à ça. Pour la caricature c’est sympa. Pour la réalité moins.
FS : Quand on parle aux gens de l’Université de Gand, c’est clair que leur collaboration avec
Google Books a eu une autre fonction. Ce ne sont que des livres, des objets qui sont scannés
de manière assez brutes. Il n’y a pas de métadonnées complexes, c’est plutôt une question de
SM : La politique de numérisation de l’Université de
Gand, je pense, est plus en lien avec ce que Google
imagine. C’est-à-dire quelle est la plus value que ça leur
apporte de pouvoir travailler à la fois une bibliothèque
universitaire telle que la bibliothèque de l’Université de
Gand, et le fait de l’associer avec le Mundaneum ?
FS : C’est aussi d'autres besoins, un autre type d’accès ?
Dans une bibliothèque les livres sont là pour être lus, j’ai
l’impression que ce n’est pas la même vision pour un
centre d’archives.
SM : C’est bien plus complexe dans d’autres endroits.

From Voor elk boek is een gebruiker:
SVP: Maar ... je kan niet bij Google
gaan aankloppen, Google kiest jou.
Wij hebben wel hun aandacht
gevraagd voor het Mundaneum met
de link tussen Vander Haeghen en
Otlet. Als Google België iets
organiseert, proberen ze ons altijd te
betrekken, omdat wij nu eenmaal een
universiteit zijn. U heeft het
Mundaneum gezien, het is een zeer
mooi archief, maar dat is het ook.
Voor ons zou dat enkel een stuk van
een collectie zijn. Ze worden ook op
een totaal andere manier gesteund
door Google dan wij.

Notre intention en terme de numérisation n’est pas celle
là, et nous ne voyons pas notre action, nous, uniquement
par ce biais là. À Gand, ils ont numérisé des livres. C’est leur choix soutenu par la Région
flamande. De notre côté, nous poursuivons une même volonté d’accès pour le public et les



chercheurs mais avec un matériel un patrimoine, bien différent de livres publiés uniquement !
Le travail avec Google a permis de collaborer plusieurs fois avec l’Université mais nous
l’avions déjà fait avant de se retrouver avec Google sur certaines activités et l’accueil de
conférenciers. Donc, il y a un partenariat avec l’Université gantoise qui est intéressée par
l’histoire d’Otlet, l’histoire des idées mais aussi de l’internationalisme, de l’architecture de la
schématique. C’est d’ailleurs très enrichissant comme réflexion.

FS : J’ai entendu quelqu’un se demander « pourquoi ne pas numériser toutes les fiches
bibliographiques qui sont dans les tiroirs » ?
RC : Ça ne sert à rien. Toutes les fiches ça n’aurait pas de sens. Maintenant, ce serait
intéressant d’en étudier quelques-unes.
Il y avait un réseau aussi autour du répertoire. C’est à dire que si on a autant de fiches, ce
n'est pas seulement parce qu’on a des fiches qui ont été rédigées à Bruxelles, on a des fiches
qui viennent du monde entier. Dans chaque pays il y avait des institutions responsables de
réaliser des bibliographies et de les renvoyer à Bruxelles.
Ça serait intéressant d’avoir un échantillon de toutes ces institutions ou de toutes ces fiches
qui existent. Ça permettrait aussi de retrouver la trace de certaines institutions qui n’existent
plus aujourd’hui. On a quand même eu deux guerres, il y a eu des révolutions etcetera. Ils
ont quand même travaillé avec des institutions russes qui n’existent plus aujourd’hui. Par ce
biais là, on pourrait retrouver leur trace. Même chose pour des ouvrages. Il y a des ouvrages
qui n’existent plus et pour lesquels on pourrait retrouver la trace. Il faut savoir qu’après la
deuxième guerre mondiale, en 46-47, le président du Mundaneum est Léon Losseau. Il est
avocat, il habite Mons, sa maison d’ailleurs est au 37 rue de Nimy, pas très loin. Il collabore
avec le Mundaneum depuis ses débuts et donc vu que les deux fondateurs sont décédés
pendant la guerre, à ce moment là il fait venir l’UNESCO à Bruxelles. Parce qu’on est dans
une phase de reconstruction des bibliothèques, beaucoup de livres ont été détruits et on
essaye de retrouver leur traces. Il leur dit « venez à Bruxelles, nous on a le répertoire de tous
ces bouquins, venez l’utiliser, nous on a le répertoire pour reconstituer toutes les
bibliothèques ».
Donc, tout numériser, non. Mais numériser certaines choses pour montrer le mécanisme de
ce répertoire, sa constitution, les différents répertoires qui existaient dans ce répertoire et de
pouvoir retrouver la trace de certains éléments, oui.
Si on numérise tout, cela permettrait d’avoir un état des lieux des sources d’informations qui
existaient à une époque pour un sujet.
SM : Le cheminement de la pensée.

Il y a des pistes très intéressantes qui vont nous permettre d’atteindre des aspects
protéiformes de l’institution, mais c’est vaste.

FS : Nous étions très touchées par les fiches annotées de la CDU que vous nous avez
montrées la dernière fois que nous sommes venues.
RC : Le travail sur le système lui-même.
SM : C’est fantastique effectivement, avec l’écriture d’Otlet.
SM : Autant on peut dire qu'Otlet est un maître du marketing, autant il utilisait plusieurs
termes pour décrire une même réalité. C’est pour ça que ne s’attacher qu’à sa vision à lui
c’est difficile. Comme classer ses documents, c’est aussi difficile.
ADV : Otlet n’a-t-il pas laissé suffisamment de documentation ? Une documentation qui
explicite ses systèmes de classement ?
RC : Quand on a ouvert les boîtes d'Otlet en 2002, c’était des caisses à bananes non
classées, rien du tout. En fonction de ce qu’on connaissait de l’histoire du Mundaneum à
l’époque on a pu déterminer plus ou moins des frontières et donc on avait l'Institut
international de bibliographie, la CDU, la Cité Mondiale aussi, le Musée International.
SM : Du pacifisme ...
RC : On a appelé ça « Mundapaix » parce qu’on ne savait pas trop comment le mettre dans
l’histoire du Mundaneum, c’était un peu bizarre. Le reste, on l'avait mis de côté parce qu’on
n'était pas en mesure, à ce moment là, de les classer dans ce qu’on connaissait. Puis, au fur
et à mesure qu’on s’est mis à lire les archives, on s’est mis à comprendre des choses, on a
découvert des institutions qui avaient été créées en plus et ça nous a permis d’aller
rechercher ces choses qu’on avait mises de coté.
Il y avait tellement d’institutions qui ont été créées, qui ont pu changer de noms, on ne sait
pas si elles ont existé ou pas. Il faisait une note, il faisait une publication où il annonçait :
« l’office centrale de machin chose » et puis ce n'est même pas sûr qu’il ait existé quelque



Parfois, il reprend la même note mais il change certaines
choses et ainsi de suite … rien que sa numérotation c’est
pas toujours facile. Vous avez l’indice CDU, mais
ensuite, vous avez tout le système « M » c’est la référence
aux manuels du RBU. Donc il faut seulement aller
comprendre comment le manuel du RBU est organisé.
C’est à dire trouver des archives qui correspondent pour
pouvoir comprendre cette classification dans le « M ».
RC : On n’a pas trouvé un moment donné, et on aurait
bien voulu trouver, un dossier avec l’explication de son
classement. Sauf qu’il ne nous l’a pas laissé.
SM : Peut-être qu’il est possible que ça ait existé, et je
me demande comment cette information a été expliquée
aux suivants. Je me demande même si George Lorphèvre
savait, parce qu'il n’a pas pu l’expliquer à Boyd
Rayward. En tout cas, les explications n’ont pas été

From De Indexalist:
"Bij elke verwijzing stond weer een
andere verwijzing, de één nog
interessanter dan de ander. Elk
vormde de top van een piramide van
weer verdere literatuurstudie, zwanger
met de dreiging om af te dwalen. Elk
was een strakgespannen koord dat
indien niet in acht genomen de auteur
in de val van een fout zou lokken, een
vondst al uitgevonden en
From The Indexalist:
“At every reference stood another
reference, each more interesting than
the last. Each the apex of a pyramid
of further reading, pregnant with the
threat of digression, each a thin high
wire which, if not observed might lead
the author into the fall of error, a
finding already found against and
written up.”

L’équipe du Mundaneum a développé une expérience
de plusieurs années et une compréhension sur les archives et leur organisation. Nous avons
par exemple découvert l’existence de fichiers particuliers tels que les fichiers « K ». Ils sont
liés à l’organisation administrative interne. Il a fallu montrer les éléments et archives sur
lesquels nous nous sommes basés pour bien prouver la démarche qui était la nôtre. Certains
documents expliquaient clairement cela. Mais si vous ne les avez jamais vu, c’est difficile de
croire un nouvel élément inconnu !
RC : On n’a pas beaucoup d’informations sur l’origine des collections, c’est-à-dire sur
l’origine des pièces qui sont dans les collections. Par hasard, je vais trouver un tiroir où il est
mis « dons » et à l’intérieur, je ne vais trouver que des fiches écrites à la main comme « dons
de madame une telle de deux drapeaux pour le Musée International » et ainsi de suite.
Il ne nous a pas laissé un manuel à la fin de ses archives et c’est au fur et à mesure qu’on lit
les archives qu’on arrive à faire des liens et à comprendre certains éléments. Aujourd’hui,
faire une base de données idéale, ce n’est pas encore possible, parce qu’il y a encore
beaucoup de choses que nous-mêmes on ne comprend pas. Qu’on doit encore découvrir.
ADV : Serait-il imaginable de produire une documentation issue de votre cheminement dans
la compréhension progressive de cette classification ? Par exemple, des textes enrichis donnant
une perception plus fine, une trace de la recherche. Est-ce que c’est quelque chose qui pourrait
exister ?
RC : Oui, ce serait intéressant.

Par exemple si on prend le répertoire bibliographique. Déjà, il n’y a pas que des références
bibliographiques dedans. Vous avez deux entrées : entrée par matière, entrée par auteur,
donc vous avez le répertoire A et le répertoire B. Si vous regardez les étiquettes, parfois,
vous allez trouver autre chose. Parfois, on a des étiquettes avec « ON ». Vous savez ce que
c’est ? C’est « catalogue collectif des bibliothèque de Belgique ». C’est un travail qu’ils ont
fait à un moment donné. Vous avez les « LDC » les « Bibliothèques collectifs de sociétés
savantes ». Chaque société ayant un numéro, vous avez tout qui est là. Le « K » c’est tout ce
qui est administratif donc à chaque courrier envoyé ou reçu, ils rédigeaient une fiche. On a
des fiches du personnel, on sait au jour le jour qui travaillait et qui a faisait quoi… Et ça, il
ne l’a pas laissé dans les archives.
SM : C’est presque la mémoire vive de l’institution.
On a eu vraiment cette envie de vérifier dans le répertoire cette façon de travailler, le fait
qu’il y ait des informations différentes. Effectivement, c’était un peu avant 2008, qu’on l'a su
et cette information s’est affinée avec des vérifications. Il y a eu des travaux qui ont pu être
faits avec l’identification de séries particulières des dossiers numérotés que Raphaèle a
identifié. Il y avait des correspondances et toute une structuration qu’on a identifié aussi. Ce
sont des sections précises qui ont permis d’améliorer, à la fois la CDU, au départ de faire la
CDU, de faire le répertoire et puis de créer d’autres sections, comme la section féministe,
comme la section chasse et pêche comme la section iconographique. Et donc, par rapport à
ça, je pense qu’il y a vraiment tout un travail qui doit être mis en relation à partir d’une
observation claire, à partir d’une réflexion claire de ce qu’il y a dans le répertoire et dans les
archives. Et ça, c’est un travail qui se fait étape par étape. J’espère qu’on pourra quand
même bien avancer là dessus et donner des indications qui permettront d’aller un peu plus
loin, je ne suis pas sûre qu’on verra le bout.
C’est au moins de transmettre une information, de faire en sorte qu’elle soit utilisable et que
certains documents et ces inventaires soient disponibles, ceux qui existent aujourd’hui. Et que
ça ne se perde pas dans le temps.
FS : Un jour, pensez-vous pouvoir dire « voilà, maintenant c’est fini, on a compris » ?
SM : Je ne suis pas sûre que ce soit si impossible que ça.
Ça dépend de notre volonté et dialogue autour de ces documents. Un dialogue entre les
chercheurs de tout type et l’équipe du Mundaneum enrichit la compréhension. Plus on est
nombreux autour de certains points, plus la compréhension s’élargit. Ça implique bien
entendu une implication de partenaires externes également.
Aujourd’hui on est passé à une politique de numérisation par un matériel, par une
spécialisation du personnel. Et je pense que cette spécialisation nous a permis, depuis des
années, d’aller un peu plus profondément dans les archives et donc de mieux les comprendre.



Il y a un historique que l’on comprend véritablement bien aussi, il ne demande qu’à se
déployer. Il y a à comprendre comment on va pouvoir valoriser cela autour de journées,
autour de publications, autour d’outils qui sont à notre disposition. Et donc, autour de
catalogues en ligne, notamment, et de notre propre catalogue en ligne.

FS : Les méthodes et les standards de documentation changent, l’histoire institutionnelle et les
temps changent, les chercheurs passent… vous avez vécu avec tout ça depuis longtemps. Je
me demande comment le faire transparaître, le faire ressentir?
SM : C’est vrai qu’on aimerait bien pouvoir axer aussi la communication de l’institution sur
ces différents aspects. C’est bien ça notre rêve en fait, ou notre aspiration. Pour l’instant, on
est plutôt en train de se demander comment on va mieux communiquer, sur ce que nous
faisons nous ?
RC : Est-ce que ce serait uniquement en mettant en ligne des documents ? Ou imaginer une
application qui permettrait de les mettre en œuvre? Par exemple, si je prends la
correspondance, moi j’ai lu à peu près 3000 courriers. En les lisant, on se rend vraiment
compte du réseau. C’est-à-dire qu’on se rend compte qu’il a de la correspondance à peu près
partout dans le monde. Que ce soit avec des particuliers, avec des bibliothèques, avec des
universités, avec des entreprises et donc déjà rien qu’avec cet échantillon-là, ça donne une
masse d’informations. Maintenant, si on commence à décrire dans une base de données,
lettre par lettre, je ne suis pas sûre que cela apporte quelque chose. Par contre, si on imagine
une application qui permette de faire ressortir sur une carte à chaque fois le nom des
correspondants, là, ça donne déjà une idée et ça peut vraiment mettre en œuvre toute cette
correspondance. Mais prise seule juste comme ça, est-ce que c’est vraiment intéressant ?
Dans une base de données dite « classique », c’est ça aussi le problème avec nos archives, le
Mundaneum n'étant pas un centre d’archives comme les autres de par ses collections, c’est
parfois difficile de nous adapter à des standards existants.
ADV : Il n’y aurait pas qu’un seul catalogue ou pas une seule manière de montrer les
données. C’est bien ça ?
RC : Si vous allez sur Pallas vous avez la hiérarchie du fond Otlet. Est-ce que ça parle à
quelqu’un, à part quelqu’un qui veut faire une recherche très spécifique ? Mais sinon ça ne
lui permet pas de vraiment visualiser le travail qui a été fait, et même l’ampleur du travail.
Nous, on ne peut pas se conformer à une base de donnée comme ça. Il faut que ça existe
mais ça ne transparaît pas le travail d'Otlet et de La Fontaine. Une vision comme ça, ce n'est
pas Mundaneum.

SM : Il n’y a finalement pas de base de données qui arrive à la cheville de ce qu’ils ont
imaginés en terme de papier. C’est ça qu’il faut imaginer.
FS : Pouvez-vous nous parler de cette vision d’un catalogue possible ? Si vous aviez tout
l’argent et tout le temps du monde ?
SM : On ne dort plus alors, c’est ça ?
Il y a déjà une bonne structure qui est là, et l’idée c’est vraiment de pouvoir lier les
documents, les descriptions. On peut aller plus loin dans les inventaires et numériser les
documents qui sont peut-être les plus intéressants et peut-être les plus uniques. Maintenant,
le rêve serait de numériser tout, mais est-ce que ce serait raisonnable de tout numériser ?
FS : Si tous les documents étaient disponibles en ligne ?
RC : Je pense que ça serait difficile de pouvoir transposer la pensée et le travail d'Otlet et
La Fontaine dans une base de données. C’est à dire, dans une base de données, c’est
souvent une conception très carrée : vous décrivez le fond, la série, le dossier, la pièce. Ici
tout est lié. Par exemple, la collection d’affiches, elle dépend de l’Institut International de
Photographie qui était une section du Mundaneum, c’était la section qui conserve l’image.
Ça veut dire que je dois d’abord comprendre tous les développements qui ont eu lieu avec le
concept de documentation pour ensuite lier tout le reste. Et c’est comme ça pour chaque
collection parce que ce ne sont pas des collections qui sont montées par hasard, elles
dépendaient à chaque fois d’une section spécialisée. Et donc, transposer ça dans une base de
données, je ne sais pas comment on pourrait faire.
Je pense aussi qu’aujourd’hui on n’est pas encore assez loin dans les inventaires et dans toute
la compréhension parce qu’en fait à chaque fois qu’on se plonge dans les archives, on
comprend un peu mieux, on voit un peu plus d’éléments, un peu plus de complexité, pour
vraiment pouvoir lier tout ça.
SM : Effectivement nous n’avons pas encore tout compris, il y a encore tous les petits
offices : office chasse, office pêche et renseignements…
RC : À la fin de sa vie, il va aller vers tout ce qui est standardisation, normalisation. Il va être
membre d’associations qui travaillent sur tout ce qui est norme et ainsi de suite. Il y a cet
aspect là qui est intéressant parce que c’est quand même une grande évolution par rapport au
Avec le Musée International, c’est la muséographie et la muséologie qui sont vraiment une
grosse innovation à l’époque. Il y a déjà des personnes qui s’y sont intéressé mais peut-être
pas suffisamment.



Je rêve de pouvoir reconstituer virtuellement les salles d’expositions du Musée International,
parce que ça devait être incroyable de voyager là dedans. On a des plans, des photos. Même
si on n’a plus d’objets, on a suffisamment d’informations pour pouvoir le faire. Et il serait
intéressant de pouvoir étudier ce genre de salle même pour aujourd’hui, pour la
muséographie d’aujourd’hui, de reprendre exemple sur ce qu’il a fait.
FS : Si on s’imagine le Mundaneum virtuel, vraiment, si on essaye de le reconstruire à partir
des documents, c’est excitant !
SM : On en parle depuis 2010, de ça.
FS : C’est pas du tout comme le scanner hig-tech de Google Art qui passe devant le Mona
Lisa …
SM : Non. C’est un autre travail
FS : Ce n’est pas ça le musée virtuel.
RC : C’est un autre boulot.

1. Logiciel fourni par la Communauté française aux centres d’archives privées. « Pallas permet de décrire, de gérer et de consulter
des documents de différents types (archives, manuscrits, photographies, images, documents de bibliothèques) en tenant compte
des conditions de description spécifiques à chaque type de document. » http://www.brudisc.be/fr/content/logiciel-pallas
2. « Images et histoires des patrimoines numérisés » [1]
3. « Notre mission : On transforme le monde par la culture! Nous voulons construire sur le riche héritage culturel européen et
donner aux gens la possibilité de le réutiliser facilement, pour leur travail, pour leur apprentissage personnel ou tout simplement
pour s’amuser. » http://www.europeana.eu
4. « The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI) supports shared innovation in metadata design and best practices across a
broad range of purposes and business models. » http://dublincore.org/about-us/
5. La norme générale et internationale de description archivistique, ISAD(G) http://www.ica.org/sites/default/files/


6. « L'UNESCO a mis en place le Programme Mémoire du monde en 1992. Cette mise en oeuvre est d'abord née de la prise
de conscience de l'état de préservation alarmant du patrimoine documentaire et de la précarité de son accès dans différentes
régions du monde. » http://www.unesco.org/new/fr/communication-and-information/memory-of-the-


7. Marcel Dieu dit Hem Day

Tomislav Medak & Marcell Mars (Public Library project)

A proposal for a curriculum in amateur librarianship, developed through the
activities and exigencies of the Public Library project. Drawing from a historic
genealogy of public library as the institution of access to knowledge, the
proletarian tradition of really useful knowledge and the amateur agency driven
by technological development, the curriculum covers a range of segments from
immediately applicable workflows for scanning, sharing and using e-books,
over politics and tactics around custodianship of online libraries, to applied
media theory implicit in the practices of amateur librarianship. The proposal is
made with further development, complexification and testing in mind during the
future activities of the Public Library and affiliated organizations.

Public libraries have historically achieved as an institutional space of exemption from the
commodification and privatization of knowledge. A space where works of literature and
science are housed and made accessible for the education of every member of society
regardless of their social or economic status. If, as a liberal narrative has it, education is a
prerequisite for full participation in a body politic, it is in this narrow institutional space that
citizenship finds an important material base for its universal realization.



The library as an institution of public access and popular literacy, however, did not develop
before a series of transformations and social upheavals unfolded in the course of 18th and
19th century. These developments brought about a flood of books and political demands
pushing the library to become embedded in an egalitarian and democratizing political
horizon. The historic backdrop for these developments was the rapid ascendancy of the book
as a mass commodity and the growing importance of the reading culture in the aftermath of
the invention of the movable type print. Having emerged almost in parallel with capitalism, by
the early 18th century the trade in books was rapidly expanding. While in the 15th century
the libraries around the monasteries, courts and universities of Western Europe contained no
more than 5 million manuscripts, the output of printing presses in the 18th century alone
exploded to formidable 700 million volumes.[1] And while this provided a vector for the
emergence of a bourgeois reading public and an unprecedented expansion of modern
science, the culture of reading and Enlightenment remained largely a privilege of the few.
Two social upheavals would start to change that. On 2 November 1789 the French
revolutionary National Assembly passed a decision to seize all library holdings from the
Church and aristocracy. Millions of volumes were transferred to the Bibliothèque Nationale
and local libraries across France. At the same time capitalism was on the rise, particularly in
England. It massively displaced the impoverished rural population into growing urban
centres, propelled the development of industrial production and, by the mid-19th century,
introduced the steam-powered rotary press into the commercial production of books. As
books became more easily 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
After the failed attempt to introduce universal suffrage
and end the system of political representation based on
property entitlements through the Reform Act of 1832,
the English Chartist movement started to open reading
rooms and cooperative lending libraries that would
quickly become a popular hotbed of social exchange
between the lower classes. In the aftermath of the
revolutionary upheavals of 1848, the fearful ruling
classes finally consented to the demand for tax-financed
public libraries, hoping that the access to literature and
edification would after all help educate skilled workers
that were increasingly in demand and ultimately
hegemonize the working class for the benefits of
capitalism's culture of self-interest and competition.[2]

management hierarchies, and national
security issues. Various sets of these
conditions that are at work in a
particular library, also redefine the
notion of publishing and of the
publication, and in turn the notion of

From Bibliothécaire amateur un cours de pédagogie
Puisqu'il était de plus en plus facile de
produire des livres en masse, les
bibliothèques privées payantes, au
service des catégories privilégiées de
la société, ont commencé à se
répandre. Ce phénomène a mis en
relief la question de la classe dans la
demande naissante pour un accès
public aux livres.


It's no surprise that the Chartists, reeling from a political defeat, had started to open reading
rooms and cooperative lending libraries. The education provided to the proletariat and the
poor by the ruling classes of that time consisted, indeed, either of a pious moral edification
serving political pacification or of an inculcation of skills and knowledge useful to the factory
owner. Even the seemingly noble efforts of the Society for the Diffusion of the Useful
Knowledge, a Whig organization aimed at bringing high-brow learning to the middle and
working classes in the form of simplified and inexpensive publications, were aimed at dulling
the edge of radicalism of popular movements.[4]
These efforts to pacify the downtrodden masses pushed them to seek ways of self-organized
education that would provide them with literacy and really useful knowledge – not applied,
but critical knowledge that would allow them to see through their own political and economic
subjection, develop radical politics and innovate shadow social institutions of their own. The
radical education, reliant on meagre resources and time of the working class, developed in the
informal setting of household, neighbourhood and workplace, but also through radical press
and communal reading and discussion groups.[5]
The demand for really useful knowledge encompassed a critique of “all forms of ‘provided’
education” and of the liberal conception “that ‘national education’ was a necessary condition
for the granting of universal suffrage.” Development of radical “curricula and pedagogies”
formed a part of the arsenal of “political strategy as a means of changing the world.”[6]

This is the context of the emergence of the public library. A historical compromise between a
push for radical pedagogy and a response to dull its edge. And yet with the age of
digitization, where one would think that the opportunities for access to knowledge have
expanded immensely, public libraries find themselves increasingly limited in their ability to
acquire and lend both digital and paper editions. It is a sign of our radically unequal times
that the political emancipation finds itself on a defensive fighting again for this material base of
pedagogy against the rising forces of privatization. Not only has mass education become
accessible only under the condition of high fees, student debt and adjunct peonage, but the
useful knowledge that the labour market and reproduction of the neoliberal capitalism
demands has become the one and only rationale for education.



No wonder that over the last 6-7 years we have seen self-education, shadow libraries and
amateur librarians emerge again to counteract the contraction of spaces of exemption that
have been shrunk by austerity and commodity.
The project Public Library was initiated with the counteraction in mind. To help everyone
learn to use simple tools to be able to act as an Amateur Librarian – to digitize, to collect, to
share, to preserve books and articles that were unaffordable, unavailable, undesirable in the
troubled corners of the Earth we hail from.
Amateur Librarian played an important role in the narrative of Public Library. And it seems
it was successful. People easily join the project by 'becoming' a librarian using Calibre[7] and
[let’s share books].[8] Other aspects of the Public Library narrative add a political articulation
to that simple yet disobedient act. Public Library detects an institutional crisis in education,
an economic deadlock of austerity and a domination of commodity logic in the form of
copyright. It conjures up the amateur librarians’ practice of sharing books/catalogues as a
relevant challenge against the convergence of that crisis, deadlock and copyright regime.
To understand the political and technological assumptions and further develop the strategies
that lie behind the counteractions of amateur librarians, we propose a curriculum that is
indebted to a tradition of critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy is a productive and theoretical
practice rejecting an understanding of educational process that reduces it to a technique of
imparting knowledge and a neutral mode of knowledge acquisition. Rather, it sees the
pedagogy as a broader “struggle over knowledge, desire, values, social relations, and, most
important, modes of political agency”, “drawing attention to questions regarding who has
control over the conditions for the production of knowledge.”[9]

No industry in the present demonstrates more the
asymmetries of control over the conditions of production
of knowledge than the academic publishing. The denial
of access to outrageously expensive academic
publications for many universities, particularly in the
Global South, stands in stark contrast to the super-profits
that a small number of commercial publishers draws from
the free labour of scientists who write, review and edit
contributions and the extortive prices their institutional
libraries have to pay for subscriptions. It is thus here that
the amateur librarianship attains its poignancy for a
critical pedagogy, inviting us to closer formulate and
unfold its practices in a shared process of discovery.

Public library is:
• free access to books for every member of society,
• library catalogue,
• librarian.

The curriculum in amateur librarianship develops aspects
and implications of this definition. Parts of this curriculum
have evolved over a number of workshops and talks
previously held within the Public Library project, parts of
it are yet to evolve from a process of future research,
exchange and knowledge production in the education
process. While schematic, scaling from the immediately
practical, over strategic and tactical, to reflexive registers
of knowledge, there are actual – here unnamed – people
and practices we imagine we could be learning from.
The first iteration of this curriculum could be either a
summer academy rostered with our all-star team of
librarians, designers, researchers and teachers, or a small
workshop with a small group of students delving deeper
into one particular aspect of the curriculum. In short it is
an open curriculum: both open to educational process
and contributions by others. We welcome comments,
derivations and additions.

From Bibliothécaire

amateur un cours de pédagogie
Actuellement, aucune industrie ne
montre plus d'asymétries au niveau du
contrôle des conditions de production
de la connaissance que celle de la
publication académique. Refuser
l'accès à des publications
académiques excessivement chères
pour beaucoup d'universités, en
particulier dans l'hémisphère sud,
contraste ostensiblement avec les
profits énormes qu'un petit nombre
d'éditeurs commerciaux tirent du
travail bénévole de scientifiques qui
écrivent, révisent et éditent des
contributions et avec les prix
exorbitants des souscriptions que les
bibliothèques institutionnelles doivent
From Voor elk boek is een
FS: Hoe gaan jullie om met boeken
en publicaties die al vanaf het begin
digitaal zijn? DM: We kopen e-books
en e-tijdschriften en maken die
beschikbaar voor onderzoekers. Maar
dat zijn hele andere omgevingen,
omdat die content niet fysiek binnen
onze muren komt. We kopen toegang
tot servers van uitgevers of de
aggregator. Die content komt nooit bij
ons, die blijft op hun machines staan.
We kunnen daar dus eigenlijk niet
zoveel mee doen, behalve verwijzen
en zorgen dat het evengoed vindbaar
is als de print.



• from book to e-book
◦ digitizing a book on a
book scanner
◦ removing DRM and
converting e-book
• from clutter to catalogue
◦ managing an e-book
library with Calibre
◦ finding e-books and
articles on online
• from reference to bibliography
◦ annotating in an ebook reader device or
◦ creating a scholarly
bibliography in Zotero
• from block device to network device
◦ sharing your e-book
library on a local
network to a reading
◦ sharing your e-book
library on the
internet with [let’s
share books]
• from private to public IP space
◦ using [let’s share
books] &
◦ using logan & jessica
◦ using Science Hub
◦ using Tor

• from developmental subordination to subaltern disobedience
◦ uneven development &
political strategies
◦ strategies of the
developed v strategies
of the
underdeveloped : open
access v piracy
• from property to commons
◦ from property to
◦ copyright, scientific
publishing, open
◦ shadow libraries,
• from collection to collective action
◦ critical pedagogy &
◦ archive, activation &
collective action

• from linear to computational
◦ library &
catalogue, search,
discovery, reference
◦ print book v e-book:
page, margin, spine
• from central to distributed
◦ deep librarianship &
amateur librarians



◦ network infrastructure
(s)/topologies (ruling
class studies)
• from factual to fantastic
◦ universe as library as

• Mars, Marcell; Vladimir, Klemo. Download & How to:
Calibre & [let’s share books]. Memory of the World (2014)
• Buringh, Eltjo; Van Zanden, Jan Luiten. 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 (2009) http://
• Mattern, Shannon. Library as Infrastructure. Places Journal
(2014) https://placesjournal.org/article/library-asinfrastructure/
• Antonić, Voja. Our beloved bookscanner. Memory of the
World (2012) https://www.memoryoftheworld.org/
• Medak, Tomislav; Sekulić, Dubravka; Mertens, An. How to:
Bookscanning. Memory of the World (2014) https://
• Barok, Dusan. Talks/Public Library. Monoskop (2015)
• Custodians.online. In Solidarity with Library Genesis and
Science Hub (2015) http://custodians.online
• Battles, Matthew. Library: An Unquiet History Random
House (2014)
• Harris, Michael H. History of Libraries of the Western World.
Scarecrow Press (1999)
• MayDay Rooms. Activation (2015) http://
• Krajewski, Markus. Paper Machines: About Cards &
Catalogs, 1548-1929. MIT Press (2011) https://

For updates: https://www.zotero.org/groups/amateur_librarian__a_course_in_critical_pedagogy_reading_list

1. 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.
2. For the social history of public library see Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (Random House, 2014) chapter 5:
“Books for all”.
3. For this concept we remain indebted to the curatorial collective What, How and for Whom/WHW, who have presented the
work of Public Library within the exhibition Really Useful Knowledge they organized at Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid,
October 29, 2014 – February 9, 2015.
4. “Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, June 25, 2015, https://


5. Richard Johnson, “Really Useful Knowledge,” in CCCS Selected Working Papers: Volume 1, 1 edition, vol. 1 (London u.a.:
Routledge, 2014), 755.
6. Ibid., 752.
7. http://calibre-ebook.com/
8. https://www.memoryoftheworld.org/blog/2014/10/28/calibre-lets-share-books/
9. Henry A. Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011), 5.



- un
cours de
Tomislav Medak & Marcell Mars (Public Library project)

Proposition de programme d'études de bibliothécaire amateur développé à
travers les activités et les exigences du projet Public Library. Prenant pour
base la généalogie historique de la bibliothèque publique en tant qu'institution
permettant l'accès à la connaissance, la tradition prolétaire de la connaissance
réellement utile et la puissance de l'amateur motivée par le développement
technologique, le programme couvre différents secteurs : depuis les flux de
travail directement applicables comme la numérisation, le partage et l'utilisation
de livres électroniques, à la politique et la tactique de conservation des
bibliothèques en ligne, en passant par la théorie médiatique appliquée qui est
implicite dans les pratiques du bibliothécaire amateur. La proposition est plus
amplement développée, complexifiée et sera testée durant les futures activités
de Public Library et des organisations affiliées.

Historiquement, les bibliothèques publiques sont parvenues à être un espace institutionnel
exempté de la marchandisation et de la privatisation de la connaissance. Un espace dans
lequel les œuvres littéraires et scientifiques sont abritées et rendues accessibles pour
l'éducation de chaque membre de la société, quel que soit son statut social ou économique.
Si, du point de vue libéral, l'éducation est un prérequis à la véritable participation au corps

politique, c'est dans cet espace institutionnel étroit que la citoyenneté trouve une base
matérielle importante à sa réalisation universelle.
Si aujourd'hui elle est une institution d'accès public et de savoir populaire, il a fallu une série
de transformations et de bouleversements sociaux au 18e et 19e siècle pour que la
bibliothèque se développe. Ces développements ont provoqué l'arrivée d'un flot de livres et
d'exigences politiques qui ont encouragé la bibliothèque à s'intégrer dans un horizon politique
démocratisant et égalitaire. En toile de fond historique de ces développements, il y eut
l'ascendance rapide du livre en tant que commodité de masse et l'importance croissante de la
culture de la lecture suite à l'invention des caractères d'imprimerie mobiles. Ayant émergé à
la même époque que le capitalisme, au début du 18e siècle le commerce des livres, était en
pleine expansion. Alors qu'au 15e siècle, en Europe occidentale, les bibliothèques qui se
trouvaient autour des monastères, des tribunaux et des universités ne contenaient pas plus de
cinq millions de manuscrits, la production de l'imprimerie a atteint 700 millions de volumes,
et ce, au 18e siècle seulement.[1] Et alors que cela a offert un vecteur à l'émergence d'un
public de lecteurs bourgeois et contribué à une expansion sans précédent de la science
moderne, la culture de la lecture et des Lumières restait alors principalement le privilège
d'une minorité.
Deux bouleversements sociaux allaient commencer à changer cela. Le 2 novembre 1789,
l'Assemblée nationale de la Révolution française a approuvé la saisie de tous les biens
bibliothécaires de l'Église et de l'aristocratie. Des millions de volumes ont été transférés à la
Bibliothèque Nationale ainsi qu'aux bibliothèques régionales, à travers la France. Au même
moment, le capitalisme progressait, en particulier en Angleterre. Ce mouvement a
massivement déplacé une population rurale pauvre dans les centres urbains en pleine
croissance et propulsé le développement de la production industrielle. À la moitié du 19e
siècle, il a également a introduit la presse typographique à vapeur dans la production
commerciale de livres. Puisqu'il était de plus en plus facile de produire des livres en masse,
les bibliothèques privées payantes, au service des
catégories privilégiées de la société, ont commencé à se
répandre. Ce phénomène a mis en relief la question de la
classe dans la demande naissante pour un accès public
aux livres.
Après une tentative ratée d'introduction du suffrage
universel en vue d'en finir avec le système de
représentation politique basée sur les droits de propriété à
travers l'Acte de réforme de 1832, le mouvement anglais
du chartisme a commencé à ouvrir des salles de lectures
et des bibliothèques de prêts coopératifs qui allaient
bientôt devenir un foyer pour l'échange social entre les
classes populaires. Suite aux mouvements
révolutionnaires de 1848, les classes dirigeantes



apeurées ont fini par accepter de répondre à la demande qui réclamait des librairies financées
par l'argent public. Elles espéraient qu'un accès à la littérature et à l'édification favoriserait
l'éducation des travailleurs qualifiés qui étaient de plus en plus en demande, mais
souhaitaient aussi maintenir l'hégémonie sur la classe ouvrière au profit de la culture du
capitalisme, de l'intérêt personnel et de la compétition.[2]

Sans surprise, les chartistes, qui s'étaient retrouvés chancelants après une défaite politique,
avaient commencé à ouvrir des salles de lecture et des bibliothèques de prêts coopératifs. En
effet, à l'époque, l'éducation proposée au prolétariat et aux pauvres par les classes dirigeantes
consistait, soit à une édification morale pieuse au service de la pacification politique, soit à
l'inculcation de qualifications ou de connaissances qui seraient utiles au propriétaire de
l'usine. Même les efforts aux allures nobles de la Society for the Diffusion of the Useful
Knowledge, une organisation du parti whig cherchant à apporter un apprentissage intellectuel
à la classe ouvrière et à la classe moyenne sous la forme de publications bon marché et
simplifiées, avaient pour objectif l'atténuation de la tendance radicale des mouvements
Ces efforts de pacification des masses opprimées les ont poussées à chercher des manières
d'organiser par elles-mêmes une éducation qui leur apporterait l'alphabétisation et une
connaissance réellement utile : une connaissance non pas appliquée, mais critique qui leur
permettrait de voir à travers leur propre soumission politique et économique, de développer
une politique radicale et d'innover leurs propres institutions sociales d'opposition. L'éducation
radicale, dépendante du peu de ressources et du manque de temps de la classe ouvrière, s'est
développée dans les cadres informels des foyers, des quartiers et des lieux de travail, mais
également à travers une presse radicale, une lecture commune et des groupes de discussion.[5]
La demande pour une connaissance réellement utile comprenait une critique de « toute
forme d'éducation “fournie” » et de la conception libérale selon laquelle « une “éducation
nationale” était une condition nécessaire à la garantie du suffrage universel ». Un
développement de « programmes et de pédagogies » radicaux constituait une part de l'arsenal
de « stratégie politique comme moyen de changer le monde »[6]

L'émergence de la bibliothèque publique a donc eu lieu dans le contexte d'un compromis
historique entre la formation des fondements d'une pédagogie radicale et une réaction visant
à l'atténuer. Pourtant, à l'âge de la numérisation dans lequel nous pourrions penser que les
opportunités pour un accès à la connaissance se sont largement étendues, les bibliothèques

publiques se retrouvent particulièrement limitées dans leurs possibilités d'acquérir et de prêter
des éditions aussi bien sous une forme papier que numérique. Cette difficulté est un signe de
l'inégalité radicale de notre époque : une fois encore, l'émancipation politique se bat de
manière défensive pour une base matérielle pédagogique contre les forces croissantes de la
privatisation. Non seulement l'éducation de masse est devenue accessible à prix d'or
uniquement, entrainant la dette étudiante et la servitude qui y est associée, mais la
connaissance utile exigée par le marché du travail et la reproduction du capitalisme néolibéral
sont devenues la seule logique de l'éducation.
Sans surprise, au cours des six-sept dernières années, nous avons vu l'apprentissage
autodidacte, les bibliothèques de l'ombre et les bibliothécaires amateurs émerger pour contrer
la contraction des espaces d'exemption réduits par l'austérité et la commodification. Le projet
Public Library a été initié dans l'idée de contrer ce phénomène. Pour aider tout le monde à
apprendre l'utilisation d'outils simples permettant d'agir en tant qu'Amateur Librarian :
numériser, rassembler, partager, préserver des livres, des articles onéreux, introuvables ou
indésirables dans les coins mouvementés de notre planète.
Amateur Librarian a joué un rôle important dans le système narratif de Public Library. Un
rôle qui semble avoir porté ses fruits. Les gens rejoignent facilement le projet en « devenant »
bibliothécaire grâce à l'outil Calibre[7] et [let’s share books].[8] D'autres aspects du narratif de
Public Library ajoutent une articulation politique à cet acte simple, mais désobéissant. Public
Library perçoit une crise institutionnelle dans l'éducation, une impasse économique
d'austérité et une domination de la logique de commodité sous la forme du droit d'auteur.
Elle fait apparaitre la pratique du partage de livres et de catalogues des bibliothécaires
amateurs comme un défi pertinent à l'encontre de la convergence de cette crise, de cette
impasse et du régime du droit d'auteur.
Pour comprendre les hypothèses politiques et technologiques et développer plus en
profondeur les stratégies sur lesquelles les réactions des bibliothécaires amateurs se basent,
nous proposons un programme issu de la tradition pédagogique critique. La pédagogie
critique est une pratique productive et théorique qui rejette la définition du procédé
éducationnel comme réduit à une simple technique de communication de la connaissance et
présentée comme un mode d'acquisition neutre. Au contraire, la pédagogie est perçue plus
largement comme « une lutte pour la connaissance, le désir, les valeurs, les relations sociales,
et plus important encore, les modes d'institution politique », « une attention portée aux
questions relatives au contrôle des conditions de production de la connaissance. »[9]



Actuellement, aucune industrie ne montre plus
d'asymétries au niveau du contrôle des conditions de
production de la connaissance que celle de la publication
académique. Refuser l'accès à des publications
académiques excessivement chères pour beaucoup
d'universités, en particulier dans l'hémisphère sud,
contraste ostensiblement avec les profits énormes qu'un
petit nombre d'éditeurs commerciaux tirent du travail
bénévole de scientifiques qui écrivent, révisent et éditent
des contributions et avec les prix exorbitants des
souscriptions que les bibliothèques institutionnelles
doivent payer. C'est donc ici que la bibliothèque amateur
atteint le sommet de son intensité en matière de
pédagogie critique : elle nous invite à formuler et à narrer
plus précisément sa pratique à travers un processus
partagé de découverte.

Une bibliothèque publique, c'est :
• un libre accès aux livres pour tous les membres de la
• un catalogue de bibliothèque,
• un bibliothécaire.

From Amateur

Librarian - A
Course in Critical Pedagogy:
No industry in the present
demonstrates more the asymmetries of
control over the conditions of
production of knowledge than the
academic publishing. The denial of
access to outrageously expensive
academic publications for many
universities, particularly in the Global
South, stands in stark contrast to the
super-profits that a small number of
commercial publishers draws from the
free labour of scientists who write,
review and edit contributions and the
extortive prices their institutional
libraries have to pay for subscriptions.
From Voor elk boek is een
FS: Hoe gaan jullie om met boeken
en publicaties die al vanaf het begin
digitaal zijn? DM: We kopen e-books
en e-tijdschriften en maken die
beschikbaar voor onderzoekers. Maar
dat zijn hele andere omgevingen,
omdat die content niet fysiek binnen
onze muren komt. We kopen toegang
tot servers van uitgevers of de
aggregator. Die content komt nooit bij
ons, die blijft op hun machines staan.
We kunnen daar dus eigenlijk niet
zoveel mee doen, behalve verwijzen
en zorgen dat het evengoed vindbaar
is als de print.

Le programme de bibliothécaire amateur développe
plusieurs aspects et implications d'une telle définition.
Certaines parties du programme ont été construites à
partir de différents ateliers et exposés qui se déroulaient précédemment dans le cadre du
projet Public Library. Certaines parties de ce programme doivent encore évoluer s'appuyant
sur un processus de recherche futur, d'échange et de production de connaissance dans le
processus éducatif. Tout en restant schématique en allant de la pratique immédiate, à la
stratégie, la tactique et au registre réflectif de la
connaissance, il existe des personnes et pratiques - non
citées ici - desquelles nous imaginons pouvoir apprendre.
La première itération de ce programme pourrait aussi
bien être une académie d'été avec notre équipe
sélectionnée de bibliothécaires, concepteurs, chercheurs,
professeurs, qu'un petit atelier avec un groupe restreint
d'étudiants se plongeant dans un aspect précis du
programme. En résumé, ce programme est ouvert, aussi

bien au processus éducationnel qu'aux contributions des autres. Nous sommes ouverts aux
commentaires, aux dérivations et aux ajouts.
• du livre au livre électronique
◦ numériser un livre
avec un scanner de
◦ supprimer la gestion
des droits numériques
et convertir au format
livre numérique
• du désordre au catalogue
◦ gérer une bibliothèque
de livres numériques
avec Calibre
◦ trouver des livres
numériques et des
articles dans des
bibliothèques en ligne
• de la référence à la bibliographie
◦ annoter à partir d'une
application ou d'un
appareil de lecture de
livres électroniques
◦ créer une
académique sur Zotero
• du dispositif de bloc au périphérique réseau
◦ partager votre
bibliothèque de livres
numériques d'un
périphérique local à
un appareil de lecture
◦ partager votre
bibliothèque de livres
numériques sur
internet avec [let’s
share books]



• de l'espace IP privé à l'espace IP public
◦ utiliser [let’s share
books] et
◦ utiliser logan &
◦ utiliser Science Hub
◦ utiliser Tor

• du développement de la subordination à la désobéissance
◦ développement inégal
et stratégies
◦ stratégies de
développement contre
les stratégies de sous
développement : accès
ouvert contre piratage
• de la propriété au commun
◦ de la propriété au
◦ droit d'auteur,
scientifique, accès
◦ bibliothèque de
l'ombre, piratage,
• de la collection à l'action collective
◦ pédagogie critique et
◦ archive, activation et
action collective

• du linéaire à l'informatique
◦ bibliothèque

◦ livre imprimé et livre
numérique : page,
marge, dos
• du central au distribué
◦ bibliothécaires
professionnels et
◦ infrastructure(s) de
(études des classes
• du factuel au fantastique
◦ l'univers pour
bibliothèque, la
bibliothèque pour

• Mars, Marcell; Vladimir, Klemo. Download & How to:
Calibre & [let’s share books]. Memory of the World (2014)
• Buringh, Eltjo; Van Zanden, Jan Luiten. 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 (2009) http://
• Mattern, Shannon. Library as Infrastructure. Places Journal
(2014) https://placesjournal.org/article/library-asinfrastructure/
• Antonić, Voja. Our beloved bookscanner. Memory of the
World (2012) https://www.memoryoftheworld.org/
• Medak, Tomislav; Sekulić, Dubravka; Mertens, An. How to:
Bookscanning. Memory of the World (2014) https://
• Barok, Dusan. Talks/Public Library. Monoskop (2015)
• Custodians.online. In Solidarity with Library Genesis and
Science Hub (2015) http://custodians.online



• Battles, Matthew. Library: An Unquiet History Random
House (2014)
• Harris, Michael H. History of Libraries of the Western World.
Scarecrow Press (1999)
• MayDay Rooms. Activation (2015) http://
• Krajewski, Markus. Paper Machines: About Cards &
Catalogs, 1548-1929. MIT Press (2011) https://

Dernière version: https://www.zotero.org/groups/amateur_librarian__a_course_in_critical_pedagogy_reading_list

1. 1. Pour une histoire économique du livre en Europe occidentale, voir Eltjo Buringh et 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, n°. 02 (juin 2009) : 409–45, doi :10.1017/S0022050709000837, en
particulier les tableaux 1-5.
2. 2. Pour une histoire sociale de la bibliothèque publique, voir Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (Random House,
2014) chapitre 5 : “Books for all”.
3. 3. Pour ce concept, nous sommes redevables au collectif de curateurs What, How and for Whom/WHW, qui a présenté le
travail de Public Library dans le cadre de l'exposition Really Useful Knowledge qu'ils ont organisée au Museo Reina Sofía à
Madrid, entre 29 octobre 2014 et le 9 février 2015.
4. 4. « Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, » Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Juin 25, 2015, https://


5. 5. Richard Johnson, « Really Useful Knowledge, » dans CCCS Selected Working Papers: Volume 1, 1 édition, vol. 1
(Londres u.a. : Routledge, 2014), 755.
6. Ibid., 752.
7. http://calibre-ebook.com/
8. https://www.memoryoftheworld.org/blog/2014/10/28/calibre-lets-share-books/
9. Henry A. Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011), 5.

A bag
but is
of words
(language is nothing but a bag of words)

In text indexing and other machine reading applications the term "bag of
words" is frequently used to underscore how processing algorithms often
represent text using a data structure (word histograms or weighted vectors)
where the original order of the words in sentence form is stripped away. While
"bag of words" might well serve as a cautionary reminder to programmers of
the essential violence perpetrated to a text and a call to critically question the
efficacy of methods based on subsequent transformations, the expression's use
seems in practice more like a badge of pride or a schoolyard taunt that would
go: Hey language: you're nothin' but a big BAG-OF-WORDS.

In information retrieval and other so-called machine-reading applications (such as text
indexing for web search engines) the term "bag of words" is used to underscore how in the
course of processing a text the original order of the words in sentence form is stripped away.
The resulting representation is then a collection of each unique word used in the text,
typically weighted by the number of times the word occurs.
Bag of words, also known as word histograms or weighted term vectors, are a standard part
of the data engineer's toolkit. But why such a drastic transformation? The utility of "bag of
words" is in how it makes text amenable to code, first in that it's very straightforward to
implement the translation from a text document to a bag of words representation. More



significantly, this transformation then opens up a wide collection of tools and techniques for
further transformation and analysis purposes. For instance, a number of libraries available in
the booming field of "data sciences" work with "high dimension" vectors; bag of words is a
way to transform a written document into a mathematical vector where each "dimension"
corresponds to the (relative) quantity of each unique word. While physically unimaginable
and abstract (imagine each of Shakespeare's works as points in a 14 million dimensional
space), from a formal mathematical perspective, it's quite a comfortable idea, and many
complementary techniques (such as principle component analysis) exist to reduce the
resulting complexity.
What's striking about a bag of words representation, given is centrality in so many text
retrieval application is its irreversibility. Given a bag of words representation of a text and
faced with the task of producing the original text would require in essence the "brain" of a
writer to recompose sentences, working with the patience of a devoted cryptogram puzzler to
draw from the precise stock of available words. While "bag of words" might well serve as a
cautionary reminder to programmers of the essential violence perpetrated to a text and a call
to critically question the efficacy of methods based on subsequent transformations, the
expressions use seems in practice more like a badge of pride or a schoolyard taunt that would
go: Hey language: you're nothing but a big BAG-OF-WORDS. Following this spirit of the
term, "bag of words" celebrates a perfunctory step of "breaking" a text into a purer form
amenable to computation, to stripping language of its silly redundant repetitions and foolishly
contrived stylistic phrasings to reveal a purer inner essence.

Lieber's Standard Telegraphic Code, first published in 1896 and republished in various
updated editions through the early 1900s, is an example of one of several competing systems
of telegraph code books. The idea was for both senders and receivers of telegraph messages
to use the books to translate their messages into a sequence of code words which can then be
sent for less money as telegraph messages were paid by the word. In the front of the book, a
list of examples gives a sampling of how messages like: "Have bought for your account 400
bales of cotton, March delivery, at 8.34" can be conveyed by a telegram with the message
"Ciotola, Delaboravi". In each case the reduction of number of transmitted words is
highlighted to underscore the efficacy of the method. Like a dictionary or thesaurus, the book
is primarily organized around key words, such as act, advice, affairs, bags, bail, and bales,
under which exhaustive lists of useful phrases involving the corresponding word are provided
in the main pages of the volume. [1]





[...] my focus in this chapter is on the inscription technology that grew parasitically
alongside the monopolistic pricing strategies of telegraph companies: telegraph code
books. Constructed under the bywords “economy,” “secrecy,” and “simplicity,”

telegraph code books matched phrases and words with code letters or numbers. The
idea was to use a single code word instead of an entire phrase, thus saving money by
serving as an information compression technology. Generally economy won out over
secrecy, but in specialized cases, secrecy was also important.

In Katherine Hayles' chapter devoted to telegraph code books she observes how:
The interaction between code and language shows a steady movement away from a
human-centric view of code toward a machine-centric view, thus anticipating the
development of full-fledged machine codes with the digital computer.

Aspects of this transitional moment are apparent in a notice included prominently inserted in
the Lieber's code book:
After July, 1904, all combinations of letters that do not exceed ten will pass as one
cipher word, provided that it is pronounceable, or that it is taken from the following
languages: English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese or Latin -[4]
International Telegraphic Conference, July 1903

Conforming to international conventions regulating telegraph communication at that time, the
stipulation that code words be actual words drawn from a variety of European languages
(many of Lieber's code words are indeed arbitrary Dutch, German, and Spanish words)



underscores this particular moment of transition as reference to the human body in the form
of "pronounceable" speech from representative languages begins to yield to the inherent
potential for arbitrariness in digital representation.
What telegraph code books do is remind us of is the relation of language in general to
economy. Whether they may be economies of memory, attention, costs paid to a
telecommunicatons company, or in terms of computer processing time or storage space,
encoding language or knowledge in any form of writing is a form of shorthand and always
involves an interplay with what one expects to perform or "get out" of the resulting encoding.
Along with the invention of telegraphic codes comes a paradox that John Guillory has
noted: code can be used both to clarify and occlude. Among the sedimented structures
in the technological unconscious is the dream of a universal language. Uniting the
world in networks of communication that flashed faster than ever before, telegraphy
was particularly suited to the idea that intercultural communication could become
almost effortless. In this utopian vision, the effects of continuous reciprocal causality
expand to global proportions capable of radically transforming the conditions of human
life. That these dreams were never realized seems, in retrospect, inevitable.



Far from providing a universal system of encoding messages in the English language,
Lieber's code is quite clearly designed for the particular needs and conditions of its use. In
addition to the phrases ordered by keywords, the book includes a number of tables of terms
for specialized use. One table lists a set of words used to describe all possible permutations of
numeric grades of coffee (Choliam = 3,4, Choliambos = 3,4,5, Choliba = 4,5, etc.); another
table lists pairs of code words to express the respective daily rise or fall of the price of coffee
at the port of Le Havre in increments of a quarter of a Franc per 50 kilos ("Chirriado =
prices have advanced 1 1/4 francs"). From an archaeological perspective, the Lieber's code
book reveals a cross section of the needs and desires of early 20th century business
communication between the United States and its trading partners.
The advertisements lining the Liebers Code book further situate its use and that of
commercial telegraphy. Among the many advertisements for banking and law services, office
equipment, and alcohol are several ads for gun powder and explosives, drilling equipment
and metallurgic services all with specific applications to mining. Extending telegraphy's
formative role for ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communication for reasons of safety,
commercial telegraphy extended this network of communication to include those parties
coordinating the "raw materials" being mined, grown, or otherwise extracted from overseas
sources and shipped back for sale.

Tim Berners-Lee: [...] Make a beautiful website, but
first give us the unadulterated data, we want the data.
We want unadulterated data. OK, we have to ask for
raw data now. And I'm going to ask you to practice
that, OK? Can you say "raw"?
Audience: Raw.
Tim Berners-Lee: Can you say "data"?
Audience: Data.
TBL: Can you say "now"?
Audience: Now!
TBL: Alright, "raw data now"!

From La ville intelligente - Ville de la
Étant donné que les nouvelles formes
modernistes et l'utilisation de
matériaux propageaient l'abondance
d'éléments décoratifs, Paul Otlet
croyait en la possibilité du langage
comme modèle de « données brutes »,
le réduisant aux informations
essentielles et aux faits sans ambiguïté,
tout en se débarrassant de tous les
éléments inefficaces et subjectifs.
From The Smart City - City of
As new modernist forms and use of
materials propagated the abundance
of decorative elements, Otlet believed
in the possibility of language as a
model of 'raw data', reducing it to
essential information and
unambiguous facts, while removing all
inefficient assets of ambiguity or

So, we're at the stage now where we have to do this -the people who think it's a great idea. And all the
people -- and I think there's a lot of people at TED
who do things because -- even though there's not an
immediate return on the investment because it will only really pay off when everybody
else has done it -- they'll do it because they're the sort of person who just does things
which would be good if everybody else did them. OK, so it's called linked data. I want
you to make it. I want you to demand it.

As graduate students at Stanford, Sergey Brin and Lawrence (Larry) Page had an early
interest in producing "structured data" from the "unstructured" web. [7]
The World Wide Web provides a vast source of information of almost all types,
ranging from DNA databases to resumes to lists of favorite restaurants. However, this
information is often scattered among many web servers and hosts, using many different
formats. If these chunks of information could be extracted from the World Wide Web
and integrated into a structured form, they would form an unprecedented source of
information. It would include the largest international directory of people, the largest
and most diverse databases of products, the greatest bibliography of academic works,
and many other useful resources. [...]



2.1 The Problem
Here we define our problem more formally:
Let D be a large database of unstructured information such as the World Wide Web

In a paper titled Dynamic Data Mining Brin and Page situate their research looking for rules
(statistical correlations) between words used in web pages. The "baskets" they mention stem
from the origins of "market basket" techniques developed to find correlations between the
items recorded in the purchase receipts of supermarket customers. In their case, they deal
with web pages rather than shopping baskets, and words instead of purchases. In transitioning
to the much larger scale of the web, they describe the usefulness of their research in terms of
its computational economy, that is the ability to tackle the scale of the web and still perform
using contemporary computing power completing its task in a reasonably short amount of
A traditional algorithm could not compute the large itemsets in the lifetime of the
universe. [...] Yet many data sets are difficult to mine because they have many
frequently occurring items, complex relationships between the items, and a large
number of items per basket. In this paper we experiment with word usage in documents
on the World Wide Web (see Section 4.2 for details about this data set). This data set
is fundamentally different from a supermarket data set. Each document has roughly
150 distinct words on average, as compared to roughly 10 items for cash register
transactions. We restrict ourselves to a subset of about 24 million documents from the
web. This set of documents contains over 14 million distinct words, with tens of
thousands of them occurring above a reasonable support threshold. Very many sets of
these words are highly correlated and occur often.

In programming, I've encountered a recurring "problem" that's quite symptomatic. It goes
something like this: you (the programmer) have managed to cobble out a lovely "content
management system" (either from scratch, or using any number of helpful frameworks)
where your user can enter some "items" into a database, for instance to store bookmarks.
After this ordered items are automatically presented in list form (say on a web page). The
author: It's great, except... could this bookmark come before that one? The problem stems
from the fact that the database ordering (a core functionality provided by any database)
somehow applies a sorting logic that's almost but not quite right. A typical example is the
sorting of names where details (where to place a name that starts with a Norwegian "Ø" for
instance), are language-specific, and when a mixture of languages occurs, no single ordering
is necessarily "correct". The (often) exascerbated programmer might hastily add an
additional database field so that each item can also have an "order" (perhaps in the form of a
date or some other kind of (alpha)numerical "sorting" value) to be used to correctly order
the resulting list. Now the author has a means, awkward and indirect but workable, to control

the order of the presented data on the start page. But one might well ask, why not just edit
the resulting listing as a document? Not possible! Contemporary content management
systems are based on a data flow from a "pure" source of a database, through controlling
code and templates to produce a document as a result. The document isn't the data, it's the
end result of an irreversible process. This problem, in this and many variants, is widespread
and reveals an essential backwardness that a particular "computer scientist" mindset relating
to what constitutes "data" and in particular it's relationship to order that makes what might be
a straightforward question of editing a document into an over-engineered database.
Recently working with Nikolaos Vogiatzis whose research explores playful and radically
subjective alternatives to the list, Vogiatzis was struck by how from the earliest specifications
of HTML (still valid today) have separate elements (OL and UL) for "ordered" and
"unordered" lists.
The representation of the list is not defined here, but a bulleted list for unordered lists,
and a sequence of numbered paragraphs for an ordered list would be quite appropriate.
Other possibilities for interactive display include embedded scrollable browse panels.

Vogiatzis' surprise lay in the idea of a list ever being considered "unordered" (or in
opposition to the language used in the specification, for order to ever be considered
"insignificant"). Indeed in its suggested representation, still followed by modern web
browsers, the only difference between the two visually is that UL items are preceded by a
bullet symbol, while OL items are numbered.
The idea of ordering runs deep in programming practice where essentially different data
structures are employed depending on whether order is to be maintained. The indexes of a
"hash" table, for instance (also known as an associative array), are ordered in an
unpredictable way governed by a representation's particular implementation. This data
structure, extremely prevalent in contemporary programming practice sacrifices order to offer
other kinds of efficiency (fast text-based retrieval for instance).

In announcing Google's impending data center in Mons, Belgian prime minister Di Rupo
invoked the link between the history of the mining industry in the region and the present and
future interest in "data mining" as practiced by IT companies such as Google.
Whether speaking of bales of cotton, barrels of oil, or bags of words, what links these subjects
is the way in which the notion of "raw material" obscures the labor and power structures
employed to secure them. "Raw" is always relative: "purity" depends on processes of
"refinement" that typically carry social/ecological impact.



Stripping language of order is an act of "disembodiment", detaching it from the acts of writing
and reading. The shift from (human) reading to machine reading involves a shift of
responsibility from the individual human body to the obscured responsibilities and seemingly
inevitable forces of the "machine", be it the machine of a market or the machine of an
The computer scientists' view of textual content as
"unstructured", be it in a webpage or the OCR scanned
pages of a book, reflect a negligence to the processes and
labor of writing, editing, design, layout, typesetting, and
eventually publishing, collecting and cataloging [11].

From X = Y:
Still, it is reassuring to know that the
products hold traces of the work, that
even with the progressive removal of
human signs in automated processes,
the workers' presence never
disappears completely.