Where do we go from here?
This is the first in a series of a few posts about what I want PubPub to be. I’m trying to keep them short so that there will be more of them, and sooner.
PubPub aims to express a wide variety of content with a handful of nouns: Communities, Collections, Pages, Pubs, and Connections. Part of our pitch is that if you can recast your work in these terms, our platform can replace a small or large part of your current publishing stack, with room to grow and adapt as your work evolves. We might even hope that our users and their work will benefit subtly from this “language acquisition” process. The English and Mandarin words for patience or convenient point to overlapping but recognizably distinct conceptual spaces, and knowing them both provides a parallax view of what the concept really is. Knowing the “traditional publishing” or field-specific lingo and PubPub-ese for a work may help clarify that it’s a book, or that it’s a Collection, but really, it’s a thing unto itself.
The work of improving PubPub often involves making our nouns more powerful, and rarely involves introducing new ones. This strengthens the PubPub pitch: if you know what a Collection is, you’re already halfway to understanding how to run a submissions process on our platform. I like this way of working, and it’s clear that the people who use PubPub like it too. But it’s been helpful to define and describe this stance when thinking about two big challenges for the platform’s long-term viability, which I am calling on-ramps and up-ramps1:
On-ramps help bring people into PubPub by meeting them where they currently are. Funders, customers, and users have pre-existing and totally valid languages that they use to describe publishing, and they want to know if PubPub can meet their needs. Often the answer is “yes, but you must reformulate your needs using our nouns”. We would be happier saying “yes, we have a content template that’s ready-made for your needs” and doing that in good conscience.
Up-ramps are where that good conscience comes from: knowing that by onboarding users to PubPub we aren’t locking them into their current understanding of their work, nor ours. Ideally, there’s a wink-nudge reveal that intermediate users encounter: their “book” or “journal” is actually a composition of PubPub-native building blocks that become visible to users at the moment they might feel ready to work with them directly. But to the extent possible, our goal should be to avoid re-calcifying their work into the language of Communities, Collections, and Pubs. Instead we should aim for a second wink-nudge moment, from our users back to us — the emergent behavior of our platform has allowed them to build things that are initially illegible to us, that we’d have to carefully inspect to understand in our own terms. We’ve tasted this, and it’s wonderful.
I think this is what all creativity tools want to be: a prism that refracts human expression into emergent behavior, or a grammar powerful enough to be the scaffolding for new modes of thought. The tool wants to give rise to something more powerful or evocative than itself and then to fade into the background, even to die. All attempts at this ultimately fail, in comically recognizable ways. We build incorrect, leaky abstractions that have hard edges or run up against the even harder edges of bare metal. The inner-platform effect is the anvil that falls on the coyote in every single episode of a show that, within our lifetimes, will have been airing for a century.
So let’s give it a shot, huh?
Next (soon): A structurally-typed CMS