Jun 25 2009

Pumping our own gas (as fast as we can)

Published by at 3:53 pm under History,Stories

Pumping your own gasFor a couple of years it wasn’t “a book” but just “an update”. After our ideas started getting more interesting and more useful, I took to taunting my co-conspirators Etienne Wenger and Nancy White that what is now Digital Habitats “is actually a book.” Later, when we all admitted that it was indeed a book, we decided that it would be faster and easier to self-publish. We could write what we wanted, address an audience that may not yet exist, and be just as theoretical and just as practical as we wanted. And we did just that, learning all kinds of things as we went.

In the end we hired Michael Valentine to do the diagrams and book design, Peter + Trudy Johnson-Lenz to help with the editing, and Sunday Oliver to produce the index. Even with complete professionals on board with the project, we still maintained a do-it-yourself style. But I’m not sure about “fast” or “easy.”

An example of how doing it ourselves makes things not so fast was when we were looking at the “completed” index recently. We found that we had an entry for “folksonomy” in the glossary but it had disappeared from the book itself. Should we remove the entry from the glossary even after it was type-set? We decided that the index entry should point to the glossary and also say “See tagging,” index an entry that still had several mentions in the text. All well and good except for the fact that Etienne took it as a challenge to improve on the index. And he did find an instance where we had misspelled Marc Coenders’ name along the way and he will undoubtedly improve the index. But, working on the index do-it-yourself style has to get squeezed between hosting visitors from Hong Kong and Sydney, flying across the Atlantic Ocean at least once, and finishing overdue reports for less forgiving entities than you, the potential reader of the book.

So if not “so fast” or “so easy,” does self-publishing still seem like such a good idea? I think so. We’re still going to use a print on demand service and sell the book through Amazon and other channels. But we’ve decided to have CPsquare be the publisher of record in order to segregate the work from other projects and streamline it. Who knows what surprises lurk in the segregation and streamlining? As Jean Lave said, “That learning occurs is not problematic. What is learned is always complexly problematic.”


Jean Lave, “The Practice of Learning”, p 3-32 in Seth Chaiklin and Jean Lave (eds) Understanding Practice; perspectives on activity and context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

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