Uncovering possibilities

Book: A Futurist's Manifesto includes a contribution from Ian Barker, the founder of Symtext, whose Liquid Symtext platform is "used by schools, educators and publishers to provide educator-curated learning materials to students."

His chapter, "Now is the time for experiments", invokes Clay Shirky, who in 2009 wrote "Newspapers and thinking the unthinkable", a post that claimed "Nothing will work, but everything might." As Barker explains:

"In a time of constrained budgets and threatened revenue, uncovering something in a large set of possibilities that might work is far from easy. But, if we don’t try, we don’t learn; if we don’t experiment, logically and scientifically, we gain no data and have no sound basis upon which to act. We can learn from observing others, but watching and doing remain latitudes apart. Now is indeed 'the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments.'"

As I've noted in a couple of earlier posts, the third section of the book includes 11 examples of what Hugh McGuire calls "projects from the bleeding edge". Barker exlains that at "Symtext, we work to provide a platform that:

  • Enables professors to deliver superior learning materials
  • Allows publishers to strategically target elements of their repertoire
  • Supports a variety of commercialization techniques
  • Can successfully intersect with the larger, social web."

In several ways, Liquid Symtext is comparable to SharedBook's AcademicPub service. They both provides examples of the opportunity available to publishers who can take advantage of a platform. As I've written in other posts, "taking advantage" means at least four things for content management and dissemination:

  • Content must become open, accessible and interoperable;
  • We must use context to promote discovery and access;
  • We compete on breadth of use, not the cost of content; and
  • We will grow the pie by providing readers with tools that help them manage abundance. 

Barker concludes his chapter by returning to Clay Shirky, this time citing a post ("How we will read") that I later distilled to "The button". Part of what makes the last section of this chapter interesting is PressBooks, the tool we used to create, edit and disseminate the chapters of the book.

We had closed the third and final section of the book several weeks before Shirky's post was published. After it came out (and gained widespread attention), Barker approached us and asked if he could revise his contribution. Because we were working on a platform that supported direct digital and print (PDF) output, that request was answered with an easy "yes".  

About Manifesto: You can now read Barker's chapter online, where it is hosted on the PressBooks site. The complete book can also be purchased in print, digital and bundled formats through O'Reilly Media and in print and digital formats at major book retailing sites. I've noted earlier that the royalties for the book are being used to fund the development of PressBooks, and for that reason I encourage you to consider buying the book.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.