Experimental Lex

Playing with words.

Anthologize WordPress-to-EPUB Publishing

I recently wrote about my interest in WordPress-Based Publishing Tools and I am continuing that thread with a test-drive of the Anthologize WordPress plugin. The story behind Anthologize is interesting. It is an open source plugin for WordPress that originated from an innovation project called One Week | One Tool hosted by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. I totally love the tagline “Digital Humanities Barn Raising”. (As an aside, I am curious whether digital humanities will be a mainstream college degree in the near future).

Overview
Anthologize will appeal to a specific audience in the realm digital publishing: WordPress-based publishers interested in publishing to the EPUB format. The EPUB format is an e-book format that has been adopted by most e-book readers (pretty much every device except the Amazon Kindle). I should also mention that Anthologize can export to other formats besides EPUB, such as PDF. It is very possible that Anthologize will support other digital formats and workflows in the future.

There are a number of programs that let you create and assemble book content and export to the EPUB format. However, these programs and tools often require advanced technical skills which make them unattractive to content creators, who really want simplicity like the kind provided by blog platforms. Hence, the idea of integrating EPUB authoring tools into WordPress is an attractive one. Note, however, custom plugins like this can only be installed in independent blog servers running the WordPress software and not on hosted blog sites on WordPress.com

Getting Started
While I have nearly 20 years of hard technology experience and can create and deploy massive Internet sites across a dozen servers, I still shy away from managing my own blog server. This blog, Experimental Lex, is hosted on WordPress.com and I have other blogs on Blogger and Tumblr. I, too, like simplicity. I want my writing persona to never think about server technologies or hackers or whatever.

So it’s a little amusing that I have to setup my own WordPress server to try out Anthologize. That’s okay. I’m sure it won’t be the only WordPress-based digital publishing solution that I will need to explore. (Note to self: must try out CoverPad). If you have ever tried or witnessed a WordPress install, you will know that it’s a piece of cake. A few minutes (maybe 5) and you should be up and running.

Installing Anthologize is quite easy as well. Look for the “Plugins” menu in the left navigation and click on “Add New”. You can then search for “Anthologize” by name and WordPress will download and install it.

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It is worth noting that the latest release of Anthologize is still at version 0.5-alpha, which means it is not quite complete.

Test Drive
After the plugin is installed, you will now have an “Anthologize” menu in the left nav. Click on “My Projects” you will see the empty “My Projects” page.
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At this point, it is probably worthwhile to discuss the concepts and terminology used in Anthologize. A “project” represents a collection of content that will be assembled and exported as an EPUB or other digital reader format. You start by creating a project with a name and then start adding “parts” to it. In e-book terms, the parts will be chapters and other sections that make up a book.
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In the screenshot, you can see that I created a project called “Digital Future” and added parts for “Introduction” and “Wordpress-Driven Publishing”. Since this is a brand-spaking new WordPress blog, the only blog post I had was the “Hello World” post. I can drag-and-drop “posts” from the “Items” section of the screen and into the Parts organizer.

Anthologize copies each post that you drag over and creates a “Library Item”. Several items can be added to a part and you can re-order or edit the content of the item within the Anthologize editor. Since it is a copy of the original post, the edits you make will not affect the real blog post.

Importing Content
Up until this point, I had not considered the “Import Content” menu in the left navigation. I assumed it might be some kind of upload tool that converts Microsoft Word docs, etc. Not so! It actually lets you pull content from an RSS feed into Anthologize.

I tried it out with the RSS feed from Paidcontent.org and within moments I had a rich collection of content to use in my sample project.
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Ok, maybe that’s cool if you are one of those content pirates who rip off other people’s work. (just kidding) It wasn’t until some time later that I realized that you could pull your own RSS feed content. That means you could download blog posts from your hosted blog site using the RSS feed, assuming that the feed contains the full posts. And if you are running Anthologize on your own computer like I am, you can use this setup for assembling and creating e-books.

Now that’s a pretty big deal, since this truly becomes a more powerful digital publishing workflow. This system was designed with the understanding that the blog publishing workflow is different from publishing an e-book. Yet, it lets you re-use and re-integrate your content in a fairly smooth way.

Exporting Content
The Export Content feature is pretty barebones at this stage. As you can see in the screenshots below, you have some very basic controls over the metadata and formatting of the exported EPUB file. Still, it is very gratifying to see that it successfully produces a valid EPUB file that looks pretty decent in terms of formatting.

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