Experimental Lex

Playing with words.

Tag Archives: wordpress

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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WordPress-Based Publishing Tools

As the digital publishing future unfolds, there are several unknowns we often think about. We like to speculate about which devices will win or lose, which e-book format will dominate, etc. Essentially, these are questions about how users will consume written content. From the publisher’s perspective, there are also questions about what tools are best to use. Often this is a complicated decision based on the reading platforms that the publisher wants to target.   

Blog-based publishers are an important market segment that is starting to adapt to the changing landscape of digital publishing. In the last decade, they had it easy in the sense that they only target one device (personal computers) and essentially one format (html)*. Now and in the rapidly-approaching future, blog-based publishers will need to evaluate how their blog content looks on a tablet-based browser or whether they need their own custom reader app.

In general, blog-based publishers will prefer solutions that let them preserve their existing publishing tools and workflow, so they can continue to concentrate on writing great content. Since a large percentage of blog publishers use WordPress, it makes sense for them to evaluate solutions based on WordPress plugins. For example, Akismet is a WordPress plugin that helps control and moderate comment spam and is provided in the standard WordPress installation.

CoverPad / PadPressed

A few days ago, I mentioned the CoverPad app from PadPressed, which offers a set of publishing tools and apps that help publishers target the iPad. PadPressed makes this possible through their custom WordPress plugin which they sell as a commercial product. This highlights an interesting digital publishing workflow for blog-based publishers who want to reach the growing market of tablet-based readers.

I visited the PadPressed website to try it out, but found that I needed to buy the product before I could try it out. The pricing seemed fair enough for publishers who are using WordPress. However, since I don’t have my own WordPress server, I was a little shy about paying to try it out. Eventually, I will get around to it.

It is worth noting that PadPressed has stated that they will be moving from WordPress-based solutions and towards CMS’s in general. It seems they have their eye on the larger market of digital publishing and not just content published via WordPress.

Anthologize

Another intriguing WordPress plugin called Anthologize shows great potential. This plugin helps you assemble and build content in the EPUB format, which is the book format used in the Apple iBooks app and several other reader apps available for Apple iOS and Android devices. It originated from the One Week | One Tool project hosted by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. It is now an open source project that is quickly evolving. Here’s a brief description pulled from the Anthologize website:

Anthologize is a free, open-source, plugin that transforms WordPress 3.0 into a platform for publishing electronic texts. Grab posts from your WordPress blog, import feeds from external sites, or create new content directly within Anthologize. Then outline, order, and edit your work, crafting it into a single volume for export in several formats, including—in this release—PDF, ePUB, TEI.

I don’t have my own WordPress server, but I suddenly have one good reason to set one up. By the way, you have to have your own WordPress server (not necessarily your own server), since it’s not meant to be installed on a hosted WordPress service. Since I was just testing it out, I installed the whole WordPress stack on my computer along with the Anthologize plugin.

I will save the review for another post, but I can say that I was definitely impressed. As an early alpha version 0.5, it shows lots of potential and clearly shows that the Anthologize creator(s) have a good understanding of the digital publishing workflow possibilities.

CoverPad = WordPress to Flipboard Workflow

Ok, that’s a bit of a lie. It doesn’t actually publish to Flipboard. CoverPad is an iPad app created by PadPressed, which provides a Flipboard-like reading experience for your blog content. It starts with a custom WordPress plugin also created by PadPressed, which publishes your blog content to the CoverPad app.

Here’s the story found on Techcrunch.

PadPressed, the WordPress plugin that makes your blog feel like an iPad app when accessed from a native browser, today launches its CoverPad, which takes the “browser to iPad app” concept one iteration further and recreates the paginated feel of Flipboard in the iPad browser with HTML5/CSS3.

This is an interesting workflow for bloggers and publishers who want their content presented in an engaging and interactive way. Since WordPress has significant market share among bloggers, it makes sense to use a WordPress plugin to enable users to seamlessly integrate

We will continue to follow WordPress-based solutions for digital publishing, along with solutions for other blog platforms. Coming soon, we are going to test drive CoverPad and similar solutions. And that includes something called Anthologize, which is a WordPress plugin that publishes blog content to the EPUB format.

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* Image lifted from Techcrunch. thanks!