Without open source digital infrastructure, open access publishing has no long-term chance of truly remaining open, that is, not only free to read but also free to write, free to edit, and free to publish. Without a commitment to make, as much as possible, the entire book production pipeline open, the decision of who gets to write and who gets to read will always remain beholden to actors that do not consider the public good their first priority.
An overarching profit motive of any of the vendors that punctum books uses as part of its pipeline posits a risk for our open access ideal: we are as weak as our most commercial link. Furthermore, the implementation of GDPR in the European Union obliges us to be much more careful with what happens with the personal data of our authors and readers – and rightfully so. Like knowledge, privacy is a public good that is at odds with the idea of profit maximalization. The open source community, on the contrary, embraces the public sharing of knowledge while safeguarding the human right to privacy.
Our first step was to find a replacement of the technically most complicated part of the book production process, the book design itself. This brought us to the good folks of Editoria, who are very close to cracking the nut of creating an open source online collaborative environment for the editing of scholarly texts combined with an output engine that creates well designed EPUB, HTML, PDF, and ICML output formats.
Through the COPIM project of Scholarled, punctum books was also already involved in the development of a metadata database and management system (under the codenames Thoth and Hapi) that will be the first free and open source system to generate ONIX, MARC, and KBART records.
Nevertheless, large parts of our production process at that moment still depended on proprietary software: Dropbox, Google Analytics, Slack… The big question was: How to divest from all these (for-profit, paid) platforms without enormous transition costs? And would open source alternatives already be “up to” the standards we were used to from commercial out-of-the-box solutions?
A simple email set in motion a series of fast developments that allow us to say that today, we divested from a bunch of them and have never been happier. A few months ago, Adam Hyde of the COKO Foundation and Editoria contacted me as to whether I knew any open source developers in Albania, a country where I lived for 7 years and which I still frequently visit (and write about). I recommended to him Redon Skikuli, a developer I first met a few years back who I knew was involved in open source development. Adam and Redon hit it off, and two developers from Redon’s Collective68, Sidorela Uku and Danjela Shehi, became recently involved in Editoria.
At the recent OASPA conference in Copenhagen, Adam handed me two laptops for the new developers to bring with me to Albania, where I traveled a few days later. As a “tech mule” loaded with two laptops, I landed a few days later at Rinas Airport. I met Redon for a coffee to hand him the two computers, and we started to talk about open source development and punctum’s desire to move to open source alternatives for many components of our pipeline.
It appeared that Collective68 had recently started a cloud service fully based on open access software, with the highest privacy and encryption standards. And so punctum books went all in. In one month, we accomplished a transition that we thought would take years.
From Dropbox we moved to Nextcloud, which now hosts all punctum’s production folders and allows for an integration with our desktops and laptops that I would say is more seamless and more precise than offered by Dropbox. Moreover, our data is no longer stored on a server owned by a commercial third party, but on our own, managed by the brilliant system administrator Boris Budini.
Boris also helped us with moving our website away from Hostgator, installed InvoiceNinja for our billing system, moved us from Google Analytics to Matomo, and from Slack to Mattermost (all of that during a 6-hour non-stop session).
Personally, I divested from Google Chrome and moved to Firefox and Tor, from Google Search to DuckDuckGo, from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice, and moved my calendar away from iCloud to Nextcloud. I closed my Facebook and Messenger accounts and moved to Signal. I use SuperProductivity for time tracking.
All of this is to say:
Yes, there are open source solutions out there.
Yes, these are similar or even better than the commercial ones you pay subscription fees for.
Yes, the transition is possible and awesome.
And most importantly of all: you will have control over your own data. When it comes to the fruits of intellectual labor, nothing appears to me to be more important than that.
So to all those colleagues in the open access publishing business trying to find a way out of the dead end of proprietary software platforms I’d say, drop Collective68 a line!