January 28, 2011
This week saw the President deliver his State of the Union address. Now it’s our turn to update you, Kind Reader, on the state of our peersourcing efforts. (You may remember that this is the word we invented to describe our community-powered review process.)
I’m pleased to announce that we recently wrapped up our first peersourced project: Linear Algebra by Jim Hefferon. You’ll be hearing much more about this text in the upcoming weeks and months. In the meantime, however, I thought I’d share two of the more interesting things we learned.
- Peersourcing is a Great Leap Forward. I’ve done the textbook editorial thing for quite a long time and thus am jaded by the traditional peer-review process. I had high expectations for our real-time, collaborative, online review process. It’s safe to say those expectations were exceeded: it dramatically improved the level of engagement and quality of feedback from the reviewers. On balance, it was much more rewarding and fruitful for the author, for the reviewers, and for us. Even in this fledgling iteration, we’re clearly on to something big and transformative.
- “If All You Have Is a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail.” The online toolset we used for this first round was easy to use, but also bare-bones. From this we discovered that the reviewers tended to work at the level of the tools. Reviewers’ edits and comments, while plentiful and helpful, tended to be boxed in by the limited functionality we gave them. (The quote above is from FDR confidant and dapper dresser Bernard Baruch.) Since we’re in the design stages of dramatically improving our peersourcing toolkit, this is great feedback for us.
We’re launching three more books into the peersourcing process: Introduction to Computing, Introduction to MIS, and Abnormal Psychology. (If you’d like to be a peer reviewer for any of the books mentioned above, please contact me.) As we experiment with more powerful tools, I’m sure we’ll learn a lot from these books, too.
January 24, 2011
Hopefully you read the title of this post to the strains of Frank Sinatra’s masterpiece “New York, New York.” We’re all about the Big Apple because we received some excellent news last Friday: Eleven Learning has been invited to participate in the Startup Showcase at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference on February 15.
Now in its 5th year, Tools of Change is one of the premier industry events. It brings together a diverse group of professionals who are actively working to shape the future of publishing. The Startup Showcase is new for 2011 and will feature twenty or so companies that highlight the creativity and variety of the industry. We’re very excited to be a part of it, and we look forward to getting feedback on progress we’ve made.
We’ll be in New York on the 15th and 16th of February, so if you want to grab coffee, please drop us a line.
January 18, 2011
When we originally developed the editorial plan for Eleven Learning, our strategy was to focus on publishing in math and computer science. Both disciplines offer many great opportunities to publish up and down the curriculum…places that The Big Publishers can’t or won’t touch, but for which there is a clear need for good textbooks.
We decided to focus on math first. Our plan was to round up the cream of the free and open source math textbooks, convert them to XML (we store books in this format so that they’re easily portable to print, the web, at so on), and put them into our peersourcing process.
We found some great books, including Jim Hefferon’s Linear Algebra, Grinstead and Snell’s Introduction to Probability, Stitz and Zeager’s College Algebra, and Edwin Connell’s Abstract Algebra. Linear Algebra went right into the peersourcing process and became our first community-reviewed title. Anticipating good things, we readied the other manuscripts.
And then…a funny thing happened on the way to the browser. We discovered that it was hard to render math in XML.
Time to Pivot
Like, REALLY hard. Though there are some tools available for rendering complex math in XML, the amount of handwork needed is significant. Put in the context of a 600-page abstract algebra book, it became clear rather quickly that despite our efforts to find an inexpensive, scalable solution, executing our math publishing strategy was going to be difficult.
So, we did what all (smart) start-ups do when confronted with these kinds of problems: we changed course. Excepting Linear Algebra, which we’re committed to publishing, we put math aside until the technology for converting it to XML improves, and we’ve redoubled our efforts at acquiring computer science titles. We’re making great progress, and if anything, CS authors have been even more receptive than their colleagues in the math world. We’re also testing the waters in the social sciences as we think about expansion in 2011.
A word to the wise for math, though: someday, we’re coming back for you. And we’re not going to be nice about it.