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Transcript - How to build sustainable infrastructure

Transcript of a podcast conversation with Adam Hyde

Published onMar 09, 2023
Transcript - How to build sustainable infrastructure
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Jo: Welcome to another episode of Access 2 Perspectives Conversations. Today I have the honor to introduce you to Adam Hyde, the director of Coko Foundation. Welcome to the show, Adam. It's great having you. 

Adam: Thank you. Yeah, nice to be here. Thank you very much for inviting me. I'm very honored.

Jo: So Adam, if you could share with us a little bit about your background and what eventually got you to, to build what we know now as Coko Foundation with all its products and services that provides for scholarly publishing. 

Adam: Yes. I have a rather long and chameleon- like career starting in, degree in philosophy.

I'll keep it short, but I went into the radio, became a radio, internet artist and I was, more or less, I did a lot of things, worked, worked in the Netherlands as, managing tech departments for Accessful. Very interesting internet service provider there and I was also a digital artist for about 10 years or so.

Just traveling the world and doing art. And I was teaching streaming, open source streaming, and I was creating artworks out of streaming media at the time. So we were working with large scale, ex Soviet radio telescopes and, receiving, , working with the radio scientists there and astronomers and getting, signals from space, so to speak, converting them into audio and sound works, and made a career of that for a while and then that led me to doing a residency in Antarctica, actually. I went down from Cape Town in the SA and I spent some time at the South African research base  and, while I was down there, I pretty much decided to give up. 

So I did a residency as an artist in Antarctica working with scientists to do the initial investigation on how to set up an autonomous research base for artist scientist collaborations. It was kind of interesting. It was more or less a commentary on the sort of geopolitical nature of Antarctica and how nobody owned it, but countries sort of laid claim to it. So we wanted to make a roaming base that would sort of transpose all these what would mean to be fake boundaries. Anyway, when I came back from that trip, I realized that art had given me everything that I could get from art. I mean, going to Antarctica is about it, right? And I decided on the boat back on the icebreaker, back to literally give up art. And I was sitting on the boat in the harbor at Cape Town. Actually, we were waiting to be docked. We had to stay a night there. And I was thinking, what am I going to do? The only thing I really had was ten years as an artist, right? So I had accumulated these manuals that I wrote about streaming media, open codecs, all this stuff that I used to use for teaching workshops and I knew that there was a lack of material about sort of free software and things like this.

So I decided my big get rich quick scheme at the time was to start a community to write free manuals about free and open source software, right? So I thought I would just like to pick an absurd challenge, like to build a community of people. Documentation at that time and I think still now wasn't considered very interesting. So I thought, I really want to make it an attractive proposition. I want to build a community around this idea. I want it to be fun, I want people to engage with it. I want them to be valued within the open source ecosystem because the open source ecosystem really has a very thin spectrum when it comes to the types of roles they recognize. And yes, I thought of all these things and I thought, okay, I'm going to make this happen. So on the way to doing that, I kind of did three things. I learned how to build software because I needed to build software for the community to collaborate. So I did this by cutting and pasting pearl code and building publishing systems, very simple publishing systems for collaborative book production. I learned how to build community and I also learned I designed a process called Book Sprint, which was why I wanted the content to be produced very quickly and publishing was notoriously slow.

And so I designed a process called a Book Sprint to facilitate a group of people to write a book in five days, right? So these three things have sort of driven me to where I am now. I never really wanted to be in publishing. I just thought I'd do the same thing. I never thought of it as publishing. When I was designing Book Sprints, I'd go to publishers saying publishers must want to know how to make books fast. So I went and asked them and every time I asked him, they gave me advice. It was the worst advice possible. It was just the publishing processes have not been geared around velocity. They have other metrics and generally the process of publishing is rather slow moving and so they don't have any real tools or insights into how you might actually radically accelerate the publishing process. I eventually gave up asking and just realized I had to design it myself, which was really frustrating because that was the hard path. I wanted somebody to just tell me how to do it. And I learned a lot along that way, right along the way. And I still didn't think of myself as being within publishing until John Chadaki came along and asked me if I would design a system for a public library of science.

And that's when I really feel that I sort of joined the publishing domain. I felt like I was an outsider until that point. And then once I started working with Floss, thinking about that at that time, I knew nothing about journal systems, but I had a I very much believed and I was advocating strongly for in every forum that I could for. HTML as a base file format and open source systems and collaboration concurrency. All these things that I'd learned through my Floss manuals. Freely and open manuals for open source software. So, yeah, so that's kind of how I fell into it. I never, never wanted to be in it. It just sort of happened.

Jo: Yeah, our life happens and presents opportunities to us, but you now enjoy it, that you entered the..

Adam: Yea. Love it. But it's like I never stopped doing things that I love. I mean, it's not that I just didn't want to be in publishing. I didn't really understand it, and I just followed the things that I was interested in. Now I'm in publishing, but I'm still enjoying what I'm doing. I love it. It just happens to be more in the center of publishing than it was ten years ago for me.

Jo: But that's also an interesting realization to have, in the sense that it's never been your plan to be a publisher, to provide publishing infrastructure per se. But now that things turned out that way, also, you didn't have to change much. You can still remain who you are with the widespread interest that you have informing the publishing industry with innovative tools.

Adam: Well, I think one of the things that being an artist for ten years right, is a great privilege, right, because basically what it allows you to do is it allows you to hold your ideas against the world, right? So as an artist, you can sort of come up with these crazy ideas and it doesn't matter. The world can think it's ridiculous, it doesn't matter. The job of the artist is to invest in those things, right? And the more peripheral they are in the artist's minds and how they tease them out and articulate them, the better. I mean, that's the role of an artist. And so coming into publishing, I sort of have carried some of that forward with me, right, where I very much believe that you should give yourself scope for investigation. And it's not like not being experimental for experimental sake, but actually investing in what you believe in. So one of the things that I very much believe in is I believe in HTML as a source file format for all publishing. I don't know if there's a publishing domain that shouldn't be using it, but there's very few that are in the capital P publishing, right?

And so I have been advocating that for a long time.

A lot of people have also obviously, but you know, when I was advocating for it, there were fewer people doing so back in 2007 or whatever. And at that time, you were thought to be a little bit crazy. Right. But if you hold onto these ideas, if they're real value in them, you know, hopefully sooner or later the tide turns and, you know, it's not seen as so experimental that actually people can actually see the utility and the sense, you know, the fact that they're sensible ideas. They're not crazy ideas. Yeah. . 

Jo: And what's the added value? I mean, is it for machine readability? Is it for semantics? 

Adam: Well, there's a lot to it. I mean, the fundamental point is, you know, the web is the biggest publishing machine there's ever been, right?

And so, you know, most of the world's knowledge is contained in the lip. So why is publishing doing everything that it can to keep its content out of the native file format, you know, it's sort of like, it's, it's treated as an end of mile, end of mile kind of like, afterthought that might come out of InDesign or whatever processes derived from Jacks or X amount or whatever as a sort of thing that you plastered to the wall. 

You know, it's sort of the, the, the thinking around it, you know, it's like a, a web page is like the surface and you stick things to it but actually, the web is a collaborative engine and we should be using it that way. And if, you know, all your content's being published in HTML anyway, and HTML is the source file format for this collaborative engine, then why aren't we, we all using html and if we do this, then we will actually be able to do a lot more other things such as make radical efficiencies in the timelines and the cost of publishing. Things like this, things that really matter to publishers. But it's, you know, it's hard getting these things across. It takes a long time.

And also I have to say, the technical challenges are difficult because there's not a proliferation of these technologies. This is what we found at Coko, right. Basically had to build a lot of the core fundamental elements of this kind of approach because publishing has, has ignored this approach.

You know, you find plenty of publishers that have built their own XML stacks no problem, but you, you know, you'd be hard pressed to find them that have built really efficient, effective workflows around html. And it's not because they can't, but they've just never had that mentality. It's been dominated too long by a post, a post-digital sort of a page-based format, which is xml. XML is basically just a digital analog of paper, you know?  So, yeah. So, you know, it's sort of constrained us. And so, yeah. I thoroughly believe publishing should be fully invested in HTML as a source file format for production.

Jo: And that makes it also more accessible, more widely accessible for the information. 

Adam: Well, potentially, yeah. I mean, like the interesting thing now, like I went to TM in Frankfurt, right? And I've never been to that conference before and it was very much felt like old school, kind of, you know, smokey, smoky room with cigars kind of thing, and you know, ,  and, and I just sort of thought it was interesting because there's all this discussion about, you know, the, this, US memo about open access.

All, everything that's going on in Europe around open access as well, what the, a lot of funders are also requiring, you know, anything they've funded to be published as open access, blah, blah, blah. You know, all these things are really awesome and you can kind of, in this conference, I thought I saw the big publishers, although they've known things have been changing.

I think I saw them sort of articulating that, you know, the game's up, you know, everything's going to open access. And what I also heard in that same conference was a conflation, and I'm not sure if it's a deliberate conflation or just a, just a handy shortcut of the web with open access.

Right? They don't necessarily have to be the same things, but I think that they've sort of been framed this way. So, you know, the idea being that if you're gonna publish stuff and it's free to access you'll be publishing on the, on the web, is the most obvious place to put it. You know, you don't put it in a, you don't print it out and leave it on your, your lobby front, lobby desk, you know, you .

You print, you make it in html, , you make it available, , for as, as many people as possible to a. . , but when you do that there's also an interest, so, by doing that, you know, HTML becomes more dominant. At least this is the framing that I was hearing at this conference, a sort of indication of this kind of thought.

And I think that's really interesting. So, you know, there are, there are many ways to talk about accessibility, of course there are accessibility for folks that have various requirements when being able to understand text. They can't just read it off the screen, for example, or there is, , and then there's also the, you know, open access accessible making, content accessible.

And HTML is, I think gonna, is gonna have a strong day in both of these counts, it plays well with both.

Jo: I'm personally invested and I think there's also no trend, enforced by others, other advocates for multilingualism, particularly in scholarly communication, but also thinking about, yeah, humans in various nations around the world and how we communicate with each other using the internet. So what's your experience or like also with the, with the products that you've developed with your team at Coko to facilitate multilingualism? , 

Adam: Well, I can answer that in a, in a very sort of, yeah. I mean, first of all, I absolutely agree with you, right? I think the scholarly communications realm has sort of, in many cases, been seen as a default English realm and.. 

Jo: Supposedly so like, yeah, this Euro Western, whichever centric assumption.

Adam: Yeah

Jo:  Ignoring huge values of communication also happening online in other language groups? Yeah, just, it's just not on our radar. And bioscience, it might be very much English. Most content would be published in English just because there's so many journals and so many researchers in these disciplines.

Jo: But, yeah. 

Adam: Yeah, I mean, There is a skewed conversation about this. And, and it's a little bit, and it's wrong, you know, the world isn't just an English speaking world and, you know, , if you wanna facilitate communication, you know, people are best at communicating in their own language.

And of course, you know, working out how to express information across language boundaries is a difficult problem, but you know, that's, that's the world. So, you know, just we have to just, this is just a fact, so, you know, we haven't done much proactively about this. So, you know, like directly all I can say is like, we are largely like, we have a philosophy, I guess on, on things that we believe publishing can be doing better.

But you know, as I was talking before, HTML has been the source file for the format for the web. One of the interesting things about that is that, you know, when you're building publishing systems, when you want to be able to manage different character sets, different text orientations, things like this, HTML has already solved these problems because you know, it populates all the world's language on the internet, whereas there's still a lot of technologies that are struggling to realize this, which are sort of even older technologies. So, yeah, I don't know. There's a sort of pragmatic approach to using html, which is in support of multiple languages.

Jo: So as well as we evolve further the repository systems we are currently in use, like what you are saying is like, the easiest way for it would be to deploy HTML coding because it has already inbuilt capacity to facilitate multilingualism and translation. 

Adam: Yeah, definitely. And you know, the other thing about the, the web is that, you know, The web does, you know, the main, the main technology is when I think about the weaver, cause there is a lot of technologies, but when I think about, you know, it's the browser, it's servers, it's html, it see, sees the design language and to a certain distinct, also JavaScript, you know, I mean this is a, an absurd simplification, right?

But, you know, all of these things together, they, they kind of things that enable HTML to do other things, right? And so you know, , you can also start problem solving for different languages or how you represent multiple languages on one topic with html, because it's a, it's a manipulable format by the internet.

So you can, you know, experiment quite cheaply with really interesting ways to present content. You know, and it's hard pressed to do that with, for example, PDF or whatever, right?  

Jo: Yeah. It is really astonishing how the scholarly publishing stakeholders, I was gonna say industry, but I think that shrinks the community down to the corporate publishers.

And there's way more than that, how we're cleansing to PDF format is to to share online, which are hard to access and not yeah, not easy to search through. Even to make sense of something like, what article should an individual researcher read that relates to their own research to make sense of and to learn anything new or contribute their own findings.

Because it's like, again, especially in biosciences medical research, there's so much being published, it's just humanly impossible to like, we need the semantic web and, and artificial intelligence to, to prescreen for relevant content, unfortunately or fortunately. So I don't know. But then we make ourselves comment on other people's inventions and codings with their own biases to only see what's being presented to us anyways, so all kinds of challenges and opportunities at the same time. I think that's the usual thing that the world is made of. 

Adam: Totally. And also like, you know, things don't move at lightning speed, you know, they're like, If you've got your head in the Silicon Valley world, you think things are changing every hour, but you know, out in the real world they don't, they don't really change that fast.

So, you know, moving people along, you know, out of XL into HTML is, is a very long process. , and it's got a lot to do with legacy investments and job security. You know, outdated systems that are maintained by somebody who built them 10 years ago, who everybody relies on and likes and, you know, there's a lot, there's a lot in there.

So yeah. Yeah. There's no fast solution to these things I don't think. It's not just about technology. Yeah. 

Jo: Yeah. So maybe let's let. . Talk a little bit about the products that you and your team have developed over the years and are continuously working on. What's, what's one that you'd like us to focus on to start with?

Adam: Yeah, that's, It's a pro question. 

Jo: Which one's your favorite? I don’t know, like which one? 

Adam: Ok, so right, right now my favorite is Coko Docs. So we haven't quite, oh yeah, it's all the code there, but it's, we built an editor called Wax. We built two versions of it. This is number two. And building the editor is a very difficult thing to do.

So anyway, we built. It's effectively a word processor for the web and we use it in every product that we build, you know, Kotahi, my products, whatever, right? So, but we, we've, we also built another, all of our platforms also. On a framework called Coko Server, which is kind of a framework that allows you to build publishing systems on top of it.

Anyway, so just recently we decided to just take the editor, the word processor and build it on top of the Coko server to effectively turn it into a platform. So what that means is we're pretty much building. An equivalent for replacement for Google Doc. Right, so this is a concurrent editor that anybody can use.

And you know, you can deploy in any organization, but we also integrate it. We'll be integrated into other products as well, into pipelines. So, yeah. The Coko I mean, it sounds, I wonder you say, oh, well, what you say you're building a, like a. Are there a lot of word processes? Well, the interesting thing about it is that there are a lot of proprietary word processes out there.

The open source ones that I've seen and I've noticed that area relatively well are pretty funky. And, you know, they're very old school. . And there, there hasn't been that much innovation in the and also the interesting thing about , publishing is that if you're sort of talking about capital P publishing, you know, you have to ask yourself, you know, what is the one common thing that all of the all organizations, individuals across the entire world that are using digital media, what is the one thing that they have in common if they're publishing that one thing is an editor and it's a, it's the core for everything. It's a starting point for everything, and it's been quite a revelation to, you know, build a lot of products,  over 20 years or so, and then go back to the beginning and just build a word processor that people can use and then start thinking about where that could go. Right. I think there are a lot of very interesting avenues for it. So, yeah. So that Coko Docs is what I'm most excited about right now, but we, you know, we're doing a lot of stuff in Coco. How Kotahi is coming along as a preprint and Journal system is astonishing.

It's moving incredibly fast with the support of eLife and Amnet and everybody, and cda, the book production systems also , coming along extremely well. , we've, we've done a lot of innovation in that in the last month. Yeah, I mean there's just, page js is another system. We built a typesetting engine, which is, you know, and all, all these things are open source and they're all very exciting.

It's but just in the moment, Coko Docs is the one that I'm, I'm really enjoying. .

Jo: And you mentioned on our pre recording exchange or also thinking about open source, free to deploy and use and unpack. So how. You mentioned the term perpetual funding. Could you explain what that means?

I mean, I have a slight understanding of Epic Archive and also accessible prospectus to some extent, , building towards, , mixed revenue streams just to be side of things, which takes time, a lot of time. , but you know, not to jump on the first best opportunity, get busy and then forget about the future and deal with it whenever that comes up.

But also building products, building revenue streams for those products, charging for services, and they're also applying for funds, grants, this and that. So how, and it, it, it is a challenge like, and also there. , like from the old days. I feel like some of the financing streams that exist today seem outdated given the lifestyle that we have in the 21st century and, and also the way companies evolve.

Nonprofits evolve, like there's not much of a difference other than the tech status, but the way the operational process is more or less the same. And that's probably also a good thing to some extent. So what do you mean by perpetual funding as being sustainable or unsustainable?

Adam:  I think there's been, I first of all, I agree with you like it's a hard slot making something sustainable, right?

it's basically, in my mind, it's a, it's a process of discovering where your value lies. That's basically it. That's the pursuit, you know? And then once you find that value, understanding the, , revenue pipelines, and I totally agree with you, and we've learned this lesson over the covid period that, , diversification of income streams is critically important.

Because it  builds resilience. You know, when there's a problem in one pipeline, hopefully the other one's functional enough to keep you going, right? But so yeah, and it's a hard slog and it's a difficult nut to crack. It's very, you know, it, it, it requires persistence. It requires being, you know, you know, very frequently just having a hard look at where you are and what you're doing and evaluating it and understanding what's necessary and what's not, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, right?

But I think there's also been a. There's this weird discourse that sort of has happened in scholarly publishing over the last couple of years about open infrastructure and the need for it to be effectively funded. Right? And yes, of course funding needs to be in there playing a part. .

But what I, what I, what I find problematic is, is the sort of the hint that this funding should. The sole way in which various organizations survive. Right? And, and that's what I mean by perpetual funding, right? The sort of advocating for a perpetual funding mechanism. Now I think funding is probably, you know, it's a useful thing.

We certainly apply for funds and we also generate earned revenue. So we are not divorced from funding pipelines. We welcome them wherever we can, you know, wherever we can land some funding. That's great. It helps us go further in our mission. So I'm not trying to shoot down funding but I am trying to critique this, this idea that, , inherent assumption that perhaps it's possible to have ongoing funding.

And that's it, you know, and I find that problematic. I think what we actually need to do is rather than look at funding a software we should actually be thinking about how we can better upskill founders. Of these projects to start, , doing that pursuit of value that I mentioned before, right?

To start, start going through processes themselves personally, to start understanding what is the value of their proposition, you know, who can they talk to, how to talk to them, you know, how to, how to convert, you know, interest into support, you know, this, this kind of stuff. Rather than just sort of like, you know, writing a check for the, for the maintenance or something.

So yeah, I find that that discussion has gotten a little bit blurry and I'm not sure. And, and I think it's, , it, it needs to be unpacked. Yeah. 

Jo: Yeah. If they spoke, I'd feel like, is it, will you agree to any innovation or any service that is being set up also to have to have funding for a couple of years?

Is that much different from seed investments and to startup companies? Same thing. And the organization is then tasked with building sustainability on its own, or self sustainability rather? 

Adam: Well, I mean, I certainly think that it's fantastic when funders take that approach, but they don't always take that approach and I know that we are vigilant when we get funding to think about the sustainability component and really work hard on it, right?

But I can imagine that the driver in the VC world for sustainability is a lot different to what we see in the funding world, right?  and so, yeah, I think there needs to be more and more focus. How you can develop this sustainability. And I think this basically comes down to not the mechanics of the project, so to speak, but , the people who are running it, right, like supporting them to start developing the skills to start thinking about this problem and breaking it down because it's also, it's a dynamic problem, right? Like the change in environment and also what you're doing. How it interfaces to the world, the things that you discover that force you or, , to change or go down a different road or whatever, you know, that, that changes your offering to the world.

So you, you have to be continually rethinking these things. And so, yeah. So I kind of think we need to. I say this in part from a background of coming from the Shuttleworth Foundation. I'm a Shuttleworth fellow, and what they do is they set up peer-based networks so that you can learn from other social entrepreneurs who have been through similar problems, and you can bring those problems to them and, and they can help you break them down.

And I think that's a very effective way to go. Yeah you know, so I, I'd say like coupling funding with these kinds of processes would be much more effective, , than you know, a, what a lot of funding does currently.

Jo: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, I, I've personally thought about these things quite a bit as I'm in the middle of  with AfricArxiv first and foremost. But it's an exciting journey and I also just thought how many of these grassroots initiatives like looking at Wikipedia, have grown into massive organizations with a huge overhead of HR and administration.

And then the question, but the contents that, well, the biggest product that have many were the biggest and was non Wikipedia with so much content in talking about publishing and who owns this like is basically, It's a nonprofit, but like how can we make sure that knowledge persists beyond like, I dunno, it's not okay.

It's a good loss until, but, but it's a, I dunno, it's probably worth a thought after all. 

Adam: Yeah, I think it is.

Jo: Nonprofits for-profits like there's also a trend, to exit to community, whatever that means. with AfricArxiv, we hope to establish it at African institutions in the various regions of the continent. And that's a process for sure, and it needs to be inclusive. Well, yeah. It comes down to the question of ownership and accountability and commitment. 

Adam: Sure.

Jo:  To keep those things running. 

Adam: Yeah. 

Jo: And it takes a handful of hours, sometimes just one highly committed and dedicated individual. 

Adam: Yes, I agree.

It's often a small group of people who do most of the work you know, deep thinking about it.  . . Yeah. And I think focusing on those folks, not to say that they're the only people of importance, just to say somebody's gotta make some decisions somewhere. And it's helpful if they are able to learn from other people's experiences.

Including not just about the decisions that they have to make, but how they go about making decisions, who they include, things like this. You know, these are all just like very, very important things that, you know, many social entrepreneurs come into the, into it blind, completely new, you know, and, and I think that's necessary to a degree, because if you really knew.

Like I was listening to a VC podcast recently. It's a terrible podcast. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but, , but these folks were saying, would you go into business and start a business? And they're basically saying no, because it's just too hard.

And I think that's the case, right? That if you're gonna start an enterprise, a social enterprise, and you've got a mission and you're, you're a not-for-profit, , and you're trying to do something good in the world, it's probably good that you're, that you start off being very naive,  because otherwise you wouldn't do it.

I mean, it's just, it, it's just. Everything is just so much harder and so much bigger , that if you really knew what you're in, what you were doing, you'd probably back out pretty quickly, you know? Mm. So I think you have to start off naive. , maybe also a little bit grumpy. I don't know. You know, you want to change something cuz you, you, you need that energy, that motivation.

But I think you also need not just money. You don't need just money. You need a network of people who you trust that can help you think about things.

Jo: Yeah. It's the famous entrepreneurial mindset. I wouldn't call it being naive or maybe naive or agnostic. Agnostic or, yeah.

Ignoring the potential pitfalls might lay ahead, which surely come by just not bothering about them. .  and the entrepreneurial mindset is, I think, also kind of an intrinsic motivation which some of us have to, to create something meaningful. And what really bothers me is that we have businesses which explicitly have profit making as their first priority.

Like how can this be lot in what we call de democratic or whatever. Societies like that's just a no-go. Like, and it's already accepted. That's, of course, businesses are here to make money. No, they have a purpose to serve society first and foremost, and they only make money to be sub sustaining. , but then we have the issue of shareholding and the shareholders want to have their own profits, and that's when things I think get messed up.

But other than that, like.  what we, now we come up with the term social innovation, social entrepreneurship, social businesses. But isn't that how it's supposed to be anyways and Yeah, do not. And then also some, some companies who have a clear mandate to serve society and do that the best way they see possible in a capitalistic world or economy.

They're now left out from the conversation and labored as proprietary. Like, it's also funny and sad, but yeah. So I think there's a need for heavy rethinking of how we want to build, construct, and shape economies. And with social justice in, in certain countries. 

Adam: Yeah, I agree. Although I don't, I don't necessarily see, I think, I think for-profit has been conflated with a lot of stuff and, I don't actually have a problem with the notion of for-profit.

Jo: It's just for-profit and reasonable ranges.

Adam: Yeah, I think you're right. When you sort of wrap it in, in something that, you know, like, That sort of, you know, the sort of the do no evil sort of mantra, which of course, you know, was a, was a bit of a, , a passing line as it, as it turns out. But you know, I, but I, I agree with you. I think , fundamentally, organizations need to reconfigure themselves to be more about both their internal culture and the world  at the same time. 

Jo: Yeah. . , right? So, , so as you, so with Coko's products being most, well exclusively open source, but how do you see, , digital scholarly infrastructure or digital infrastructure at large as an ecosystem or a mixed system really?

What's the better term for that? Do you mean within for-profit entities in the game, which played a role and to, to a certain extent or so? In many ways also lead the way for it where open sourced basically provide, keeps providing the baseline and then we have individual organizations and services kind of pitching and, and providing service complementary to each other, and, and part also competing with each other. Like, I don't know, like we could probably talk for hours about how this is playing out and who are the actors and why, and what's the motivation. But do you have like a few thoughts to share with us on this?

Adam: So Okay. I'm, I'm just gonna riff off that right.

And just, just on a few of the things that kind. To get my attention. One of the things is I think open source is mischaracterized often in this domain. Okay. Well , open source is a license. Right. , and it allows, it's, it's applied to software so that, ,  with the intent that anybody can reuse it or change it and do with it what they want.

Right. Which I see as a fundamental good for the world, right? And you, and there's no better place to see that than publishing. What you can see is all these publishers, it's extraordinary how many publishers out there have built their own systems. Which are just the same as the, the next door neighbors publishing system, you know, and they spent all this money and they have these internal teams maintaining it, and it's just costing them just a lot of, a lot of cash, , just to keep them running.

They can't their legacy system's hard to extend them, you know, and they all do the same thing and those systems are, are not, they're not really sort of, they're weird. A lot of them are a weird situation. They're not really open source or proprietary. They're just internal systems that people have built and they can't actually really liberate them for the world because there's too much internal logic built into too many secrets within the organization.

Right. But yeah, so there's kind of like, I think a lot of those systems are very and have sometimes been built by people who had to learn everything for the first time, right. And building a publishing system, and so there's been no sharing across those organizations as to how you could build a really good publishing system, right?

There's been no learning across those organizations. . And so this is where it's interesting with open source, because open source is one, it's a license and it's applied to, , a technology. The interesting thing is what happens on top of it, right? This is that you can start building things together, or at least learning things from each other and building better systems, right?

And also building them cheaper because you're all contributing to the same effort, right? . , so you're not building your own wheel. You, and then they're building their wheel. You're, you are each building a better wheel together. Mm. And, you know, and so I think open source really has the power to just completely wipe out this, this sector  or the, you know, all the, all the, all the homemade systems, you know, so to speak. I don't know how, or how otherwise to characterize them. , but also all the proprietary systems as well. I mean, the proprietary systems kind of actually have a lot of the same problems as those , internal systems, is that they've been built by a bunch of people internally.

The code is often actually really terrible. They, a legacy system's hard to ex to maintain and extend. They've built a business around it. So now it's actually hard to get out of that business and change the model and change the publishing model, blah, blah, blah. And yeah, I mean, and so over time I think, , open source will, will really win out, and the thing that it needs to get there is just a very professional approach to developing open source. And this is the thing that I think, this is why I say I think it's been mischaracterized, is that often open source is seen as this kind of amateur cowboy, Lucy goosey kind of pastime, right?

. . And if you look at scholarly kitchens , which I don't see very often, You can, you can actually see comments like this and, you know, over the years. . And sort of like , trying to make out that open source is an amateur pastime where, you know, why would you use these systems?

Because some volunteer. who knows? Maybe, maybe they're not available because they've gone surfing that week or something.  and that this is, this is not the case, you know? Yeah. Software. No, I know, I know that you don't, and I don't see it this way, but I think in the, in the sector as a whole, there's this, there's idea that, oh, you know, it's all, it's all nice that these people are doing it for free, but, you know, you know, they'll never take it seriously. So I, I think, I think, , that's an interesting, , It's an interesting problem if you're building, , open source software because it, but you know, you can dispel it, but you have to, you have to do it one-on-one, you know, one step at a time and meet with people and really show them and talk to them so that they understand that you're involved in professional software development and, you know, and this is, and you, you know, the domain and you know, the software is extremely powerful and it ticks all these boxes, you know, but it's a long, slow process.

So in terms of the, the sector, so to speak, you know, the, the players and all the rest of it. , yeah, I don't know. I have this faith that these big proprietary players are gonna have some real challenges  going ahead or they're overly invested in their technologies.

The publishing models are changing and it's very expensive for them to. So, yeah, I, I kind of, I kind of see a, the, the sector, so to speak, just to riff to your, your point. A little bit like that. There's at least one part of it.

Jo:  Yeah. I think that's maybe also what scares some people off because it takes extra effort and is proprietary.

Systems, you think you buy a ready to deploy thing, plug and play, and then it just works. And sometimes it does, it just has limited features. Whereas an open source solution might have, , might be way more versatile, but you need to add extra leg work and like need to give some thought, thought to customize, to, to really meet all your requirements and then a matter.

like also resources for, like, for, for actual, like who's doing the extra work now because the ground has been done that, and was there accountability on the open source software development side or capacity even to, to provide that extra service. And that's often lacking on what I've seen, so needs from somewhere.

And then the, the ones who want the, the organizations, the ones who use it, they also don't have that capacity.

Adam: Well, yeah, and, and I think the other part of that is that if you're developing software, I think one of the default models that people think you should be doing is, you know, offering it as a hosted solution.

And then that's how you make your money so you can survive. But that's a very hard game because, you know, if you're starting up building a software, you have to hit a particular scale at a particular price point for it to pay off. And before you do, You already have to have all the support staff being paid for.

I mean, it's a very difficult game to play. But that's why I think the best approach, in my opinion, this is the approach that we have undertaken, is to recognize we are no good at the support. We don't wanna be in the support game. I don't wanna get a phone call at 2:00 AM from some publisher saying, you know, can you tweak my PDF you know, so we build software and then we partner with service hosting and service providers, right? publishing service providers. So they're the ones that do the deployment and do the hand holding with the users. Do the workflow analysis, and we often do most of that actually, but, you know, do a feature comparison chart or the rest of it, right.

So I think, I think these things are, this is again I think open source is sort of seen as this being, there's often this like, well, it's free, but it's not really because you have to install yourself. And do I need technicians? Do I need to be technical? Well, the answer is no. You can get all the service that you want equivalent to what the proprietary providers have.

But you would probably get it from the organization that doesn't build the software. But you would imagine there's a close relationship between the two. And that's what we've established with, the likes of Amit. and, and cloud 68, and, So, yeah, I think there's a way of filling out those requirements.

Jo: Yeah. And I think we have these organizations also on the scholarly ecosystem with the national regional research and education networks. Famous. 

Adam: Yep. Yep. 

Jo: From my work with Africarxiv, I've learned about the researcher, but they're part of the ecosystem, so I need to divide the workload. So it makes sense.

Excellent. Alright. Great. Well like maybe one or two sentences on what, what's up next? , or what you, you keep playing with and then launching the Alpha, is it alpha-beta, like the release for Coco Docs or what's, what's the next big venture? 

Adam: There's quite a few things. There's some exciting stuff happening around our book production engine, so we've been doing some interesting work with lulu, the print on demand people, so that's pretty interesting. Kotahi is now undergoing a multi-tenancy, so you can run multiple journals or, or preprint review communities, PRC folks, in one instance. That's pretty powerful, yeah, I mean there's, we've built out a, a very interesting question, bank system for the my, which is getting to it's sort of release.

Yeah, I mean there's just really a lot. I mean, it's our team updates. , it's just a torrent of information when we have them. Every week we do a download or what everyone's been working on, and it's just a lot. . . So yeah, there, there's a lot going on. So, Yeah. Yeah. But you know, for this particular conversation, the thing to keep an eye on, I think would probably be the announcements around Kotahi.

That functionality is really you know, that. It's becoming a very powerful publishing engine. So yeah, that, that's definitely one to keep an eye on.

Jo:  And that's something to, , look into for University Library as opposed to setting up or relaunching their university presses. And..

Adam: Yes

Jo:  Safe hosted institutional journals and the lab.

Adam: Yep. 

Jo: Cool. 

Adam: Yep. 

Jo: That's exciting. Okay. We're talking or I keep, I keep your Coko on the radar and we'll be talking when Yeah. Once the launches are made. And dig in. 

Adam: Yeah. Yeah. Great. Thanks. Thanks for the invitation to come and chat. 

Jo: Thanks so much for joining and all the best and speak soon. 

Adam: Sure.


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