While it has never been easier for independent writers to share their ideas online, the current generation of publishing technology mimics tools that were designed during the era of the printing press. Past aspirations for the future of computing centered around empowering individuals and enhancing cognition, but many of these ideas fell to the wayside during the wildfire spread of internet connectivity and the commodification of publishing through platforms like WordPress and Facebook.
Alan Kay imagined the Dynabook in the hands of children across the world, while Neal Stephenson wrote of interactive paper that could display videos and interfaces, and books that could teach their readers. The web offers rich dynamic capabilities, but to most authors these are off limits, residing outside the confines of restrictive content management systems. We are a group of designers, programmers, and researchers who want to change that. Together, we are building interactive publishing tools, supporting digital journalism, and pushing the boundaries of web design.
Earlier this year, we invited writers to respond to a call for proposals for our first issue. Issue 01: Science + Society focuses on examining scientific and technological phenomena that stand to shape society at large, now or in the near future. We sought to cover topics that would benefit from using the interactive or otherwise dynamic capabilities of the web.
Publishing interactive content is challenging because it requires combining prose, code, and other media. Given this, we did not expect authors to submit fully developed pieces. Instead, we accepted idea submissions, and worked together with those accepted to develop the issue, by offering technical, design, and editorial assistance collectively.
It is this collaborative process—the combination of expertise from individuals across fields and disciplines—that has allowed us to publish the unique range of writing that makes the Parametric Press what it is. Issue 01 is our proof-by-existence, as much an artifact to be consumed as a demonstration of what is possible.
We thank Andrew Odewahn and O’Reilly Media for making a donation that made Issue 01 possible; all the authors who stuck with us through creating this experimental first issue; NO NECK LOVES YOU for providing the diamond illustration used throughout the issue; and Jeffrey Heer, Christian Frisson, Matt Daniels, and Ilya Kreymer for their advice, guidance, and feedback.
The Parametric Press is produced by the non-profit Idyll open-source collective.
The Parametric Press is built atop Idyll, an open-source toolkit for writing interactive articles. Idyll provides much of the infrastructure that make the Parametric Press possible. While building this publication, we are stress testing Idyll and identifying shortcomings and pain points that occur, so that others may benefit from a more polished experience in the future.
From its inception, one of the objectives of the Parametric Press is to showcase the new forms of media and publishing that are possible with tools available today, and inspire others to create their own dynamic writings. To that end, we make available all of the software that runs the site, including reusable components, custom data visualizations, and the publishing engine itself.
To learn more visit github.com/parametricpress/issue-01.
One major issue facing publishers of interactive media is the problem of archiving: will the article’s code still run a year from now? Five years from now? Ten years? With help from the Webrecorder team, we have set up a system to publish a digital archive of all of our articles at the time that they are first published to the site. By tackling the problem of archiving head-on, we hope to show how digital works such as ours can published confidently knowing that they will be preserved indefinitely.
At the top of each Parametric Press article you will notice an archive link. Clicking this will download a WARC file: a type of file that stores all of the information associated with an article, allowing it to be run and read at any point in the future, even if a web server goes down. To easily play back these files, download the Webrecorder Player.
To download an archive of the entire first issue, click here.
Want to get in touch? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.