Dusting off the OpenBook WordPress Plugin. There will be Code.

This morning I dusted off my OpenBook WordPress plugin. WordPress sensibly suppresses old plugins from its search directory, so I had to manually install it from its website. WordPress warns that the plugin has not been updated in over two years and may have compatibility issues. I was fully expecting it to break, if not during the installation then during the book search or preview function. To my surprise, everything worked fine!

Some of you will remember that during my days in library school I programmed the OpenBook plugin to insert rich book data from Open Library into WordPress posts/pages. The plugin got a bit of attention. I wrote an article in Code4Lib. I was asked to write another for NISO (pdf). I did some presentations at library conferences. I got commissioned to create a similar plugin for BookNet Canada; it is still available. OpenBook even got a favourable mention in the Guardian newspaper during the Google Books controversy. 

OpenBook went through a few significant upgrades. Templates allowed users to customize the look. COinS were added for integration with third-party applications like Zotero. OpenURL resolver allowed libraries to point webpages directly to entries in their online catalogues. I’m still proud of it. I had plenty of new ideas. Alas, code projects are never finished, merely abandoned.

Today, I am invested in publishing my After Reading web series. I am not announcing the resurrection of OpenBook. The web series will, however, use technical diagrams and code, to illustrate important bookish concepts. For example, a couple years ago I had an idea for a cloud-based web service that could pull book data from multiple sources. I was excited about this use of distributed data. Today that concept has a name, distributed ledger, that could be applied to book records. I will not be developing that technology in this series, but you can count on at least one major code project. There will be code.

The After Reading series will be posting book reviews, so I figured what the heck, dust off OpenBook. Maybe a small refresh will make it active in the WordPress search directory again. 


10 Lessons Learned from my first Comic Strip

  1. Just dive in. Draw the first panel, draw the last, draw a couple in between. Rough sketches. Took me about ten minutes. Scanned it, posted it. A hit. Ta da, I was a Comic Artist.
  2. Comic art is about life. You don’t have to be a comic to write a comic strip. Just pay extra attention to what’s going on in your day. Plenty of material there.
  3. Use a square rather than a long rectangle. A square, two panels on top, two on the bottom. Versus a long rectangle of four panels in a row like a newspaper comic. The square work better for sharing images on line. You can see the whole square on Instagram, but not the rectangle. 
  4. One single square is best for the web. Attention is scarce on the web. I put my hand to web comics because I have learned that visuals work much better than text on the web. For the same reason, one square of content works better than four. Precious few will slow down enough to real four panels of story.
  5. Keep your series short too. I intended to start a political comic with the subject changing day to day. Thing is, I started the day before the US election, figuring Hillary would win. The surprise outcome fueled a story 25 comics long. I have no doubt readers could not keep up with every post.
  6. I prefer pencil colour over markers. Thin black ink is essential for contrast on the web. I tried colour markers and they come across more boldly, but I prefer the warmth and texture of pencil colour.
  7. Mind your choice of paper for digital. 50 or 70 lb paper is nicer for hand drawing but shows yellower when you scan to digital. 100 lb “bristol” paper is hard and not so nice for drawing but scans clean white. Given my preference for pencil colour, I tradeoff at 70 lb.
  8. Create a handwriting font of your own. Writing dialog or other text by hand is problematic. It is hard to space it right. Using a standard font loses character. A custom handwriting font is easy to build and keeps your charm. (Full disclosure. I still don’t have one that works just right. Soon.)
  9. Use free digital tools. I draw by hand, then clean up and present using digital tools. I mix and remix the drawings, mostly using MS Paint. Paint does about 90% of what I need. More recently I have used the open source GIMP for complex layering.
  10. Publish your comics on social media. I used a WordPress blog as my comic home, and distributed over Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and sometimes posted on Reddit. I built it. They came.