Skip to main content

Building open infrastructure step-by-step: COPIM's approach to open documentation via PubPub

Published onJun 27, 2023
Building open infrastructure step-by-step: COPIM's approach to open documentation via PubPub
key-enterThis Pub is a Reply to

Following in the footsteps of PubPub’s interview with Janneke Adema, Joe Deville, and Toby Steiner, we wanted to take this opportunity to take a step back and reflect upon the different ways that we at Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM) have been using PubPub to engage with the variety of different groups that constitute the COPIM community of communities and to document the COPIM project’s progress over time.1

Right from COPIM's very early days, we have been focused on making values-led choices about the platforms we employ to collaborate on writing and publishing the output generated throughout the COPIM project's Work Packages, thinking particularly about using open-source tools and platforms where possible, documenting our activities openly, and working anti-competitively within different communities.

As Toby has previously written about in more detail elsewhere, for internal purposes, we quickly settled on open-source tools such as Mattermost for team communications, Nextcloud & OnlyOffice for file sharing and collaboration on documents, and BigBlueButton, Jitsi, and edumeet as viable alternatives to omnipresent corporate tools Slack, Google Drive, and Zoom.

COPIM's Outreach Working Group – which we had established early on to keep in touch between the different Work Packages on the overarching topic of Outreach – conducted a short exercise to scope options that would align with our set of values and quickly settled on running COPIM's dedicated website,, via the Gitea repository-hosted static site generator Hugo. Conceptually, we conceived of the website as the "formal" window into the world of COPIM, where we would document key facts, official statements, and funder-facing reporting information such as an overview of Milestones and Deliverables.

We also wanted to have a more vibrant and flexible addition to that website, a space that would allow us to experiment with multimodal publishing, ranging from shorter blog posts documenting project workshops, to more expansive advocacy papers and actual long-form scholarship that was going to be written by the Work Package teams over the project's initial lifespan of three years. What we wanted was really quite an ask: a place where we could write simple short posts, but also these more extended formal pieces that might be downloaded and shared as separate documents, together with the occasional embedded video – all of which could be curated into different collections in order to best showcase our work! And this is where PubPub entered the picture. Attracted by its (mostly) open-source foundations2 and following encouraging conversations with the KF team jointly led by our former colleague Dan Rudmann, the COPIM team decided to use PubPub as our official Open Documentation Site, which – as Dan has put it in our first 'Hello World' message – reflects "our strategies and aims by serving as a space for open documentation. Herein we will chronicle our efforts in research and implementation as they occur. We invite you to utilize PubPub’s commenting and annotation system to converse with us, as well." (An Introduction to our Open Documentation site)

During these first few months of the project, and with more and more details emerging about what COPIM researchers would require from PubPub as a platform in terms of writing / editing / annotation and collaboration capabilities, it quickly became clear that we had found ourselves in a wonderful place: encouraged by Gabe Stein, KF’s Head of Operations, and colleagues at PubPub to use the backchannels that had been established (first via email, then via PubPub's central Forum / Discussion board), we began to feed back our experiences of using PubPub, including the small bumps and barriers that we had come up against.

The PubPub development team would always respond in a helpful way to our (sometimes nerdy) queries regarding e.g. the technical capabilities of PubPub's footnote system, or our musings about how to improve PubPub's handling of citations/references. It was great to see that these conversations would sometimes even lead to the development of new features, such as the integration of open-source reference manager Zotero (which, as it turns out, has just recently been implemented!).

See PubPub’s newsletter announcing it here!

Thinking about missing features, one key feature that many of us in COPIM have been waiting for is the integration of a full Track Changes mode, as with the current text editor, it can become quite difficult to keep track of text modifications that others have made to a certain text. Colleagues at PubPub have confirmed they are already working on the implementation of such a feature, so we are holding our breath to see how this new editing mode is going to look.

Other, more minor aspects that we think would be really nice to have include a workflow to allow for the depositing of publications to generalist repositories (Zenodo or Humanities Commons' CORE repository come to mind) to ensure the longer-term preservation of output generated via PubPub. Also, as we've flagged in PubPub's Discussion board, more geeky features such as an implementation of the Activity Pub protocol, or the option to link and verify a community's Mastodon profile via the community's PubPub site. That said, none of these are really critical, and we are deeply grateful for KFs continued support!

Over the years, we’ve grown really fond of using PubPub, and have employed it in a variety of ways, three of which we are briefly going to showcase in the following paragraphs.

1 // COPIM Scoping and Research reports

Many of the reports that COPIM has published over the past three and a half years have been released via PubPub.

To comply with our funders' requirements to ensure the long-term accessibility of project outputs, we developed a general rule of thumb for the project's major reports: we would usually start with PubPub as our collaborative writing environment of choice, and once the report in question reached a stage of finalization, we would use PubPub's excellent export options to generate a Word document that would then be edited to include page numbering, a table of contents, and COPIM's dedicated report title page. Finally, the resulting document would be saved as a PDF and uploaded to COPIM's Zenodo community for longer-term archiving. In parallel, the original Pub would also be released and a DOI registered through PubPub, which in turn meant that each report would exist in two versions: one living document (PubPub), and one time-stamped PDF version (Zenodo).

Over the years, we have had a number of one-Pub instantiations, i.e. reports that consisted of one single Pub; see e.g. our first report on metadata requirements in the scholarly communications supply chain, or one of our most recent reports on Governance of scholar-led Publishers. Over time, and with more and more enhancements introduced by PubPub, we also began to experiment with more complex combinations of Pubs that were then 'bound' as a digital book via PubPub's organisational element of book collections.

To give just two examples: Toby worked with authors Agatha Morka and Rupert Gatti to transform their report "Academic Libraries and Open Access Books in Europe: a Landscape Study" into a dedicated PubPub book consisting of 14 chapter Pubs that focus on the specificities of each country investigated, while additional Pubs (Introduction, References, …) provided the structural framework.

The second example went even further: the Experimental Publishing group (COPIM's Work Package 6) has used PubPub in manifold ways, systematically probing its capabilities as part of a dedicated research report titled Books Contain Multitudes: Exploring Experimental Publishing, in which PubPub was featured as one of the collaborative writing platforms that also provides an annotation system. The format chosen for the report also reflected its topical focus of experimentation: the group utilised PubPub's book collection layout to pull together three long-form Pubs that also embedded external content such as a CryptPad-hosted spreadsheet (as PubPub's own implementation of tables at the time still lacked some of the functionalities that the team needed at the time).

2 // Experimental books

One of the pilot case studies conducted as part of COPIM's Experimental Publishing Work Package, the Combinatorial Books case study, focused on remixing and re-using existing content to create a new experimental publication.

The resulting multilingual rewriting project, led by Gabriela Méndez Cota and a group of researchers, students, and technologists from Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México, have annotated and remixed The Chernobyl Herbarium: Fragments of an Exploded Consciousness by the philosopher Michael Marder and the artist Anaïs Tondeur (originally published in Open Humanities Press' Critical Climate Change series) to produce a new book that comments upon and engages with the original. On a technical level, this project decided to use PubPub as its platform of choice to host the digital book publication - and this was then integrated with their overall publication workflow, which included, among other steps, the application of a variety of open-source tools such as and HedgeDoc to facilitate different steps in their editorial process.

As the COPIM team working with the book editors note in one of their excellent documentation posts:

Together with the book’s editor we wanted to make sure that the publication platform that we would chose would capture the nuances of the relational, contextual, and open-ended nature of the authors’ work, and that it could accommodate the skill-sets of the different communities involved. We finally settled on PubPub as it accommodates versioning, community writing and collaboration, and has its own build-in annotation system, which we could use to make links back to the various previous versions of the book and its chapters as published on other platforms (in pads, annotation software etc.). All the various English and Spanish chapters that together make up Ecological Re-writing were subsequently transferred from the writing environment (the HedgeDoc pads) via Word (which was used by the book’s editor to proofread and review the first draft of the book) to separate “Pubs” on PubPub (a unit of content on PubPub, e.g. an article or a chapter).

Simon Bowie, the COPIM developer involved in the Experimental Publishing group, thus led on the customisation of a dedicated PubPub instance, and applied a bespoke layout to turn the result into a beautiful and unique publication.

3 // Conference websites

Towards the end of the project, COPIM was planning to host two major conferences, and the team decided to use PubPub for both of these.

The first of these conferences, Experimental Books: Re-imagining Scholarly Publishing, which was held in a distributed fashion on three separate days in February and March 2023, constituted the final conference of COPIM’s Experimental Publishing and Reuse work package. The event included talks, roundtables, and workshops exploring topics of archival data performances, re-using as re-writing, and computational books. In preparing an online space to host key conference information, the team slightly customized the PubPub instance via PubPub's integrated options (bespoke header image, menu items).

Soon after the actual conference had been concluded, the team subsequently used PubPub's excellent embed feature to provide video recordings of each of the sessions – videos that are hosted not on commercial platforms such as the Google-owned Youtube, but both on, an instance of the increasingly-popular Fediverse video platform Peertube, and as a community video collection on the Internet Archive.

A similar approach was then chosen for the second event, COPIM's final conference “Scaling Small: Community-Owned Futures for Open Access Books”, which took place online on 20 April 2023 and 21 April 2023. We again customized the PubPub instance's overall layout using the inbuilt options, and added pages that provided details on the conceptual framework of the event, a schedule of the presentations that took place during the two days, and an overview of external contributors to the event. Mirroring the video recording strategy of the Experimental Publishing conference, recordings of the event's talks were also uploaded to, and as a dedicated community video collection on the Internet Archive. The site was then easily adjusted from a pre-conference site, where people could find out about the event and sign up, to a post-conference archive that documents what the event was about and showcases the video presentations.

The future…?

Although the COPIM project has now come to an end, COPIM’s work continues with the Open Book Futures project, which will develop and expand the infrastructure built as part of the COPIM project and shares the same values (and many of the same team members) as the first three-year iteration of COPIM. Discussions are still ongoing about how COPIM’s tools and platforms will change as we work on Open Book Futures, but we will continue to use PubPub to document our work and we’re looking forward to seeing how PubPub develops and enables us to use it in new ways, sparking fresh ideas and ways of working.

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?