Tech for Teach

New way to write a book: GitHub for writers

In Slate, Dan Gillmore points us to a new way to write a book. The days of MS Word are waning and new tools are needed. Most try to emulate the old experience of a typewriter, but digital allows so much more.

Loren is a programmer and a writer. He uses GitHub, which programmers use to control versions of programs as they get written by a group of people. You have a Master version, which gets branches, which eventually get spliced into the Master as they are approved by the other writers. Some 40 mathematicians used GitHub to write a book. But they were mathematicians, not your typical writers.

Loren thought this was a great way for collaborative writing to happen. So he is working at porting the code handling capabilities to writing text. He is just getting started, so the site is really bare bones. Something I really like. You work mostly in plain text. Nothing to distract you. Then he has added Markdown, a way to turn text into beautiful austere HTML.

He calls it Penflip. You can sign up and try it out. As I said, it is really bare bones. But I like that. I have started a project where I get my students to write about restaurants in Tokyo. It seems a neat way for them to simply add branches, and then I check and edit, eventually adding the restaurant to the “book” after it passes muster. Eventually, I can get students to check each other’s work. Sure, you can do this in Google docs, but it all seems more integrated here. A little like a wiki, but more text oriented. We will see how it pans out.


Notes: Slate collaborates with ASU (Arizona State) professor, and founder of Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship, Dan Gillmor. You should also check out the Gillmor Gang. The New America Foundation too.

Some people in the comments section at Slate suggest an alternative, draftin.

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