Ramsay helps craft tool that turns blogs into books

Ramsay helps craft tool that turns blogs into books

When UNL associate professor of English Steve Ramsay signed up for a first-of-its-kind digital humanities workshop, he expected to learn something, but hadn't banked on a weeklong project changing the future of digital publishing.

Ramsay, a longtime software writer and fellow at UNL's Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, teamed with 11 other scholars from across the country to create a prototype tool that easily turns blog entries into books. Called Anthologize, the team's invention at the recent "One Week, One Tool" summer institute is turning heads across the blogosphere.

Anthologize is a free plug-in for the popular blog platform WordPress. The tool allows users to easily grab content from one blog or several and organize it into an electronic book.

It used to be that academics and others squirreled away their ideas, Ramsay said. Those with resources then sent off their writings to a publisher who reformatted the material and distributed a limited number of printed copies.

"Our idea is that publishing is really changing," he said. "People are writing those early drafts of things in a way that's very public and they're doing that on blogs. So what we need is to re-imagine the whole chain - that writing actually now centers on the blog."

The team included a diverse mix of people from grant writing experts to user-interface design specialists and developers like Ramsay, who rose to the challenge of conceptualizing and creating a digital tool in seven days. The pace was intense, exhausting and thrilling and the outcome made the sleepless nights and tireless work all worth it, Ramsay said.

The team conceived a tool that could grow into something very powerful, said Dan Cohen, director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, which hosted the seven-day institute, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

"It's far more than a PDF-formatting tool for blogs and that's why so many people are watching as it continues to develop," he said. "I suspect there will be many users and uses for Anthologize and developers can extend the software to work in different environments and for different purposes."

For now, Anthologize functions on a very basic level, Ramsay said. It can export content into printer-friendly PDF format and into an electronic book format. Team members plan to spend the next year making improvements, including fixing bugs and growing the ways it can export content.

Ramsay is enthusiastic about the team's creation and the promise of continued collaborations.

"I feel very honored to be part of the team," he said. "I have a feeling we're going to continue working together for quite some time."

  • Jean Ortiz Jones, University Communications