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The Future is Static

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Building Future-proof Digital Publications at the Getty.
A talk from the 2015 conference of the Museum Computer Network.

Published in: Technology
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The Future is Static

  1. 1. Building Future-Proof Digital Publications at the Getty Eric Gardner Digital Publication Developer, Getty Publications
  2. 2. The Problem • As museum technologists, we occupy an uncomfortable intersection between two very different timeframes. • Technology changes very rapidly, while scholarship unfolds over years or decades. • This contradiction is even sharper where cultural heritage is concerned; the timeframe we are concerned with is potentially endless.
  3. 3. The future becomes the past far more quickly than we expect it to.
  4. 4. When is the last time you used a 20-year-old piece of software?
  5. 5. The Domesday Project BBC, 1986
  6. 6. Photos: Chris Whytehead chrisacorns.computinghistory.org.uk/Computers/Domesday.html
  7. 7. Photo: Regregex (Wikimedia)
  8. 8. How do we avoid creating another “obsolete future”?
  9. 9. Photo: CERN
  10. 10. The birth of the World Wide Web • Created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 • Originally envisioned as a platform for sharing research data at CERN in Switzerland • Amazingly the first web page still works!
  11. 11. Party like it’s 1989? • A lot has changed since the early web • Documents become Sites become Apps • Today’s web can:
 - Drive you somewhere
 - Take you shopping
 - Deliver your groceries
 - Find your life partner
 - etc…
  12. 12. Restatement of the Problem • Our tools have become much more powerful, but they have also become tremendously more complex. • This complexity, when not carefully managed, ensures that our projects are going to have a limited shelf-life.
  13. 13. Structure of a modern website (c. 2010) Data Relational Database (SQL) CMS Web CMS engine (PHP) Templates, accounts, security, live 24/7 Client Desktop web browsers. HTML, CSS, JS. Some interactivity
  14. 14. Structure of a modern website (c. 2010) Database CMS Client Human-Readable
  15. 15. Structure of a cutting-edge website (c. 2015) Multiple Data Sources Traditional DBs, NoSQL, remote APIs and services Network of micro-services Distributed across different hardware, languages, locations Multiple devices & platforms Responsive design, Internet of Things, native apps
  16. 16. Complexity Blues • Complex, dynamic web applications are capable of amazing things, and they can deliver an incredible experience to users. • However, keeping the machinery running is a complicated task, often requiring a team of specialists. Once created, each new product is really a process: it must be fed, watered, and actively maintained.
  17. 17. Do publishers need to turn into software developers in order to survive the 21st century?
  18. 18. Feature or bug? • Dynamic, real-time updates (up to the minute)? • A platform where non-technical users can easily create or edit content? • Ability to handle thousands or millions of active users? • Ability to show all those users different things by anticipating their interests, tracking their activity, etc?
  19. 19. Feature or bug? • Dynamic, real-time updates (up to the minute)? • A platform where non-technical users can easily create or edit content • Ability to handle thousands of millions of active users? • Ability to show all those users different things by anticipating their interests, tracking their activity, etc?
  20. 20. Static Site Generators • Plain Text files + command line program = HTML files • Became popular among developers who wanted a simple (and cheap) way to host personal websites and blogs • One of the first was Jekyll, created by Tom Preston-Werner (founder, Github); now there are many others • Virtually all are open-source
  21. 21. Static Site architecture Text Files Markdown, YAML, ASCIIDOC, etc. Generator Run from the command line, no need for server Web Pages Static HTML, CSS, JS. Host anywhere
  22. 22. Popular Generators Jekyll (jekyllrb.com) Middleman (middlemanapp.com)
  23. 23. There are many more! StaticGen Directory (staticgen.com)
  24. 24. Advantages • Data remains in a simple, human-readable format will remain accessible for the foreseeable future (plain text) • Formats like Markdown allow authors to focus on semantics, as opposed to presentation • Working in plain text gives us access to many powerful tools, like Git (version control)
  25. 25. Advantages (continued) • No server software means no updates, security patches, or vulnerabilities that can be hacked • Performance (nothing is faster than serving static HTML) • Set and forget (but you can still update when needed) • “Static” is not the opposite of “interactive”
  26. 26. Key Technologies • Markdown (Text content) • YAML (Data) • Git & Github (Version Control)
  27. 27. Key Technologies • Markdown (Text content) • YAML (Data) • Git & Github (Version Control)
  28. 28. # This becomes a <h1> Tag ## This becomes a <h2>, etc. This is regular text. _Italicize this_. [Here’s a link](www.google.com) Many engines also support notes[^1]. [^1]: Not all of them, though. Simple Markdown Example
  29. 29. –John Gruber (creator of Markdown) https://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/ “The overriding design goal for Markdown’s formatting syntax is to make it as readable as possible. The idea is that a Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it’s been marked up with tags or formatting instructions.”
  30. 30. Key Technologies • Markdown (Text content) • YAML (Data) • Git & Github (Version Control)
  31. 31. --- title: Back to the Future date: 10-21-2015 tags: hoverboards, flux capacitors --- # Time-travel Report ## By Marty McFly You guys won’t believe what the year 2015 is like! Simple YAML Example
  32. 32. Key Technologies • Markdown (Text content) • YAML (Data) • Git & Github (Version Control)
  33. 33. Static Publishing at the Getty • Convert author texts into Markdown, and data into YAML • Use Github for collaborative editing • One set of source content produces multiple output formats (web, ePub, PDF, print on demand)
  34. 34. Octavo (coming soon) • A printer’s term from the Renaissance for a small, portable format of book (half of a quarto), popularized by Aldus Manutius of Venice (c. 1501) • A set of open-source tools to facilitate digital publishing in multiple formats with static tools. Based on the Middleman static site generator. Will be released next year.
  35. 35. Demo Time
  36. 36. Further Reading Domesday Article (2002): http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/mar/03/ research.elearning Domesday Reloaded: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/domesday CERN and the WWW: info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html Markdown: https://guides.github.com/features/mastering-markdown/ Static Site Generators: Jekyll, Middleman, StaticGen directory Git Tutorial: try.github.io
  37. 37. Acknowledgements Animated GIFs: giphy.com Domesday Project info: Chris Whytehead, chrisacorns.computinghistory.org.uk/Computers/Domesday.html XKCD comic: https://xkcd.com/1597/ Icons courtesy of the Noun Project (Austin Condiff, iconsmind.com, Ian Kirkland, Leonardo Schneider)

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