Its been 12 years since we published Performance Notations, the first series of Diffusion eBooks, and launched our unique publishing format on an unsuspecting world. In that time, we have commissioned and facilitated hundreds of original eBooks and StoryCubes by an incredibly diverse range of people from all kinds of disciplines and backgrounds. In that time we also began to evolve our own free and online software platform for people without professional design skills to be able to create their own eBooks and StoryCubes. Our first proof of concept prototype was made in the summer of 2003. We then spent a few years building a fully working version – the Diffusion Generator – which was online between 2006 and 2009. In September 2009 we launched bookleteer, a whole new set of ways for making and sharing eBooks and StoryCubes.
A New Place for Future eBooks & StoryCubes
This summer we made a series of technical changes to bookleteer that allow users to share their own publications directly with others via a Public Library. Each user has their own personal profile page listing all their shared publications (for instance, here’s mine) and each publication has its page listing both the downloadable PDFs and the bookreader online version (for example, see Material Conditions: Epilogue). We have further exciting developments in the pipeline too.
To continue our long tradition of commissioning and publishing new work, we have created a new Curated by Proboscis library which will, from now on, be where all new commissions and featured eBooks and StoryCubes will be listed. This website (the Diffusion Library) will remain online indefinitely as an archive of more than 12 years of pushing the boundaries of what we think of as publishing and creative practice.
As part of these changes we are also launching a new monthly publication – the Periodical – which will select, print and send out to subscribers some of the most exciting, experimental, imaginative and insipring eBooks created and shared on bookleteer. Anyone can take part – just sign up, make and share something on bookleteer. Each month we’ll pick one eBook to print and send out. We are also devising special projects, like Field Work, that will enable people to participate in other ways. And we are developing partnerships and collaborations to commission new series that will also be distributed as part of the Periodical’s monthly issues.
Subscribe to the Periodical and get bookleteering!
10 years ago this month we published the very first series of Diffusion eBooks, Performance Notations, launching our particular brand of hand-made hybrid digital/paper publishing on an unsuspecting public. Over the past decade we have followed that series with several others of our own (and a few by partners and collaborators) such as : Species of Spaces, Liquid Geography, CODE, Short Work, Topographies and Tales & Transformations and published well over 400 eBooks (and nearly 200 StoryCubes too). In 2002 we published the design schematics allowing others to create their own Diffusion eBooks (with recent updates for all 4 design variations and right-to-left reading too) and followed that in 2006 with the first version of our online web application for creating eBooks & StoryCubes, the Diffusion Generator. Hundreds of eBooks and StoryCubes were created (not all published here) by its users over a two and a half-year period. For a more in depth history of Diffusion read this post from 2007.
In 2008 we won a small grant from the Technology Strategy Board to build a new prototype service that would be vastly more powerful and flexible than the old Generator – what eventually became bookleteer.com. The alpha version was launched at the end of September 2009 and we now have several hundred users who have created almost one thousand eBooks and StoryCubes with it during its first year, including some in languages such as Arabic and Hindi. In the past 6 months we’ve rolled out lots of new features, such as new sizes, customisable front covers and our exclusive Publish & Print On Demand service. We have also created a crowdfunding scheme for collaborators, partners and friends to support bookleteer’s technical development, Alpha Club. We’ve run a series of events, Pitch Up & Publish, introducing bookleteer to new users – both in our own studio in Clerkenwell and around the country with the Empty Shops Network.
To kick-off Diffusion’s next decade we’re devising a new series of events, Pitch In & Publish, and adopting a new model of participatory publishing for our curated series. Rather than selecting individuals to create eBooks as we have done for previous series we will host events where people can collaborate in designing and creating a series of publications with others. Proboscis will define the series theme and individual topics for each issue, which will be put together during a one-day event. We will be publishing the collaborative publications (which could be an eBook or a series of StoryCubes) on this site and we will be inviting the participants to use bookleteer to create their own personal contributions to the series. A limited edition run of the publication will be printed using the PPOD service for participants. Pitch In & Publish will launch in October 2010 with the first series, City As Material. Topics will include: river, streetscapes, skyline and underside.
Proboscis is proud to announce our first ‘StoryBox’ of digitally printed and die-cut StoryCubes: an 8 cube set printed on both sides which enables people to explore Proboscis, our projects, themes and ideas in three dimensions.
This is the first of a number of StoryBoxes which we will be publishing in the next year. Future ones include creative works by sound artist, Loren Chasse; a special set on our Snout project; a 27 cube set about Social Tapestries and a new edition of the Gordon Pask cubes, first shown last year in the Maverick Machines exhibition, Edinburgh.
Custom Printed StoryCubes Proboscis is now offering a service to design and manufacture custom printed StoryCubes – e.g. for marketing campaigns or communication projects – for single or double-sided cubes with as many different StoryCube designs as you like.
Please contact us for pricing at sales(at)proboscis.org.uk
A set of 7 StoryCubes created for Survey Sampling International Ltd as marketing tools for their offices in the UK, France, Spain, Holland, Germany and Scandinavia.
One of the most transformational aspects of Diffusion as a platform for publishing-on-demand is our ability not only to commission and publish new writing and ideas, but to enable other people to participate by creating their own eBooks and StoryCubes through the Generator and have them included alongside commissioned authors; publishing as a conversation rather than a privileged monologue.
We have been interested since the late 1990s in utilising network technologies to create alternatives to the traditional ‘centre to the margins’ nature of the media; the broadcast and publishing model sustained since the 19th century and only beginning to be seriously challenged in the late 20th Century through the rise of the internet and its distributed network structure. We have been exploring how, through concepts like ‘public authoring’ and ‘cultures of listening’, we can create new ways for people to participate more widely in the creation of the cultures and societies they live in – such as in our Urban Tapestries project and Social Tapestries research programme, as well as our current Anarchaeology projects (with Render in Canada & ICE in Australia).
A key feature of future series of Diffusion commissions will be this conversational aspect – where we will be inviting the public to participate in the series by using the Diffusion Generator to create eBooks & StoryCubes of their own – the best and most relevant of which we will include in the series alongside the authors we commission directly. This will be different to the kinds of conversation that happen through blogging and commenting – creating an eBook or StoryCube is a much more considered affair, requiring time and reflection to create what is, after all, a publication that exists not only on the web but as a physical entity too.
The first of these ‘conversation series’ will be Transformations – we will be announcing the initial commissions in April and publishing the outcomes later in the year, inviting contributions from the public once the first 3 or 4 are available. Watch this space.
We’ve been working to improve both the illustration and instructions on How to Make Diffusion eBooks. The fruits of our efforts are now online and we welcome feedback from readers regarding their clarity or ways they could be made even better. The wonderful new illustrations have been created by Carmen Vela Maldonado who is currently on an internship with Proboscis.
This year Proboscis is planning to commission a new series of Diffusion Shareables, Transformations, and to run a further programme of case studies with both UK and international participants.
The theme of the new series is Transformations – we are planning to commission 10 new titles (both eBooks and StoryCubes) which reflect on the construction of identity: how and why we are who we are. What changes or transformations have we made to become who we are, or who we wished to be? The contributors have been asked to consider the theme from either a personal or a more societal point of view. We aim to announce the list of contributors in April.
This year’s case studies are also themed around two key areas: schools/education and museums, libraries and archives. Over the next few months we will begin inviting participants from professions engaged in these areas (teachers, librarians, archivists, curators etc) to explore with us how the Diffusion ethos and tools can be harnessed to deliver innovative benefits for their communities.
The international case studies will form a key part of our forthcoming Human Echoes programme to create and share bodies of knowledge across cultures, geographies and communities about different attitudes and practices of looking after our human and social ecologies – environmental stewardship. What impact can the collection and sharing of these knowledges have, especially by people in developing countries or indigenous communities who have previously had limited access to publishing and sharing technology? Can this point to next practices in developing local dialogues around sustainability in a global setting? How can the Diffusion ethos of public authoring, cultures of listening and its hybrid digital/material tools effectively contribute to greater dialogue and understanding between global communities?
We are seeking funders/sponsors and partners for these projects – do please get in touch if you would like to support Diffusion or collaborate on the projects.
On Friday 30th November, an informal evaluation of the Diffusion Generator Case Study Residency programme took place at the Proboscis studio. Those who participated included Bev Carter, artist and community development consultant; Paul Goodwin, a writer, curator and urban researcher; Andrew Hunter, artist, writer and the Director/Curator of RENDER, University of Waterloo, Canada; Michelle Kasprzak, curator, writer, artist and the Programmes Director of New Media Scotland and finally Tony White, a writer – author of novels including Foxy-T (Faber and Faber), and the non-fiction work Another Fool in the Balkans (Cadogan). They were hosted by Karen Martin who facilitated the residency programme, Phil Ayres, an architect, programmer and lecturer at the Bartlett School of Architecture (programmer of the Generator), Giles Lane, Alice Angus, Orlagh Woods from Proboscis.
The day began with an informal look at the different approaches and processes taken by each of the participants in the residency programme, exploring and sharing how they each used the Diffusion Generator to create and publish eBooks (as well as the occasional StoryCube). These included two way communications between children in the UK and Nigeria, a way to collate research for a book creatively, as a means to document an exhibition and research programme, as a visual journey through the city, as a series of interviews with curators and as a storytelling device.
In the afternoon, several other people were invited to take part in a larger discussion to explore other ways the Generator could be used. Among our guests were Linda Doyle of Trinity College Dublin, Michael Bhaskar of Pan Macmillan, Ellie Smith and Charles Beckett of Arts Council England, London.
Some of the various ideas for future uses of the Shareables and Generator included:
as an evaluation tool for conferences or events
within galleries or museums as interpretation tools
for community engagement projects
for internal marketing within organisations
as a brand consulting tool
to collect conversations and feedback dialogues
for a short story competition
to promote emerging writers alongside mainstream first publications
for sampling ideas
for rapid publishing of poetry slams
and as educational tools
A more detailed evaluation will be published as an eBook in the new year.
In addition to using the Diffusion eBook format to publish essays and artists books, Proboscis has also been using it to create notebooks for specific activities and projects. The eBook format allows us to design and distribute a notebook that participants in a project or workshop can fill in by hand (writing, drawing or adding stickers as they wish) which can then be scanned and turned back into a PDF file for sharing – either within the group or more widely. This ‘virtuous circle’ moving from digital to material to digital is at the core of the ‘Shareables’ concept. We have designed the Shareables so that they can be used without always needing a computer, but still providing a path for capturing and sharing digitally.
Proboscis has successfully used ‘eNotebooks‘ in our schools projects as learning diaries (e.g. Sound Scavenging, Everyday Archaeology and Experiencing Democracy) and, in our community projects as a simple means of gathering local knowledge and information (e.g. Robotic Feral Public Authoring, St. Marks and Conversations and Connections).
The eNotebooks have been very effective for the schoolchildren participating in our projects, giving them a single place to record and reflect on what they have learned from the different activities and how they are integrated into everyday learning. Over the three years we have collaborated with the Jenny Hammond Primary school on Social Tapestries projects, we have worked ever more closely with the teachers to use the learning diaries to make the bridge between the activities of the workshop and what the children are learning as part of everyday school. The diaries themselves are also an invaluable tool for the teachers and us to gauge each child’s engagement with the project and its concepts – some children choose to do the minimum whilst others spend considerable time and effort embellishing their drawings and writings. This serves an additional function in helping to assess the impact on learning that the workshop has had – the diaries show how the children are absorbing new ideas, vocabulary and improving their spelling as the project progresses.
We have also used the eNotebooks in community-based projects and workshops to record knowledge about places and communities. The eNotebooks offer a familiar ‘interface’ and technology (paper and pens) that is very inclusive and engaging – allowing people to write, draw or stick photos into them. In communities and situations where access to computers and broadband internet was not possible the eNotebooks allowed us to design a simple and effective means of asking open (but targeted) questions and enabling people to complete them there and then or post them back to us at their leisure. We see many other possible uses of this kind of eNotebook for researchers in the field doing ethnographic or anthropological studies.
We have also speculated on using the Diffusion Generator in brainstorming activities, where the eBooks are used to create iterations or snapshots of the process in situ. This would both provide an immediate outcome to the activity, but also document the creative processes along the way.
Proboscis has begun to experiment with creating structured notebooks for people to give feedback and evaluation on an event (such as a conference or workshop) or project. The StoryCubes have also been used in this way – at the Enter Festival in Cambridge (April 2007) conference delgates helped create a landscape of ideas, images and themes relating to the event. Futurelab also used the StoryCubes to engage delegates at their Why Don’t You… conference (October 2007) in mapping and exploring ideas relating to new education practices and uses of innovative technologies in schools and learning. Proboscis also uses the StoryCubes as a notetaking tool (instead of taking minutes) for its own advisory group meetings, enabling us to combine the questions and observations that the group members note down in an ever-growing and evolving landscape.
One of our key aims for Diffusion is to explore its uses in places (such as developing countries) with poor access to publishing technologies (both traditional print and electronic). A Diffusion eBook can, of course, be made with nothing more than some blank sheets of paper which can then be written and drawn on – or even have sections of typwritten text pasted onto them. Once made, these unique handmade books can be scanned and turned into Shareable eBooks (PDF files), endlessly reproducible and distributable through email and web downloads.
Examples: we plan to make some illustrative examples available soon
Diffusion began life back in 1999 as a response to the increasing difficulty that I was having in distributing the books and journals I was then publishing – both for Proboscis and for the Royal College of Art‘s Computer Related Design Research Studio. The bookselling world had been changing rapidly in the previous few years – from the collapse of the net book agreement to the increasing consolidation of bookshops into chains and closure of independent outlets and distributors. These shifts affected the practice of bookselling too – large chains became less willing to stock niche publications and ordering became computerised across the chain rather than by buyers in individual shops with responsibility for specific subjects. In short, our publications were becoming harder for our readers to find and more expensive to print, warehouse and distribute.
Working for an interaction design research lab and having previously investigated the nascent printing-on-demand systems then available, it occurred to me that it would be possible to create an ‘eBook’ that could be downloaded from the internet and printed out on home printers to be folded into a paper book format. I was also skeptical that electronic books would take off in the form that was then being touted – who would want an ugly device with a small screen and poor resolution costing hundreds of pounds, and then have to pay for the ‘books’ to read on it? It seemed so odd considering the obvious pleasure and tactile enjoyment that people derive from handling physical books, as well as their relative low cost, to replace them (as was being widely prophesied) with a much poorer experience.
Diffusion then became a research project to devise a paper folding and layout format that could be used to create small files using Adobe’s PDF file format. A conversation with an officer in the Arts Council of England’s Combined Arts department led to a funding proposal and grant to develop the format and a first series of commissioned publications – Performance Notations. In the Autumn of 1999 Paul Farrington (my design assistant at the RCA) and I set down to develop the format. Over the next six months we looked at a number of ideas before Paul devised the unique Diffusion folding format (experts at the British Library informed us later that they had nothing similar in their collection). The first series of eBooks was completed and published in September 2000.
From this beginning we began to develop ideas for many different uses that the eBooks could have, but lack of time, funding and other commitments meant that Diffusion developed slowly. With further assistance from the Arts Council’s Collaborative Arts Dept, we developed and published the design schematics for the eBooks as a way of ‘open sourcing’ the format in Spring 2002 (with the help of Nima Falatoori). However we quickly realised that very few people would be able to benefit from them as they needed some graphic design skills to interpret and make use of, not to mention access to costly professional desktop publishing software (such as Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress). This meant that very few of the people we thought might make most use of Diffusion could do so, as they would not likely be designers themselves.
So in 2003 I began researching whether we could create our own software application that would enable people to create eBooks simply and without needing graphic design expertise. I discovered the Reportlab open source software solution for creating PDF files and a summer intern from Kings College London’s computer science department (Diab Al-Kudairi) developed a working proof-of-concept prototype for the Diffusion Generator which we demonstrated at the People Inspired innovation conference in September 2003 (held at BT’s Adastral Park research campus). It then took a while to find a programmer who could use the prototype to develop a proper application, and in Spring 2004 I was introduced to Phil Ayres, who was teaching at the Bartlett School of Achitecture and developing a python-based intranet for the school. Phil soon began to develop a framework combining Zope, the Plone content management system and Reportlab. A first stage prototype was tested from March to June 2006, followed by a second stage in November 2006. The current prototype (stage 3) is in private ‘beta’ testing and has been used extensively during the 2007 case study residencies, which have been ably facilitated by Karen Martin, who also developed the new diffusion website.
Our next aims for Diffusion are to advance the Generator from its current state towards being a public online service and to focus on creative projects using it in the developing world.
Diffusion is a library of Shareables (eBooks & StoryCubes) – playful hybrid digital/material publications combining the tactile pleasures of tangible objects with the ease of sharing via digital media. Since 2000 Proboscis has been commissioning and facilitating new publications which are posted on this site.
Samizdat for the digital age
DIFFUSION Shareables are paper eBooks and StoryCubes that are free to download, print and make up. They can be shared freely (by email, post, photocopy etc) at next to no cost to readers. Since 2000 Proboscis has commissioned and published hundreds of eBooks, as well as developing bookleteer – an online application for creating eBooks and StoryCubes without needing graphic design skills or access to professional DTP. Design schematics for the eBooks are available to download welcoming anyone, anywhere to adopt or re-interpret the format for their own uses. In 2011 we added the ability for new eBooks made with bookleteer to be read online with the bookreader.
Using the internet as the primary distribution mechanism, DIFFUSION Shareables are accessible to people across the world, including places that it would not be economical, or physically possible, to distribute traditional publications to. You can share the eBooks and StoryCubes electronically or as material objects – scan, email, post or photocopy them. DIFFUSION creates a hybrid of analogue and digital media, utilising the unparalleled reach of the internet with the pleasure of tactile forms.
What is a DIFFUSION eBook?
DIFFUSION eBooks are shareable paper books that are free to download, print and make up (in A4 and US Letter PDF formats). Distributed primarily via the internet, DIFFUSION eBooks are accessible to people across the world, especially where it would not be economical, or physically possible, to distribute traditional books. eBooks can be shared electronically or as material objects – scanned, photocopied, emailed or posted. The eBooks bridge analogue and digital media by taking the reader away from the computer screen and engaging them with the handmade.
What are StoryCubes?
StoryCubes are a tactile thinking and storytelling tool for exploring relationships and narratives. Each face of the cube can illustrate or describe an idea, a thing or an action, placed together it is possible to build up multiple narratives or explore the relationships between them in a novel three-dimensional way. StoryCubes can be folded in two different ways, giving each cube twelve possible faces – and thus two different ways of telling a story, two musings around an idea. Like books turned inside out and upside down they are read by turning and twisting in your hand and combining in vertical and horizontal constructions.
What is bookleteer? bookleteer is an online application for creating DIFFUSION eBooks and StoryCubes. It was created by Proboscis to enable people make their own eBooks and StoryCubes without needing graphic design skills or access to professional desktop publishing software.
What would using it help me do?
bookleteer enables people all over the world to publish and share their knowledge, stories and ideas without the cost of traditional print publishing, or where there aren’t enough computers for everyone to be able to access electronic media. Here are some ideas:
publishing essays, short stories or poems
creating simple, easy to distribute manuals and instructions
making gallery and museum guides and workbooks
creating lesson plans, lecture notes and learning diaries for students in schools, colleges and universities
creating a 3D cube or eBook family picture album
creating a visual record of a journey
making a personal diary or journal
creating a mini-portfolio for artworks, photos etc
notebooks & diaries for fieldwork (e.g. for anthropology or ethnography)
local newsletters or pamphlets
to document and evaluate brainstorming & innovation workshops, events and conferences
Who created DIFFUSION?
DIFFUSION and bookleteer are brought to you by Proboscis. The DIFFUSION eBook format was conceived by Giles Lane and designed by Paul Farrington (Studio Tonne). The StoryCubes were created and developed by Alice Angus and Giles Lane.
How is DIFFUSION paid for?
Proboscis supports DIFFUSION through fundraising, sales of StoryCube packs and from donations.
How Can I support Diffusion?
Proboscis has created opportunities to support Diffusion through donations,social investing and sponsorship. Please visit our Support section to find out more.
If you’d like to support DIFFUSION, bookleteer or get involved please contact us. You can make a small donation (such as £5 or £10) to support Diffusion by clicking on the Paypal Donate button in the right hand menu.
You may prefer to support us by purchasing a pack of StoryCubes to make your own story landscapes with – for storytelling projects, workshops, education or evaluation activities.
Can I buy StoryCubes to print my own stickers on?
Yes, Proboscis sells packs of pre-cut and scored StoryCubes with blank stickers to write, draw or print on. Prices start at £5.99 for a pack of 8 StoryCubes. Visit our WebStore to see what’s available.