It’s interesting to observe a few of recent initiatives that attempt – rather successfully – to formulate new ways of publishing and sharing information about open source art practices. I will have a look here at three projects: Flossmanuals, the Digital Artists Handbook, and the FLOSS+Art publication.
Flossmanuals.net is a collaborative multi-language website, initiated by artist Adam Hyde, that offers manuals for various Open Source applications: Graphic Design (Inkspace and others), Audio Editing (Audacity), 3D (Blender), Video Editing and Encoding (very well covered!), Video subtitling, Translation tools, Internet anonymity tools, Office tools (Firefox, OpenOffice), Streaming, the Sugar OS applications (running on the OneLaptopPerChild computers) ….
An interesting feature is that the articles can be edited (wiki-style), and remixed, which means that you can create your own selection of articles and chapters, which you can then export as a nicely formated PDF — this is meant to be useful in the education sector, for people giving workshops, etc.
An other, even more original feature, is that there is an API for “live embedding” your own selection of manuals in your website. The code allows you to adapt the CSS style so that it follows the look and feel of your website, and the content is syndicated from flossmanual.net, so the information will stay up to date!
Finally, the manuals (some of them) are also available in printed format, through the well-known Lulu.com print on demand service – where they can also be freely downloaded in PDF format.
Below is an introductory text by Adam Hyde, which explains the motivations and reads as a sort of manifesto for better Free Software Documentation:
The flossmanuals webstore for print copies:
Digital Artists Handbook
Co-developed by GOTO10 and the british digital arts foundation Folly, and supported by Arts Council England, is the Digital Artists Handbook project. It was launched in early 2008 (compiled from August 2007 through January 2008). The scope is quite similar to the Flossmanuals project, but differs on several levels.
First of all, the content here is presented through the interface of a classical website, it doesn’t provide collaborative editing functions, and the navigation is very basic. The content consists not so much in in-depth manuals, but rather in articles that give a generic introduction to various fields, and offer a global understanding of available tools, such as Working with sound, or Video editing with open source tools. On the other hand, we have also more practical articles, dedicated to Processing, Blender, Pure Data.
If we compare this project to the Flossmanual site, we could say that the framework is not as challenging and open for collaborative development, and it certainly lacks in the aspect of site navigation (for instance, there is no option to look for the newest contributions). However the content is probably more interesting for artists, as it is more directly oriented at new media art practitioners, and focusses on really art-related software, which are under-represented on Flossmanual.net (and who really needs a Firefox manual ;) ?.
The content is licensed under Creative Commons (Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike). The articles can also be downloaded as PDF, but it’s not optimized for printing.
Since the content is provided under an open licence, one may wonder if it wouldn’t be a good thing to merge this project with the Flossmanuals database?
Partly published by the same people as the previous website (the GOTO10 collective), FLOSS+Art is a paperback volume gathering highly interesting essays that “reflect on the growing relationship between Free Software ideology, open content and digital art”. Most of the articles are written more from a practitioner’s than from an academic perspective, as most of the contributers are code-artists and programmers, an important part of them coming from the Pure Data community.
The paper version, published in August 2008 via Mute Publishing, is available on amazon.co.uk, while the whole book (triple-licensed under GLP, GFD, and CC) can be downloaded as a torrent, even including the orginal Scribus files.
The editors are Aymeric Mansoux and Marloes de Valk, who are also behind the pure:dyne GNU/Linux live distribution for media artists.