Story Hack – Notes & Notability


Story Mode/ EVENT 2: Story Hack took place at Gateshead Central Library, Tuesday 7th March 2017, 11am – 6pm

Story Hack was the second event in the Story Mode series. It will took the form of a book sprint to produce a publication inside of seven hours using the open source collaborative writing platform ‘Booktype’


What is a book sprint?

A book sprint involves everyone getting together to produce a book really fast. The following is an account of the process during Story Hack to develop a new publication, Notes and Notability. Participants included artists, curators, technologists, heritage and library professionals. 

What Happened?

We produced a book of around 40 pages in size which can be downloaded here:


Please bear in mind that it is being shared in an ‘as is’ state to show you, in all honesty what we produced on the day. It was a brilliantly engaging event, but an ‘almost’ impo. We hope that everyone who took part now has a good understanding of the potential that the book sprint method has to their practice and a good understanding of the tools that they can use.

Notes by Andrea Carter.

Welcome and introduction to the format of the day (Dominic Smith, Producer of Story Mode)

The aim of today’s book sprint is to do the impossible – to learn the process of creating a book as a group in seven hours.

We will learn how online tools like ‘Booktype’ have disrupted traditional and closed clubs, such as publishers and agents. People produce books for utilitarian reasons and can now collaborate with others across different areas, spaces and countries as collaborative, real-time editing is possible.

Today will be broken up by discussions from the event facilitators. There will be break out groups to focus upon writing, compiling, editing and book production.

>Participants and facilitators introduction themselves<

An introduction to ‘Booktype’ (Daniel James, Lead Facilitator of Story Hack)

‘Booktype’ has been in development for nine years in total. Over the past three years, ‘Booktype’ has supported Amnesty International with their flagship and annual publication: Annual Report (170 chapters written by different authors in different languages). It is a good example of collaborative publishing, collating lots of information using online tools to help people to work effectively across different countries and time zones.

So, how does ‘Booktype’ work? The software takes a single source approach (an HTML file in ‘Booktype’ is the same mark up as you would have making a web page). The HTML (a chapter object) is then pushed through HTML to PDF converters to make the book people hold in their hands, in addition to creating a screen PDF version. ‘Booktype’ can also produce other formats such as EPUB e-book for Kindle. The creators of the book can have as many incremental updates even after publication, especially if it is produced to print on demand. Each export uses date stamps.

The inclusion of multi-media content will ultimately depend on the output, but books are static (in content) meaning they can be printed.

When producing a book as part of a book sprint, it is important to consider:

  • Creative Commons licenses. These need to be observed and license terms met with the correct credits at the end of each chapter.
  • The use of content in the public domain.


Associate Facilitators

Pete Haughie is a software developer and artist with a background in technology and open source media. He is the chief developer of ‘Storyteller’, an immersive, open source storytelling platform. It was initially developed to support small news organisations to present news stories and breaking news using a variety of media and tools, in turn giving such organisation’s the ability to with larger news agencies and corporations. His role today is to help with all technical elements and offer moral support throughout the book sprint.

 Douglas Arellanes is one of founders of Sourcefabric (set up in 2001). It is a standalone global organisation supporting news organisations by giving them tools they need to do their work.  Four tool sets actively being developed by Sourcefabric in addition to ‘Storyteller’ include ‘Booktype’ (now moving into its own organisation), ‘Airtime’ (online radio), and ‘Live Blog’ for real time reporting and aggregating social media content in real time as well. Sourcefabric try to identify a problem and see which tools are appropriate, and then consider what to do next.

This often entails making something new.

Douglas offered some critical context to the day and the task ahead,

(The first step is to) understand that a book is a container for information. Containers can take lots of different forms. Tools can help to make the work as a collaborative (process). Journalists have been doing this for centuries. They have organised and self-organised around the concept of the desk (which is) a method of workflow and a tool for institutional memory. People to organise themselves around a topic.

What is important is the ability to tell a story. This is always the primary thing.

Doug Belshaw has a background as a Philosophy student, before pursuing a career as a History teacher before moving into the field of digital literacy. His portfolio as a Consultant includes the development of Open Badgers (the micro digital credentials programme) with the team at the Mozilla Foundation. He is interested in how people live and work online and their productivity using technology. He is the author of the e-book, ‘The Essential Ways of Digital Literacy’.

The book sprint begins…

Demonstration of ‘Omnibook’ (Daniel James)

‘Omnibook’  is the place for authors to write, exchange ideas, discuss and collaborate; it is a social platform for writing books. ‘Booktype’ is the content management system behind ‘Omnibook’.

Daniel demonstrated how to create an account for all participants and the main functionality in creating a book, including how to create chapters and collaboratively edit. Daniel also instructed on the development of curating and ordering content and advised on a variety of processes and possibilities to produce to best effect in the time allotted.

Further information on ‘Omnibook’ can be found here:

Defining subject matter

Step One: What are people interested in doing?

Research/ writing/ editing/ image collation/ design – participants express where their own skills/ interests/ experiences lie in the production of the publication.

Step Two: What subjects are people interested in?

For this book sprint, none of the participants had brought any existing writing or research so the proposed subject matter for the publication was developed from scratch. The following ideas were brought to the table:

  • North East heritage and history
  • Newcastle Gateshead relationship
  • John Martin (19 July 1789 – 17 February 1854) was an English Romantic painter, engraver and illustrator and his brother, William      Martin (1772–1851) was an English eccentric and self-described philosopher.

The group voted on the Martin Brothers as a theme to pursue.

Step Three: Independent research using sharing tool to support findings and real time discussion

Ether pad (online open source editing software) was used for the participants to track their initial research and trajectories inspired by the chosen subject matter.

Refining the focus of the publication (Title and chapters)

Over lunch, discussions continued around the research and collective interests of the group. The selected subject was refined based upon discussions around notability and who defines what is notable (in both historical and contemporary terms). A title was developed to reflect the direction of dialogue and interests, Notes and Notability.

Content development using Omnibook

Participants worked over the course of two hours to develop a preface and chapters inspired by ‘notability’ and regionalism as a theme. Each chapter was developed by participants independently (selecting an area of research that held most interest to them), though discussion remained fluid and content development organic throughout the process.


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