sophie alpha version is up

As promised, an alpha version of Sophie is available here. As it says on the download page . . . To be honest we’re betwixt and between about releasing Sophie now. On the one hand, it’s definitely not ready for prime-time and we’re not particularly happy about releasing software with so many bugs, no documentation and incomplete features; on the other hand, Sophie is real and promises to be fantastic . . . so we didn’t want people to think it was vaporware either.

22 thoughts on “sophie alpha version is up

  1. bob martinengo

    just watched the movie – she’s looking pretty good – i like the halo editing mode.
    one comment as far as releasing a reader application – dont! why should an ‘author’ get more power than a ‘reader’, who is just as likely to be an author? sure, have a mode optimized for reading, but dont split sophie’s psyche – big mistake. what is the justification for a separate reader application?

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  2. Gary Frost

    Perhaps different reading formats each have a particular osmotic capacity to absorb composite media. This is evident in print where a native capacity to diagram scientific concepts was seamlessly integrated into the printed book. From the 16th century to modern publications such as Steven Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science or Edward Tufte’s Graphic Display of Quantitative Information the assimilation of diagrammatic content into print has been natural.
    Adrian Johns describes this assimilation beautifully in his introduction to Walter Ong’s Ramus. He suggests that the process not only converges with the potential of a technical medium, but also with a way of thinking. “The idea that thinking could be reduced to an act of spatial arrangement and display proved immensely important to practicing teachers. In the century between 1550 and 1650 Ramism gained adherents beyond number. When it then vanished as an explicit intellectual cause, it did so not so much because its limitations had become apparent – they had always been that – as because the attitude it embodied had become prerequisite for the act of thinking itself.”
    Motion and audio were naturally assimilated by the screen format during the advent of cinema. The rich assimilation of media by the networked computer screen appears equally inevitable. Likewise a momentum toward perceptual habits in accord with such presentation is also apparent, probably especially in the field of education.
    What else? Certain assimilations did not occur. The publishers’ device of including a CD in a printed book or URLs in a print bibliography have been bodily rejected by the print media. What enrichments have been problematic to screen presentation? Here we can see the problems that proliferation of channels brought to television, inducing a viewer behavior that disrupted sustained programming. Likewise the presentation of YouTube has induced a reading skill for deselection, while compromising and distracting from the very reading environment that it wishes to cultivate. The computer screen in essence has naturally induced a deconstructive reading behavior exemplified by dispersive linking and cultivating skills at deselection and inattention.
    Experiments exemplified by StorySpace and Sophie do not have the luxury of centuries of perspective that the diagramatic presentation of print provides. But I am always told that current progressions are much quicker and that they actually occur within the life spans of software developers themselves. Anyway, persistence is not a native virtue in screen reading….just the opposite.

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  3. bob stein

    Bob,
    mostly what we mean by “reader” here is that a book doesn’t have to be displayed inside of a gray workspace. on the other hand, nothing will prevent you from reading Sophie books in the (author) workspace. it will be up to whoever makes a book to decide whether a “published” book can be changed by its readers or not.

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  4. bob martinengo

    bob,
    this is a case for… the tao! author and reader are yin yang – cant have one without the other. the author of a born-digital document certainly needs to be able to flip the switch and see their own document from the readers perspective, ie, the ‘reader mode’. in this mode, the author is now outside their own creation, and if they see something they dont like, they can flip back to author and edit, or stay as a reader and annotate their own work – like playing chess against yourself (you cant lose). so what i am saying is their should only ever be one sophie – write>read>write>read>….
    now, about this publishing and changing bit. the author certainly has the right to accept copyright, or apply creative commons, or some new license of their own creation, but why does the reader? enforcing some kind of drm in sophie would be pointless, silly, and wrong. there is no such thing as protected content – seems odd to even think about incorporating that into a digital creation of the 21st century – anything that can be experienced digitally can be copied, hacked, modified, or otherwise abused. dont hobble sophie with antiquated printcentric phobias about the sanctity of the author.
    and, gary, you are so right.

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  5. bob stein

    bob,
    this is a very deep and complicated question . . . i’m going to think about a way to move this off the comment stream to a public form more conducive to extended discussion.

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  6. K.G. Schneider

    To answer your earlier question, in my book (no pun intended) you did right by releasing Sophie. I can’t figure it out and I don’t know how to get my text online and it’s all I can do to muddle my way through two paragraphs… but so what? It’s Holy Weekend and the Easter Bunny brought Sophie. The early-early adopters will give you good feedback. Wish I could take a week off and help you write documentation (in Sophie, of course).

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  7. Charlie

    On the one hand, it’s definitely not ready for prime-time and we’re not particularly happy about releasing software with so many bugs, no documentation and incomplete features; on the other hand, Sophie is real and promises to be fantastic . . . so we didn’t want people to think it was vaporware either.

    I was curious about the code and the project, so I looked around the site and downloaded the software. You could get increased benefit from releasing an alpha version if you set things up more along the lines of an open source development project and take advantage of commons based peer production.

    I might be wrong (I only looked for about five minutes), but all of the files I could find in the non-installer download were already compiled. Release the source code.

    And then begin creating a space for user/contributor community formation. Setup forum areas where people can provide bug reporting, feedback on usability, and, if someone happens to play with the code, bug fixes, documentation, and/or feature enhancements. Let others begin offering their assistance whether you chose to integrate their contributions or not.

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  8. bob stein

    thank you Charlie. hopefully all of the things you’ve suggested will be done in the next week or two.

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  9. bowerbird

    bob stein said:
    > this is a very deep and complicated question…
    > i’m going to think about a way to move this
    > off the comment stream to a public form
    > more conducive to extended discussion.
    that would be a _huge_ breakthrough.
    ***
    as for the specific question per se,
    i don’t think it matters either way.
    you can try to lock the content that
    makes up a book, but any determined
    person can reconstitute and remix…
    to my mind, then, the right choice is
    to utterly simplify that remixability.
    so that’s how i’m designing my tools.
    but as i said, it’s no longer a thing
    that tool-makers _need_ to “give” us –
    or that authors can “deny” to readers.
    it is reminiscent of mcnealy on privacy:
    “authorial control is dead. get over it.”
    -bowerbird
    p.s. but in this regard, could you share
    with us all the raw materials used to make
    the sophie book you created in the movie?
    most specifically — the only thing i have
    not yet rounded up or screenshot is the
    gates movie and the audio-track you used.
    i’d like to show people how i would create
    the same book using my authoring tools…

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  10. jeff

    A forum would be cool (as Charlie writes).
    I downloaded it (to a Mac running OS X). Started a new book. Tried two different ways to import an image (drag and import file). Sophie crashed both times.
    Still – I’m glad to see the release and hope to be a part of beta/trial testing as new releases come online (or at least hope to be able to talk out issues with other trial users).

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  11. Jesse Wilbur

    Jeff, there is a new release coming that fixes that problem. I am guessing you are using a mac running OSX 10.3. There was a bug that caused importing images to crash Sophie, but not on 10.4. We have had a relatively small testing pool, but now that Sophie is out there, it is much, much larger. :)
    As bob said, we hope to have usable documentation and forums up in the next week or so. Keep checking back.

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  12. Clément Laberge

    Everything’s fine for a french usage up to now. Thanks.
    Anxiously waiting for the sources…

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  13. sol gaitan

    Curiosly, this brings to mind Dan Visel’s post on Ted Nelson, which makes reference to a book printed by William Morris in 1893, The Tale of King Florus and the Fair Jehane, as an example of a book design “sumptuous to the point of being unreadable.” Dan goes on to imagine what would be needed to come up with an outline for that book and how it could be structured if we wanted to represent the uniqueness of each page in XML. His purpose is not to imagine how such book could be represented on the Web, an image could do that, but how it would be done starting from scratch if the purpose was to “emulate Morris’s type and woodcuts – a more theoretical proposition.”
    Making a parallel between “Nelson’s ideas and Morris’s beautiful but unreadable pages,” Dan sees Morris not just as a designer, but as an intellectual who conceived his books as part of his program of arts and crafts, in which the beauty of individual creation responded to the increasingly mechanized and dehumanized Victorian world. By citing Walter Benjamin’s thoughts on the difference between “merely supplying a production apparatus and trying to change the production apparatus,” (“The Author as Producer”) Dan brings up the notion that “Morris, like Nelson, was trying to change the production apparatus because he saw that another world was possible.”
    Two years, and many developments, later, and reading the conversation generated by Bob’s post on the alpha version of Sophie, we still seem to be judging the production apparatus from the standpoint of centuries before. Gary Frost’s quote of Adrian Jones seems to point in that direction: “The idea that thinking could be reduced to an act of spatial arrangement and display proved immensely important to practicing teachers…. When it then vanished as an explicit intellectual cause, it did so not so much because its limitations had become apparent…. as because the attitude it embodied had become prerequisite for the act of thinking itself.” The fact that today the inclusion of CDs or URLs by print media have not taken, has more to do with the practical problems such hybrid presents than with the act of thinking generated by the potential enrichment of a text.
    A point to be made here is precisely that the act of thinking is conceptual and that ideas, as abstractions, go beyond words and images organized on a page. The born-digital, the networked book, resembles what goes on in the mind more closely than the printed one. The way the mind wonders when stimulated by a text, its recollections, connections, considerations and questions, are potentially better served by today’s experiments with digital formats. Monologue becomes dialogue; reading ceases to be a passive act. Haven’t we always borrowed, copied, adopted and modified the words of others? But, the fact that now we can do in the open doesn’t come without consequences. The fear of a text that is continuously transformed, the impossibility of reaching a conclusion, “deconstructive reading behavior,” subversion of the traditional role of author as authority, the straying away from that most modernist of concepts, the canon, don’t point out to postmodernity?

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  14. bob martinengo

    Gary, Sol, and others are articulating ideas that I think support my points, and they are doing it more articulately than can I, so keep it coming.
    In essence, I was saying that what I had seen so far of Sophie made me feel that unnecessary and damaging limitations on the programs ability to serve as an expressive vehicle for thought were being imposed.
    Perhaps the designers knew this and are operating under other constraints, such as funder imposed mandates for DRM, or somesuch. Whatever it is, I can tell you one thing for certain – the most interesting uses of Sophie will come from folks who bend, break, and invent new ways to use it.

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  15. bowerbird

    this version seems much more stable. thanks.
    i’ve set up a wiki to discuss design philosophy
    for e-book viewer-programs and authoring-tools:
    > http://bowerbird.pbwiki.com/
    i think i’ve covered most of the bases, but
    please feel free to contribute your thoughts.
    -bowerbird

    Reply
  16. Gary Frost

    The presentation format selected is the codex with 22 of the features related to page navigation. If the scroll format is considered other navigation options would be appropriate. But is there a native screen format possible? Yes, if the reading device is a presumed blank book that is connected and awaiting browser rendering in any format.

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  17. Patrick

    Hi,
    First of all my compliments ! I saw the film, looks amazing! We downloaded Sophie! and we are trying to find our way through it.
    We are interested in creating articles, quickly (and let others do so as well) which consecutively are shared through a content management system (in our case Zope/Plone).
    So I was just wondering.. how could you create a Sophie! document and then publish it online through a CMS such as Plone.. or.. does it mean for now, that every reader needs to have Sophie! downloaded and then I, as an author, can connect with that reader through Sophie! ?

    Reply
  18. bowerbird

    will there be a discussion of sophie’s design?
    i dom’t want to sit around and wait for something
    that will never come. i have a lot of questions.
    -bowerbird

    Reply

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