Extending OJS into small magazines: The OMMM Project
First Monday

Extending OJS into small magazines: The OMMM Project by John W. Maxwell

At the CCSP, we have been exploring the possibilities of using open source, journal management software OJS to run small, independent magazines. To what extent can the editorial process embodied in OJS be adapted and loosened to serve the known needs of small magazines. Conversely, to what extent could this functionality be addressed starting with much simpler, less formalized platforms such as wikis, blogs, and open–ended CMS tools, adding structure and constraint as needed. Small magazines share many characteristics with journals: they have well–known communities of contributors, well–defined editorial and production processes, and are interested in publishing online as well as in print. There are also significant differences. One obvious difference is peer review, but this may not prove to be the most significant. Rather, focusing on the underlying model of the text and the author, and what each contributes to the larger publication and discourse reveals interesting assumptions underlying the both publishing operations and software systems. A set of requirements for online magazine publishing systems is proposed, with implications for the world of scholarly communication as well.


Introduction: Exploring the limits of the OJS paradigm
Models of text: Small magazines and scholarly journals compared
Content management for magazines
Conclusion: OJS’ future and the world of magazines



Introduction: Exploring the limits of the OJS paradigm

Over the past year, we at the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing (CCSP) have been investigating the possibilities of adapting software like Open Journal Systems (OJS) for the management of small independent magazines. Why? Small magazines share a number of characteristics with scholarly journals: they have well–known communities of contributors and well–defined editorial and production processes, they are interested in publishing online as well as in print, and they operate on small, sometimes very marginal budgets. There are, of course, significant differences between journals and magazines. Notably, unlike the well defined peer–review process embodied in a tool like OJS, the editorial and production flows in small, independent magazines vary widely. Further, these processes can vary over time, even from issue to issue, as the logic of publication is dictated by the cultural and economic objectives of the magazine and its editors more so than time–honoured traditions of peer review and attendant systems of scholarly prestige.

Nevertheless, there are good reasons to explore the overlap between these different publication contexts. Independent magazine publishing can likely benefit from the regularization and process modeling that a system like OJS provides. Conversely, the world of scholarly communication itself is exploring new, more flexible forms and genres and stands to learn much from publication models on its periphery. As such, we are interested in identifying practical software models to manage content and workflow: to handle submissions, track revisions, organize content into themes and issues, and provide production paths to print and to the Web.

This is not an inquiry into the benefits generally of publishing online — at this point, I take that as a given. Rather, this essay is an investigation into specific needs for content, workflow and audience management, one that leads to interesting insights about the nature of publishing — both online and in print — in the contexts of scholarly communication and commercial magazines. It introduces a theoretical model of the text and how it traditionally operates in journal publishing and magazine publishing contexts, and in doing so, suggests that we might with benefit examine the kinds of assumptions embodied in our toolkits and environments. Finally, it proposes an outline of the kinds of functionality required by magazines online, and also likely desirable in scholarly publications in the near future.

About OMMM

The CCSP’s OMMM (“Online Magazine Management Models”) project grew out of our experience using OJS in the publication of the Canadian Journal of Communications, which has provided substantial insight into OJS’ strengths and the opportunities for extending it (see Felczak, et al. in this issue at http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue12_10/felczak/). Our original notion was that an OJS plug–in might be developed for the magazine community (the final M in OMMM originally stood for Module). One of the first steps was to enlist the publishers of Geist, a somewhat prototypical Canadian cultural magazine, in discussions about OJS’ potential fitness to their operations. Geist is a quarterly magazine, supported by a mix of grants, subscription revenue, advertising sales, sponsorship, and private subsidy, with a circulation of about 10,000 (mostly in Canada), a staff of six part–timers plus volunteers, and a third–generation Web site. In short, Geist makes a reasonable comparison piece for scholarly journals.

The parallels between small magazines and with the online journal publishing community are clear enough: the advantages of developing common technological platforms and practices are the same, though the aims and operational realities in these different contexts differ. Also the same is the challenge of managing the hard economic realities of printing and distribution in the service of reaching an community audience. With such parallels in view, we began to look more closely at the practices, needs, and tools of small magazine publishers, with an eye to OJS’ fitness.

Our examination of Geist’s workflow led us to a greater appreciation of editing as a critical workflow component, as the editorial staff there had already assembled some fairly sophisticated Web–based tools to facilitate collaborative access to content. In response, we drafted an early set of requirements for facilitating online editorial workflow, and renewed our efforts to research an emerging self–identified “independent media sector” (as The Tyee publisher David Beers has called it) composed of similar small publications operating both online and in print. Our method since then has been to look in two directions at once. First, to what extent could the publication process embodied in OJS be adapted and/or loosened to serve the known needs of small magazines? Second, conversely, to what extent can this functionality be addressed with simpler, less formalized platforms (such as Web–based CMS and Web 2.0 tools like wikis and blogs), adding structure and strategic constraints as needed? We expect that generative possibilities are to be found somewhere between these two extremes.



Models of text: Small magazines and scholarly journals compared

The immediate parallels between scholarly journals and small magazines give way to more subtle similarities, and differences, on closer inspection. Independent magazines — the products of small presses with minimal budgets — surely share many characteristics with journals: they often have well–known communities of contributors, well–defined editorial and production processes, and relatively stable audiences. They are driven by content, but tied to the economics of subscription management to stay afloat.

At first glance, one might be tempted to say that the primary difference between journals and magazines is the review process: where the defining mechanism of the scholarly journal is peer review, there is no such formalized process in magazine publishing. But, while this is superficially true, a closer look at operational realities shows that this distinction may be something of a red herring; it does not do justice to the operational similarities of journals and magazines. In both kinds of publications, submissions are reviewed by a small number of trusted individuals, rejected, accepted, or returned for revisions, then subjected to an editorial process which ensures consistency of tone and presentation throughout the publication. Apart from the actual policies by which reviewers and editors work, the submission and workflow process embodied in OJS seems sufficiently generic to apply outside the scholarly arena.

If the differences in submissions between these two types of publications are more about policy and personnel than process, it would appear that software like OJS could indeed be of immediate use to magazine publishers. The list of OJS’ features from the PKP Web site certainly suggests so:

  1. OJS is installed locally and locally controlled.
  2. Editors configure requirements, sections, review process, etc.
  3. Online submission and management of all content.
  4. Subscription module with delayed open access options.
  5. Comprehensive indexing of content part of global system.
  6. Reading Tools for content, based on field and editors’ choice.
  7. E–mail notification and commenting ability for readers.
  8. Complete context–sensitive online Help support (from the OJS Web site).

It is easy enough to see the rationale for each of these items in the world of small magazines, at least as stated here. Similarly, the overt editorial process in OJS and the basic editorial roles (editors, section editors, copyeditors, layout editors, proofreaders) defined in the application are a reasonable fit to magazine publishing. In short, based on a cursory look at the way OJS embodies review and editorial processes, we might conclude that it is indeed a good candidate for use in the magazine industry.

Models of text

However, a more fruitful distinction between scholarly journals and magazines — and one which bears more interestingly on our assessment of OJS — is in the underlying model of the text. Very simply, scholarly journal publishing is largely based on the article, a venerable genre firmly established as one of the fundamental component parts of academia. The article is literally the building block of the scholarly journal, as the OED (second edition, via OED Online) makes clear:

article, n. III. The separate members or portions of anything written. [Articulus in L. was extended from the joint, to the parts jointed on, limbs, members, ‘joints’ of a finger, etc.; whence transf. to the component parts of discourses, writings, actions.]

The article is thus the building block of scholarly communications; it is also, in its representation on scholars’ CVs, one of the primary pieces of the system of academic status and reward. And even more fundamentally, as Guédon (2001) has pointed out, the article served as the building block of nascent ideas of intellectual property in the seventeenth century. This basic unit of academic functionality is remarkably intact 350 years later. Guédon notes that “scientific articles remain exactly as they have been for several centuries: a paper–based assembly of text, diagrams, and fixed illustrations (or, more recently, photographs).”

The processes of modern academic publishing are thus not surprisingly based on the founding assumption of the integrity of the academic text and its relationship to a particular author. This is more pronounced in scholarly communications than in other areas of publishing; where editors in commercial book and magazine operations often do substantive work on texts in order to make them ready for public consumption, scholarly editors tread much more lightly, relying on reviewer comments to direct an author to make changes to the text (Brand, 2005).

OJS, as an exemplary scholarly publishing system not surprisingly embodies this conception of the text, treating a submission as an integral entity throughout the process. The text may be revised a number of times, in the review, copyedit, and layout stages, but its fundamental integrity is preserved. OJS’ approach to workflow underscores this: articles are treated as attachments to the workflow management process, usually as MS Word .doc files, sometimes Adobe PDFs or HTML pages, but always treated as unitary objects which are conveyed through the system from stage to stage. The well–known “conduit model” applies here:

The conduit model applies to communication at the micro–level of the individual (or other communicative genre): here a message is packaged by the author, transmitted in a neutral way to the end user, and unpackaged to acquire the original message. [1]

My intent here is not to critique this approach to content handling — though much recent work in scholarly communications does directly address the relative degree of fluidity of scholarly documents (see Harnad, 1991; Guédon, 1994; 2001; Mackenzie Owen, 2005; among many others). Rather, I want to point to this model as a characteristic feature of the traditional scholarly journal and its worldview, in which the genre is so strongly wedded to the form that we readily take it for granted.

By contrast, the textual model inherent in magazine publishing is something far more varied — so varied, in fact, that generalizations are difficult to make. I will, however, offer one commonplace example: the distinction between feature stories and departments, a pair of genres/forms that many commercial magazines exploit. Feature stories look somewhat like journal articles in that they are of substantial length (though this varies widely too), they are usually attributed clearly to a particular author, and they make up much of the obvious content of the magazine, so as to act as one of the primary selling points.

Departments — often referred to as “front of book” or “back of book” material in the trade — operate according to a different set of principles. These pieces are often short, sometimes in the mere hundreds of words; they are sometimes written by editorial staff and carry no byline attribution whatsoever; they are incidental to the overall theme and selling proposition of the publication (we can probably assume that a particular 250–word item on page 12 is not what sells an issue or a subscription, while feature articles by named authors may be). Furthermore, department content is often categorized according to any number of idiosyncratic systems. But more important than any of these other characteristics, the role of this granular, often unattributed content is critical to the establishment of overall editorial voice and value proposition to readers — not, that is, the individual department item, but the collection of items taken as a whole, both in a single issue and over time.

This one example serves to point to an even wider variety of content types in the world of magazine publishing. What is important here is not that variations exist or what the particulars may be, but rather the reasons for these variations and it is here that the more significant differences between journal publishing and magazine publishing reveal themselves. Whereas a journal exists as a vehicle for a particular kind of content — the formal expression of an author’s work — magazines for the most part exist as an embodiment of a relationship between an audience and a particular approach to literature, topic area, or commercial orientation (e.g., magazines focusing on consumer goods). The particular balance struck between feature articles (which do resemble journal articles in important ways), other kinds of editorial content, and even advertising content is the key dynamic in magazine publishing. This is to say, the ways in which content serves a magazine audience is significantly different from how journal content serves its audience.

Models of discourse

We would be remiss to speak of publication content alone without reference to the larger discourse of which it forms a part. The ways in which the larger discursive patterns work is, however, a reflection of their underlying textual models.

Consider the role which journal articles play in the larger system of scholarly communications. The article is at once the formal “register” of intellectual work, in the sense that Guédon (2001) outlines in his recollection of Oldenburg and the Royal Society. The periodical nature of journal publication also allows for an extended, written conversation of scholars responding to one another’s work. This takes a variety of forms, from patterns of citation and quotation of previously published work to the direct response of one article to another. Articles are, literally, the component pieces of scholarly articulation. In the most exciting cases (if I may use that word in the context of the somewhat ponderous unfolding of scholarly communication), a close sequence of articles in a single publication (perhaps over several issues) comprises a direct conversation between two or more scholars; the series can almost be treated as a single text. In such examples, it is clear how the larger discourse is played out. In more diffuse (and more common) cases, we may have to resort to one or other bibliometric strategies to get a sense of how articles are received.

In any case, the integrity of each article as an expression of the author’s work is enshrined. Conversations and other discursive modes happen outside the article; the article is the indivisible building block of larger structures, and negotiation around it happens out–of–band. The journal issue itself is relatively unimportant; it serves as a vehicle and an address of record for the articles, but beyond the journal’s name identity provides limited additional context.

By contrast, consider a magazine’s ongoing negotiation of world view with its audience. This worldview is a product of the editorial work done in the magazine by selecting, massaging, and juxtaposing content. It is also a product of the magazine’s audience responding to and reflecting the voice and outlook of the publication (Kordic, 2007). The extent to which this is successfully carried off is closely tied to the economic success of the magazine, sometimes on a month–to–month basis. If the audience recognizes itself in the magazine’s offering, the magazine sells; if this connection is not made, sales decline and the editors must figure out how to re-establish the connection or risk financial disaster.

The ways in which a magazine’s voice and outlook are conveyed are myriad, but I think we can generalize by saying that they are a function of the editorial mix of the publication as a whole rather than the feature content by itself. The ways in which various content types are sourced, prepared, and aggregated make the raw material for readers’ experience of the whole magazine. The upshot of this is that the content of any particular article is usually in service of the larger editorial goals of the magazine, rather than being the point in and of itself.

One way to frame this distinction is to say that in scholarly publishing, the discourse is largely external to the content: the reception of and response to individual articles plays out over a long time frame. We might label it diachronic. In magazine publishing, the discourse is established in the interplay of content within a single issue — we might call this synchronic.

An extension of this theme is suggested by the recent popularity of Web 2.0–style interactivity online, in which the response and participation of the audience is incorporated directly within publications and indeed individual pieces of content themselves (see, e.g., Wikipedia) — that is, in–band. This possibility presents challenges and opportunities for journal publishers and magazine publishers alike, but it serves to further highlight the relationship between content forms and discursive patterns. In this light, one of the more intriguing features of OJS is its set of “Reading Tools” which attempt to make the intertextual elements of an article more explicit and immediately accessible, by making citations into hyperlinks, pre–loading keywords searches on indexes, and so on. These are excellent and inspiring developments for online scholarship. But note that these tools do not break radically from traditional scholarly practices; scholars have always been engaged in mining bibliographies and following citations, digging through whatever indexing tools are available. In their current form, the PKP Reading Tools can be seen as an accelerating factor, though the annotation and linking research by being undertaken by Kopak and Chiang (in this issue at http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue12_10/kopak/) perhaps represents an opening up of new scholarly practices, especially within the article.

Contemporary magazine publishers are experimenting with a somewhat different approach, as recently presented by Kim Pittaway, former editor–in–chief of successful Canadian monthly Chatelaine and currently a consultant with St. Joseph Media. Pittaway’s advice to magazine publishers looking at the Web was to make archives of magazine content available and re–organizable by readers themselves. The analogy Pittaway referred to is that of a magazine reader accumulating a file folder of clippings cut from magazine pages, arranged according to the reader’s own sensibilities. Why not, she asked, make a magazine’s Web site a toolkit for this kind of interaction, while reinforcing the reader’s ongoing relationship with the publication? (Pittaway, 2007) What this entails is making content available and addressable at a much finer level of granularity than has been traditionally possible, and subsequently putting the emphasis on the collaborative (editors and readers) work of assembling and making sense of it.

A scenario like Pittaway’s forces a reconsideration of the role of content, the comparative importance of authorial voice, and the value proposition of the publication as a whole; it reinforces the conception of a magazine not as a vehicle for content (or, for that matter, for advertising, though this is perhaps an easier notion to incorporate) but as an embodiment of a shared world view, voice, or point of view. Inviting readers to be editors or curators of content is not at odds with the original publishing proposition here, but is directly relevant to the goal of nurturing an ongoing relationship with those readers. In such a conception, content per se plays a secondary role to editorial and as such the requirements of publishers working according to this model are going to be considerably different from those of traditional journal publishers.



Content management for magazines

At the first O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference, veteran electronic publisher Adam C. Engst (2007) outlined what he saw as a set of core requirements for collaborative writing tools. His list included:

  • central storage
  • version control
  • sustainable file format and editing software
  • robust change tracking
  • support for annotation, both in–band and out–of–band
  • support for multiple output targets (print/e–mail/Web)

Engst was talking about a collaborative writing tool, something quite different from OJS, but there is certainly overlap with OJS in this list: central storage, version control and annotation (especially “out–of–band” annotation, the kind OJS currently specializes in). The other items, concerned with file formats, editing and tracking, and output paths, are at least adjacent to the concerns of the present community. But Engst’s call for a toolset that could do all of this is in itself evidence that such an environment does not yet exist — at least not ideally or in a form accessible to small publications.

Large, corporate magazine environments and mainstream newspapers have been heavy users of content and workflow management tools for years; many of these tools were born in the newspaper arena, driven by the need to manage dozens of writers and hundreds of stories on a daily basis. More recently, the two ideals of Web publishing and digital “knowledge management” have spurred the development of a second generation of Web–based content management tools. But these tools — and the industry surrounding them — are primarily aimed at large, well–financed organizations capable of investing six figures and several years into integration efforts. As with many scholarly journals, such software investments are far out of reach of most small magazines.

However, the emerging popularity of Web 2.0 technologies, coming especially from the free/open source community, shows some promise in opening up this area. In the same way that it is possible to create an open source journal publishing system out of ubiquitous Web tools, general–purpose content management and collaborative authoring tools are beginning to proliferate. Unsurprisingly, these are beginning to be picked up by magazine publishers, at least to help with the Web–oriented portion of their operations.

We might propose a spectrum of open content tools. At one end are comprehensive, general purpose application development frameworks like Drupal and Plone: malleable environments which a developer can ‘easily’ adapt to a particular publication context. At the other end are small tools which do one thing well, and which can be fitted together piecemeal according to the Web 2.0 philosophy, “small pieces loosely joined” (Weinberger, 2002). These are tools like blogs, wikis, calendars, collaborative editors like Google Docs, and content sharing/organization environments like 37 Signals’ Backpack and Basecamp.

Publishing toolkits for magazines

None of these tools or toolsets by itself addresses the entirety of Engst’s list of requirements, nor duplicates the kind of functionality that a tool like OJS provides. However, it seems possible to approach these targets, either by the determined adaptation of a power tool like Drupal or Plone, or by judicious blending of small tools. We have not so far seen a complete working system, but some come close. Here are some examples, drawn from our Vancouver–based magazine publishing colleagues.

At Geist, while the magazine’s Web site is currently run on Drupal, editorial development for the magazine itself uses a variety of sparsely connected tools such as 37 Signals’ Backpack and Google Docs to facilitate near–simultaneous access to different kinds of content both by the in–house editorial staff and a “constellation” of volunteer editorial board members outside the office. These tools provide a form of lightweight, flexible in–band and out–of–band content editing and organization. At Geist, the key challenge is to allow content to flow through the editorial team with as little friction as possible. That the toolsets employed are not closely integrated is not necessarily an obstacle to this larger goal, though integration is clearly desirable.

A completely different set of tools is in use at Vancouver–based online news magazine The Tyee, which runs its editorial operations on Bricolage, an open source content–development/management system originally developed for Salon. Bricolage doesn’t meet all of The Tyee’s needs, however, so the publication also uses some Drupal–based components to enhance opportunities for reader interaction, as well as a selection of other specific–purpose tools to support marketing and advertising. The Tyee, existing only online, has been positioned from its founding to build its processes around Web–based tools, and is something of a trailblazer in this regard.

Ricepaper is a very small cultural magazine with a very large volunteer staff that nicely blurs the lines between authors, editors, and readers. The staff at Ricepaper have been through at least four different iterations of a home–grown content management system, having used everything from Web–based file repositories to Web forum software to (more recently) a Drupal application to manage submissions, track processes, and manage volunteer staff. Ricepaper’s peripatetic approach (Chan, 2005) nicely illustrates the difficulties of adapting pre–existing tools to sometimes highly idiosyncratic work systems. It also underscores the potential of small, loosely coupled tools to handle complex situations.

Production strategies

A final topic worth examining is production. Editorial workflow and content management ultimately output to some platform or other, be it print, static Web site, or dynamic collection. Increasingly, publications want to output to multiple platforms, a desire that brings single–sourcing strategies into play. I find it surprising, however, that most approaches to Web–based content management seriously underplay the possibilities of single–source production, choosing either to output to a single Web–based channel or to remain agnostic about production modes altogether. OJS, for instance, currently outsources the entire production process to a journal’s Layout Editor. Between the submission stage, when document attachments are uploaded, and final publication to the Web, the challenge of managing content– and file formats — not to mention more traditional production concerns like composition and layout — is left entirely up to the editorial staff; OJS itself acts as a simple conduit for the files involved [2]. One could as easily move photographs or MP3 files rather than texts through OJS. While this might be a virtue in some cases, in the larger context of magazine publishing environments, some attendance to the mechanics and technologies of production seems welcome.

Conventional wisdom by now holds that an XML–based content and production management system is the ideal: editing and storing content in a platform–neutral, semantically marked–up format, and then transforming content to various output modes (Web site, mobile phone, print pages, etc.) automatically via software. However, a decade of XML (not to mention almost two previous decades of SGML) has demonstrated how difficult this is to achieve in practice. Even in journal publishing, with its standardized conception of the article (captured in well–established SGML/XML document types like ISO 12083 and its derivatives), the costs of both tooling up and staffing such a system are considerable. How much more complex must this look for magazine publishers, with a wide variety of document types and different modes of author, editor, and audience interaction; the very notion of a standardized set of magazine document types is critically undermined by the virtue of creative diversity evident in the magazine publishing world.

There may, however, be an opportunity to find a third alternative: the flourishing of Web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis means that a rapidly developing XHTML–based infrastructure is being developed. While the Web 2.0 movement does not have the interests of publishers at heart in the slightest, the growing ubiquity of XHTML — which is simply the Web’s traditional HTML content expressed as valid XML — as a basic, foundational content standard presents an intriguing opportunity, as it is a true XML document type which can certainly be used to drive single–source publishing systems. Leaving aside issues of higher–level semantic structure for the moment, at the heart of nearly every document–oriented DTD or schema is a core of text elements that are basically equivalent to XHTML.

At the CCSP we have recently experimented with drawing XHTML content from a wiki to feed a variety of templated print output paths in using Adobe InDesign, with very encouraging results (Pagé, et al., 2007). The sheer simplicity of XHTML–based content makes this technically trivial, yet the separation of content from presentation required for single–source production is achieved. For their part, higher–level organizational structures (distinguishing different content types, semantic metadata, authorship) can be handled easily enough “out–of–band,” as OJS currently does, or simply at a higher level of organizational abstraction within the software. Furthermore, an XHTML–based production system means that the tool chain can be built of inexpensive and/or ubiquitous software components (which also implies common skillsets), rather than gearing up for the rarefied production settings dictated by higher–powered XML documentation standards.

My intent here is not to criticize OJS (or any other system) on the relative strengths of its production capabilities, but to point out emerging opportunities for content and workflow–management systems to more robustly address production processes. My sense is that within a few years, we will be seeing single–source production toolkits commonly embedded in open source systems.



Conclusion: OJS’ future and the world of magazines

There is considerable value in querying the underlying assumptions that shape our tools and created environments. Tools are never merely tools; they shape our thinking, establish conceptual and practical boundaries, and, to the extent that they are well used, carry significant cultural weight. I mean to consider OJS as an example of such a well–used tool. It is my sincere hope is that I am not simply pointing out the shortcomings of the current iteration of OJS for small magazine publishers. Rather, what I am striving for is a workable articulation of the publishing process as it is and may be embodied in software.

On the basis of the foregoing analysis, I think there is limited usefulness for magazine publishers in the current OJS approach. Where magazine publishers would need to wring the most flexibility from OJS is, for better or worse, the very keystone of OJS’ architecture. This is not peer review (which can be reasonably sidestepped in OJS’ workflow) nor other operational trappings of scholarly journals; rather, it is the founding assumption of the integral, authored article. Magazine publishing requires a more malleable model of content. That said, there is considerable value in using the current version of OJS as a benchmark or touchstone, as it does such a good job as a formal, explicit model of the journal publication process; it is thus relatively straightforward to derive the strategic differences of magazine publishing given such a standard.

The value of this comparison goes farther than this, however, in pointing out how the models of document and discourse evident in journal and cultural magazine publishing are reinforced and/or challenged by digital, networked media. As scholarly publishing evolves in the light of the Internet — a process well underway already — it will undoubtedly respond to the constraints and affordances of digital media in ways both similar and distinct from those of magazine publishers. This is to say that the future of OJS in its native realm — scholarly communications — may move it in directions that make it more appealing to magazine publishers.

Yet another requirements list

We saw that small magazines are looking to ad hoc collections of content and production tools. This suggests that a single, integrated system does not exist (certainly not at an affordable level), and so we might at this point be able to outline a set of general requirements for such a system, and I will submit one here to act as a counterpoint both to OJS’ current set of features and functions and to Engst’s view of collaborative writing tools. At a fairly high level, a small magazine operation needs content and workflow management software supporting the following:

An open–ended repertoire of content types — magazine publishers traffic in a wide and non–standardized variety of content types. Sometimes this content is in the form of the monolithic article with a definite author, but at at least as often publishers deal with shorter, more context–dependent pieces, sometimes with indeterminate authorship, and sometimes aggregated from multiple components. We might include advertisements as magazine content types here as well. What is required is not a particular (albeit larger) set of content types, but to allow editorial staff to define them as needed. This has implications for how a tool like OJS manages both metadata and the content itself.

Content repurposing — Is a magazine a place you visit or a text you study? The arrangement and curation of content in different contexts for different audiences seems to be emerging as a core practice for magazines, especially as the web dramatically reduces the costs of doing so. Feature articles appearing in a single, determinate issue are the exception, not the rule. The implication is that a management tool needs to be more than a repository, and that access is not the only (or even primary) functional dimension.

Content granularity — following on the previous point, magazine publishers are apt to need to access a particular photograph that accompanied a feature, or a particular text snippet, more than they need to preserve the integrity of an entire layout or article. Granularity leads to contextual flexibility. As scholarly communications becomes more concerned with process rather than just end product, the virtues of granularity and flexibility should gain currency here as well.

In–band, collaborative editing and annotation — given the churn of editorial development, magazines are well positioned to take advantage of centralized content–centric workflow, allowing incremental, collaborative development between editors and authors. Consider the possibilities for author/editor interaction were OJS’ workflow to be focused on content development online rather than merely managing the discrete correspondence between these actors.

Audience interaction — given the central importance of nurturing audience engagement, access to content itself isn’t the key dynamic with magazine publishing; opening up opportunities to develop and nurture relationships between editors, content, and readers is. Magazines are well positioned to take advantage of Web 2.0–style technologies, which “harness the collective intelligence” of an audience (as Tim O’Reilly (2007) puts it). There may be more to public knowledge than access alone; it is at least plausible that the future of scholarly communications takes audience participation much more seriously.

Single–source/multi–mode production — if publishers are serious about operating in print as well as online (not to mention nascent mobile and dynamic modes which may yet come to dominance), then the 1980s paradigm of discrete word processing and layout stages will likely fade, in favour of more integrated, markup–driven systems. Much of this is entirely possible today, though it remains marginal in practice.

Flexible configuration — the exact mix of these dynamics varies from publication to publication in different markets (e.g., fashion vs. news vs. business–to–business publications), with different economic models (e.g., subscription–based vs. controlled circulation), and with different philosophies of editorial/advertising balance. The need to configure content and workflow to a particular publication’s context will be key to any toolkit’s success. Finding an architectural model which captures the core conceptual integrity of a task which remaining open–ended about specific possibilities is probably a generic requirement for successful software systems. Consider the blend of conceptual simplicity with creative flexibility in photo–editing software; in contrast, consider the rigidity of many data management applications. I do not believe we have not yet found such a point of conceptual elegance in text– and publishing systems.

As evidenced by the very existence of the 2007 PKP Conference, OJS is a highly successful project that has found a welcoming journal–publishing community world–wide. OJS’ design deftly addresses a host of publication challenges — from the formalization of review and editorial processes and streamlining editorial correspondence to presenting a convenient online version of a journal and exposing metadata in order to connect journal content with the rest of the world. But in evaluating it, it is important to reflect that OJS in its current form is a document–based, correspondence–management system.

The evolution of scholarly communications in the digital age is about more than just open access, open archives and editorial efficiencies. There is an attendant evolution — or perhaps a revolution, as Harnad was bold enough to call it back in the early 1990s — in the forms and genres of scholarly discourse as it confronts the possibilities of digital, networked media. Well over a decade ago Jean–Claude Guédon (1994) suggested that

learned journals will tend to evolve into something that will ultimately resemble the present workings of an academic seminar more than the relatively hardened document of the printed journal.

Should such an evolutionary branch succeed, the requirements of journal publishers may come to more closely resemble those of the small magazines we have been watching. That is, the conceptual distinctions I have drawn in this paper may prove short lived; greater granularity, content repurposing, and in–band editing and annotation may become core features of scholarly publishing software. End of article


About the author

John W. Maxwell is a faculty member of the Master of Publishing Program at Simon Fraser University, where his focus is on the impact of digital technologies in the Canadian book and magazine industries. He recently completed a PhD in education on the cultural trajectory of “personal computing” over the past three decades. John has worked in new media since the early 1990s, in Web design, content management, electronic publishing, learning technologies, and virtual community building, His current research interests include the history of computing and new media, and contemporary myth–making in the face of digital media.
E–mail: jmax [at] sfu [dot] ca



I would like to acknowledge the contributions of CCSP Director Rowly Lorimer, who launched the OMMM project (and contributed its acronym), developer Graeme Smecher, who made the first sustained effort at developing a model for how an OMMM toolkit might be constructed. Thanks also to and Geist publisher Stephen Osborne and senior editor Mary Schendlinger, who provided countless insights into their magazine’s operations.

An earlier version of this paper was prepared for the First International PKP Scholarly Publishing Conference, held at Vancouver, 11–13 July 2007.



1. MacKenzie Owen, 2005, p. 85.

2. The recent announcement (see http://pkp.sfu.ca/lemon8) of an XML conversion tool to help with the layout editor’s more mechanical tasks, does not fundamentally change the situation. While tools for convertings word processing file formats are surely a good thing, such tools do not change OJS’ basic mode, in which documents are managed and exchanged as attachments.



Megan Brand, 2005. “Outsourcing academia: How freelancers facilitate the publishing process,” Unpublished Masters Project Report, Simon Fraser University.

Jessica Gin–Jade Chan, 2005. “Where the rice cooks: Connecting text and community at Ricepaper magazine through a content management system,” Unpublished Masters Project Report, Simon Fraser University.

Adam Engst, 2007. “Collaborative writing tools and techniques: Reality to fantasy,” paper presented at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference (San Jose, 18–20 June), at http://conferences.oreillynet.com/cs/toc/view/e_spkr/1290, accessed 2 October 2007.

Jean–Claude Guédon, 2001. “In Oldenburg’s long shadow: Librarians, research scientists, publishers, and the control of scientific publishing,” Association of Research Libraries 138th Membership Meeting Proceedings (May), at http://www.arl.org/resources/pubs/mmproceedings/138guedon.shtml, accessed 2 October 2007.

Jean–Claude Guédon, 1994. “Why are electronic publications difficult to classify? The orthogonality of print and digital media,” In: Directory of electronic journals, newsletters and academic discussion lists, at http://people.virginia.edu/~pm9k/libsci/guedon.html, accessed 2 October 2007.

Stevan Harnad, 1991. “Post–Gutenberg galaxy: The fourth revolution in the means of production of knowledge,” Public–Access Computer Systems Review, volume 2, number 1, at http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Papers/Harnad/harnad91.postgutenberg.html, accessed 2 October 2007.

Lara Kordic, 2007. “What your magazine is trying to tell you,” Unpublished Masters Project Report, Simon Fraser University.

John Stewart Mackenzie Owen, 2005. “The scientific article in the age of digitization,” at http://dare.uva.nl/document/17843, accessed 2 October 2007.

Tim O’Reilly, 2007. “Publishing in a Web2.0 world,” paper presented at the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference (San Jose, 18–20 June).

Mauve Pagé, Bay Dodd, Sarah Hipworth, Caitlin Drake, Rachel Page, and Nick Boudin, 2007. “FunnelWeb,” Unpublished Project Documentation, PUB607, Simon Fraser University, at http://thinkubator.ccsp.sfu.ca/resources/FunnelWebXML07.pdf, accessed 2 October 2007.

Kim Pittaway, 2007. “Repurposing content for the Web,” paper presented at MagNet: Canada’s Magazine Conference (Toronto, 13–15 June).

David Weinberger, 2002. Small pieces loosely joined: A unified theory of the Web. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus.



Contents Index

Copyright ©2007, First Monday.

Copyright ©2007, John W. Maxwell.

Extending OJS into small magazines: The OMMM Project by John W. Maxwell
First Monday, Volume 12 Number 10 - 1 October 2007

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