Manifold, an Open Source Platform

F. Howlett

On Tuesday, February 8, Robin Miller, who we are fortunate to have as a classmate and as an Open Educational Technology Specialist and librarian at CUNY GC, led a workshop on Manifold, an open-source platform that is available for all at CUNY to use. An online CUNY description snatched from Google is: “an intuitive, collaborative, open-source platform for interactive scholarly publishing created by a collaboration from the CUNY Graduate Center, the University of Minnesota Press and Cast Iron Coding.”

Robin explained its origins as follows: Matt Gold, in 2011, was looking for a Digital Editor—something more than a website. It was important for it to be accessible and responsive, and what they came up with is a product that can be operated successfully even from a phone.  She explained that Manifold was built with the workflow of a university press in mind, so it can handle large projects but the intention is for it to have greater flexibility and applicability than a traditional literary press.

Manifold operates as a container. My understanding is that the container is essentially a  library,  or similar to a building with adjoining sections—a wonderful space to store not only your project but everything related to it and even things that may not be used but might be considered important connections and reference tools.  The opportunity to have everything you need to reach out for contained in one place. It is not intended for writing. Writing takes place outside the container and imported in without reciprocity. That is, if you amend something once it is inside Manifold, there is no synchronicity with the related documents outside the container.

Text may be brought in by 1) importing text; 2) bringing in a Google doc; 3) importing from Word; 4) texts can be built out from HTML or 5) from HTML Lite (LiteHTML), a function to give developers an easy way to show HTML in their applications.

Robin reported that Manifold is being adapted for a variety of purposes.  For example, at Brown, the freshman student body reads together from it as a book club.

A Manifold installation is called an instance.  That instance can contain several, dozens, or even hundreds of projects, and there is an established hierarchy as to who has permission to do what to whom within each project. Each project has a home page that may contain many content blocks or just a few, depending on how many different categories (paths to take, areas to explore) one wishes to provide. The core block is called the “Hero” block. It appears directly below the title, describes the project, defines its creators and other essential information, and cannot be removed.  Everything else on the home page can be manipulated as desired.

It is possible to include video and audio files and bring in items that would be very difficult for a traditional publisher.  Various content blocks can be hidden as long as wished and released when deemed ready.

The Manifold documentation that I have explored so far is thorough, well-written and easily available both on the CUNY Academic Commons and on Google. Examples of how it is used for projects—whether for classrooms or research or archival purposes—is also plentiful both at CUNY and on the internet.  It gets compared to resources such as Press Books or Pub Pub. In its relatively short lifespan, it seems to have become an integral part of the life of digital publishing.

I attended the Moacir P. de Sá Pereira presentation on GitHub. I got as far as creating an account, and I am very interested and fascinated by its connectivity with Zotero, but it’s going to take more than a couple of hours for me to digest all that I heard there.