Goals and strategy#

The goal of the EBP is to build tools that facilitate creating professional computational narratives (books, lecture series, articles, etc.) using open source tools. We want users in the scientific, academic, and data science communities to be able to do the following:

  • Write their content in either markdown text files, or Jupyter Notebooks. These files include rich content - outputs from running code, references and cross-references, equations, etc.

  • Execute content and cache the results. Intelligent caching means that only modified code cells are re-run.

  • Combine cached outputs with content files with a document model. Using the excellent Sphinx documentation stack, documents can include many features for publishing, such as equations, cross-references, and citations.

  • Build interactive HTML or publication-quality PDF outputs. Sometimes users wish to create rich and interactive websites, other times they want to send a high-quality PDF to a publisher. This system will treat both as equal citizens.

  • Control everything above with a simple command-line interface. Most users should not have to know anything about Sphinx, caching, etc. A simple user interface will hide most of the complexity of this process.

Guiding principles and constraints#

In running this project, we aim to adhere to several principles that we believe will result in higher-quality technology that aligns with the core principles of the open source community. Here are a few key components:

  • Give equal support to casual users and power users. Complicating the feature space to support a “power user feature” should be done with great care.

  • Build modular components that are useful elsewhere. Rather than building a single vertical stack, find parts of the workflow that naturally separate. Create modular tools for these parts so that they may benefit the community outside of the context of building interactive books.

  • Use pre-existing technology where possible. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, make every effort to utilize pre-existing open source tech.

  • Use pre-existing standards where possible. In the event that we must create new patterns of content creation or tooling, utilize prior art in the open source community as much as possible, especially when it comes to markup languages.

  • Contribute improvements upstream. Where we utilize pre-existing tools, contribute improvements to them as we build off of them for this project.

  • Design for the future. While we have a bit of funding now, it won’t last forever. This means the technology should be easy for potential developers to read, understand, and modify/improve.

  • Users should not need to know anything about the build system. If they want to dig into the guts of our infrastructure, they can, but knowledge of Sphinx, Latex, and so on should not be a requirement. They should only need to use a simple tool to control the process.

  • Don’t try to do everything. Focus our tools on publishing computational documents with reasonable choices made for the user.

Browse the rest of this site for more information about what we’re working on and our plans for what’s coming next.