Suppose you spent 2 hours watching a movie. Even if the movie was free, there's a cost associated with losing that 2 hour block of time. If you could have spent that time working for $10 an hour, then the cost of that movie is $20. This "cost of other opportunities lost" is known to economists as an opportunity cost.
If you look at the last 20 years of technologic advancement, you'd notice that this generation has been gifted with more tools to do incredible things, at a lower cost, than ever before. It used to be that if you wanted to put up a website, you needed to go hardware shopping. Now, with AWS, you can rent a server in Singapore at the click of a button. Or heck, just pick a Squarespace template and drag-and-drop it together. If you have a good idea and a video camera, you can raise millions of dollars on Kickstarter and make it a reality. You can start a club, self-publish a book, write a song, learn a subject, or make a movement. What used to take connections and thousands of dollars, now just requires some time, internet access, and some gumption.
Does that terrify you? It terrifies me.
That 2 hours is a lot more valuable today than it was 50 years ago. The relentless increase in opportunity costs is crushing.
I once had a teacher who gave her class a writing assignment. The requirements were all spelled out: there was a choice of topic, a writing portion, and an oral presentation. Just a typical day in an English class.
But then it wasn't.
After introducing the assignment she said, "If you complete all these requirements, exactly, you will get a C."
Predictably, a student replies, "So what does it take to get an A?"
"Do more than required."
The students were confused. Do everything and get a C? This couldn't be right.
But it was right. She had thrown down the gauntlet. You could see the panic on each prospective Valedictorian's face. It was a sight to behold.
But that was nothing compared to the presentations. One student burst out into song at random points during her presentation. Another student gave his presentation while standing on his head. Who knew these students could be so creative? All from a boring English class, from a teacher who dared to raise the bar.
We all have a lot of creative capacity that goes untapped in our day-to-day lives. What if we decided that "just fulfilling the requirements" wasn't enough? How would we go above and beyond?
I've had my head down working for a little while, and today I'm coming up for air to talk a little bit about what I've been working on.
I've been making Bitbooks, THE tool for building online books from Github.
By online books, I mean books like Pro Git, Dive into HTML5 and and Git from the Bottom Up (which was built with Bitbooks). The common thread behind these examples is that you don't have to pay to "get access." The full book is accessible online to anybody with a laptop or mobile device. They were written to teach a technical topic, and the information was given away freely, under a Creative Commons license for the benefit of all.
Isn't that great?
I think so, and I want to see more of that. But making a book like "Pro Git" is actually quite a bit of work... not just the writing but buidling a technology stack that can manage both community collaboration and publishing the site online. I wanted to remove some of that friction.
I thought, why not use Github for collaboration, and Bitbooks for publishing?
With Bitbooks, you can push Markdown content up to Github, and it will build a website containing the content of your book, hosted for free on Github Pages. Then you just collaborate on the Github content, and let Bitbooks update your online site every time you make a change.
For developers, that's a killer authoring workflow. For non-developers, not so much.
And that's ok.
There is a lot going on with online authoring right now. It's dizzying. There are going to be interesting solutions with their own interfaces and workflows for all sorts of people.
Bitbooks is just for developers who want to collaborate on Github. Period.
And that's good because if you're a developer, Github is where your readers are. If you manage an open source project, then Github is where your community is. You don't want your technical book in somebody else's walled garden when you could put it out in the open, managing the material just like you would an open source project.
And I'm not the only person who believes this. There are already plenty of examples of writing projects showing up on Github. The missing piece has been turning this content into a reader friendly format. A thoughtfully-designed mobile-friendly site, with pagination, a table of contents, and everything you've come to expect when reading a book. Bitbooks bridges that gap.
In the coming weeks I'll be sharing some of the things I learned while putting this together. I'll be posting about Markdown, Docker, static sites, and more (you should subscribe via RSS or Email if those topics interest you). But ultimately it's not about the tools... it's about what you do with them.
I'm looking forward to seeing what you do with Bitbooks.