For a while now, I have wanted to write a book about SAXS, introducing the topics, explaining the details, and including many of the more popular posts from this site. Unfortunately, no lucrative old-style book contracts have been proffered, so I will resort to another approach: a living Git-book.
There are problems with traditional books; they are hard to obtain in comparison to downloadable papers, they are almost always (necessarily) limited in scope, and sections of technical books can quickly become outdated.
These issues with traditional books can be largely resolved by turning the book into a “living document“, which is updated when necessary. This keeps the book up-to-date, but raises other questions: how to track and maintain changes, how to attribute paragraphs and sections to the correct authors, and how to cite the book if it is constantly in a state of flux?
There is a solution, which came to light in a Twitter-discussion a while ago (I think I discussed it with Dr. Raphaël Lévy) and the idea has stuck in my mind ever since. These issues have been resolved already in computer programming, where it led to an approach we can directly use: the “Git” versioning system.
This system, first and foremost quite straightforward to use, tracks all changes to a (set of) document(s), allows for complex branching and versioning, and correctly tracks all author contributions over the entire history! It is furthermore inherently robust: anyone grabbing a copy will automatically grab the entire history of changes, effectively creating a distributed backup. The more people collaborate, the more backed-up and eternal it will be.
Best of all: with every change, a new “fingerprint” is assigned to the document. This allows us to cite the book as it existed at a particular point in time!
So, encouraged by colleagues, I hereby start work on the “Everything SAXS”-book. It is a unique book that will never be finished, but always available and comes complete with all historical versions, and can be cited at any point in time! (I am slightly excited and frightened by the prospect, hence the exclamation marks).
I sincerely encourage collaboration on this work as it is uniquely supported by the system. The book will be available under the most recent creative-commons CC-BY license. This license allows (with attribution) re-use and copying of all or part of the document, so you can freely include it in (for example) teaching materials or instrumentation booklets.
I hope with all my heart that it will work. I will keep you updated!
The repository with the first commit is available here. Comments are always welcome.
Great idea! You should however place every sentence on a separate line. So, after a sentence break with a ., do a hard break with an enter.
This is because such versioning systems are keen on lines and check per line if there’s a change. If you don’t use seperate lines and would have a paragraph with a minor change, the whole block would be designated as ‘changed’ by the versioning system.
Sorry it took a while, but I finally got around to implementing the suggested changes to the LaTex file. It makes it a bit more difficult to write and read in the editor, but I understand the version-control requirements for this beat the usability for me.