E-zines: eco-friendly, evolved publishing, easy creation

That was the title of my Barcamp presentation on 9 October 2010. I thought the alliteration was a nice touch. *smile* Based on the lessons I learnt from my last Barcamp presentation, I needed a title that’s easy to understand and had enough “hook” words to “bait” the wandering attention of Barcamp attendees. And I believe the alliteration helped…

In this article, I’ll just tell you what happened during my presentation. Or at least the ideal presentation I wanted to give. There is additional information here that I didn’t talk about in my presentation. I’ll show you the pictures and tell you more of the event itself tomorrow. The general direction I had was, come up with main points, don’t rehearse too much, and wing the presentation. I didn’t want to spend too much of my time with abysmal returns like the last time.

The start of the presentation

So, this time, I had about 30+ people in the room, all waiting with bated breath and almost uncontrolled excitement for my awesome presentation. That’s compared to the 1 single person who stayed for my last Barcamp presentation. It’s a 3000% improvement! Good job, me. *argh* wait, hold on, I sprained my arm from patting my own back…

Ok, I started by asking the audience how many of them were bloggers. A few hands came up. Yes, audience participation (celebrate every little victory). Then I said I suck at blogging because after 3 years of regular writing, I only had 300+ regular readers. Where someone like you (pointing vaguely into the audience) would have like 23,745 readers (pulling the number out of thin air). So I started my own online magazine, where “e-zine”, “online magazine”, “electronic magazine” are interchangeable.

E-zines are eco-friendly, because there’s no paper, plastics or dyes involved in their creation. And electronic readers are getting better. We now have iPhones, iPads and the Kindle which are capable of displaying electronic publications in a pleasing format.

Demoscene and diskmags

Then I told them there was an extreme form of an e-zine. Before I told the audience what it was, I talked about the demoscene. I asked if anyone knows about the demoscene, and there was one guy who knew. I was extremely happy, because no one around me knew anything about it, so I’ve got no one to discuss it with. My only regret was I didn’t get his name. That was stupid of me. I’m an idiot…

Anyway, the demoscene is a computer art subculture that specialises in creating demos. A demo is a visual and audio show that runs in real-time on a computer. It’s meant to show off the skills of the programmers, artists and musicians involved in creating the demo. And the last 3 sentences were practically copied off the Wikipedia site…

There are contests on the file sizes of these demos. The popular ones are 64kB, 40kB, 4kB and even 1kB. Then that demoscene guy said there’s even the 128 byte demo. I really should’ve gotten his name… Well, the demoscene started out with cracked software. The programmers, wanting to show off their skills, cracked software without disabling the function. But to show they were there, they added a small animation. The result was that the addition must necessarily be small (in size) so as not to disrupt the software. Hence the file size limitation.

So there’s this guy who started a diskmag entirely devoted to the demoscene. The diskmag’s called Hugi (1st issue in May 1996). So what’s a diskmag? It’s a portmanteau of 2 words: disk magazine. It’s called a diskmag because the original diskmags were carried around on 3.5 inch floppy disks (remember those?). No audience reaction with “floppy disks”. Ok, maybe a few smiles. Oh well, you win what you can.

A diskmag is basically an executable that runs on your computer. In the old days, some diskmags even run specifically on certain computers such as the Amiga, Commodore or ZX Spectrum. So a diskmag acts like a mini-browser, with links to articles, artwork. And there’s music playing in the background. It’s a full media experience that’s a magazine. Which I believe to be the extreme form of an e-zine.

Blitzing through history of publishing

Then I took them on a brief ride in history. In the early days, scribes and monks spent hours and even days creating a piece of written work, typically religious teachings. Then came woodblock printing, sometime around 220 CE in China. Then I gave them a tidbit about CE. Did you know that Jews generally prefer to use Common Era (CE) than Anno Domini (AD)? That’s because Anno Domini is Medieval Latin for “In the year of our Lord”. And Jews don’t regard Jesus as the Lord.

Moving on, I told them of Johannes Gutenberg, a German goldsmith, who created the metal movable type around 1439 (see question/answer at end of article). This flexibility in arranging letters meant more varieties of printed material could be created. And the written word exploded. Books, newspapers and magazines appeared.

Then Tim Berners-Lee came along, proposing a network structure in March 1989. And on Christmas day, 25 December 1990, the World Wide Web was born. I don’t know what I was expecting from the audience at that, maybe some oooh’s and aaah’s. I think I’m being too dramatic…

So email became even more popular, powerful and useful (it’s supposed to have existed as early as 1973). Websites started popping up (my first site was created in 2005). Then blogs appeared. And then social media sites. And then we arrive at our current situation, where self-publishing e-books is becoming popular. There is now a trend reversal. Where once it was a few creating for many, the rest of us now also create, produce and publish.

Creating websites used to be difficult. Until blogs came along. There’s a perceived high barrier to entry. So it is with e-books, and I suggest, with e-zines. For e-zines, there’s an almost physical-like quality, which creates a sense of possession for the owner. Hopefully, this creates better retention and loyalty.

“If you can edit a Word document, you can create a magazine”

Then I gave them some websites that can help them (and you) host an e-zine.

I forgot my presentation punchline

I’m getting to the end of my presentation, and I forgot my punchline. I was supposed to tie the diskmag thing back in…

So the Internet marketers and A-list bloggers are all saying, video is gonna be big. And I say, what happens if video content comes in a package? What if video, audio, text and images are packaged together in one discrete unit? You basically get the diskmag. And an e-zine is going to be that much closer to that future diskmag format. And I remembered this part only after the 1st Q&A question, and I quickly talked about it. Talk about presentation fumbles…

Then I did a little shameless self-promotion. I told them about Singularity, my own e-zine. I was so nervous about it that I didn’t even tell them what Singularity was about and who it’s for. Talk about more presentation fumbles…

Then I told them of 2 e-zines already available for free. The first one is fear.less, an online magazine dedicated to telling stories of how people overcome their fears. This was the original inspiration for Singularity. I believe fear.less was created by the MBA students of Seth Godin (of whom no one in the audience knows, as expected).

The second e-zine is In Treehouses, an online magazine designed to help people reach their 1000 true fans. As expected, no one knew anything about the 1000 true fans concept, nor of Kevin Kelly. Oh well…

Apparently I took about 15 minutes for my presentation.

Barcamp presentation on e-zine

I overshot the recommended 10 minutes, but apparently quite a few presenters used up the entire 30 minutes given to them (some even cutting into the next speaker’s time). I think my friend Hisham was approving of my sticking to within my scheduled slot. I think…


I only had 2 questions from the audience. The first one wasn’t really a question and was from my friend Aaron (aka Singularity photographer). Aaron said that Koreans used metal movable type earlier than Johannes Gutenberg. I checked, and he’s right. The first known use was in China around 1040 AD, then in Korea around 1230 AD.

The second question was from Dave Chua. He said there’s Flipboard, an iPad app that functions like an e-zine (at the same time showing me his iPad). Yes that’s true. Flipboard works on the curation of you and the people you trust. It pulls in data from your Twitter and Facebook feed, as well as Twitter and Facebook feed data from your friends. The curation and aggregation is done by you (and your friends). With an e-zine, that’s done by someone else, the magazine’s editor.

It depends on your tastes. I should tell you that generally, you like what your friends like, and your friends like what you like. This also generally mean that you might never be exposed to new and interesting ideas outside of that sphere of interests.

Alright, that was long. Thanks for sticking this far with me. Let me know what you think. And I’ll see you tomorrow with my story of the Barcamp event itself.