Spring 2019 Syllabus

Syllabus for Spring 2019
Generally Wednesdays: 9:30-12:30, but sometimes Mondays. See Google Calendar for details
Juan Pablo Alperin, jalperin@sfu.ca


PUB802 asks the fundamental question: what happens to publishing in an era where the vast majority of publishing and reading happens on the Internet? More broadly, this course is intended to encourage a critical examination of the ways in which technologies are shaping every aspect of our personal lives, and the very structure of our society. For how can we understand the intersection of technologies and publishing without first exploring the role of technology, and technology companies, in shaping our values, our psychology, and our daily habits?

After a discussion of the way Web has changed us, and the way it has evolved itself, the course will explore some aspects of how technology has affected making, discovering, and consuming content. The discussion will include an exploration of publishing platforms, making works available in the marketplace (both digital and physical), and the digital reading experience. By the end of it, we will hopefully have a sense of how digital technologies have redefining the value and even the very meaning of publishing.

PUB802 is a seminar, but it is not your typical seminar. While there is a syllabus below, it is only a starting point. We will work on filling it out together during the first class, and you will continue to shape it every week as the course progresses. In pairs, you will each take responsibility for a week and a topic, and we will all learn together about the things that matter or concern you most regarding tech. Expect and be prepared to be challenged, but also to challenge others—without discussion, there is no seminar. PUB802 is also a graduate course. This means the discussions are based around ideas, not around specific technologies or moments in time. We will, however, endeavour to ground these ideas with concrete examples and case studies.


We will meet mostly on Wednesdays for 3 hours, but there is some variation in the schedule. Below is a summary of the dates, which will be input into the MPub Google Calendar.

Jan 9 – Wednesday
Jan 14 – Monday
Jan 21 – Monday
Jan 30 – Wednesday
Feb 6 – Wednesday
Feb 13 – no class (Emerging Leaders)
Feb 20 – no class (Reading week)
Feb 25 – Monday
March 6 – Wednesday
March 13 – Wednesday
March 20 – Wednesday
March 27 – Wednesday
April 3 – Wednesday


can be found here


The following is a rough outline of the course’s coverage. In reality, we will be much more flexible around topics to allow our discussions to go on as long as we feel is necessary and to cover topics as they come up.

Week 1, January 9: Introduction to the course

Week 2, January 14: The Web changes things


prompt for next week:

Gopnik describes three classes of people: the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers. Which are you? Where are we as a society? Or is there a different category you and we belong in?

Week 3, January 21: The Web changes itself

Blog Prompt: The readings this week examine the web today and reflect back on where it used to be. Have their reflections made you see the web differently? How so? What do you most appreciate about the way things are? What do you think the authors are right to be nostalgic about?

start of Wikipedia assignment


Week 4, January 30: Internet Business Models (Part One)

Blog Prompt: Answer any of the following questions and feel free to include any ideas from our class discussion. What do you think of the Medium model and its use of subscription? What can be the publishing version of services like Netflix and Spotify? How can platform cooperativism be applied to publishing? How can it make publishing better?  

tech lesson: What is XML and why does anyone care about it?


Week 5, February 6: Internet Business Models (Part two)

Blog Prompt:

What are the challenges and consequences of particular business models becoming dominant?


tech lesson: Pandoc (format conversion tool).


February 13: (Emerging Leaders)

  • no class

February 20: (Reading week)

  • no class

Week 6, February 27: Copyright

b list:

Blog Prompt:

Review any fair use/fair dealing court case. What are your thoughts on the outcome of the case?


Tech Lesson: Algorithms, AI, and Machine Learning

Week 7, March 6: Data Privacy

Blog Prompt:  Do you think that the government should run a campaign to improve people’s awareness of protecting their data privacy? Should it be incorporated into the local curriculum system? How? Is there any existing example?

In your post, you could address and discuss some of the following:  what you were surprised by and what you still didn’t understand; what the uses of data you are comfortable with; and how you would like the data privacy to be regulated.


Week 8, March 13: Distribution & Discovery

[[ Guest: Jamie Broadhurst, Raincoast books (to be confirmed) ]]


Blog Prompt: 

What might be possible/different could you envision if we had perfect, high quality, complete metadata that was community based? If we could get the publishers and Amazon to cooperate?

Also consider: What are the dangers of a single entity controlling metadata? What are other options? How could you democratize the use/creation of metadata? 


Week 9, March 20: Measuring & Tracking


for fun:

Blog Prompt:  Imagine that you are a publisher and had access to any data that is out there. What information would be beneficial to you and how could you get this information without impeding on personal privacy? How do you intend to you use this information to guide your decision making?


Week 10, March 27: Digital reading


Blog Prompt:
Blog is deferred this week. Instead, write your reflective essays and come with questions for class.


Week 11, April 3: Creating knowledge in this tech environment

  • Readings on scholarly communications

Blog Prompt:  Discuss how different digital reading experiences are similar or different from one another. What distinguishes each? Are they all forms of reading? Is one more “pure” than the rest?


Tech Lessons

some possible topics that we could spend some time going over in class

  • character encodings
  • Pandoc
  • RegEx
  • Twitter network analysis
  • trackers and ad-blockers

The B-list

readings that haven’t made it into the topic list above, but have been in previous syllabi


Production concepts

Production processes

Possibilities and new models



Your final grade will be made up of the following components:

  • Participation (in class): 10%
  • Participation (annotations): 10%
  • Weekly blogs: 30%
  • Public Contribution (Wikipedia): 10%
  • Meeting learning objectives: 40%

The determination of your grade for each is done in a slightly unconventional way, which is explained in detailed here.


All seminar materials and will be publicly accessible. Similarly, all student writing must be made available online (although you may choose to keep select content behind a password). Work will be openly peer-reviewed online as well, and all readings will be openly annotated. Feedback on written work will also be provided through open annotations and comments. In short, this class does as much as possible in the open, and wherever possible, it licenses any content produced with open licenses.