Subcompact Publishing & Detention Logs

Earlier this year, Zacha Rosen, Arts Editor of Concrete Playground, contacted Detention Logs to comment on the reference to Craig Mod’s Subcompact Publishing Manifesto on our Principles page. Rosen was surprised to see it there because Mod’s piece mostly talks about approaches for publishing longer prose writing in periodical or magazine like formats.

Subcompact Publishing, is full of useful ideas for all kinds of digital publishing. Here’s a grab of the manifesto section where Mod lays out specifics:

I propose Subcompact Publishing tools and editorial ethos begin (but not end) with the following qualities:

  • Small issue sizes (3-7 articles / issue)
  • Small file sizes
  • Digital-aware subscription prices
  • Fluid publishing schedule
  • Scroll (don’t paginate)
  • Clear navigation
  • HTML(ish) based
  • Touching the open web

One of the main attractions for the Detention Logs team is the way these ideas cross from interface design to editorial decisions—design decisions are not arbitrary, but embody editorial values.

Only a small part of my answer ended up in Rosen’s final piece, The Lifted Brow Goes Subcompact on Your Ass, so thought I’d put the whole thing up here:

I think the subcompact publishing ideas are a strong expression of what we see as basic contemporary best practices for independent information publishing online, and web/information design more generally. Like most best practices they are political, opinionated and debatable. In Detention Logs we’re taking our pick from Craig Mod’s manifesto and applying it at different scales through our work.

A major part of the project so far is the publishing of over 7000 ‘incident reports’ of events in Australia’s immigration detention network. At the micro scale, each incident, a tiny module or cell of the bigger database, has it’s own page/url. It has a tiny file size, making it easy to reference, mashup, and combine with other knowledge; small parts loosely joined.

Subcompact publishing is working in a way that is ‘appropriate’ and useful. The form in which we received this information from DIAC could be seen as the opposite: one enormous, inaccessible PDF file, poorly labeled and thoroughly redacted. Transforming this complex information into easy to access and understand chunks is an act of design and journalism.

On the other end of the scale we’ve being working with a group of Australian outlets (New Matilda, Guardian Australia, The Global Mail) to publish the investigations and analysis we’ve made into the data. I would say that this flexible schedule and dispersed approach to publishing our work captures some of the spirit in Mod’s manifesto, but there is a lot of ground for us to explore there. A big part of Mod’s essay is about making a publication profitable and self-sustaining; extremely important, but not currently relevant to our project.

Subcompact publishing ideas are just a part of the principles we judge our ideas against. It’s a positive contribution to make the principles that guide your discussion and design available for people to judge and appropriate.