Several weeks ago I decided it was time to delegate some of my work. I needed a set of notes from one of the classes I taught converted into an eBook. I knew that I wanted to be able to edit the material myself and that I wanted everything to be done in an open source tool. "Easy," I thought. "I'll just hire a F/LOSS person to do this for me." It turns out: not so easy after all. I asked my network of people if they knew any graphic designers who did book layout and worked in open source tools. What came back was the sound of crickets. Inconceivable! How could there be no one who matched my criteria?
A colleague of mine told me that he often uses online "freelance" networks to job out some of his tasks. He recommended both Elance and oDesk. My job description was short:
I need someone to do layout work on several short ebooks (~20 pages). Due to their technical nature (HOWTO programming guides) I need to be able to edit the documents easily if mistakes are reported. Even though it's not a layout tool, I would prefer the work to be submitted as OpenOffice.org documents with styles correctly applied (not manually adjusted per heading/paragraph etc). 1. Are these constraints you are able to work within? 2. Approximately how many hours do you think it will take to create and apply a style guide to a short ebook?
The list of applicants was even shorter. On Elance I received three applicants, one of whom asked me, "Do you have MS Word? It has excellent layout capabilities, and I prefer to work with that program." oDesk returned a much longer list of applicants from Asia Pacific. None of these candidates seemed to know what OpenOffice.org was. I had thought that open source software was big in India, Thailand and Malaysia. I ended up hiring a Belgian through Elance with a Masters in Graphic Design who'd never used OpenOffice.org before. She was a delight to work with and caught on quickly. (Look for "anndesign" on Elance.)
While oDesk and Elance both have a lot of open source software tools listed for server-side tasks, they are devoid of people offering desktop publishing skills. Fewer than a dozen providers on Elance have DocBook listed, and only one provider has listed OpenOffice.org. It's possible that there are swaths of people with desktop publishing skills who are looking for work elsewhere, or perhaps they are so busy with work they aren't using sites like Elance or oDesk. Either way, this makes it difficult for me to get my work done.
Even though I have an excellent graphic designer who sends me all source files for business cards and other graphic work, eBooks does not have an easily converted source file. Most graphic designers these days seem to use In Design. While the open source application Inkscape can open Illustrator files, there is no crossover application for book layout. There are perfectly viable open source tools, yet the demand is simply not there for graphic designers to take the plunge. Here's what we need to do:
- If you are someone who works with open source desktop tools, please register your services in one of the online freelance marketplaces. If you already are registered, please let me know where to look for you.
- Ask your graphic designer to return source files in an open format.
- Seek out professionals who work with open source tools. Name specific F/LOSS applications as part of your job posting. My Elance provider saw the software name and downloaded it before replying to the job posting.
We need to show that there is a new demand for skilled labour with experience in open source applications. We've done a good job of getting server-side F/LOSS tools into the language of the server room, now we need to do the same in the front office. It's up to us to ask for the skills and educate our workforce--it will give higher visibility and increase adoption of our applications of choice. There is no easier way to affect change than to simply make it part of our daily routine.