About Sophie 2.0
On September 29, 2008, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation of New York City awarded the University of Southern California, in partnership with Astea Solutions AD, a $1,250,000 grant for the design and development of Sophie 2.0.
Sophie 2.0 is an advanced open source electronic tool for authoring, collaborating, reading, and publishing rich media documents in networked environments. It is based on Sophie 1.0, the brainchild of well-known multimedia visionary Bob Stein (Institute for the Future of the Book), and HotAsTea, an electronic publishing platform developed by Astea Solutions. Sophie 2.0 is under development by Astea Solutions and other contributors. Sophie 2.0 is being developed in Java and runs on the Linux, Macintosh, and Windows operating systems.
Sophie is designed to open multimedia authoring to a world of new consumers and institutions that did not previously have access to advanced but simple to use media production tools. Sophie is intended to redefine the “book” as we know it, and to provide mechanisms for reader feedback and interactive conversation.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
With assets in excess of $6.5 billion, the Mellon Foundation is one of the largest grant awarding not-for-profit organizations focused on education and scholarly research. It provides grants in six areas: Higher Education and Scholarship; Scholarly Communications; Research in Information Technology; Museums and Art Conservation; Performing Arts; and, Conservation and the Environment.
The University of Southern California
Located in Los Angeles, USC is one of the world’s leading private research universities. Founded in 1880, USC today has a student body of 33,500. USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, internationally recognized as the top academic film, television, and new media program, will be Astea Solutions’ principal collaborator on Sophie, providing project oversight and evangelism to the academic community.
Astea Solutions AD
Astea Solutions designs and develops proprietary and open source software products for global markets in the electronic publishing field. The company works closely with Sofia University’s Faculty for Mathematics and Informatics and Laboratory for Interactive Multimedia. The oldest higher education institution in Bulgaria, Sofia University is also the country’s largest with 14,000 students. Bulgaria is internationally recognized as a source of highly qualified technical talent and many of the United States and Europe’s leading technology companies have opened substantial research and development centers in Bulgaria.
Astea Solutions also provides a full spectrum of bespoke rich Internet media application development services including custom programming, testing, graphic design, technical documentation and turnkey systems. Much of its service work involves companies and projects in online publishing and distribution.
Founded in 2007, Astea Solutions is headquartered in Sofia, Bulgaria and maintains marketing offices in New York City and San Francisco.
Sophie was initially designed and developed under the auspices of the Institute for the Future of the Book and Bob Stein, who has been exploring new conceptions of the book for more than two decades, both in his role as co-founder of The Voyager Company, where Stein created some of the first electronic books, and in the creation of a similar program in the mid 1990s called TK3, which allowed authors to create complex, annotated media-rich digital texts.
Building on the affordances of TK3, Stein began to imagine ways to add a networked component to the authoring and reading of media-rich texts, as well as a timeline to allow time-based events on individual pages. Sophie therefore not only adds a networked component to authoring and reading, but offers users the ability to craft "books" that hover somewhere between films and traditional texts.
In 2004, the Mellon Foundation became intrigued by the potential of Sophie to contribute to emerging forms of scholarly communication and the restructuring of scholarly publishing in a digital era. Mellon subsequently funded Sophie with three grants; the first grant helped further develop Sophie's authoring functionality, while the second grant recognized the need to radically expand Sophie. These two grants pushed Sophie to the Early Release version in March 2007 and the Sophie 1.0 release in April 2008 respectively. Sophie was also awarded a grant from the MacArthur Foundation in 2007, and this, too, helped introduce a stable version of Sophie to a broader community of users in 2008.
Sophie is currently being significantly revised and improved, thanks to a third grant from the Mellon Foundation in October, 2008 and to a Java codebase contributed by Astea Solutions, a company formed to design and develop proprietary and open source electronic publishing products. With this funding, Sophie is not only being rewritten in Java to enhance its stability, but is being transformed from its initial iteration as a powerful multimedia authoring too into a reading and authoring environment that incorporates the recent cultural shifts instigated by social networking and software. Sophie 2.0, then, will understand and facilitate reading and authoring as socially mediated acts.
With the revision, the new Sophie Reader will be browser-based, offering even easier access to – and sharing of – Sophie projects. Sophie 2.0 will also allow the embedding of Sophie Books as applets on any Web page, and the new version will support Adobe Flash. In addition, Sophie 2.0 will be accompanied by full-scale support for an emerging Sophie user community.
USC became involved with Sophie officially in June of 2004. However, USC had for many years followed and supported Bob Stein's research. A frequent lecturer across the campus, Stein was also a Senior Fellow in the Annenberg School, and the Institute for the Future of the Book was initially housed between USC and Columbia University. USC's Institute for Multimedia Literacy, a research unit within the School of Cinematic Arts, has also used Sophie extensively. Through the IML, for example, Sophie was introduced to undergraduates in General Education courses, as well as to students in the IML's Honors in Multimedia Scholarship Program in 2007 and 2008.
USC's support for Sophie has also included funding a week-long workshop for scholars in May 2008, during which Sophie's affordances were tested in practice in tandem with discussions regarding the ways in which Sophie transforms the traditional acts of scholarly reading and writing. Organized and led by the IML, the workshop raised several key conceptual issues. One of these centered on the tension between understanding Sophie as a compositional environment that sparks new forms of writing, in opposition to imagining Sophie to be an aggregator, or a space for gathering and displaying various texts and media objects. Another key issue centered on the tensions among text, audio and video: what takes precedence? How does one orchestrate these elements effectively? And how do readers learn now to "read" these media-rich texts? More than that, though, the workshop prompted discussions of the conceptual work to come.
Film scholar Anne Friedberg summed things up deftly when she said, "We're all struggling to learn to write with images and text, and we're simply not there. We don't have that kind of imagination." Sophie promises to bring writers and readers in the digital era a step closer to that new imagination.