Ten Years of Textkit – Small Reflections And A Big Road Map Ahead

Hello and welcome to the first post of the long overdue Textkit blog.  This post provides some personal comments about the project and where it’s heading in the future.  I’m glad you’re hear with us. –Jeff

2011 marks the 10th year of Textkit.  Textkit’s original purpose was the electronic distribution of Greek and Latin learning material.  We developed a unique library of no-hassle PDF downloads of Greek and Latin grammars and readers to that aim. Over the years Textkit servers distributed millions of grammars and readers world-wide and they went to places and to learners where traditional print material could not go. With the initial content came the Textkit Forums which is the heart of Textkit past and present. It’s been a rewarding experience to see so many learners help one another in the forums.

While Textkit’s server still distributes on average about 500 GB of material to 40 K visitors monthly, the Internet landscape has significantly changed since 2000/2001  when Texkit began. Unlike ten years ago, digital copies of public  domain textbooks, readers and course material  are now commonplace.  And while commonplace,  the demands by foreign language learners  to seek out community and engagement and to seek help when studying in isolation are still high.  So while Textkit’s tag line has always been “Greek and Latin Learning Tools”, it’s time to turn the page and build new tools that are better suited for emerging needs.

What’s Wrong With The ‘Old Textkit’

When I think about the road map ahead for Textkit, I reflect first on what’s obsolete about Textkit.   Textkit pushed content to a user through the single method of a web download and the content is only in the form of PDF image.  You have to come here, get the content, come back, get more content, repeat.   Also obsolete is the form of the content which are book images wrapped up in a PDF.  It’s content not data and there’s a big difference between the two.  Content is editorialized.  It’s served up to the user – the good with the bad.  Data offers the potential to be transformative. It’s tailored to what the user  needs  right at that moment.  What’s more, learning material in the form of data can be pushed not pulled to the learner through a myriad of paths.

The ‘New Textkit ‘ – Excitement On The Horizon

With humility,  the comments I have made above concerning Textkit’s growing loss in utility have been true for several years now.  In my Apology, I can only say that I haven’t seen a path forward for the project that offered me the geeky excitement needed to work on a project of this scale with full force.  I have tried and failed several times in the past to reinvent the Textkit project. My failure is largely due to not developing within myself a new vision and framework for the site that’s energizing enough to carry me through to the finish line  I have fizzled out despite best intentions.

For the first time in many years I have to say, I’m EXCITED.   I’m talking about Textkit again. I’m thinking about holes in digital learning and what I can do to help, I’m using my imagination.  Right now,  I see a gaping hole which Textkit can fill and the whole is “Big Data.”  What I mean by Big Data is the approach of not just building content, but building data sets and then sharing those data sets with other applications.

Data sets can take many forms but our initial data will be Greek and Latin vocabulary.  This dataset will be made available under an open Creative Commons license.  Textkit ourselves will use the data to develop a mobile educational gaming platform.  The project will be called VocabularyWarsMore to follow about the project here.

My vision for the future of Textkit is to build big data storage engines that are accessible via APIs in order to not just build tools at Textkit, but promote other developers worldwide to dip into our data and build their own applications.  Old Textkit’s philosophy asked visitors to come here and consume content under our own terms.  New Textkit seeks to build data sets and tools to push data out in many forms.

Do you have any comments or thoughts on how to shape a better New Textkit?

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10 Responses to Ten Years of Textkit – Small Reflections And A Big Road Map Ahead

  1. Sean+ Lotz says:

    Although I have no suggestions or meaningful comments, I do want to say that this sounds very exciting. I have enjoyed and benefited from the current version of Textkit, but I look forward to whatever form it all takes in the future. I wish you the best, and hope you have a really fun time in this project.

  2. Gregarius says:

    First off, thank you for all your hard work over the years on textkit. Though I am mainly a lurker, I certainly enjoy it and derive great value from it.

    I think you’ve really hit upon something key when you mention the overwhelming volume of _data_ (as opposed to information) now available on the web. I think it’s interesting that there are basically two kinds of data on textkit today, which come from opposite ends of the longevity spectrum: There are the great downloads, many of which were written 200+ years ago, and maintain their value. Then there are the forums, whose topics have a lifespan of about a week, before they age out. It would be very useful, I think, if there were some intermediate format, perhaps wiki-like, perhaps like stackoverflow; where longer-term information could be held and commented on about material hosted everywhere. Despite all the great classics material out on the Internet, at google books, perseus, nodictionaries, itunes, online dictionaries, many teachers’ pages, textkit forums, reading and learning groups etc., there’s no one place that consolidates, reviews, and links to all of these. Seems like textkit could play a great role here.

  3. Jeff Tirey says:

    @Gregarius you made some excellent and inspirational comments right there. Thank you. I have been thinking about this problem for well over a week as I have been working to rebuild the forum. The forum now is useful, but it’s not easy to use or draw out of it the collective wisdom and insights of the group. I think this is confirmed my by analytics which show about 50K monthly visitor entries to the forum, but here are very few posts to show for it.

    I love stackoverflow and it’s a model I’m going to take a closer look at. Last week I was looking at knowledge base applications but I think a stackoverflow like clone would work even better. I’m going to give this some some serious consideration and study.

  4. Jefferson Cicero says:

    I’m not sure how helpful this suggestion would be for your purposes, but what if Textkit had some kind of freeware language learning software for Greek and Latin. There is software out there, but mostly not of an advanced level. I’m thinking here of something done in html, perhaps loosely similar to ‘French For Beginners and General French Grammar’, available for download at llas.ac.uk. It would be primarily for those who already have basic knowledge of the language and want to polish their language skills, but perhaps a beginner’s version could be developed as well.

    It would be a big undertaking and would require a lot of effort from qualified people, but it would be truly amazing and quite useful.

  5. Jeff Tirey says:

    @Jefferson – Thanks for the comments and they are helpful. I don’t know if you read the other post I made, but I plan on creating a free quizzing/social media tool called Vocabulary Wars. I want it to work on mobile and tablet devices and it’ll be designed to be both fun and keep up engagement.

  6. Jefferson Cicero says:

    I was getting an internal server error when I clicked on the link above, but now I’ve gotten to the page. Yes, it’s a great idea, and fascinating. There really is nothing remotely like it out there, and it would be a milestone in online and interactive learning, taking them to a whole new level. I can see other educators using it for a model in many educational fields.

  7. Jeff Tirey says:

    I spent the better part of the evening evaluating stackoverlow like clones. I found many examples but few which seemed to be operational and with an active development community. The ones I liked best required either Ruby or Python. My development skills are week with both of those, so for the sake of speed I went with a PHP scripts.

    I found one that offers a lot of promise. Key features I liked are that you can subscribe to RSS feed of tags, questions and answers and there’s Facebook login integration along with Gravatar.

    Here’s the development script here for kicking around: https://www.textkit.com/answers/


  8. Pingback: Textkit Answers – A Q&A Tool For Questions About The Classics, Ancient Greek and Latin | Textkit

  9. Gregarious says:

    Gosh, you work fast, Jeff!

    Something else I’ve been thinking about wrt textkit community and Q & A is that there is some latent schema to many of the questions. I’d say 80% of the latin board questions either refer to some reader (publically available or not) or some point of grammar. It would be nice for everyone to be able to mark (tag? link? something else?) questions and answers to the source documents, ideally with hyperlinks. e.g. we should pick one Latin grammar as the textkit reference grammar, and every question about, say, ablative absolute, could link to the appropriate part of that document.

    • Jeff Tirey says:

      Thanks. I had only a small window of time to either push hard and get the Q&A installed, or shelve it for a few months. I’m glad it’s out there and I’m curious to see if Textkit traffic will use the tool. I haven’t really understood Textkit traffic lately. The traffic logs look pretty strong but there’s so little to show for it as far as visitor interaction.


      One better than a hyperlink would be to host an API so that sites can install the API and bring the content onto the site through an ajax call. I see Allen & Greenough’s reference grammar linked to quite often on Perseus and that’s the one I could get behind if it were in another form. I have been looking closely at their data sets lately for their morphology data which I need for a vocabulary tool I have in mind.

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