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Things to do

  • GIYF:"open source ebook creator"
  • Apple's iBooks Author
    • What platforms can you write on?
    • What platforms can you read on? IOS only.
  • Treesaver - can we make an app or just them? Once loaded offline reading ok?
  • Nav Tab -
  • Flatworld - Who controls the cost structure, author or publisher?
  • Duke's tool, FLOW, no response from David Johnston
  • ePub? What's the URL of the blog that mentioned it? -- "eCub does not have WYSIWYG formatting or syntax highlighting, making it impractical for any type of advanced ebook creation. For simply-formatted novels, however, it is an easy tool to use. eCub is free of charge and available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, FreeBSD, and Solaris."[1]
  • BOF discussion on epublishing from SIGCSE -

Notes for a Paper

previous work

  • google scholar
  • citeseer
  • acm and ieee digital libraries

how do we address audience

  • Authors
  • Textbook publishers
  • Teachers and students of writing etc

What are we trying to do?

What criteria do we have and why?

  • It must run in a browser -- which capabilities must the browser support?
    • browser access seems to be the way to ensure access to a textbook for the widest amount on electronic devices.
    • e.g. What HTML5 features does the browser need to support?*
    • App caching to allow offline access
    • non-Flash video to allow iOS access to media (can CS material benefit from video the way that biology material can? example?)

  • Maintaining the organizational features that students are familiar in traditional textbooks -- combining these features with the capabilities of electronic media:
    • Table of contents -- The organization of material should be clear to students -- dividing material into small chunks and subchapters will be especially important since there are no set pages in an electronic book. That way a student can go back and find information again more easily.
    • Visually appealing, uncluttered layout
    • Pages like the pages in a book.
  • Interactive elements that take advantage of the non-static nature of electronic media:
    • video
    • clickable links to outside sources
    • in-text notetaking

What tools did we look at?

Categorize by problem?

  • author power
    • kno - major publishers only
    • inkling - major publishers only
    • Flatworld - had benefits of connecting individual authors with good tech tools, publishing assistance etc but author cannot choose to make material FREE.

  • exclusive access
    • iBooks Author -- textbook can only be constructed with a mac a viewed with an iOS device
    • FLOW -- iOS device viewing only
    • adobe thingy -- expensive

  • limited capabilities
    • PDF -- only allows the electronic publication of a static textbook - no interactive aspect
    • epub -- basically same as PDF -- only novels seem to do well in this set up.

What tools did we choose?

  • The benefits of HTML5:
    • offers the most universal access - browsers (a few exceptions since it is the newest wave of HTML and not all its features are supported by all browsers yet - boo to Internet Explorer.)
    • can show videos without the aid of a plug-in like Flash, which isn't supported by iOS
  • Treesaver Pros:
  • Treesaver Cons:

Where did we end up?

Describe the optimal tool

E.O. Wilson's Book

  • There is a significant difference in layout depending on the orientation of the iPad:
  • The horizontal orientation has a layout that prominently features the images and video, and sliding a finger across changes the entire frame, like turning a page in a book.
  • The vertical orientation places visual emphasis on the text, and the images are small thumbnails that must be clicked on to be viewed properly. Also it has a scrolling rather than a page turning effect.
  • This difference might allow users to interact with the book in the way that they prefer -- some might want fewer visual distractions, while others might find large blocks of text boring.
  • Menu in horizontal orientation lets you choose pages by topical section or by a thumbnail image of the page.
  • I like the combination of text and audio-visual stuff. I think that this book fails to take full advantage of the possibilities such a combination offers. I know that I learn material most effectively when it is repeated to me through several mediums -- for example, I read information in a textbook, hear a lecture about it in class, and then discuss questions with a professor or fellow students. The videos in this textbook could potentially repeat more of the information given in the text, and also provide much more visual explanation of the concepts. Having Wilson talk is nice, but SHOWING the information with infographics would be another useful way of repeating the information.
  • There is one fairly successful interactive that explains DNA levels of organization. It makes fullest use of the possibilities offered by the touch screen of any of the media in the book. Cool!!
  • I also like the places where there are photo galleries instead of single photos. I think this enriches the viewing experience. There are a few places where a gallery sort of makes use of what Tufte talks about as "small multiples." That is, having a bunch of pictures in the same spot allows you to make comparisons between them easily and learn through difference. (Although it's not exactly like Tufte's examples.)
  • It would be nice if it was possible to make notes on the videos and images the same way it is possible to do so on the text portions.
  • Section 1 of Chapter 2: there is a video called "what is an ecosystem?" that I found somewhat painful to watch. They've superimposed graphics over the image, in a way that is cool in theory but unsuccessful in this instance of practice.
  • In a lot of textbooks, the end of each section has a summary and a set of review questions to help the reader test their comprehension. I often skip the questions because I hate flipping to the back of the book to check the answers. What about including interactive quizes at the ends of the sections in an etextbook like this one? Maybe multiple choice or short answer questions that could be easily determined right or wrong. The correct anwsers would be right there with no annoying flipping around of pages.
  • I had a thought: In Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, he talks about how the rise and spread of print capitalism, and particularly the rise of the novel, effected the way people think about time. We consider time to be a single, all-encompassing unit through which individuals move and during which events take place. A narrative has a beginning, middle, and end as we turn the pages. I wonder how electronic textual media might reshape our perceptions of time as it changes the ways we can interact with text, information, and narratives.



Experimenting with Visualizations

Map of the United States with Movie Screens per 10,000 people by state[2]

Some brief notes on things I realized from doing the visualization:

  • Many Eyes (by IBM) is a nifty tool that will help you jump to the fancy stuff without having to figure out how to do it all yourself.
  • Open source tools that can do the same things probably exist?
  • Having lots of fancy options is not always the most user friendly. Simple, clean, and obvious is usually the way to go.
  • It is a lot easier to look at a visualization that is already made and decide what is good and bad about it than it is to start with data and end with a good visualization - at least at this stage of the learning curve.
  • Grabbing data and then messing around with it to see what might be a good way to visualize it is not as fruitful as deciding what information you want to see and how, then getting the data to help you get there.
  • There are useful visualizations and silly ones - a map that shows that Texas and California have to most movie theaters (duh) doesn't tell you anything your didn't already know. A map that says Wyoming has the most movie theater screens per capita in the nation is interesting because it shows something you couldn't already guess.

The Apple iBooks Author Question

  • Looks like you can only download the iBooks app on iOS, however, you can read nonDRM iBooks with an ePub add-on in Firefox. [3]
  • I'll be trying this next - must download Firefox.
  • If it is possible to view books downloaded from iTunes in Firefox, Life on Earth is not one of the ones you can do this with. Haven't found one you can yet.
  • Despite all theoretical claims that free ibooks can be read in other places, practical enquiry ha yielded no success.
  • The iBooks Author EULA is very clear that any products that you charge money for can only be distributed through Apple. (So free products can be provided some other way?) There seem to be concerns that a EULA that restricts what a person can do with the output of a piece of software after that software is put away is over reaching. [4]
  • You can embed entire other apps in an ibook. There is some tech-speak in this article that I don't entirely understand, but seems important. Dashcode and Dashboard widgets in iOS? [5]

Open Source eBook Creator?

  • Profs at Duke University have created one called FLOW that so far only works on iPad, but they have hopes to make it work on android tablets and eventually even PCs. It doesn't have as many of the slick features as ones from closed-source publishers, but it has the advantage that updates and changes can be implemented instantly. The article on Wired: [6]
  • If FLOW is publicly available, it is not by any straightforward google search I have tried. Worth contacting some people to try it out?
  • A list of open source educational resources (fruitful ones discussed below): [7]
  • College Open Textbooks is an organization that promotes the use of open textbooks in COMMUNITY colleges. They promote awareness and peer review. [8]
  • Flat World Knowledge: Textbook publisher allows you to read textbooks for free online, or download as a PDF or epub for about 30$ (you can buy printed versions as well for steeper prices). They only have a few textbooks in the sciences so far, but almost 100 altogether. According to wikipedia: [9]. Authors sign with Flat World publishing, which distributes works under a Creative Commons License. [10]
  • Transform web content into PDF for Kindle/iPad: [11]
  • eCub, Treesaver, Kindle Direct Publishing... [12]
  • Treesaver is web based, compatible with any device that can use the internet, and allows for interactive aspects because of that. Sounds like you can make updates instantly. They are big fans of HTML5 [13]


  • Kno partners with other big publishers / content providers like McGraw-Hill and Cengage Learning to make textbooks available electronically.
  • It appears that an internet connection in required to open Kno textbooks? (In the help section if you can't open a textbook it asks you to made sure your iPad ha a wifi connection.) Just kidding - the book will download onto your iPad (and presumably also with the kno Desktop app.)
  • Equipped with flashcards/study tools.
  • Interface is similar to that on the ibook textbooks we looked at, but a little more limited. (can't click on the table of contents to navigate,can't click/interact with images -- CAN take notes, highlight, see notes all together in one section.)


  • Inkling is an iPad app, doesn't appear to offer reading with anything else.
  • In many ways appears to be similar to the iBooks Author, but also has "social network learning." You can follow anyone else using your textbook and post questions/answer theirs.
  • Most content can be viewed offline; exceptions include streaming videos and music. Your notes sync with the server when you connect back up.
  • They state they are only working with major publishers at present, not individual authors.
  • Appears to take greater advantage of the change of medium from paper to digital than kno does. [14]


  • I think they absolutely charge for the download because they offer 2% roylties on the customized copies... ???
  • There is, at least, nothing that suggests that authors have control over the price of their book.--it doesn't seem to occur to them that someone might want to do this. They seem to expect to put their own energy and resources into editing and reviewing the book before it is published, which leads me to suspect they seek compensation for that work.
  • An article about the "make it your own platform" -- I think you have to do work on a pre-existing etextbook for this, though: [15] And they are definitely still charging for the download.


  • Has a editor program and a reader program, but you can also make the book a .exe so students don't need the reader program to look at the book. [16]
  • PC friendly. OS?
  • Says uses HTML - I do not know if this means it can use HTML 5. The copyright on the manual is 2002-2005. -- I'm supposing HTML 5 is backwards compatible?



  • Questions about HTML5: Can we make an html5 doc that can be used offline? If so, can it have the ability (which treesaver has) to be seen offline line but updated online?

Notes/Questions after reading the above links on HTML5

  • According to the wiki page on cache manifest in HTML5, each time the browser returns to the online app, it checks to cache manifest file to see if there has been a change, and if so makes updates. Does this mean that if individual files are updated, rather than a whole new file being added, these changes will not be detected by the browser? If so, is this a problem? Do we want to be able to make edits like that? Perhaps we should consider publication of a page final, and use a system of "versioning" (to use Charlie's term) for updates like a textbook would. In this case, the cache manifest file system sounds ideal.
  • Only firefox tells the user that files are being cached. Other browsers simply cache the manifest without notification. Internet Explorer won't cache at all?
  • You can cache the files with an iPhone or android! (iPad???)
  • If you are online, does the browser display the web page or the cache of the web page? Is there a difference? Does it matter?

More on Treesaver for purposes of comparison

  • Another example - more interesting content than The Sporting News for Charlie I suspect.
  • This website says Treesaver supports video and Flash, if the browser has Flash. Am I to understand that with HTML5 one can embed video without the requirement of additional plug-ins and that this is exceptional? Or am I confused on this point? (This is written by the creator of Treesaver)
  • Treesaver has the nifty feature of the appearance of pages... Also they change to accomodate resizing of the browser.
  • Filipe Fortes has a website which was last updates June 2011... Also he is an extremely un-captivating speaker, evidenced by a video of a presentation he gave.
  • Thought: If one goes the treesaver route, one must be able to use CSS and HTML? Making it a steeper learning curve for me, perhaps. --- Or does it mean that I don't really need to be all that familiar with either? Still trying to get an idea of what the user experience for this is exactly.
  • This woman like Treesaver for publishing nonprofit reports... she calls what Treesaver produces a "narrative experience" which, I guess, is her phrase for digital-booky-thingy.

CSS templates?

  • This might or might not be the best! these templates have html files, image files and css that you just edit to your own needs. So theoretically we don't need to use their software to compile and executable file, but could put these on a server and possibly use the HTML5 cache manifest technique??

Treesaver: Notes on learning and resources

  • A problem: Treesaver only displays figures if they fit in the resized column. On my netbook screen, only one
  • Another problem: The javascript is in one giant, terrifying block, but I want to check it to see if it already includes any of the stuff that HTML5: The Missing Manual recommends for making HTML5 compatible with older browsers.
  • I want to see what I've done so far on the iPad. Do I need to add extra stuff to make it touchable etc?
  • Need to set up a manifest for caching. (I think?)
  • Why can't my firefox browser find the bs0 server?