Referential Accessibility 🏆

One of the coolest things about reading a book in a class is referential accessibility. Meaning, our ability to reference and link into the book using page numbers. I can quickly tell my friends to go straight to page number 510 of the Pride and Prejudice to find out what Ms. Elizabeth says to Mr. Darcy when she is unhappy.

This kind of surgical share-ability is not possible with e-books because they lack real pages.

Most e-books utilize a thing called ‘fluid layout’ where the text is treated like a liquid that flows into the viewport creating only ‘virtual pages’ when the text runs out of vertical room (see reflowable documents). This sort of faux pagination lacks referential integrity and it results in two users seeing different content at the same distance depending on their device, settings and content. Meaning, as your co-reader I have no idea where the page-breaks will appear for you and it would all be very different for everyone because it is not even same on my own phone, tablet and the desktop.

This is really bad.

Since without real pagination my friends have no way of telling me where to go, an e-book based solution with a fluid layout is immediately useless in my classroom. Lack of page-wise reference-ability is a huge deal-breaker. In fact to me it appears that the term ‘fluid layout’ is somewhat a marketing term invented to hide the absence of a meaningful layout. No layout is fluid layout, a spin. Probably a bug that has been sold as a feature.

Some of our contemporaries in the industry agree and have pointed out that page-wise referential accessibility of physical books is one of the top reasons why they continue to use the dead-tree medium depsite all the hoopla elsewhere.

[ Image credit: Steven Klocek]

There is an alternate solution of using a fixed layout e-book. Such a book offers page-wise referenceability using a rigid declarative syntax, but our experience with e-books tells us that not many books are created this way. The quantum of effort required for their creation is way too high and the outcome doesn’t scale easily, thus making it worthwhile only for the very technical or scientific type of literature. In many ways a fixed layout e-book can be likened to a physical book skeuomorphically, but those attributes aren’t generally suitable for the web.

Put simply there hasn’t been a one-size-fit-all digital e-book solution that works fluidly on the canvas of web.

Cue, Strong layouts.

Strong layout is a cross between a fluid and a fixed layout.

It resolves several issues of the older file-based e-book systems through which we have invented a new progressive way of rendering titles that stretch or shrink responsively. The content is kept purposefully stretchy or elastic to automatically cover maximum real estate above the fold. The proportions remain firm and scaling occurs in a manner that the individual pieces retain their visual balance and positional integrity no matter what the device the book is being viewed on. Like a Spandex.

A side-effect of this feature is numerical page-wise referential accessibility over the url as shown below:

Notice the page numbers at the end of the url?

Page number on the url keeps up with where you are on the book and your reading direction.

Since the book is on web, the reader doesn’t have to worry about the format, the underlying tech or which software is required to be installed for their book to work. They don’t need to own specialized (and proprietary) hardware with books strongly tied to it. A reader like me gets to know the page number my friends are on and whether or not everyone is on the same page—no matter which device, operating system or browser they may be using. It’s a win-win!

I thought this was an interesting outcome that’s worth talking about. This feature has been personally useful to me and my friends. If it has helped you do share it with us on Twitter!

Keep reading.

💥 Boom 💥

Written by: Marvin Danig, CEO of Bubblin Superbooks. Want to follow me on Twitter?

P.S.: It’s likely that some of you read this post on your desktop. That’s a bit obsolete. Well, may be not——but we do recommend reading a Superbook on your iPad. It’s butter smooth there! ⛷️