Referential Accessibility 🏆


One of the cool things about reading a book in a class is referential accessibility. Meaning, our ability to reference and point 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 referencing 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 viewable area creating only a virtual page 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, in my opinion 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 the ability to reference and point is a huge deal-breaker for our teachers too. In fact to me it now appears that the term ‘fluid layout’ itself is somewhat a marketing term invented to hide absence of a meaningful layout.

No layout is fluid layout—a spin. A bug that has been sold as a feature.

Some of our contemporaries in the industry admit that page-wise referential accessibility of a physical book is one of the top reasons why they continued to buy and use the dead-tree medium depsite all the hoopla elsewhere.


[ Image credit: Steven Klocek]


There is an industry alternate called fixed layout e-book too. Such a book offers page-wise referenceability using a rigid declarative syntax but our experience tells us that not many books are created this way. The quantum of effort required for its creation is too high and the outcome doesn’t scale up easily. 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. So is there an answer?

There hasn’t been a one-size-fit-all digital book solution that worked seamlessly on the broad canvas of web.

Until now, that is—with Superbooks.

Cue, Strong layouts.

Strong layout is a cross between fluid and fixed layouts.

It resolves several issues of the older file based e-book systems while also maintaining a new progressive way to render page titles that stretch (or shrink) responsively. Contents are kept elastic on purpose to occupy maximum available real estate above the fold. The proportions must remain firm and scaling should occur in a way that the individual pieces retain their visual balance and positional integrity no matter what the device the book is being viewed on. Something, like a Spandex.

A side-effect of this feature, strong layouts, is page-wise numerical 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 a Superbook lives and scales on web, all readers around the planet get to see the same content on a given page number. People don’t have to worry about the file format, device compatibility, underlying tech or the software required to be to view the book properly. No specialized (and proprietary) hardware is required either.

One—a reader like me gets to know the page number my friends are on and two—everyone can finally be on the same page—so there are fewer disagreements.

I think it is a win-win.

It is an interesting outcome that is worth talking about. This feature has been personally useful to me. If it has been helpful to you in any way do share it with me on Twitter!

Keep reading!

💥 Boom 💥


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

P.S.: I recommend reading Superbooks on your iPad—it feels great on fuller tablets! ⛷️