Referential Accessibility 🏆

Referential Accessibility 🏆

  • superbooks
  • 3 minutes
  • January 18, 2019

One of the coolest things about physical books is referential accessibility. Meaning, the ability to reference and pinpoint into the content inside a tome using page numbers. I can quickly ask my friend in the class to go straight to page number 416 of the Pride and Prejudice to find out what Ms. Elizabeth says to Mr. Darcy when she is unhappy. This kind of surgical referencing has not been possible with traditional e-books. And that is because e-books are enterprise-y files or scrolling documents that lack real pagination.

Most e-books utilize a concept called ‘fluid layout’ in which the ‘body of text’ is treated like a liquid that flows into the viewable area creating only virtual pages when the text runs out of the 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, individual settings, and nature of the content.

Meaning I, as your co-reader, have no idea where the page-breaks will appear for you. And the book will be displayed very differently to others because it does not even display the same on my phone tablet and 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 the 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.


[ 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 the web.

Until now, that is—with Superbooks.

Cue, Strong layouts.

A 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! ⛷️

About the author

Marvin Danig

I write code with my bare hands. 💪🏻 Yammer about Bubblin all day.

https://bubblin.io/marvin