This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Left Inkling

I haven't been public about it, but I left Inkling 2 1/2 months ago. It was a fabulous place to work but after nearly four years it was time to move on. During this time I've been doing part time front end engineering consulting for a startup. I'm interviewing with Dropbox tomorrow to do part time consulting for them as well. I've also been taking this time to learn new skills, in particular taking a Product Management course at General Assembly and teaching myself machine learning and neural networks.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Digital Storytelling Conference 2014

On Wednesday last week a bunch of us at Inkling jumped in a van in San Francisco and drove eight hours to U.C. Irvine for the Digital Storytelling conference. It was a great road trip and a fabulous one-day conference.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Next Generation eBook Review: The Glo Bible: Surprising Lessons We Can Learn from Religious eBooks

Today I'm reviewing a very interesting next generation religious eBook named Glo. The digital religious and eBook communities don't tend to talk to each other. However, the work happening in these digital religious communities around eBooks is incredibly interesting for several reasons.

Monday, March 10, 2014

You're Doing Web & eBook Footnotes Wrong

The Problem

Most web pages that have footnotes blindly mimic paper and put them at the bottom of the page, jumping the user to the footnote when clicked on:

Picking on Paul Graham's footnotes
This is silly for many reasons. First, computer screens aren't paper; they can easily accordion open and show extra information based on user intent. Second, they cause a user to lose context while reading an article, forcing them to jump away from what they are doing; this is annoying.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Inkling Habitat: How a 100,000 Line JavaScript Application Focused on Digital Publishing is Built

Last week I introduced you to one of the original animating ideas behind Inkling Habitat, treating books as software to transform the eBook production process. Today I'd like to take you behind the scenes and show you the technologies and processes we used to build Inkling Habitat itself. How did we build this software?

How is Inkling Habitat Built?

First, Inkling Habitat is a client side application that runs inside your web browser, built with JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. The client-side portion is roughly 100,000 lines of JavaScript, which is a big application.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Transforming eBook Production by Treating Books as Software

Photo by Jixar
Digital books are bundles of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. How do we efficiently convert and create these pieces of software?
These bundles can be very complicated. For example, Ganong's Review of Medical Physiology has thirty-nine chapters. Now add in interactive quizzes, 3-D models, high-definition video, educational slide lines, and pop tip glossaries/footnotes, and if you're not careful you will need a small army to produce every eBook. If next generation eBooks require Fabergé egg levels of care and expense we'll never get the scale and quantity we need to make this new world real.
It turns out over the last fifty years we've developed an incredible set of techniques and tools for dealing with artifacts of incredible complexity: computer software itself. These tools include:
  • Source control systems
  • Issue databases
  • Automated testing
  • Cross compilers
  • Integrated Development Environments (IDEs)

Monday, February 17, 2014

You Are Not in the Book Business: You Are in the Long Form Content Business

Books are not a goal unto themselves. Instead, they are a means to an end: the transmission of authoritative long form content that possesses depth and breadth. Note that I'm specifically talking about illustrated non-fiction here; literary fiction is an entirely different animal.
Organizations fail when they identify themselves with a particular technology rather than a goal.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Making EPUB3 Play Nice with HTML5

Photo by adrigu
Last week I wrote about how EPUB3 is important even in an HTML5 universe. Today I want to write about how to make EPUB3 play nice with HTML5; as it turns out there are some significant problems when you try to use EPUB3 in HTML5.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

What Early Rome Can Teach Us About Power & How We Lie to Ourselves

I was reading over Livy's The Early History of Rome recently and the following passage jumped out at me. It always amazes me how those in power rationalize their right to stay in power, independent of whether it's just.
To set the context, Rome has just deposed its king and monarchy and has formed a fledgling republic. The disgraced royal family travels the land trying to drum up an army to attack Rome and regain power. Talking to another king outside Rome they counsel:

Monday, February 03, 2014

Does EPUB3 Have Any Place in an HTML5 Universe?

Me throwing the HTML5 Gang Sign

A common question I hear is whether EPUB3 is useless above and beyond HTML5. Why not just eliminate EPUB and use plain HTML5?
EPUB3 does bring new things to the table that HTML5 does not provide.
I see standards and technologies like ecosystems that respond to the challenges that are thrown at them. Before eBook systems, the web only had infrastructure for individual web pages that were either documents or application-like. HTML before HTML5 didn't even help much with applications, except for basic forms, so HTML5 provided features to help with this area (offline web apps, the canvas tag, etc.).
There has never been evolutionary pressure on HTML to have better long form reading for artifacts akin to eBooks, so it never really provided the facilities to help with this.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Maybe U.S. Manufacturing Isn't As Bad As We Thought...

Louis Hyman, an American writer, economic historian, and old college friend of mine, recently shared an interesting report from the Congressional Research Service on the state of U.S. manufacturing.
It's notable for some counter-intuitive results. Here's the high level findings:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Design Tips from a Design Pioneer

I was recently reading an interview with Hugh Dubberly, a design pioneer involved with HyperCard, the Knowledge Navigator film, Netscape, and more.
The following jumped out at me on the role of design, re-iterating to me how important it is to both take a global, systemic perspective while also firmly keeping who the actual customer is in mind:

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Impressions of Digital Book World 2014

I recently attended Digital Book World 2014 in NYC and wanted to write a little bit about my experiences and opinions of the conference. First, I just wanted to thank Inkling for sending me to the conference as part of company training. Employees can elect to visit conferences and workshops and Inkling sent me to the conference in NYC from San Francisco all expenses paid, so I appreciate that.

One of my litmus tests for whether a conference was good or not is if I come home seeing parts of the world in a new way.

How was Digital Book World? Well, let me just say that it made me really miss the passing of Tools of Change. I personally found Digital Book World a bit corporate and stuffy, to be honest. I found many of the speakers not as well prepared as I would have liked, and many of them didn’t seem terribly passionate.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Three Things that Can Transform eBook Development

Developing next generation eBooks that have complex non-narrative content is like web-development was in 2001. You are dealing with a sea of balkanized reading platforms, many of which have buggy implementations of web standards, little documentation, and make it difficult to even do simple things well.
Designing eBooks in this world is a frustrating exercise. How can we move the needle and improve the state of the art across many of these reading systems so that eBook development becomes not a struggle and a pain but a joy and a pleasure?
Image by martinak15
I think a strategy of three key things could help to drastically change eBook production in the eReading world: Document, Score, and Shame/Success.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Start of Coworking (from the Guy that Started It)

I've seen a number of inaccuracies in news stories and on the Wikipedia page for coworking, and I wanted to write up a short article on the beginning of coworking to correct these.
Two coworkers from the first coworking space

Did I invent coworking and how did it start?

Yes I invented coworking.
In 2005 I was working at a startup named Rojo and was unhappy with my job. Before that I had worked for myself doing consulting and traveling and hungered for the community a job can provide. At that point I was confused because I had both worked for myself and worked at a job and was unhappy because I couldn't seem to combine all the things I wanted at the same time: the freedom and independence of working for myself along with the structure and community of working with others.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Introducing Stretchtext.js: Easily Communicate to Different Audiences in a Single Page

Photo by Marco Raaphorst

As a writer, I often struggle with whether to write a tutorial or document to beginners or experts. What if there's some interesting tangent that some readers might find informative but others want to ignore? What if you want to drill down deeply into a subject while just skimming the surface in other areas?

Digital screens can accordion open and closed and change their shape depending on the needs of the reader.
Traditional paper forces writing to be static and fixed: either you target beginners or experts. You can't provide tangents that readers can choose to follow or not. The reader and writer are both stuck in a single gear-shift.
Web pages are not paper and shouldn't mindlessly mimic dead pulp. Digital screens can accordion open and closed and change their shape depending on the needs of the reader.
I've created an implementation of Stretchtext in JavaScript which gets around these problems. You can mix in bits of Stretchtext into your page to allow readers to drill down into specific areas based on their interests and background. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Away for Honeymoon

I'll be away from December 6th until January 7th on my honeymoon in India. There won't be any blog posts during this time and I won't have access to email. See you in 2014!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Touch Press: Complexities and Challenges of Creating Rich Digital Books

There are three key metrics that have to come together for digital illustrated, non-fiction titles to truly make the transition online. They are:


Thursday, December 12, 2013

IBM 1401: A User's Manual, A Beautiful and Haunting Orchestral Score

This last Saturday I went to the Computer History Museum and Christmas caroled with a PDP-1 generating music:

It was deliciously geeky.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why Chrome Should Support Better Hyperlinks

Most of the web has received a major upgrade the last few years. HTML finally got some love with HTML5; CSS is beginning to come out of the dark ages with efforts like SASS to explore what's possible and then standardizing them back into CSS itself like CSS variables. Even JavaScript has gotten upgraded with ES 6 so that it continues to stay productive.
We've got the same old 8-bit hypertext while the rest of the web's foundations have rapidly zoomed beyond.
One key part of the web that hasn't received any attention since it's founding is the plain old hyperlink, you know, the URL that lets you point at and talk about anything on the web. We still have exactly the same hypertext we had when the web booted up in the early 90s. We've got the same old 8-bit hypertext while the rest of the web's foundations have rapidly zoomed beyond. Just to keep this in perspective, the hyperlink we know predates Windows 95. Yikes.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Publishing Vs. Community, Books Vs. Databases

Mike Shatzkin has a great writeup on a small trade publisher realizing how they need to change their approach when it comes to going digital:


Monday, December 09, 2013

See the System Behind Engelbart's Historic Mother of All Demos

On December 9th, 1968 Douglas Engelbart gave his Mother of All Demos, showing for the first time the mouse, hypertext, windowing, outlining, teleconferencing, and more.
Today is the 45th anniversary of this demo. In honor of this the HyperScope team has put together a video showing some NSF-funded work we did in 2006 porting parts of Engelbart's original NLS/Augment system shown in the Mother of All Demos into contemporary web browsers.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

What a Next Generation Classic Should Look Like: Touch Press' The Waste Land

Photo by RichardBH
“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
The possibilities for creating next generation eBooks out of classic works, such as Ulysses or The Iliad, is tremendous. Such texts can be challenging for many reasons; they can have multiple layers of meaning that are difficult to tease out, can reference cultural touchstones that are out of date, and frankly can be dry without having a great teacher to guide you. These are texts that literally require the reader to struggle with them in order to unlock their material.
Next generation eBooks can be thought of as marginalia on steroids
There is a long tradition of marginalia to help readers with these books, such as footnotes, separate helper texts containing commentaries, other readers scribbling notes into the margins, and more. Next generation eBooks can be thought of as marginalia on steroids: you are no longer constrained by a tiny margin to fit a footnote, or just static text. You don’t have to literally reference another book every other sentence to help you unlock things, such as needed for Ulysses; advanced commentaries can be interleaved into the digital eBook itself, whether through audio, video, or even stretch text.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Converting Print Books into eBooks Using Radically Smart Templates

Last week I explained a bit about Inkling's process for converting back list books into next generation eBooks built with HTML5. I explained how the history of Inkling and Inkling Habitat is continually hitting bottlenecks in each of these steps, and throwing different ideas at bottlenecks to whittle them down.
Today I want to talk about some work we explored about two years ago around radically smart templates for books, focused on solving the content specification bottleneck.

What is a Content Specification?

As I mentioned last week, content specifications are basically examples and details on how to convert the different parts of a traditional book into its digital equivalent. I can't show any actual examples of them here as they are private to individual publishers, but I can show an example mockup of what one might look like.
Here is an example page from a traditional history textbook:
Almost all books have the same repeating patterns throughout them. For example, in the example page above, you see the subtitle "The Eastern Front and the Mediterranean" in red and fairly large; this history book probably has the same style and setup for all subtitles.  You also see other elements that probably repeat throughout the book, such as the "History Makers" sidebar on the upper-left and the "Background" side footnote. If you were to turn to most of the chapters in this history book, you would probably see the same elements repeated and used; for example, this same history book probably has other Background footnotes (in fact the example above has two on the same page).

Monday, November 18, 2013

How a Next Generation eBook is Made

A funny thing happened while Inkling was trying to redefine the eBook: we found that we also had to redefine publishing. If it takes a tremendous amount of energy, money, and time to produce a single next generation eBook, no one will do it. Is it possible to create tools and processes that can scale publishing these kinds of eBooks? Can we rethink eBook publishing itself?
The Inkling Habitat team, the browser-based publishing software I've been building the last three years, has explored many different avenues towards scaling next generation eBook production. We've explored everything from treating books as software to deeply building distributed collaboration into the authoring and proofing process itself. The Inkling Habitat team has explored some radical directions; some have panned out, others have not. I'm going to explore some of the things we've done in this space over a few blog posts here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Learn about the Little-Known iPad-like Device from the 1980s That Inspired Hypercard

Interesting, just stumbled on this; evidently the ground-breaking HyperCardsoftware that the amazing Bill Atkinson created had earlier roots in an iPad-like device that would emulate books at a closer level in the early 1980s, named the Magic Slate:

Monday, November 04, 2013

Next Generation eBooks Need Marketing Hustle

David Wilk has an interesting piece on the Digital Book World web site he published recently entitled Why it’s Too Early for Publishers to Give up on Media-Rich Ebooks:


Monday, October 28, 2013

The eBook Interview: Meagan Timney, What Academia and UX Design Can Teach the Commercial eBook World

Meagan Timney is a Senior Product Designer at Inkling. Before working in the private sector, she explored the future of the book at the University of Victoria as a postdoc and Assistant Professor of English literature and digital humanities. You can follow her on twitter @mbtimney.
Hi Meagan! Tell us about yourself and your background.
Hi! Well, my name is Meagan Timney, and I grew up and went to school in Canada. I moved to San Francisco about two years ago to begin working in the software industry as a product designer. In university, I studied literature and performing arts before heading to grad school and embarking on a multi-year digital preservation and scholarly editing project. I’ve been fortunate to watch the emergence of digital editions from both an academic and industry perspective. There have been a lot of changes to digital books since I built my first one (using simple HTML and frames) in the autumn of 2004.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The eBook Interview: Liza Daly, From Interactive Fiction to Digital First Publishers

Liza Daly is the VP of Engineering at Safari Books Online. Previously she founded the eBook technology company Threepress, where she created Ibis Reader, the first HTML5 eReader.
Liza presents and writes about digital publishing, interactive narrative, and web technology at and via Twitter at @liza.
Hi Liza! Tell us about yourself and your background.
Hi! I'm the VP of Engineering at Safari Books Online. I've been a software developer my whole career, starting with the early days of the web — I remember when the tag was invented! I was lucky enough to jump on the digital publishing bandwagon just as the industry was taking off, and I ran a small but successful startup called Threepress that was ultimately acquired by Safari.
What is something in the world of eBooks that you are currently excited about, whether a technology, a product, or an idea making the rounds?

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Next Generation Music Education eBook: Inkling vs. Kindle

Today I'm going to review what I think is a great example of  a next generation eBook, Music: An Appreciation by Roger Kamien. I'll take a look at what this eBook looks like on Inkling, then compare it with a more traditional eBook version on the Kindle.
Musical textbooks are a great example of books that never should have been traditional books; they are calling out for music being embedded into the page rather than being distributed with a set of CDs.
Let's take a quick look at what this eBook looks like on Inkling, complete with interactive listening outlines:


Monday, October 07, 2013

Books That Never Should Have Been Books

Joseph Tito, who held together the contradiction that was Yugoslavia, not unlike the contradictions of genres print books hold together today, but not for long.

As the book digitizes its revealing previously unnoticed schisms between genres, like a kind of fracturing Yugoslavia. 
In the past printing words on dead trees was the only game in town, a pre-historic pulp Internet where the packets were books themselves. This created a flourishing world of genres that flowed through this paper Internet: literary fiction, non-fiction, comic books, cook books, textbooks, encyclopedias, and more.
Many of these "books" never should have been books in the first place. For example, encyclopedias always stressed what dead tree paper was capable of. They strove to be authoritative, up to date, truly accessible, both wide and deep, and more. The rise of Wikipedia showed that encyclopedias never made sense on dead paper, at which point they promptly disappeared. Remember how heavy print encyclopedias were? How they never truly covered all topics? How they fell out of date?

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