Truly Readable E-Books (Thanks to HTML5)

posted in: Free Software, Technology, The Web | 0

Screenshot of Bluefin e-book

Reading a book on a website is a bit like holding a book upside down and turning pages with your nose. Because most websites are designed with standard HTML, there is no easy way to give a user true page-by-page performance. The result is the incessant scrolling and clicking that you do with normal web pages, only magnified by however many hundreds of pages the book has.

The ideal solution to this problem is to construct some type of interface that allows natural page turning, avoids scrolling, and presents the user with readable text. It should be something that works equally well on a desktop, laptop, and tablet.

One possible way to accomplish this was to use a third-party plugin like Adobe Flash Player. As a parent, I’ve seen numerous sites for children that rely on Flash to give early readers the page-turning book experience. But Flash brings its own problems. For one, it is proprietary, requiring users to download non-free software. In fact, having to download anything at all is enough to turn off some people. There is also the problem of device support. Tablets like the iPad, would be excluded, as would screen readers for the visually impaired. Flash text is not real text, and basic interaction (copying, pasting, right clicking to get the browser’s menu for tasks like searching for words, and interacting with extensions) are not supported 100 percent. This leaves users with a less than pleasant experience.

A couple of days ago, the Center for Public Integrity published a book that might very well be the answer web developers have been hoping to find. They created a template that allows for true e-book page turning with a mouse click or with arrow keys. Say goodbye to scrolling and hello to truly interactive online books. But the best part of all is that this new template is based on HTML 5. Anyone with a browser, whether on a desktop, netbook, or mobile phone, can access it without downloading a plugin or an app. It even adjusts the text according to the size of the browser window.

The book itself is called Looting the Seas: How Overfishing, Fraud, and Negligence Plundered the Majestic Bluefin Tuna. Yeah, not exactly fireside reading, but it is visually impressive, including zoomable images, colorful graphics, and even embedded video. You can turn a page by clicking the edge, where you can slightly view the next or previous page, clicking the forward or backward arrow, using your keyboard’s arrow keys, or scrolling with your mouse. It all feels very natural and bookish.

The template was created with the help of Treesaver, a digital reading platform that produces great page-by-page content using only web standards: HTML, CSS, and Javascript. The project’s website does not currently have much on it, but you can join their newsletter or talk to them on Twitter for more information. It appears as though the final version of the platform will be open source, allowing web developers to truly revolutionize the way books, newspapers, and magazines are viewed on the Internet.

Write a comment