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My other iPad is a Kindle

Zeldman.com as seen on Kindle

The new Kindle has a lot going for it. It’s inexpensive compared to a full-featured tablet computer like the iPad; you can slip it in your back pocket, where it’s more comfortable than an old-style paperback; and it includes a Webkit browser. This last point is where folks like us start to give a hoot, whether we’re fans of epub reading or not.

The flavor of Kindle’s browser concerns us because it affords us the ability to optimize the mobile viewing experience with a single line of markup. You can see this in action in the photo at the head of this article (published and discussed on Flickr).

I made no tweaks for Kindle per se; the Kindle is simply responding to a line of markup I’ve been putting into my web pages since 2007—namely, the viewport meta element, which controls the width of the viewport, thus enabling mobile devices with a limited number of pixels to focus all available pixels on your site’s core content (instead of, for instance, wasting part of the small screen on a background color, image, or gradient). The technique is as simple as web design gets:

meta name="viewport" content="width=770"

(Obviously, the value of “width” should be adjusted to match your site’s layout.)

I learned this little trick from Craig Hockenberry’s Put Your Content in My Pocket (A List Apart, August 28, 2007), which I naturally recommend to any designer who hasn’t seen it.

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HTML5 For Web Designers: The eBook

HTML5 For Web Designers

Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 for Web Designers is now available as an epub at books.alistapart.com.

If you bought the paperback, watch your inbox for a special discount on the ebook. (To take advantage of this offer, enter the discount code in page 2 of the shopping cart’s checkout process, after you put in your billing information.)

Also, be on the lookout for our second book, CSS3 For Web Designers by Dan Cederholm, forthcoming this Fall. Upcoming A Book Apart topics include progressive enhancement, content strategy, responsive web design, and emotional design by industry-leading authors Aaron Gustafson, Erin Kissane, Ethan Marcotte, and Aarron Walter.

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So you want to be an epublisher

You scream, I scream, we all scream for epubs. As with all internet bounty, it’s even more exciting to produce than to consume. So after you’ve glutted yourself on all those free Jane Austen novels and children’s books, and gone into hock re-creating your library on iPad, why not give something back by doing a little writing yourself?

What to write about, how to ensure quality, and how to identify and market to an audience are beyond the scope of this little post, but we can point to some dandy resources that tell how to create and test your epub. So let’s go!

Our first two resources come from Adobe and tell how to set up an Adobe InDesign file to produce a proper epub. There are other ways of creating an epub—for instance, you can author it in valid HTML, zip it up, and convert to epub using the BookGlutton API. For many readers of this site, that’s all you need to know.

But if you are a graphic designer or book designer, or if epub is only one format you are publishing to (i.e. if you are publishing traditionally printed books that double as epubs), then the next two resources are exactly what you need:

  1. Exporting epub from InDesign (PDF) – wonderfully compact and helpful
  2. Producing ePub Documents from InDesign – Digital Editions – a bit dry but useful; best viewed via the Readability bookmarklet from our friends at Arc90

Once you have your pub, you want to know that it is valid. Any of the following services will help there:

If the tests identify errors, you’ll need to go back into InDesign, fiddle with settings, re-export, and re-test. Once your epub validates, it’s time to go to market: How to sell your eBook via Amazon and the iBookstore. Good luck, and enjoy!

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Battle of the e-Book readers: Stanza vs. iBooks

A Scandal in Bohemia, by Conan Doyle, as viewed in Stanza.

Above, page one of “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the first story in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as seen in Stanza, a free reader for iPad and iPhone. Stanza has a simple interface for finding, buying (and downloading free) e-books.

Stanza lets you control font size and choose from a number of templates offering a useful variety of foreground and background color and contrast. As the screenshot shows, it also lets you set text ragged right, which is the most legible setting for onscreen text.

Below, the same page in iBooks, the reader that comes with iPad. As one would expect from the company that brought us iTunes, the iBooks application has a slick interface for buying (and downloading free) e-books. But as a reader, it is currently less feature-rich, and thus less usable and less pleasing, than Stanza.

A Scandal in Bohemia, by Conan Doyle, as viewed in iBooks.

In iBooks, one cannot turn off full justification. While full justification is lovely in carefully produced printed books, it has a long history of bad aesthetics and poor usability on the screen. Given a sufficiently wide measure, full justification can be used onscreen for short passages, but it is inappropriate for anything beyond a paragraph or two.

Combine full justification with a single high-contrast template, and you have a reader that is better to look at than to read. Indeed, the 1.0 version of iBooks seems more like a flashy demo intended to wow potential iPad purchasers in the store than an application designed to provide book lovers with a viable alternative to print.

One suspects that future upgrades of iBooks will address these concerns. Meanwhile, if you intend to do serious reading on your iPad (or iPhone/Touch), download Stanza for free from the iTunes store.


Addendum: One wonders what will become of Stanza given Amazon’s ownership of the parent company. More here. Best scenario: the Kindle reader incorporates excellent Stanza features, while Stanza continues to operate as an alternative to Kindle, iBooks, et al.


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More Mod on the Digital Book

Embracing the Digital Book by Craig Mod.

A Reading Heatmap: Key passages illuminated by layering all readers’ highlights for the same text.

LAST MONTH, he wowed us with Books in the Age of the iPad, a call to make digital books as beautiful as printed ones. This month, Craig Mod is back with Embracing the Digital Book, an article (or blog post if you must) that begins as a critique of iBooks and Kindle and moves on to discuss the e-reader of our dreams, complete with reasoned social features:

I’m excited about digital books for a number of reasons. Their proclivity towards multimedia is not one of them. I’m excited about digital books for their meta potential. The illumination of, in the words of Richard Nash, that commonality between two people who have read the same book.

We need to step back for a moment and stop acting purely on style. There is no style store. Retire those half-realized metaphors while they’re still young.

Instead, let’s focus on the fundamentals. Improve e-reader typography and page balance. Integrate well considered networked (social) features. Respect the rights of the reader and then — only then — will we be in a position to further explore our new canvas.

Embracing the digital book — Craig Mod


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Roll your own iBooks with ePub

iBooks bookshelf in iPad. If you don't have cover art, iBooks will create it for you.

In A novel concept: Roll your own iBooks with ePub, Macworld’s Dan Moren tells how to create your own e-books as easily as you export a PDF or GIF from an authoring program like Office or Photoshop:

Earlier this week, Storyist Software released an update to its eponymous writing software that supports export directly to the ePub format, including the ability to add cover art, tweak formatting, and more. Likewise, the forthcoming 2.0 version of popular writing tool Scrivener is also adding ePub support.

In both cases, converting your file to ePub is as easy as saving it as a PDF or Microsoft Word document—you just pick ePub from the choice of export formats and hit the button. Voilà, the ePub file appears wherever you saved it. Drag that file into iTunes, sync your iPad, and you’re finished: your book will now show up in iBooks next to any other e-books you’ve purchased. Both tools also allow you to add your own cover art, and tweak the book’s metadata (author, description, genre, and so on).

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Crowdsourcing Dickens

As an experiment in new new media thinking, I recently crowdsourced a new new literature version of Charles Dickens’s musty old old old lit chestnut, Great Expectations—the familiar tale of Pip, Ms Havisham, the convict Magwitch, et al.

Creative excellence and spin-worthy results required a pool of 10,000 people who had never read Great Expectations. Fortunately, I had access to 10,000 recent American college graduates, so that was no problem.

To add a dab of pseudoscience and appeal obliquely to the copyleft crowd, I remixed the new work’s leading literary themes with the top 20 Google search queries, using an algorithm I found in the mens room at Penn Station.

The result was a work of pure modern genius, coming soon to an iPad near you. (Profits from the sale will be used to support Smashing Magazine’s footer and sidebar elements.)

Gone was the fusty old title. Gone were the cobwebbed wedding cake and other dare I say emo images. It was goodbye to outdated characters like Joe the blacksmith and the beautiful Estella, farewell to the love story and the whole careful parallel between that thing and that other thing.

Gone too was the tired old indictment of the Victorian class system, and by implication of all economic and social systems that separate man from his brothers in Christ, yada yada. As more than one of my young test subjects volunteered in a follow-up survey, “Heard it.”

In place of these obsolete narrative elements, the students and the prioritized Google searches created, or dare I say curated, a tale as fresh as today’s algorithmically generated headlines.

The results are summarized in the table below.

Old Great Expectations New Great Expectations
On Christmas Eve, Pip, an orphan being raised by his sister, encounters the convict Magwitch on the marshes. n/a
The convict compels Pip to steal food from his sister’s table, and a file from her husband the blacksmith’s shop. Pip thereby shares the convict’s guilt and sin—but his kindness warms the convict’s heart. Guy on girl
Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, abuses him. Her husband loves Pip but is unable to protect him or offer him a future beyond blacksmithing. Girl on girl (multiple entries)
Pip meets Miss Havisham, an old woman abandoned on her wedding day, who sits in her decrepit house, wearing a yellowing wedding gown, her only companion the beautiful and mysterious girl Estella. Pip falls in love with Estella, but Miss Havisham has trained the girl to break men’s hearts. Guy on guy
Pip visits Miss Havisham until his apprenticeship with Joe the blacksmith begins. Pip hates being a blacksmith and worries that Estella will see him as common. Two girls, one guy
Mrs Joe suffers a heart attack that leaves her mute. A kind girl named Biddy comes to take care of Mrs Joe. After Mrs Joe’s death, Biddy and Joe will marry. Meanwhile, Pip comes into an unexpected inheritance and moves to London, where he studies with a tutor and lives with his friend Herbert. Dragons
Pip believes Miss Havisham is his benefactor and that she intends him to marry Estella, whom he still adores. Day by day, Estella grows more cruel. Pip never tells her of his love for her. Wizards
One stormy night, Pip discovers that his benefactor is not Miss Havisham but the convict Magwitch. The news crushes Pip, but he dutifully allows Magwitch to live with him—worrying, all the while, because Magwitch is a wanted man who will be hanged if discovered. Explosions
Miss Havisham repents having wasted her life and perverted Estella. She is caught in a fire. Pip heroically saves her but she later dies from her burns. Soon afterwards, Pip and Herbert try to help Magwitch escape, but Magwitch’s old enemy Compeyson—who happens to be the man who abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar—betrays Magwitch to the authorities. Magwitch and Compeyson struggle. Compeyson dies and Magwitch is taken to prison. Gunfights
Pip now realizes that Magwitch is a decent man and tries to make Magwitch’s last years happy ones. He also discovers that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Magwitch dies in prison shortly before he was to be executed. Pip tells the dying Magwitch of his love for Estella. Fistfights
Pip becomes ill and is nursed back to health by Joe, whom Pip recognizes as a good man in spite of his lack of education and “class.” Pip goes into business overseas with Herbert. Eventually he returns to England and visits Joe, who has married Biddy. They have a child named Pip. As the book ends, the middle-aged Pip makes one last visit to Miss Havisham’s house, where he discovers an older and wiser Estella. There is the implication that Pip and Estella may finally be together. Anal
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E-books, Flash, and Standards

In Issue No. 302 of A List Apart for people who make websites, Joe Clark explains what E-book designers can learn from 10 years of standards-based web design, and Daniel Mall tells designers what they can do besides bicker over formats.

Web Standards for E-books

by Joe Clark

E-books aren’t going to replace books. E-books are books, merely with a different form. More and more often, that form is ePub, a format powered by standard XHTML. As such, ePub can benefit from our nearly ten years’ experience building standards-compliant websites. That’s great news for publishers and standards-aware web designers. Great news for readers, too. Our favorite genius, Joe Clark, explains the simple why and how.

Flash and Standards: The Cold War of the Web

by Daniel Mall

You’ve probably heard that Apple recently released the iPad. The absence of Flash Player on the device seems to have awakened the HTML5 vs. Flash debate. Apparently, it’s the final nail in the coffin for Flash. Either that, or the HTML5 community is overhyping its still nascent markup language update. The arguments run wide, strong, and legitimate on both sides. Yet both sides might also be wrong. Designer/developer Dan Mall is equally adept at web standards and Flash; what matters, he says, isn’t technology, but people.

Illustration by Kevin Cornell for A List Apart.

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Digital books: the medium changes the message

Content with form can change meaning when reformatted.

Content with form—Definite Content—is almost totally the opposite of Formless Content. Most texts composed with images, charts, graphs or poetry fall under this umbrella. It may be reflowable, but depending on how it’s reflowed, inherent meaning and quality of the text may shift.”

—Craigmod, Books in the Age of the iPad