Bibliotype—a Simple Kit for Publishing Text on Tablets

Slaw has always had an interest in publishing and in technology, so I’m using this track record as an excuse for telling you about Bibliotype, even though it has nothing whatever to do with law. My deeper reason is that we’re all in this together, and anything that might help improve the experience of reading materials online should interest lawyers. So much for the prolegomenon.

Bibliotype is the work of the niftily-named Craig Mod, a writer and book designer. I came across it because of Mod’s article in the online web designer’s publication, A List Apart. There he confronts the freedom offered by the iPad and other tablet devices. With books, the spine acts as an organizing axis; but on a tablet there is no such axis on which to hang a layout; there is as yet only freedom and possibility. The article is worth reading if you’re interested in user interfaces.

Mod offers Bibliotype as one response to that freedom. What makes it of particular interest, I think, is its base in straightforward HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, which produce a fairly simple kit that Mod has made available via GitHub. This is an e-book reader based in browser technology, making it widely accessible to implement and to use.

I think you’ll find a number of features to like in Mod’s demo of Bibliotype. Click on the menu button at the upper left to see the options you have. Most are fairly familiar: serif or sans-serif face, dark or light background, justified or not. But I particularly like his way of describing, and choosing, the options for type size: he reasons, rightly I think, that there are three typical ways we use an iPad: with it resting on our knees, propped up on a table, or leaning against a pillow in bed; and so he lets us choose our layout based on our distance from the screen. Smart.

(Because it’s aimed at tablet users, Bibliotype emphases compatibility with Apple’s webkit and may not work well on IE. I’ve tested it on Safari, Firefox and Chrome (on a Mac) and it works fine there.)

Comments

  1. For people interested in iPad typography, version 4.2, amongst other things, adds support for CSS3 hyphenation through the property -webkit-hyphens in Safari. See http://twitter.com/#!/josephpearson/status/22088711046959104 or Webkit bug pages in Google. (Sadly, this isn’t widely publicized yet.)

    This has also been since implemented, both in English only, in the latest builds of Chrome. On the iPad, this then allows iBooks to support hyphenation in v1.2…

    The script Craig wrote uses a JavaScript hyphenation library whose main advantages are cross-browser support and multi-lingual support. But if all you need is English, -webkit-hyphens is both faster and better, given its use of the built-in Apple dictionary to hyphenate.

    Now the last remaining problems I have with iPad typography are poor built-in full justification and the potential for automatic text layouts to have distracting rivers of white space. The first can be seen and corrected on the web via http://www.bramstein.com/projects/typeset/ while the second is much harder, but still possible given enough processing time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_(typography)

    If you’re a geek interested in Typography, you probably already know TeX and the like, so here’s a discussion from there on rivers of white space and automatic ways around it: http://tex.stackexchange.com/questions/4507/avoiding-rivers-in-successive-lines-of-type

    Finally, for those here who know of Code4Lib and like iBooks, I wrote a ruby script to grab the Code4Lib journal and convert it into mostly valid ePub for iBooks reading pleasure, with again the automatic hyphenation I mentioned in 4.2+. You can find the announcement post at http://groups.google.com/group/c4lj-discuss/msg/ed65ba941fef817c or just download the — still beta — epubs at https://github.com/LouisStAmour/journal2epub/downloads … Note the log files which detail outstanding errors, easily corrected though I haven’t yet had the time.