Tag Archives: research

Should academic paper publishing embrace EPUB?

Sometime last year I was considering home improvement options to our house, I was thinking about building a large, built-in bookshelf in our upstairs study area. I always loved to see lots of books on the wall, and really enjoyed pulling down a book to have a browse on whatever subject interested me from my own personal library. But there was all this discussion regarding ebooks, and I was thinking if this ever caught on big time, then printed books would eventually go the way of the dodo – the end of their 400-year cycle of greatness was at hand, and the new way to read anything was going to be on a digital screen.

I’ve since come to my senses. I love books – the binding, the texture of fine paper, the fact that it doesn’t require a battery or power cord, and even the smell are all plusses in my book. Books have been around a long time, and they’re here to stay. Ebooks are just another channel of distribution for such content, and I believe that both have their place in the modern era.

However, for academic research papers, I think we can safely kill the paper. Particularly, I think it should all begin moving towards the EPUB format. I read a lot of academic papers in my work, and I find myself wishing that more of this stuff were published as EPUBs. In contrast to my love of books above, I think academic research would largely be much better served in a purely electronic format. It’s already going that way from the reader’s point of view, right?

Typically, when academic papers get published electronically, the format of choice is PDF. Or in earlier days, PostScript. If you’re lucky, someone had the foresight to publish their paper as HTML. The advantage of a flexible format such as HTML is that you can resize the fonts. Text can flow. It’s easier to get a clean copy of a text or data segment out of HTML than it is from PDF for quoting in one’s own paper, because copying from PDF tends to yield horrific line break issues and other artifacts on the clipboard.

PDF is, I’m sorry to say, hard to read on smaller screens. PDF expects paper, and refuses to reflow itself into smaller screen sizes such as an iPhone or Android device form factor. It barely passes on the 1024 x 768 iPad screen. Anything smaller, such as most ebook readers, is going to be unacceptable. Having to zoom in and scroll left to right to read one line of text at a time on a mobile device is not what anyone would call a user-friendly reading experience.

EPUB by contrast works great on mobile devices. Using the Stanza reader on iPhone is quite comfortable. iBooks on the iPad platform is a joy to use.

After reading this tweet by Dave Gutelius today, I was reminded of how much I hate printing out all my academic papers in preparation for travel. Flying is reading time, and printing this stuff out and stuffing it in my backpack is time consuming, a waste of paper, and added weight that I don’t want to carry.

Stuffing those papers onto my iPad and using GoodReader is a step in the right direction. But still, all too often the PDFs are formatted for paper, not for screen, and I am still cursing the format. PDF usually assumes letter-sized or A4-sized paper, and most ebook readers have physically far smaller screen sizes. Far better I think to start providing EPUB options for academic research, so that folks like me who need ginormous fonts and such can read with greater ease.

Or, should it just go to straight HTML? At that point, papers might even be able to add a little functionality to the electronic reading experience – change variables in information graphics, show rendered 3D representations of models, and so on. EPUB doesn’t support anything fun like HTML5 DOM handling or Flash, although CSS3 might work depending on the EPUB reader’s implementation. Either way, PDF ain’t fitting the bill ebook readers, and I think this sort of format will be far more important in the coming months and years as ebook-capable mobile devices become more and more commonplace.

Create the change you want to see in the world, one environment at a time

Today I came across this article from Peter Bregman on the HarvardBusiness.org site, titled: The Easiest Way to Change People’s Behavior. It’s an excellent read and highly recommended.

What Peter discusses in this article is that one of the most important motivational factors in our lives is environment. If you put the right things in front of you, you’ll tend to use them more. Move them away, and they’ll get used less.

This goes for good things as well as bad things. On the positive side, consider proximity of the things that are beneficial: The gym is only a block away, so you go regularly. If the gym is far, you don’t go. Some examples based on the article:

  • Use a bigger spoon or plate, and you eat more. Use smaller ones and you eat less.
  • Live near a liquor store or a Burger King and people tend to drink more and eat more junk food. Place yourselves farther away from those and you tend not to indulge in such sins.
  • For musicians, keep your instrument and music in an area where you’ll most likely use it. Designate a practice area and have your instrument either out of it’s case or put the case in an easily accessible area. Music on the stand. Metronome on the desk. Ready to go. (I personally have found having a tuner (iStrobeSoft) and metronome (Dr Betotte TC) on my iPhone to be one of the biggest music practice productivity boosts yet. No searching for gadgets…)
  • Want kids to do their homework? Give them a clean, organized place to do it and make sure the homework is there and not floating around the house in some random place. (I know this from experience…)

In a Web 2.0 context, this equates to the usability of your software. Make it easy for your users to get things done, and they’ll do it without a hitch. Throw up roadblocks, and they’ll get stuck. It doesn’t matter how small the roadblock is or whether or not the construct was well intentioned or not – if it impedes usability, then it will impede usability. πŸ˜‰

In a greater sense, there’s a lesson for the nation or the world: If you want people to change the way they are doing things, make them want to do it. Make it easy for them. Remove any and all barriers to getting things done. You want people to vote? Put voting booths in more neighborhoods or promote the option to vote by mail. Need people to get immunized? Set up neighborhood clinics. Want your employees to be more productive? Find out what is it about your office environment that is getting in the way or not helping promote the results you want to see. For kids, for employees, for citizens, provide the right environment and make it a place they want to be.

Researching web information architecture, usability, and standards

If you are a web developer, web designer, web architect, web usability expert, in a similar role, or just have an opinion on the subjects of web architecture, usability, and standards, I need your help! I am doing a research paper on the arguments in favor of having large enterprise organizations develop policies for the following issues:

  • Implementing and enforcing a standardized user interface for an enterprise web presence.
  • Developing an enterprise web information architecture.
  • Developing and enforcing a web style guide.
  • Enforcing web standards (i.e. valid XHTML, CSS, DOM scripting using ECMAScript standard, etc.
  • Usability and accessibility issues (Section 508, case law, etc.)

Broad category? Yes. But hey, it’s easier than writing about how to curb global population growth or global warming. I’m trying to positively influence the world through better enterprise web strategy. My goal is to bring standards-based web design out of the sidelines and fully into the mainstream at the enterprise level. I think the case has been made clear for small web infrastructures and web 2.0 plays, but the enterprise still lags in this area and it is a far more challenging problem due to the information and organizational complexity of such behemoths.

I need your help! If you have any suggestions, opinions, recommended books, citations, essays, or good URLs to post, please let me know in the comments! Any opinion on this topic is welcome.