Open Textbook Authoring Tools Part 4 – The Rest

Well, we are nearing the end of this series on Open Textbooks, just one or two posts to go. Before we leave off this section on Authoring Tools, though, I wanted to provide some annotated links to a host of others I have discovered in my travels in case they were of use to someone. Some of these exemplify the model of web-based, multi-format output open tools that I have focused on, and could easily themselves been written up in more detail had I the time, while others are stand-alone tools that, while they have their uses, fall short of my own vision for an authoring platform that breeds openness, sharing and remixes.

Web-based platforms

Pandamian

Had I found Pandamian before today, I would have included it in the writeup on WordPress and Pressbooks as open textbook authoring tools. While I don’t know that it is in fact wordpress-based, functionally it is almost identical to pressbooks. While I couldn’t find a simple way to reorganize chapters, it allows for web-based authoring of books that are exportable with a single click in all of PDF, .epub, and .mobi. The web-based version allows for commenting just like Pressbooks. Also like Pressbooks, it is currently only available as a service (though my hope is that Pressbooks, having been built on wordpress, offers more exit strategies and potentially self-hosting in the future.)

Annotum

Also likely should have been mentioned in the WordPress write-up is Annotum, an open source, wordpress-based solution for scholarly publication. It is focused on scholarly writing specifically, but it is able to output to multiple formats and so is deserving of note here.

Connexion

Connexion is a bit of an odd duck in my opinion, yet definitely deserves a nod as it has been going for many years now, and is one of the few “repositories” to have continued growing and improving over time. There are a number of Open Textbooks that have already been built in Connexions, including those that have been included by the Community College Open Textbook Collaborative (e.g. Finite Applied Mathematics.) One of the big advantages is that it is built from the ground up around structured, well-marked up text. Not only does this allow for export to different formats, it allows for an ecosystem of reuse within the system. Like much OER, it is not clear the extent to which people actually make use of the ability to remix and recombine existing content into new stuff, even when the system allows for it to be done quite easily, but there does seem to be some evidence of it in Connexions.

Rice University, the home of Connexions, also just announced it was entering into the Open Textbook playing field in an even bigger way with its OpenStax project (great name!), which aims at first to deliver “publisher quality” open textbooks for the 5 highest enrollment courses in the state.

iPad- or eBook-only tools

I hopefully don’t need to explain again my thoughts on targetting the iPad on its own as a platform for open textbooks, or for that matter looking only to eBooks. Sheer madness, regardless of how nice the results look. Still, there are those who will be tempted. For them, I simply offer links to the following three authoring tools. And my best wishes.

  • Demibooks Composer – http://demibooks.com/composer/
  • Redjumper Book Creator – http://www.redjumper.net/bookcreator/
  • Genwi – http://genwi.com/

I should add thanks to the New Kind of Book site for its two bookmaking roundups for some invaluable references that turned up a couple of these that were new to me.

Desktop Tools, Readers, Clippers, Transformers and Other Gadgets

Very briefly I’ll mention a number of other tools that are handy for the fledgling open textbook author to know about

  • sigil – an open source, cross-platform, desktop, WYSIWYG authoring tool for ePubs. Very handy to have to do clean up on some of the results from these other automated approaches I have mentioned. I don’t know that I would advocate authoring solely in sigil, but it is very handy to have.
  • e-cub – another free desktop authoring tool for ePubs. Not as powerful as sigil but it’s my go to when using other tools has failed – it seems to open anything I throw at it and is otherwise dependable.
  • calibre – in the earlier days, this was one of the only free desktop eBook tools around. It’s still worth installing, but I regularly find it borking on things and usually only turn to it when nothing else has worked.
  • Open Office eBook extension – In a pinch, authors could compose work in Open Office, the open source word processor, and export both as HTML/Mediawiki, ePub and print to PDF. It’s not ideal, but for a fast, cheap and easy way to get going, it’s worth knowing about.
  • GrabMyBooks epub creator browser extension – I like the idea of this partly because I am always advocating that people look at incorporating tools that fit into their existing workflow rather than tools that bolt on in addition to what they already do. That’s the main idea behind the Open Educator as DJ and Augmenting OER with Client-side Tools. This plugin lets you grab content as you surf the web and add it to a collection that can then be published as an ePub.
  • ePub reader browser add-on – I love this add-on for Firefox because when I click on ePub links, this renders them right in my browser. Meaning I don’t need to use a special reader if I don’t want to, but also I can check to see if the book is really something I want to read before downloading it, synching it to my eReader, etc.

Additional Reading

Finally, a couple of recent reports and books that you may find useful in thinking about both book authoring but also the future of what we call “books.” The first is the just released JISC Digital Monograph Technical Landscape study which ultimately seems a much more thorough look at many of the issues I have tried to cover over the last 5 posts. If you are really interested in the topic of formats and tools, then you should spend the time to read it. The other is a free early edition (the first three chapters) of an in process book called Breaking the Page by Peter Meyers, who also maintains the above-mentioned “New Kind of Book” site. If the first three chapters are any indication, the finished book will be worth the wait, as Peter speculates on ways in which technology can improve and change the way we interact with books. The first three chapters deal with Browsing (think new forms of Table of Contents), Searching (think new forms of Indexes) and Navigating (what happens when linear isn’t the only dimension you can arrange things in). It is given me all sorts of ideas on how ebooks will transform in ways that still respect all of the useful things real physical books allow us to do.