In 1985, Aldus Corporation gifted the world with PageMaker, a software which made publishing industry professionals feel more powerful than ever before. Before PCs became ever-so-common, PageMaker became the industry standard in publishing and carved out a new category of software, desktop publishing software, or in short, DTP. PageMaker was such an amazing invention, that some believe that it saved the Mac OS. It became the modern day letterpress. Since then, Adobe has made incremental improvements to this software year after year, and after moulding it into the newer InDesign, has brought the power of DTP to the masses. But I believe the next most extraordinary invention in publishing hasn’t come out of this PostScript giant, but from a small creative start-up in the Financial District of San Francisco called Inkling. And they call it: Habitat.
Inkling Habitat, a collaborative digital publishing web-based solution, was launched to public at O’Reilly’s Tools of Change (TOC) conference in mid-February this year. This wasn’t the most profound product launch in the technology industry by any means, and that in fact, small new features in social media platforms got more attention than Habitat. However, I somehow feel that we have been unable to gauge the brilliance of an invention that Habitat is, and that is why I want to point to why this success is worth celebrating, embracing and cherishing in the coming years.
Habitat is built using some of the finest open web technologies. But what makes Habitat a power value proposition is its understanding and appreciation for open collaboration amongst teams in publishing. Habitat is built to support large virtual teams work seamlessly together on rich editing and authoring experiences, without getting entangled in the mess of files sharing or poor revisioning. With deep support for WYSIWYG editing alongside complete control over the HTML/CSS of the publication, Habitat completely liberates the book it helps create while empowering less web-savvy professionals from feeling left out. With software-like test suites to ensure quality productions, Habitat allows users to constantly proof their work and assess progress without any manual work.
Publishing pipeline and freedom
Habitat takes the publishing workflow and pipeline to the next level. Habitat is built and runs on the same medium on which its creations are consumed – the web. Unlike InDesign, which spits out poor HTML/ePub upon export to rigid non-PDF formats, Habitat is designed to empower the wave of digital distributed publishing by focusing on the interactive digital interfaces. HTML, the open web markup language, turns out to be the native format of all titles produced using Habitat. And so, everything produced using this platform is publishable to open digital publishing standards that strive to be HTML/CSS, like ePub. And with the new announcement of Inkling’s Content Discovery Platform, all published content through Habitat is indexed and discoverable by Google searches. Can it get any more convenient for a publisher?
Standards for interactivity and fluid layouts
Before the rise of tablets and pervasiveness of mobile computing, we had no universal accepted notion of interaction with technology beyond tactile physical buttons. But today, rich interactivity is a mantra for success for any new product. Inkling is doing some of the finest work in boiling down interactive elements using technology into its simplest denominations, and has introduced these as open standards in Habitat. By building a taxonomy of interactive elements based and implemented on the open web, Habitat imbibes some of the best lessons in helping publishers create digital titles at scale with ease. Its in-built support for fluid layouts and screens of multiple sizes constantly reminds us of its willingness to be on every imaginable digital medium of consumer choice.
Inkling was an education technology company, before it really became a publishing company. And so, the willingness to make engaging and beautiful learning experiences for consumers of content has always been paramount for the creators of Habitat. From the outset, enormous work has been put in to model titles made using Habitat to be learning-friendly. Such as books broken down into chunks called ‘cards’, cross-book search functionality, font defaults, etc. The power learning interaction tools packaged in Habitat dismiss unpopular attempts like iBooks Author far and wide.
Another powerhouse is Habitat’s Mapper (in beta), which allows just about anyone to bring in their existing print-based title and convert it into a rich Habitat title in a matter of hours. If absolutely none of these matter to you, there is probably one last thing that will: design. Not just does Habitat allow power users to be build gorgeous titles, it is a slick-and-smooth application itself, and guarantees one of the intuitive and beautiful user experiences on the web.
Lastly, I want to leave you with a little piece of advice: not many times in your life will you get a chance to get ahead of your league by becoming an early part of an innovation that changes the way an entire industry behaves/works. Go try out Habitat – its a 100% free without any catches – trust me, you will not regret that you did.
Full disclosure: I have interned at Inkling as a Web Engineer working on Habitat. But these my personal views entirely and there was no compulsion to write this article.