14 March 2011
The mass market for mobile content has been growing rapidly in recent years, so much so that you may be thinking about "mobilizing" your content. Why?
For whatever reason, you're thinking about mobile. But how to proceed? This paper will help. It starts by outlining mobile "architectures", followed by an overview of a specific mobile standard called ePub, RoboHelp's support for ePub, and some best practices. The goal is to help you decide if it makes sense to create ePub-based ebooks using RoboHelp.
For this discussion, I'll postulate three basic mobile architectures, two of which, sites and ebooks, have a technical communication slant:
Adobe added support for ePub in RoboHelp 8 and further integrated it into RoboHelp's interface for version 9.
The ePub standard comes from IDPF (International Digital Publishing Forum) at www.idpf.org. IDPF describes ePub as an "interchange and delivery format for digital books and publications…" At a basic level, ePub lets content reflow on different-size screens, but think of it as a way to put book-like content online. (I'll explain what I mean by "book-like" shortly.) Here's an example of an ebook, Alice in Wonderland, in Adobe's ADE (Adobe Digital Editions) reader.
In brief, ePub supports traditional online navigation features – tables of contents, search, and links, plus text formatting, graphics, and more. RoboHelp supports the current version of ePub, 2.0.1. For more information about v. 2.0.1, see http://idpf.org/epub/201 or, for a broader overview, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPUB.
Note that the IDPF released the first public draft of the proposed ePub 3 standard on Feb. 15, 2011. (See http://idpf.org/news/epub-3-specification-public-draft-released) V. 3 is based on HTML 5 and, according to IDPF, supports "video, audio, scripting & interactivity, vertical writing and other global language capabilities… MathML, and styling & layout enhancements". The final recommendation is anticipated by mid-2011. V.3 will add the ability to create highly enhanced books for a wide variety of audiences. There's no telling when vendors will start to support it, but the added power and features make it worth watching.
ePub-based ebooks can be read on any native ePub reader for which an ePub plugin is available. The readers can be actual hardware, such as Nook, or software, such as Adobe Digital Editions or the FireFox ePub viewer plugin. There are many options, so you'll want to carefully define what hardware and software you have to support and whether their differences may affect your work. There's a list of readers to start with at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPUB#Software
Earlier, I said that ePub was "book-like." This was because it lacks three features that make it differ from what technical communicators are accustomed to for print and online publishing. Specifically, ePub does not support:
With that, let's turn to the ePub support in RoboHelp.
RoboHelp 8 supported ePub but required authors to download two control files and set them up by working in code using the ExtendScript toolkit. Not difficult, although any code modification runs the risk of errors. RoboHelp 9 is more WYSIWYG, with Windows-style dialog boxes, shown below, replacing most of the hand-coding.
Configuration is pretty straightforward. For the initial setup, you define an XML output on the Single Source Layouts pod, download an archiver, and run a script. You'll do this once. After that, for each ePub project, you specify a graphic to use as the ebook's cover page illustration, define publishing metadata, such as the title, author, ISBN, and so on, and generate the output. Mechanically, it seems to work well. Here, for example, is the sample SalesBuilder-Help project, which I output to ePub without changing anything in the content or the code, and displayed in the Adobe Digital Editions reader.
The icons in the upper-left part of the window let you display a list of all the available ebooks, select a specific one, and pick various reading options, such as changing the text size, copying and pasting text, and adding bookmarks. Some of these options are also available as icons in the upper-right part, which list the page you're on and the total number of pages, or allow you to insert bookmarks, change the text size, and perform a search. All in all, it's a pretty straightforward interface.
The ePub support in RoboHelp 9 has two non-standard interface features that you may trip over the first time you generate ePub output.
These are minor problems and you'll get over them quickly. But if you're an experienced RoboHelper and accustomed to double-clicking to generate and view your output, you'll waste a minute trying to figure out why you're getting odd results.
The meaning of the term best practices often depends on its context. Here, I'll define it to mean two things – using coding and development practices designed specifically for ePub output and using practices in the general RoboHelp project that will translate well to the ePub output.
For the first definition, see www.adobe.com/go/learn_rh_epub_best_practices_en. This document focuses on programmatic standards and has a lot of useful information. (As a side benefit, it's an ePub ebook itself. So before downloading it, download and set up the Adobe Digital Editions viewer, at /products/digitaleditions/. The best practices document will then open in the ADE viewer and give you an immediate example of an ebook.)
For the second definition, here are some suggestions ranging from general to specific:
In addition to the sources mentioned earlier, here are two more useful ones:
If you're considering going mobile, you may be concerned about having to buy and learn new tools only to find that mobile doesn't work for you and you wasted the effort. The support for creating ebooks in RoboHelp has a strategic aspect – you can try mobile with no need to buy new and unfamiliar tools. You're simply using a tool that you already have and know. And if mobile isn't what you thought it would be, just delete the mobile output and go back to your regular work. It's a pretty safe way to experiment.