Scalar

“Scalar is a free, open source authoring and publishing platform that’s designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online. Scalar enables users to assemble media from multiple sources and juxtapose them with their own writing in a variety of ways, with minimal technical expertise required.” – Scalar’s About website

I’ve spent the last few days transferring an annotated bibliography I’ve been working on into this Scalar website to test it out.  The demo I went to was about a year ago, but now is when I’ve really had time to focus on some new technologies to try out.

To start, a person creates a new “book”.  To this book they can add “pages” and “media” to the pages. There is a “Main Menu” on the right hand side to help users navigate through the book. That’s the simple version, but it can all be as simple or as complicated as the creator makes it out to be.  To better understand the confusion I had when I tried to use this tool, watch their own promo video:

Overall, I’ve found it to be a useful resource, but I’m a bit confused still as to what are the best types of work that can benefit from Scalar.  It’s definitely not a traditional novel.  I would liken it more to a series of articles or essays that were grouped together. It almost feels like putting together a website, but the connections and controls are slightly different.

A few things of note:

  • I could not get images from Flickr to appear
  • The site supports animated gifs
  • If the learning curve to get started was steep, it’s even worse when you try to figure out annotations
  • Not having a “Preview” option makes me worry it’ll look wrong when I’m done
  • There are not a lot of controls, you’ll have to add HTML and CSS to customize something as simple as Tables.
  • There is no way of really organizing the back end. If you have 100s of pages, you will have to scroll through the entire list to find it.
  • The word “The” is not discounted when listing things in alphabetical order (back end problem)
  • You can replace media files on the back end instead of deleting and re-uploading
  • Upload file size is capped at 2MB. It is easier if you do any pixel sizing before upload. I still haven’t figuered out if I can resize later because it’s not an intuitive feature.
  • supported file types for upload: css, gif, html, java, js, kml, jpg, m4v, mp3, mp4, pdf, png, txt, wav, xml / also available, but not always compatible: 3gp, aif, flv, mov, mpg, oga, tif, webm

I’m still very confused about the upkeep of what I created.  I get that its a free open source tool in beta, but that usually means “take our code and install it into your system” not “upload all your stuff into our serverss for free”. There’s no FAQs page and their forums are near empty. But, overall I liked the tool and I’m going to finish the project I started so I can show it to others.