Publishing Formats: The Evolving Landscape | CORPORATE ETHOS

Publishing Formats: The Evolving Landscape

By: | December 18, 2017
ebook

Though these days we have a lot of ways to communicate with others, till a few decades ago, the main medium of communication was written text. Of course, even now the written text continues to be an essential form of communication- emails, reports, books, articles, teaching texts and so on. However, one limitation of the written communication is that it is less interactive and not the best choice always for business or academic communication. Let us point out some issues:

It is common knowledge that the vast majority of people prefer video to text content and we can achieve the best of both worlds if we can combine text with video.

Content  obsolescence is another issue. Some parts of a book dealing with volatile topics may become obsolete fast. Republishing the book incorporating the new updates is not that practical or economical.

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The advent of ebook technology helped us counter most of the shortcomings discussed above. In an ebook, the publisher can include content that is generally not possible in a conventional book. One can include video, audio and provide search facilities to find the relevant content instantly. Moreover,  as updating an ebook does not usually incur unreasonable costs, the issue of obsolescence could also be solved to a large extent.

Lack of interactivity

Most of the technical books these days contain lots of programming code- especially the books on Science and Data Science. To understand the concepts discussed in such books we need to try out the scripts mentioned in them. For this, you need to go through certain steps: fire up the programming environment, enter the code, execute the code, go through the errors if any and re-execute it. Naturally, this is a terrific distraction from the normal reading process and you may end up skipping many parts of the book unless it is important.

Books in Jupyter Notebook format

Now, if the book comes in Jupyter Notebook format, such troubles can be easily removed. Note: as mentioned in an earlier column (http://corporateethos.com/opinion/reproducible-research-with-the-jupyter-notebook/), Jupyter Notebook lets us create documents that contain live code, graphics and narrative text.  If the book is in Notebook format, we don’t need to move away from the book, hunting for a programming environment or waste time entering the code. One can simply execute the set of commands embedded in the book in any way she likes. You can read the explanation and to reinforce the learning gained from this process, you can edit the code instantly and see how the output varies with the altered code. This will certainly make the book more engaging and enjoyable to read.

Publishers are slowly realising the potential of this technology and many books are now available in Notebook format too. The book ‘Introduction to Machine Learning with Python’ (http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920030515.do), published by O’Reilly is an instance of such a book. The book in the Jupyter Notebook format is available here: https://github.com/amueller/introduction_to_ml_with_python. You may download the repository via the option ‘Clone or download’.

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Once the book is downloaded onto your local disk you read it via a Jupyter Notebook environment available to you (screenshot below).

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Those of you who wish to learn to programme may find the Jupyter Notebook version of the book, ‘Numerical Computing is Fun’ ( https://github.com/mikkokotila/jupyter4kids) quite valuable.

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If you are a data scientist, take a look at the book Python Data Science Handbook available here (https://github.com/jakevdp/PythonDataScienceHandbook/tree/master/notebooks )

As pointed out earlier, the video is one of the most effective communication media and many organizations/academic institutions provide lecture videos to enrich the learning experience. Though video content is much more suitable to introduce new concepts, it has also some constraints. We learn better when we are engaged in the learning process. When the instructor shows an experiment if the student can also do it immediately, the learning takes place instantly. Likewise, while an instructor shows the audience a website and discusses its content, the students should also be able to access it along with her. In a conventional classroom environment, such activities can easily be done. Obviously, we cannot provide such an interactive environment to students who view the recorded video lectures. The new medium Oriole Online Tutorials (https://www.safaribooksonline.com/oriole/), from Oreilly, is an attempt to overcome this seemingly impossible constraint.

Oriole provides the learner with a unified experience by blending video, text and code . For this, the learner does not need to instal anything extra- she needs only an Internet connection and a browser to access the application. When you access the Oriole content online, it will look quite similar to an online course website with video, text and some executable code. But when you start the video you will realise that you are in for a totally different experience.

When you click on the full-width video, it shifts to the top-right corner and displays a timeline on the left with the main content in the middle. When the author mentions a part of the main text, the sentence gets highlighted in yellow (screenshot below).

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The different components of the site- text, code and links- are tightly integrated with the flow of the video. When the author clicks on a website, the learner can also click on the link and access the site. During this time the video automatically pauses and when you come back you can continue to view it from where it paused. While the author executes a code, you can also do it along with him and gain a hands-on experience of running the program. Note: to run the code you don’t need to instal anything- simply click on the ‘Run’ button and (if required) to further strengthen your understanding you can change the code and re-run it. So, this way, Oriole brings in a human touch to the whole tutorial experience- you will get the feeling that you are under the personal guidance of an expert.