The British Caving Association

Reading the CREG journal online
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Author:  David Gibson [ Thu 12 Dec 2013 14:23 ]
Post subject:  Reading the CREG journal online

The following letter appeared in CREG journal 84...
Will you consider a change of page layout to make viewing the Journal on screen easier? The three-column layout makes for tedious up and down scrolling to follow the text.

The salient point is that our PDFs that are available online are intended to be printed. PDF is not a format intended for online viewing. The question is still a valid one though - and it is one that is under consideration by the publishers of a number of academic print journals - but it is not really a question about the number of columns. If we produced a layout with one column, you would still struggle to view it online if we provided it as a PDF. A PDF is, in effect, a copy of a printed page and viewing a printed page on a computer monitor is difficult if your screen is the wrong size or shape. Anyone who has tried to read PDFs on an E-book reader will understand the problem precisely!. The native document format for devices like the Kindle is similar to HTML and - just like viewing a web page - it allows you to choose the font size and zoom in, and the text wraps appropriately to fit the screen. A PDF simply cannot do this - the layout is fixed and there is no possibility of re-wrapping the text.

So, for a publication intended to be read online, HTML is a much better format than PDF. But, even so, there are potential problems. There is a trend for screens to have a larger aspect ratio (i.e. they are getting wider without getting taller) and text that covers the whole screen width may be difficult to track with your eyes. The latest HTML "toolkits" (i.e. development suggestions) include a provision for multiple columns, and this may be the way to go. The question is not one about columns at all - it is about the best way of fitting text to a screen, i.e. HTML and not PDF.

We have been discussing this, within the CREG publishing team, for a while now. As Rob said in his reply to the above comment,
It will ... be down to volunteer effort to make things happen. We have a strong desire to ensure that changes to appearance don't disadvantage those with traditional paper subscriptions. If the present trend continues, driven as it will be by further inevitable increases in postal prices, we will have a majority of subscribers relying entirely on online access in a couple of years. It will be sensible at that point to consider refreshing the format of the Journal to ensure that all subscribers find it easy to read, irrespective of medium.

I think a good way forward could be for an enthusiastic volunteer to write a format converter that would take a tagged PDF (or possibly an XML source file) and generate the appropriate HTML. Alternatively, we could design in HTML to begin with, but it would be difficult, I think, to muster up the additional effort needed to produce a printed copy to a high standard; and the print version would start to look a bit ragged. Whether that matters is, of course, a subject that could be debated endlessly! It so happens that the present editorial team likes paper - both its presentation and its permanence. But this is merely the view of a few individuals and, as Rob indicated, it really depends on what our volunteers are willing and able to do. Possibly the first step is to find a volunteer to write a format converter - and possibly for this to include outputting to the Kindle format, as well as to HTML.

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