In a riff on the most famous foot-noter of all (Edward Gibbon, “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” | Wikipedia | Gutenberg), Stanford alum Bruce Anderson delightfully chronicles “The Decline and Fall of Footnotes” only to conclude:
More than anything, Gibbon should make us rethink our attitude toward footnotes and the attendant deathwatch. The emphasis in our schools has been to replicate the form rather than the content or style of a good footnote. We should remember that reading Gibbon without the footnotes is like listening to Mozart without the 16th notes; the music of each lacks its distinctive, ineffable magic when the little notes are taken away.
Ideally, footnotes are also a graceful acknowledgement that today's community of scholars is linked to and dependent on yesterday's community. As Sir Isaac Newton modestly noted in a letter to Robert Hooke, "If I have seen further [than you and Descartes] it is by standing upon the shoulders of Giants.” If Newton can be so generous, it should be easy for the modern scholar to acknowledge his or her intellectual debts.
The very word "scholar" has its root in the Latin "schola" or "school" and bespeaks a community or network of people striving together for understanding. "Footnotes are reminders that scholarship is an intrinsically communal enterprise--building on, revising or replacing the work of predecessors," noted Kenneth L. Woodward in Newsweek. Scholars are not "Lone Rangers, going it alone."
Still, footnotes and endnotes in paper documents are a source of pain and suffering to readers and authors alike. Perhaps the digital era will bring relief.
The problem with notation in paper documents?
Except for their location in a document, footnotes and endnotes are both used to achieve one or more of the following four objectives:
- To acknowledge the words and work of other authors - without attribution, it’s plagiarism.
- To provide authority for assertions of fact and law.
- To provide support for arguments or points of discussion.
- To provide additional information or references which may be of interest to the reader but which are not central to the main text.
These are important and necessary, especially in academic writing.
Because footnotes and endnotes in paper documents are physically separated from the text that they refer to, readers require help in correctly connecting them. This is usually done using matching pairs of superscripted numbers, asterisks or other symbols. One appears at the end of the word, phrase or block quote to which the note refers. The other appears to the immediate left of the note at the end of the page (footnote) or to the left of each item in a list of notes at the end of the book or chapter (endnotes). Given the 500 year history or print, this is apparently the best that can be done with paper and probably why Noel Coward quipped that, “Coming across a footnote is like going downstairs to answer the doorbell while making love.” (It is peculiar that footnotes should so often bring amorous intimacies to mind. The historian Philip Guedalla once remarked that Edward Gibbon lived out most of his sex life in his footnotes. [from Bruce Anderson, cited above])
The promise of notation in digital documents.
Because the modern eReader must contend with different orientations (portrait vs landscape) and a wide range of variously sized viewports, it would be quite difficult to develop a skeuomorphic rendition of traditional footnotes in documents that will only be read on digital devices. This calls for a change in our nomenclature. Hereinafter, we use the term “author note” to refer to the things that help digital authors pursue any of the four objectives enumerated above. The “author” qualifier is needed in order to distinguish their notes from the reader notes supported in many eReaders such as the iBooks app..
The advent of ePub 3.
Under the EPUB 3 standard, author notation is handled via a pop-up that is invoked by the reader tapping on hyperlinked text. Thus, the context and association of such notation is much clearer to the reader without being as much of a distraction as a paper-based footnote would be. A popup note in an ePub 3 document may look like this in the iBooks app:
On Tuesday, May 22, 2012, Apple sent out an email to its iTunes Connect mailing list that included the following paragraph:
EPUB 3 Support
iBooks and the iBookstore now support EPUB 3 for flowing books. EPUB 3 includes new features to enrich your book including the pop-up footnote functionality.
In this context, the term “footnote” is a bit of a misnomer. The ePub 3 popup note in the iBooks eReader has nothing to do with the foot of a page. These are author notes. Apple probably reasoned that this skeuomorphic example would be more easily grasped, at least initially.
Pop-up author notes are a good thing for readers in that they are now so much more easily and conveniently accessed. No longer must we correlate small superscripted numbers in the text with notes that appear at the bottom of the page (footnotes) or, worse, at the end of the book or chapter (endnotes). This is such an elegant alternative that I think we can conclude that footnotes and endnotes have been rendered obsolete by these new author notes and, thus, have no legitimate place in digital documents.
So how does one include author notes in an iBooks Author project?
The Books Author application currently has no explicit provision for any kind of notation, modern or otherwise. There is no clearly developed and labeled way for an author to pursue any of the four purposes of author notation enumerated above.
Consequently, users of the iBooks Author application have resorted to various workarounds that attempt to achieve some semblance of the author notation functionality readily available in ePub 3. Some of these methods are better than others but none are as good as a purpose-built author notation function by Apple could be. Some of the more popular of these workarounds include:
- Using the Pop-Over widget to simulate ePub 3 style popup note.
- Using the hyperlink function to create a round trip endnotes experience
- Re-purposing the Glossary
- Re-purposing Bookmarks
Taking these in reverse order, the two re-purposing tactics are bad ideas because doing so precludes their conventional use and conflicts with common reader expectations. As well, we have better options.
While endnotes are familiar, they are generally disliked by readers because using them is such a distraction. A digital implementation of endnotes can ease some of that pain with carefully constructed hyperlinks but the reader must still click through a unique round-trip path in order to maintain their “place.” Many readers simply ignore the endnotes. Here, too, we have better options.
The best available workarounds make use of the iBooks Author Pop-Over Widget. Here are two ways to use the Pop-Over widget to implement author notes in iBooks Author. As we’ll see, each has a unique set of pros and cons. The hope of this blog post is that one or the other or both will tide you over until Apple provides something better.
The visible graphic method:
Create a small graphic image that is wider than it is tall. It could be an icon (thought bubbles are popular) or an image of text as shown. I use “NOTE” but it could just as well be CITATION, EXAMPLE, REFERENCE, etc. as long as your convention is consistently applied throughout your book. Using all caps and sharply contrasting colors will also help the reader notice and understand what their options are. The example pictured is 54 x 28 pixels.
Pro: this is not affected by subsequent editing
Con: the “hot spot” thus created may be difficult for some readers to tap accurately.
The invisible graphic method:
Insert the text and images that constitute your citation, reference, note etc. Note that the pop-over widget supports text, images and hyperlinks. Webpage hyperlinks enable external references. Internal hyperlinks can transport readers to a chapter, section, page number or any figure in the book but reader “place keeping” can become a thorny issue.
Thus, one should disable portrait mode in the inspector document pane.
Pro: the footprint of the “hot spot” thus created can be much larger than the “target” text making it easier for readers to invoke an author note.
Con: this only works in landscape mode (portrait mode needs to be disabled)
Con: subsequent editing can mis-align hot spot and target.
These are the best workarounds I’ve been able to come up with but they both suffer from the fact that the “trigger” is a graphic object that was not designed to work with text. Text, of course, is what author notes always refer to.
Identifying the best solution:
Authors should not have to choose between readability and thorough exposition. As well, the reader should not have to struggle to keep their place. The Noel Coward quip needn’t be uttered or even thought of in the digital era.
First, we consider what the reader’s experience should be like and then we can turn our attention to ways and means to achieve it. One thing is already clear. Authorial notes should be hyperlinked text, not graphic elements.
… what should the reader experience be:
The reader should …
… never loose their “place” when opting to find out what an author note has to say to them.
… be able to easily invoke an author note with a single operation regardless of screen size or orientation
… easily recognize an author note and be able to differentiate it from other kinds of hyperlinks
… be able to easily see what kind of authorial note it is in advance (this also speaks to accessibility requirements).
• citation or reference - reference to source (enables location and verification)
• discussion - supporting facts and reasoning (in greater depth than main text)
• supplement - information or references facilitating further, in-depth study
• example - case study, anecdotal information, etc.
• evidence - tables/charts corroborating assertions in main text
• aside - interesting or amusing corollary information
… be able to select and copy all content in author notes to be used elsewhere (e.g. reader notes, further study, research, etc.).
… how can Apple help authors meet these needs?
The pop-up used in ePub 3 and the pop-over used in iBooks Author provide the ideal solution for assuring reader place holding while consulting author notes. As text-based hyperlinks, the author may employ a number of textual conventions to make it more easily recognized and invoked. With a pop-up, place holding and utility are assured because it appears in context and is easily dismissed. As text, the hyperlink will flow and respond to changes in font face, size and style. Color may be controlled in the template as is the case other types of hyperlinks.
There are already six different types of hyperlinks in iBooks Author as follows:
Web Page (URL)
Email Message (To: address, Subject)
Figure (In: Entire Book/Chapter, Style )
Chapter or Section (auto listed)
Page (type page number)
Proposed is a seventh type of hyperlink, the author note:
Author Note (no parameters, pop-up fully editable)
This pop-up should accept text, images and selected widgets (Gallery, Media, Keynote, 3D and HTML) and include full screen options where appropriate.
The reader will be able to select and copy text in an author note for use in verifying citations, re-purposing data, etc. Readers could incorporate some or all of this information in their Reader Notes and, because those can generate flash cards, incorporate that into their study routine. Hyperlinks to web-based references can be copied as well as followed. Returning from Safari to iBooks maintains the reader’s “place.”
For scholars of every stripe, from student to tenured full professor, this is a much more productive environment.
The problem of differentiating hyperlinks.
With seven different types of hyperlinks, how is the reader to know in advance what kind of hyperlink it is and, in the case of author notes, what the purpose of that author note might be. Presently, the reader has only the color of the hyperlink to go on and several hyperlinks use the same color in many templates. Clearly, the reader needs more than this.
Of course the author could implement conventions in a multi-touch book that provide readers with this needed information. For example, all hyperlinks could use square brackets to enclose explicitly titled hyperlinks such as the following examples:
[author note: citation for this block quote]
[author note: hyperlink to original source]
[author note: 3D model of xyz molecule]
[author note: HTML widget: opinion poll]
[web page: in-depth info on xyz molecule]
[chapter 2, section 1: examples of recursive routines]
Another, possibly better, approach would be to implement alternate text and title (tool-tip) text for hyperlinks in multi-touch books just as with images and hyperlinks in web pages. In this case, iBooks Author would present a user interface for author notes and other hyperlinks that would include fields for alternate and title text. Sighted readers would tap and hold the hyperlink to see tooltip-like title text whereas visually impaired readers would hear the alt text read to them and have the option of following the hyperlink or not.
The problem of one-way hyperlinks.
Authors can engineer a round-trip experience with these problematic hyperlinks if and only if there is but one link to that other place in the book. In that case, the author can create a hyperlink back to the originating page. However, if there is more than one hyperlink to that specific other place in the book, the author cannot know which link brought the reader there and, so, cannot devise a return path.
A possible solution to this is to have yet another new kind of hyperlink, the Return hyperlink. Whenever a one-way hyperlink is used, the author is additionally prompted to create a Return link at the destination by entering the text of that Return hyperlink.
In the iBooks app, tapping a Return hyperlink will consult the history file identifying the last hyperlink used and return the reader there.
The problem of un-hidden resource pages.
For some books, the author wishes to provide resources that can only be accessed from a certain place in the book. The information presented might be confusing or difficult to understand if it is encountered out of context.
Hidden pages that can only be accessed via a hyperlink would help the author avoid this unwanted outcome. A Return link would be absolutely essential less the reader become stranded on a hidden page.
Such a feature could be an effective alternative to pop-up author notes where the author has a great deal of additional content to share with the reader.
Placing a suggested reading page on a hyperlinked hidden page might be useful as a way to postpone the readers interaction with it until after the content exposition has been largely or mostly completed.
Summary of Feature Requests:
Return Hyperlink. The return hyperlink option is invoked whenever the author opts to use a hyperlink that will transport the reader to another part of the book. The author will have the option of using this feature or not and specifying the text of the hyperlink.
Hidden Pages. Authors will have the ability to create hidden chapters, sections and pages that will only be accessible via hyperlink. The return hyperlink will be an essential companion feature to this.
If you agree that some or all of these enhancements requests would be good for you and other iBooks Author users, here’s what to do.
In iBooks Author, go to the iBooks Author menu (upper left corner of screen, just to the right of the Apple menu) and select Provide iBooks Author Feedback. Fill out the form and feel free to select, copy and paste from here if you like.