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And the winner is... Aloha! Choosing a web editor...

Image 1041
Image 1041(photo: Kristin Trethewey)

One of the outcomes of July's WYSIWHAT? meetup in Berlin was the selection of Aloha as the editor of choice for Booktype's interface. Aloha Editor is a semantic Rich Text Editor framework and will soon be what all Booktype users will be writing, editing and designing pages and books with.

Not only this, but members of both OERPUB and Connexions have also committed to using Aloha for their projects, meaning development will be faster and more closely linked to the aims of all three groups. So, how and why did this decision come about?

What you see is what you get?

In true #newsbeta spirit, Berlin's WYSIWHAT? brought together designers, coders, hackers, readers and writers to explore the future of producing text in the browser with three days of unconferencing and hacking.

In attendence were co-organisers OERPUB and Sourcefabric, plus representatives from Connexions, Siyavula, Upfront Systems and many other organisations. "It was very nice to meet all these interesting people from all kinds of different backgrounds and countries," said Remko Siemerink, from De WAAG in Amsterdam, while Beata Sobczak from Poland remarked that "through the workshops, I could take a closer look at the problems which developers meet every day."

Welcoming Aloha!

One of the key outcomes of the meet-up was to settle on one editor that all parties would agree to work on, develop, and contribute to. After placing people in different groups, analysing all available HTML5 editors and going through various brainstorming sessions, Aloha was the framework chosen for future development.

Of the process, Giacomo D'Angelo of Simplicissimus Book Farm S.R.L commented that "I really liked this open-minded approach. The developers were not forced in any direction, but left free to choose the right thing."

In the end, Aloha was the winner. Aloha is a semantic, rich text Editor framework written in Javascript with best support of xHTML5. It can be integrated into a CMS, blog, wiki software or any other project where you need to edit content with a web based tool. For the Booktype team there were five clear advantages to using it.

  1. In-context editing. Aloha, unlike WYSIWYG editors, actually lets you edit the page rather than the text abstracted from the page. This makes for a much nicer editing experience and opens up a lot of other possibilities for interacting with the page.
  2. Good development activity. The Aloha team are very approachable and active. We talked to a couple of the core dev team and are happy that they are easy going and seem good to work with.
  3. Uses JQuery. Aloha just changed to JQuery libs recently which is great because Booktype also uses a lot of JQuery so it minimalises the possibilities for conflict and lowers the number of external libraries required.
  4. In-browser design a step closer. Aloha interacts directly with HTML5 content editable regions without changing the structure of the page which means any CSS applied is unmediated and can be effected directly by the user.
  5. Can work with external Javascripts. Because Aloha doesn't change the structure of the page (as per above) any external JS libs can work directly on the content without needing to be altered.

Reaching the holy grail

Plenty of great code examples were worked on in the meet-up, and the Aloha code was forked on Github specifically for the development of Aloha plugins, models, tests, and examples for use in the production of books and open educational resources. Plan is, of course, to commit all the code back to Aloha when things are stable enough.

In addition to the new Booktype developers Borko and Johannes, Sourcefabric team members from other projects also attended with Petr representing Newscoop and Billy travelling from the Superdesk team. Billy created an equation editor plugin that adds real-time, inline equation editing to Aloha. Its a pretty big deal for many, since equation editing is a holy grail for anyone wanting to work in maths or physics and create content online. So far we'd found no adequate solution for generating equations online.

Billy's demo (note: Firefox only) can be found here. Use ctrl-m to insert an equation in latex...you can also copy and paste one like this into the editor (you can find many examples online):

\begin{eqnarray*}
\cos 2\theta & = & \cos^2 \theta - \sin^2 \theta \\
& = & 2 \cos^2 \theta - 1.
\end{eqnarray*}

You can edit the equation and it renders in real-time. You can also click out of the box and create a new equation or you can go back, click on the existing rendered equation and edit it. One small step for Booktype, one giant leap for open education resources!

Find out more

You can find out more about Aloha over at their site, more on Booktype here or consider signing up to one of the lists below to follow development and discussion around the topic. Happy hacking!

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