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Little Webby Press

Little Webby Press — Final Grant Report

Andre Alves Garzia
Andre is a writer and developer focused on decentralization technologies.
・7 min read

Photo showing Little Webby Press on the comuputer screen, and four devices showing chapter 5 of Moby Dick
The devices shown are all viewing Chapter 5 of Moby Dick, which was assembled by Little Webby Press, that is shown on the main computer screen above.

Project Update

Little Webby Press has reached it's desired minimum lovable project status, and is ready for general usage. Authors can use the webapp to assemble eBooks and hotsites from their manuscripts thus enabling them to focus their time and effort into their craft instead of having to deal with desktop publishing tooling and trivia.

The project is feature complete in terms of the features that were planned for this grant — more about them below — and I'm happy to announce that we managed to generate eBooks with 100% of epubcheck compliance, which is harder than it should be.

EBooks generated with Little Webby Press can be hosted and distributed on each authors own platform, while still being distributed by major vendors such as Kobo and Amazon. The Web version of the eBooks can be WebMonetised, thus providing yet another funding opportunity for content creators.

At the moment, Little Webby Press, is most useful to Indie Authors and those in the self-publishing ecosystem including writers doing Web Novels and Fanfics as well. The system is flexible enough to cater to those audiences without forcing them to leave whatever other platforms they're already present on.

A Bit Of Context

To understand our progress, it is important to understand the workflow used by authors when using our application. They write their manuscript using as many plain-text files as they want to. This is a common workflow used by other major players in this ecosystem such as Leanpub and Scrivener. These files are collated and assembled into a manuscript, which goes into revision and edits until it is good enough for publishing.

Each author has their own preferred text editor, we're not in the text editing game, we let them use whatever they want as long as it can save into a format that Little Webby Press understands.

To assemble an eBook or a WebSite for the eBook, the author can:

  • Drag & drop the folder with the manuscript into Little Webby Press.
  • Click a button to load a folder and manually select the folder with the files.

Once the files are loaded, an interface is shown for the author to verify if everything is correct. If they're happy with it, they can click to generate the eBook or to generate the WebSite. The assembled deliverables will be downloaded to their machine.

In essence, the system was designed to stay away from the user and provide as low friction as possible. It takes an author less than two minutes to use Little Webby Press to assemble their book. Their time is spent with their content, not with our system.

I decided to explain this all to you because to craft a system to be used in a way that let the user do what they want and move away from it as fast as possible is not usually a UX constraint. There having been multiple iterations over the feature set and workflow to remove steps and reduce time spent on the webapp. Little Webby Press has been designed to get out of the way.

Progress on objectives & Key Activities

The easiest way to follow the progress on objectives is if we break them down by core feature. The overlap with our key activities was so big that I opted to fold these two sections into a single one. Below, I'll create a subsection per core feature in our proposal. I'll describe what it is and what is the current status of the implementation.

eBook generation

At the core of Little Webby Press is the eBook generation. In our original proposal, we planned to generate EPUB3 and MOBI formats as EPUB3 was used by all companies out there and Amazon required MOBI. This changed while we were developing the project, it was a minor miracle to be honest, as Amazon took an unexpected change of policy and decided that all eBooks should be sent to them in EPUB3 format, and that they would convert them to MOBI on their own. Suddenly, we didn't needed to implement MOBI anymore.

Without the complexity of having to implement two different eBook formats, we could focus our attention into EPUB3 which is the default standard for eBooks.

Epubcheck is a tool used industry-wide to verify EPUBs for compliance with the spec. It is a very strict tool, some say it is too strict, and getting a book to validate with 100% approval is quite hard. Not only because it is a complex spec, but also because the content of the book can affect compliance.

Our Moby Dick sample has been reaching 100% compliance for a while now proving that Little Webby Press can generate good EPUBs.

Important: Epubcheck compliance is good but it is not needed for your book to be compatible with most devices. Each device is usually way less strict than epubcheck in what they accept and are able to display. The only store I am aware that rejects books based on compliance with epubcheck is Apple iBooks.

WebMonetization

We can't add WebMo to EPUB files until someone creates eReaders that follow WebMo specs. Little Webby Press has always been more than just an EPUB generator. That feature was important because without it no author would be interested in using our system, but LWP offers more.

A core feature is our ability to generate a hotsite for your book and also a web version of the eBook. An author can actually disable the EPUB generation if they're so inclined and go with a pure web deliverable.

Both the hotsite and web version of the book are WebMonetized.

There is more to do in the future regarding WebMo, our roadmap doesn't end with the end of the grant. The next step for this feature is enabling the author to unlock extra content for readers who have WebMo enabled.

Multiple templates

I'm not a designer. Doing good templates is hard for me and even though the generic default template used in Little Webby Press is OK and good enough for daily usage, we didn't want to lock users into having only my simplistic designs available for them.

Instead of commissioning someone to write a couple of good templates for us — something I might still do in the future, maybe with some new grant — I opted to provide a mechanism for authors to use their own custom template.

  • Authors who are happy with the default template can simply keep using it.
  • Creators who know HTML/CSS can create their own template and use them.
  • Creators who have enough funds can commission a designer to create bespoke templates for them, and use them with Little Webby Press.

Important: There are mechanisms in place allowing future templates to be shipped with Little Webby Press. The system already looks for extra templates, they're just not there.

Multiple markup languages

Most SaaS and applications in this ecosystem when they support a markup language, they work with Markdown, and Markdown only.

Even though Markdown is easy to learn (it is what we use to write these reports for example) it is considered by some to be too simplistic and even buggy.

Instead of forcing our own personal choice on our users, we opted to provide multiple options instead. This is a theme with Little Webby Press options and mechanisms over policies and decisions, provide the user with options and get out of the way. It is a very unopinionated web app.

Little Webby Press accepts manuscript files written in: Markdown, Asciidoctor, Textile, and even HTML chunks.

As far as I am aware, there is no other eBook generation web app that accepts all these formats. There is pandoc but that is a command-line tool with a steep learning curve.

Documentation

Our proposal had a huge emphasis on documentation. It is one of the pillars of Little Webby Press, allowing creators easy access to the information they need.

A cool aspect of our documentation is that it was assembled by Little Webby Press itself. In Computer Science this is called eating your own dogfood, ours was delicious. We wrote two books about how to use Little Webby Press and they alongside our samples, templates, and video tutorial compose our documentation site.

No user accounts

Little Webby Press is not a startup. We don't have a business plan, or a path to grow that passes anywhere near being a company. This is an open source project designed to be easy and cheap for me to run.

All the processing happens in the front-end. Little Webby Press webapplication is a set of static HTML5 files. They don't require expensive servers or DevOps to keep working. One can actually download the exact same files from our repo and run everything locally if they so wish.

Since everything is done in the browser, there is no need for the authors data to leave their computer. This makes LWP very private and enables us to work without having user accounts.

Communications and marketing

What’s next?

This is the end of our funded period, but not the end of our journey. NaNoWriMo is just around the corner, and Little Webby Press will be ready to welcome all the thousands of novel writers that are a part of that wonderful community. These were just the first chapters, the setup for our adventure is now ready, and there is a lot to do.

We're extremely thankful for all the support from everyone at Grant For The Web. You folks made all this possible. Without your support, I wouldn't have been able to find the time and safety required to focus on creating this tool. Thank you ❤️

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