Scalar describes itself as “a free, open-source authoring and publishing platform…designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online.” The nature of its platform makes it a sort of democratizing force in the academic space, and it offers interesting ways to showcase visual material within scholarship. The latter function is an aspect of significant importance, considering that Scalar is a project created by The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture—an organization which prioritizes greater scholarly understanding (and usage) of visual culture.
Scalar’s most noteworthy attributes are broken down into categories: annotations, media support, flexible structure, web standards, open API, archive partners, reader feedback, custom styling, built-in visualizations, multiple authors, and third-party apps. Here is an abbreviated breakdown of each:
Annotations: This is a really neat function of Scalar. It allows you to annotate video and audio files, and even source code. As the site explains, “Want to annotate source code with poetry? Or audio with video? Scalar makes it possible.”
Media Support: The site says that “Scalar pages are HTML, just about anything you can imbed in a webpage will work in your publication.” Here, you can find a list of supported media formats for native support.
Flexible Structure: Scalar distinguishes itself from other publishing platforms through its usage of paths (linear) and tags (non-linear), which, in the most simple terms possible, means “‘anything can do everything to anything'” according to the site. Read more about it here.
Web Standards: Scalar is based on the semantic web standard RDF (Resource Description Framework) and is compatible with Dublin Core, SIOC (Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities), and ArtSTOR.
Open API: Through Scalar’s open API, your content is easily accessible. You can create custom interfaces for it and mashup with other data sources.
Archive Partners: Scalar partners with the Internet Archive, Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library, and the Shoah Foundation Institute Visual History Archive to make a wide range of source material available to users.
Reader Feedback: Scalar’s comments feature makes open communication between authors and readers possible.
Custom Styling: Scalar offers a variety of options for authors to create visual interest within their publications with image galleries, Google Map layouts, and CSS functionality.
Built-In Visualizations: Built-in visualizations allow for page-level and book-level viewing. Through the latter function, content from an entire book can be viewed by readers in “graphical format.”
Multiple Authors: This function is pretty self-explanatory–Scalar allows multiple authors to edit a project, and it keeps track of who contributes what.
Third-Party Apps: Scalar maintains a “flattened hierarchy” which utilizes various third-party apps like CodeIgniter and ARC2 to achieve full functionality. The full list of third-party apps can be viewed here.
Under the Scalar Showcase tab, you will find a wealth of projects created using the platform. The work showcased here displays Scalar’s impressive range—authors can upload theses and dissertations, create digital exhibits, and even write “book companions” to help readers understand the basics of their work.
Visit Scalar’s “Webinars” tab to view upcoming webinars (of which there are currently none –and I’m not entirely sure this is an active feature of the site).
Scalar offers some neat ways to get involved with the site, from offering feedback, to hosting workshops, to coding. You can also check back occasionally to see if Scalar is hiring (but currently, they are not). If you’re interested in providing feedback about bugs and other suggestions, check out Scalar’s public issue tracker; and if you fancy yourself a Scalar expert, you can contact the team and get involved in their feature and platform testing.
Overall, Scalar seems like an incredibly interesting platform for anyone interested in publishing their work on a more democratized, open, digital media-focused platform. I really enjoyed looking through their project showcase and appreciate that they make all of these academic works available to the public. Scalar also offers great opportunities to brush up on your tech skills and contribute to the site’s improvement. Check it out!