FlightDeck Might be the Next Great EPUB Tool

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Last week eBook Architects launched the Beta version of their new QA application FlightDeck. Joshua Tallent from eBook Architects was nice enough to give me a rundown of the application and what’s in store for its future.

With the slow death of Sigil, eBook Architects realized that the ebook community needed a new tool to QA and make small edits to EPUB and .mobi files. FlightDeck aims to make this QA process easier and less discouraging. It helps you quickly isolate bugs and potential problems in your EPUB files, and gives you clear instructions on how to fix them.

Flightdeck is in free public beta and currently taking error reports and feature requests.

Walkthrough of the Application

Here’s a quick outline some of the great features available to you when using FlightDeck.

Files vs the Handbook

Files is the “Tool” section of FlightDeck. It allows you to upload and test your EPUB files.

Handbook is a great resource and repository of information. Many of the errors or recommendations FlightDeck makes to you are explained in more detail in the Handbook section. Joshua Tallent tells me this will be updated pretty consistently which means it will only get better. Definitely poke around in there for some great EPUB resources.

Files: Uploading

FlightDeck: File Uploading

Uploading a file to FlightDeck for validation is extremely easy. You can drag and drop the file or add the file through a traditional file uploader. Once uploaded it processes the file and validates your files.

Stats

FlightDeck: Stats

The stats page breaks apart the EPUB file you uploaded and returns an array of data about the file: file sizes, image dimensions, text characteristics, and more. While this seems like the most frivolous part of FlightDeck, I could see it help to spot check files generated out of InDesign or from other formats. See a lot of fonts included in the file you weren’t expecting? Or maybe you weren’t expecting your images to be so hefty? The stats page can help catch some of these issues.

Metadata

FlightDeck: Metadata Editor

The metadata section is currently the only “editing” feature FlightDeck offers you, but its a pretty helpful one. From this screen you can edit the books metadata. Once that page is saved you can download your EPUB from FlightDeck and your metadata will have been properly updated.

Validation

Flight Deck: Validator

The validation section runs ePubCheck on your file and confirms its validity. And while we could probably all run ePubCheck ourselves, eBook Architects added better error messaging than the defaults to help explain those ambiguous or overly technical errors.

Best Practices

FlightDeck: Best Practices

This section goes one step further than EPUB validation. It takes the optional but important parts of the EPUB3 spec and makes recommendations on ways to make your EPUB file better. This is an amazing next step toward making EPUBs a great user experience and to maximize the metadata and features available.

Retailer Acceptance Grid

FlightDeck: Retailer Grid

The Retailer Acceptance Grid goes even further than Best Practices or simple Validation. eBook Architects worked closely with all the major retailers to find out what additional checks they do on files. They then used those checks to create this grid, and provide additional features and options for you to consider. Over the iBooks 3.2 million pixels image limit? This tool will catch it and other retailer-specific issues. FlightDeck even has Apple’s Transporter tool built in behind the scenes, so you can catch potential problems before you send the file to your distribution channels.

The retailer grid currently consists of iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Google Play, and NetGalley. Kindle support is coming soon.

The Future of ebook QA and Beyond

As it stands, FlightDeck is already the best ebook QA tool I’ve seen available to the ebook production community. Joshua Tallent tells me they have even more in store for its future, including deeper editing features and better validation options. eBook Architects would love feedback in order to determine what the next big features should be.

FlightDeck is currently open to the public as a free Beta. Tallent said they are exploring many options to make it a paid service, but promised that even once they charge for the service they will maintain an affordable price for users of all types.

 

13 thoughts on “FlightDeck Might be the Next Great EPUB Tool

  1. It’s great but sad at the same time.

    Sigil has many of those features:

    - reports = stats (as a matter of fact, reports are a lot MORE powerful)
    - metadata editor was as simple as that
    - validator OK

    It just lacks best practices (but allows to enforce them easily) and retailer’s grid… plus it was designed for e-production and insanely powerful if you knew how to use its advanced features — you can cleanup the most bloated EPUB file in 10 min. Really. And you can also build a user-friendly system/template anybody can use as you can manage markup as Word styles and Styles as addable snippets).

    But sigil’s development is stopped while it could become the best EPUB editor, especially for EPUB 3. And everyone is trying to reinvent the wheel, I.e. Features Sigil has had for the last year and a half… Sad.

  2. I tried out the programs but uploading a file that I had previously checked using Pagina. My Pagina tested version validates and I can read it using Calibre and my Mozilla browser extension. I cannot read it in Adobe Digital Editions.

    In FlightDeck, I discovered that my EPUB would not work on any of the platforms that it checks, largely in part because of file sizes.

    While I think Pagina is great and really useful, the ease of use of FlightDeck was also very good. At my maximum, I will probably only produce 2-3 titles a year.

    Where FlightDeck promises to be really helpful to me, are the Handbook and Retailer Grid, because it is a bear to keep up with constantly changing specs.

  3. For the past few months, I have been resuscitating some old ebook assets, many of which were created with Sigil. I am completely confused by the number of titles created with that software. It created buggy files that are difficult to edit, and are categorically not future proof. While Sigil is not quite as bad as *shudder* Calibre, it is not a professional tool.

    I don’t think Sigil should be mentioned in the same category as FlightDeck — which is a tool clearly designed to support ebook professionals in a well-rounded way.

    Great breakdown of FlighDeck, Derrick. Thanks.

    • Have you ever tried to use the power-user features of Sigil? I guess not.

      While I agree you can do really bad files with it, it just comes to using it well in the end. Same as all other software we may use in e-production as a matter of fact.

      You don’t know how to use InDesign and its incredible number of additional scripts developed to counterbalance the mess the apps’ developers have created, BAM, worst EPUB file ever created.

      You don’t know how to use Pressbooks and BAM, bad mark-up.

      You don’t know how to use Oxygen and BAM, your file doesn’t even validate.

      And so on and so forth.

      Yet, nobody would tell “it’s not a professional tool” because their __users__ don’t know how how to use them efficiently. That would sound like disrespect, which is exactly what you are doing here. And I must say that while I honestly respect what you are doing, this is absolutely undermining your reputation to me.

      You may not know but in a lot of countries, Sigil is used by professionals. And some of those professionals helped develop features for power users so that Sigil be 100% adapted to professional e-production. We are talking insanely precise reports, regex, one-click cover integration, one-click integration, one-click inline .toc, etc.

      Could it be better? Sure, but it is solid enough for ebook developers to produce what are the best quality EPUB Files in something like 50+ countries — files made using other tools don’t even come close… Really… You can trust me, my job partly consisting of reviewing (a very very large amount of) EPUB files quality.

      Don’t judge a piece of software based on the incompetence of people who made a mess out of it, a mess you have to deal with today.

      If you know how to __use__ it, there is no problem at all, it is the starting point of an e-production bliss. On the contrary, if you __don’t__, you will certainly tell people it is no good.

      Let’s be honest, we could __without any doubt__ find EPUB files produced with Sigil which are ten times better than what you are doing with the tools you have chosen. And chances are, if a Sigil workflow has been set, that it would take four times less…

      I don’t want to sound rude but stating a tool is not for professional because you come across X files badly made is kind of super-unprofessional. In fact, it sort of proves e-production is not doing very well since we are not using the best workflows we should use.

      Would you say XML is crap because you see 20 bad files output of it?

      Would you say InDesign is the worst e-production thing ever because people don’t even know the markup export panel exist? — it is true you could say it is the worst e-production UI+UX thing ever though but InDesign developers will never admit it since it is all about corporate and bad business decisions.

      Would you say Sigil is the best e-production thing ever because developers knew how to use its power-user features and produced the best EPUB files you ever saw in less than an hour?

      Just think about it. What if some developer showed you how to leverage its features and prove you it is a capable professional tool? Would you feel dumb or would you refuse to admit that perhaps you was judging a little bit too quickly?

  4. Is there a way I can point it to my local files and have it do all the work client-side w/o uploading? I only ask because I prefer not to upload my clients files to someone else’s server.

  5. @Aaron and @Rob,

    We are not currently planning to release a desktop version of FlightDeck. The web-based model allows us to constantly update the system and push out changes without the need to keep client applications up-to-date.

    Please know that we are dedicated to security. Firebrand has been a trusted name in the publishing industry for over 25 years, and we take this issue very seriously.

    If you have any other thoughts or questions, please let us know!

    Joshua Tallent
    Chief eBook Architect
    Firebrand Technologies

  6. Thanks for the reply, Joshua. While security crossed my mind, I’m less concerned with that than I am with transparency. I presume you’re able to track the types of issues most commonly reported along with other metrics. I’m somewhat uncomfortable not knowing whether this is the case, and, if it is the case, what specific data is tracked, what it’s used for and to what degree individual uploads to FlightDeck are associated with identifiable data supplied by users. The absence of a ToS drives a lot of my discomfort. While I don’t doubt your intentions, it remains a competitive marketplace in which we all do business and I’d like some assurance I’m not cutting my own throat by using the app.

    That said, if such back end tracking/reporting/analysis is in place—or on the roadmap—it could a be vital tool if FlightDeck were implemented in a self-hosted or SaaS environment at a shop like mine. Being able see cumulative reports on errors/warnings/etc. would go a long way in spotting troubles with work flow, and identifying whether they’re endemic to our training and/or process, specific to a designer or what-have-you. I appreciate that the Web app is free and share your goal of elevating ebook quality and craft. It’s just that I’d also seriously consider buying a license should the software be available as a self-hosted or SaaS offering.

    • Rob,

      Thanks for your reply. Please note that we do have Terms of Service and a Privacy Policy (the link is in the footer of every page – http://ebookflightdeck.com/terms), and our Privacy Policy discusses what information we collect and how we use or may plan to use it.

      We have some great ideas about how to make the information in the EPUB files more accessible and how to aggregate that information to give you more visibility into your file quality and QA processes, including more reports and even some APIs. If you have specific ideas about how we can make the tool more helpful and have it give you more information about your files, please send us some feedback using the feedback form or an email.

      Thanks!
      Joshua

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