FlightDeck Might be the Next Great EPUB Tool
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.