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Hybrid Book, New Perspectives In Synchronized Multimedia Content Publishing

Petr Hladík

Tomáš Gůra

Ing. Svatoslav Ondra



Hybrid Book is a document format which was created at Masaryk University and has been used to publish digital documents at the University since 2002. It was originally a digital text synchronized with an audio recording and navigable through its hierarchical structure, primarily intended for students/users with visual impairments. Over the last ten years, the Hybrid Book has developed into a mature document format enabling an undistorted access to information to students and other users with various disabilities (visual or hearing impairment, learning disabilities etc.) as well as users without disabilities find this document format advantageous for its multi-modality.

Introduction and the Latest Development
The original text/audio data setup has been extended to the triad text/video/audio and the main aim of the designed data structure is to synchronize thus distinguished types of records and it allows including more than one of each media (text, video, audio).
The extension of the data setup with video component has been made primarily in order to add a translation of the document into sign language (besides the mentioned audio recording) to enable access of the content to deaf using sign language. But it is obvious that it offers further applications – the hybrid document is a convenient format to save and publish recordings of live events (such as lectures, presentations etc.) as a synchronized compilation
of audio and video record of the event together with text transcript of the speeches of the event.
As the primary application of the Hybrid Book is publishing scientific documents, the system has to provide several advanced features considering complexity of access to such a content. Currently, the development of those features mainly concerns:
  • extended navigation in tabular data which supports screen-reader users and considering sign language translation of those data
  • inclusion of symbolic structures (e.g. math formulae) and flow diagrams
  • tool to handle user’s commentaries

Characteristics of the Format
The descriptive structure is designed so that it allows synchronization of records of various types based on “synchronization points” only, i.e. if it is possible to describe a given record with a succession of points (e.g., timestamps in an AV recording), it is then also possible to add this record to a Hybrid Book document. It is also possible to add static data (such as images and graphs) in the form of links.

Individual records are bound in the Hybrid Book by an external description. Records as such are not altered. Thus, it is possible to add content to the document from any storage. Any type of record may be added mostly without a need of any special modification. A record or document which is being added must have the above mentioned properties: synchronization points must be applicable to the record/document. The HTML format may serve as an example. It is used in the Hybrid Book for storing text – for example, attributes such as ID or NAME may be used to mark individual synchronization points.
There are two ways to navigate in the Hybrid Book:
  1. “linear” navigation, i.e. moving forward/backward by individual synchronization points;
  2. “structured” navigation, i.e. by the hierarchical (tree) structure of the document.
It depends on the equipment of a particular browser which navigation steps will be at the user’s disposal; most often, navigation by adjacent synchronization points and by chapter titles is used.
Reading the Hybrid Book
It is obvious that individual types of records of the document content (text, video, audio) are equal and each of them represents an information channel. It is nevertheless possible to freely switch between those records or follow them simultaneously and thus take advantage of further characteristics of such arrangement: to comprise the final form of information from multiple sources (so called “hybrid reading”) and as such it provides a universal access to the content. It was the original aim of the Hybrid Book to provide this way of access to information; and to avoid creating documents aimed directly at a particular user with all his/her needs and requirements; we are creating a virtual document described by a physical structure which enables the reader to choose his/her own access to it and the method of receiving offered information.
For this goal, it is naturally necessary to provide users with platforms to read Hybrid Book documents:
  1. Hybrid Book Reader as a web application
    The first tool implemented to browse hybrid documents providing all features described above and its functionality is continously expanded.
  2. Hybrid Book Reader as applications for mobile devices
    To enable access to a document content “everywhere”, we consider to implement
    the Hybrid Book Reader in versions for mobile devices as an outlook for the further development.
The development of the Hybrid Book format and tools at Masaryk University over the last ten years has brought the complex system to enable access to content for users with various disabilities as well as for users without disabilities, and as such it provides universal access to content of various types of documents – from scientific publications to compiled recordings of live events. The Hybrid Book is based on synchronization of various types of components of
audio, video and text media.

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