MIT Press Webinar Video & Slides Now Available

Thanks to all who participated in last week's webinar, and to MIT Press for a presentation that drew fantastic attendance and uniformly favorable comments. Video of the full presentation is below. Slides are available for download in PPT and PDF formats.

Free MIT Press Webinar: Building an Ebook Site with Tizra

Exploiting Tizra's iPhone compatibility is one topic on the webinar agenda.

When MIT Press launched CISnet just over a year ago, they were trying something radical: Creating a custom ebook site without investing in custom software and without expensive content conversion. The result was in the words of revered computer science professor Hal Abelson, "a treasure." Now MIT Press has very kindly agreed to share some of what they've learned from their experience developing CISnet on the Tizra platform, and some of their ideas for future expansion.

Join MIT Press Editorial Director Gita Manaktala, and Digital Publishing Manager Jake Furbush for a free webinar…

Tuesday, October 27 at 3pm EDT

Space is limited. Reserve your seat now! We look forward to a fascinating discussion.

Association of Research Libraries Goes Live with Tizra

After extensive internal testing, the Association of Research Libraries has begun offering recent issues of its flagship publication on a public test site hosted by Tizra.

The organization announced recently that Research Library Issues is now available in full-text searchable form at…

http://publications.arl.org

We're thrilled about this, not only because because it's a vote of confidence from a high profile organization, but also because ARL's membership includes some of the most prestigious research institutions in the world (including the libraries of MIT and Indiana University, whose presses are already using Tizra).

In addition to greater production efficiency and flexibility, ARL's use of Tizra stems from a desire to provide members with capabilities including…

  • Better full-text search.
  • More targeted references via social software and other links.
  • Better compatibility with web enabled mobile devices like the iPhone.

We are proud to count ARL—and RLI readers—among the users of Tizra!

Faster than Google!

Don't get us wrong. We love Google, as anyone who remembers what web search used to be like in the days of AltaVista, Excite and even the World Wide Web Worm has to do. But there are certain things even Google doesn't do particularly well, particularly taking users to the relevant part of a long document...without long downloads and repeat searches.

Here's a quick video showing how Tizra solves this problem (among many others), based on actual experience we had looking up our trademark on the official US Patent and Trademark Office site.

Note: Click the little TV icon above to see it big!

Tizra gets faster

Non-technical summary: things are lots faster at Tizra sites and admin tools. There's certainly more to do, but we've got more tricks up our sleeves! Because the big current speed boost is related to one cause, and it took me a while to track down, the geek appendage to this post describes what we found and how we fixed it.

Geekly details

I spent a bunch of time last week looking at system performance. As we've been adding customers and usage, we were beginning to feel the pinch. Performance always varies, but the range of response times was getting wider as things slowed, leading me to think that there might be some systemic issues that would give us a quick improvement (and indeed there was some Linux tuning that helped a bit). But data access seemed to be the real issue, so I spent a bunch of time looking into hibernate, and our caching and querying, and then wound up spending a day or so basically watching all the queries go through Postgres. And you know what? most of them seemed much slower than they should be, even though they are pretty hairy.

Of course, the next step was to check for database indexes, and how the query plans were using them. But in hand testing the plans looked good, and the indexes were sensible. But when run by hand the queries were also significantly faster than when hibernate ran them! This was much easier to see now that we have a live load, which is inevitably different from a test setup. So why the difference? Postgres was ignoring our indexes only when Tizra publisher made the queries.

Turns out that there's an old bug in Postgres where it would ignore indexes on bigint fields in prepared statements unless there was an explicit data type cast. (That type confusion was an obscure result of skew between Postgresql and the SQL standard.) And that was the behavior I was seeing, even though we were using a much more recent vintage of all the software. This was terrible for us, because we have a multi-tenant publishing system for large document collections and we use bigints as primary object identifiers!

So, why the old problem if the bug is gone, and we are not using postgres 7? It turns out that we dynamically build those hairy queries, in HQL (hibernate query language), using the String trick. But nowadays instead of making your indexes work, it breaks them! The differences are invisible in the SQL. It turned out that we were in a version "donut hole." Our database was recent enough so the String trick worked the opposite way (preventing fast queries for our prepared statements), but the JDBC driver wasn't making the calls in the right way to make the old trick work. End result: we're now running the latest JDBC driver with compatibility options set while we update our hairy query generator. And now we can really start tuning our setup!

If the web had not provided the history of the old bug, I would have had a much worse time even knowing where to look to find our somewhat subtle configuration issue. So enjoy the speedup, I sure am!

The New, 2009 1/7 Tizra

Right now, our favorite thing about being a Software as a Service company is we can upgrade Tizra Publisher whenever we think it's right, without regard to ship dates or marketing rollouts. Or as the old Beetle ad said: "When we find a way to improve the Volkswagen, we do it. Then and there."

It's been less than a month since we announced instant web signups for Tizra Publisher, but we've already found several ways to improve. So we upgraded our software. Then and there.

A few hightlights...

Downloadable Chapters & Subsections

Tizra Publisher has always let you break documents up into smaller chunks, such as chapters, which can be sold or distributed independently, or remixed into new online products or collections. Now this capability is even more useful because you can let your users download the chunks for offline reading or printing. Each download is watermarked with your site's address, so there's no forgetting where they got it!

Here's how it looks on the CISnet site MIT Press runs on Tizra Publisher.

Note that while in this case, MIT Press is using it to provide free samples, it works just as well for paid or access-controlled content.

More Control Over Who Sees What

If you're selling eBooks, you want the world to know what's in your catalog (while of course controlling full-text access), but if you're doing enterprise knowledgement management, or you're a consultant or other professional services firm distributing documents to clients, you have to be more picky. For these applications, we recently added the ability to selectively suppress display of documents in title listings and searches. For example, if you're a law firm sharing documents with a client, no one else will even know those documents exist.

To use the feature, you just tag users to put them into groups, then select which groups you want a given document to be visible to. Below you can see the controls set to limit visibility of a document to a group called "Investors."

To ToC or not to ToC?

For long documents, like the 910-pager from the New York Botanical Garden Press shown below, Tizra's ability to automatically create web Tables of Contents is a boon...just upload a bookmarked PDF, and bam, you've created an easy browsing experience for your users. But if your document's just a few pages, who needs a ToC? Now you have the choice. Just say No to the Display Table of Contents option, and your users will go straight to page 1 with no unnecessary stops.

REST API & Other Power Tools

Many of the organizations we work with already have ecommerce, access-control, or related web capabilities in place, so we've added a straightforward, standards-based REST API, which enables those systems to exchange information with Tizra Publisher to create seamless end user experiences. For example, if you already have a database of users, your developers can set things up so those users can access content you host on Tizra Publisher without a separate sign-on. Same holds true if you want to sell Tizra-hosted products via your own shopping cart software.

Other new features for power users, include macros that let you selectively display information to users based on their login status, membership in user groups...even what browser software they're using.

It boils down to a package of capabilities that's not only very easy to get started with, but like the old Beetle, can take you a long way very economically.

Online Publishing for Tough Times

"I didn't invent the rainy day, man. I just own the best umbrella"
Almost Famous

In an economic climate that led Publishers Weekly to predict 2009 would be "the worst year for publishing in decades," eBook sales are growing at more than 100% a year, according to the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF).

We think it's time more content owners—both inside and outside the traditional publishing industry—had access to serious online publishing tools that will open up this kind of opportunity. That's why we're rolling out free, self-service signups to Tizra Publisher. This is the same software that MIT Press is using to sell a collection of more than 170 computer science books on its CISnet site, and you can get your hands on it right now…

If you'd like to learn a bit more, here's quick overview of what Tizra Publisher can do (click the little TV icon at the bottom to see it big!).