Digital Tool Review: Scalar

The popularity of the online distribution of scholarly articles, books, newspapers and magazines continues to rise in our contemporary digital age. Consequently, new tools, platforms and interfaces that facilitate online authoring and publishing are continuously emerging. As online authoring and publishing are currently the focus of my research interests, I have decided to critically review an online authoring tool and publishing platform; Scalar. I came across Scalar through my exploration of the DiRT website, for those with similar interests in digital publishing, a visit to the DiRT website is highly recommendable. The site contains a comprehensive list of digital tools that are relevant to the scholarly study of publishing, as well as including a comprehensive list of digital research tools which are relevant to all fields of academic research. The DiRT directory is an invaluable tool to the digital humanist as it allows researchers to easily collect, compile and analyse digital tools and resources directly relevant to fields of interest.

DiRT describes Scalar as an authoring and publishing platform that is designed to allow authors to easily write long-form digital born scholarship. Importantly, one of the main benefits of Scalar is that it enables users to accumulate media from multiple sources and then juxtapose them with the author’s own writing in a diverse range of ways. Furthermore, Scalar may be used by anyone, in addition to being free and open sourced, the platform and interface are designed to include persons who do not possess copious amounts of technical knowledge.

For a brief introduction to the features and capabilities of Scalar, please view the below video:

Scalar was developed by The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture with the project supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities . The ANVC has established a dedicated website for Scalar, which provides comprehensive information on the use of the platform, information about the Alliance itself, information regarding emerging partnership and information about new tools which have been integrated into the platform. The Goal of the Alliance is to enrich the intellectual potential of fields in order to inform understandings of the expanding array of visual practices as they are continuously reshaped within the digital culture (ANVC). The Alliance further explains its aim by stating:

In essence, we are creating a pipeline to support emerging genres of scholarship that moves from soup to nuts, integrating core intellectual questions in our fields with content acquisition, training for scholars in digital research methodologies, and new paradigms and partnerships for publication, dissemination and warranting scholarship. (The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture).

Significantly, the ANVC wishes to address pertinent concerns currently affecting the humanities and universities, such as, the economic crisis facing university presses. The ANVC aims to address this issue by providing new forms and mediums of scholarly publishing. Furthermore, the Alliance works with scholars, societies, libraries, universities and humanities centers in order to develop a sustainable platform for publishing interactive media scholarship. The word “sustainable” is key as platforms, tools, hardware and software are continuously changing and evolving, consequently, there is a constant threat of platforms becoming obsolete. Therefore, it is of importance that organisations continuously look toward and consider future threats when developing online platforms; a concern which the ANVC has taken into consideration in its goal of creating a sustainable tool. Moreover, the ANVC is committed to continuously improving the platform, with two major milestones in its Development Roadmap, the release of Cantaloupe Reader (0.9), which is a renovation of the reader interface, and the release of Cantaloupe editor (1.0), which will bring Scalar’s editor interface up to date with the overhauled interface and which will signify the exit from Scalar’s beta period (“Code”). The ANVC clearly comprehends the importance of catching and preventing bugs and asks for user input, feedback and suggestions, with the website boasting an issue tracker and design and support forums. A visit to the support forums displays eleven help issues which range from resetting passwords to “403 Forbidden Errors” which would suggest a minimal amount of issues being encountered by users. Personally, I have not encountered any errors or significant issues in my use of the platform, however, as I am still getting used to the wide range of tools available, it is quite possible that issues may arise of which I am not yet aware.

The ANVC also stresses the importance of collaboration with the platform supporting multi-author text composition and editing. Furthermore, the organisation is striving to build human networks through its partnership with archives, which is paramount as through the alliance between scholars, presses and archives, it is hoped that the organisation will recognise emerging scholarly communications and model interactive multimodal publications.

For an insight into the archival partnerships that the Alliance maintains, please visit:

Note – The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, is offering a series of free online webinars this year. The webinars will include an introduction to the platform, including; information on paths, tags, importing media and annotations, with the webinars progressing to more advanced features of the platform, including, customising appearances, visualizations and annotating with media. For a list of webinar time and dates and registration, please visit:

The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture 

In essence, scalar is a multimodal, semantic and dynamic authoring tool and publishing platform that transforms blocks of text from traditional static pages to media rich and interactive scholarship.  Using the tool is as simple as visiting the website, creating an account and registering online. The tool must be used online, with data stored on cloud servers, therefore, an internet connection is vital, which is a negative aspect of the tool, particularly, in comparison to tools, which may be downloaded to a laptop and be worked on continuously offline. Upon registration and creation of an account, the user is automatically directed to a six-step “Getting Started Guide”. The guide is extremely useful for beginners as it concisely provides simple step-by-step instructions on the creation of a book and details the basic features of the interface.

The interface of the website is user-friendly with a clear layout structure which makes searching, retrieving and navigation very simple. The interface for the creation of a book and its layout appears similar to the WordPress dashboard interface, or for those unfamiliar with WordPress, it looks quite similar to creating an email in Outlook. Furthermore, users have the option to deviate from standard templates and create custom layouts and styles. In order to create a new book, a user has the option to create the title for their book upon registration or may do so after registration by clicking on the index page. The index page of the website acts like a dashboard, which contains links to the “Main Menu”, “Current Tasks”, “About”, “Explore” and “Import”. Once a user has selected a title for their book, actually composing the book is as simple as typing text into an input box. The input box features a toolbar menu, similar to Word, which features, formatting options, buttons for inserting media, media notes, media annotations and options to insert software code.

An aspect of the tool that proved favourable and which makes it different from typical blogging platforms is the ability to display pages in multiple views, for example, it is possible to view various layouts of text, multimedia and custom visualisations, such as, charts, maps etc. Another advantage of the platform is the ability of both author and reader to change views, this in conjunction with the open API, allows researchers to critically analyse materials closely and effectively. Scalar supports third-party plug-ins, such as, maps and timelines. The mapping plug-in allows users to incorporate data from Story Maps and Neatline. The timeline plug-in allows users to use Timeline JS and Tiki-Toki. A further beneficial feature of the platform is the option to include relationships, which includes options to insert, paths; which specify the items it contains, comments; which specify items that it comments on, annotations; which specify media that is annotated, tags; which specify items that it tags and which specify items that tag it.

Scalar allows users to import media from saved files from local media files (as simple as uploading a file), internet media files (as simple as entering a URL), other scalar books and from affiliated and other archives. Scalar provides users with a diverse range of visualisation tools and annotating an image on Scalar is as simple as clicking an edit button, however, for novices of the platform, such as myself, an examination of the user guide is helpful, for example, the (X, Y) button is for positioning, while, the (W, H) is for dimensions; both of which may be adjusted in either percentages or in pixels. I found a further visit to the user guide was required as it proved necessary to set the in and out points of the annotation to the position of the play head.

Undoubtedly, the platform is extremely suited to works which incorporate visual materials, such as, audio and visual media, graphics and visualisation charts. However, a noteworthy disadvantage in the incorporation of media is the restriction on upload file sizes, with the maximum upload size a meagre 2MB. Overall, Scalar boasts an easily useable interface. Many features of the tool are extremely easy to use such as creating a book, a new page, inserting media etc. However, more complex features of the site, such as, creating relationships and custom visualisations, prove more challenging and warrant more than one visit to the user guide. Therefore, it proved time-consuming to add more complex features, however, through regular use and exploration the platform becomes less complicated.

Scalar is a multimodal, semantic and dynamic authoring tool and publishing platform. The open source platform allows for new forms of collaboration and dissemination. The platform transcends traditional blogging platforms as it is possible to create media-rich stories, scholarly articles, archives and new forms of presentations. Furthermore, the platform allows for easy collection and organisation of materials which is of particular importance to academic scholars and researchers who work with copious amounts of data. As Scalar supports long-from digital scholarship, the platform is a candidate for the composition of lengthy research topics and publications, such as, dissertations, in a publication medium which supports open teaching, learning and communication.

For a selection of projects authored on Scalar, please visit the ANVC Showcase, available at the below link:

Scalar Showcase

Further Reviews

PC Magazine provides an insightful and positive review on Scalar with William Fenton concluding that “Scalar stands apart in its novelty, accessibility, and capability, and for these reasons—and many more—it receives PCMag’s Editors’ Choice award.”

PC Mag Review