Sophie, Is That You?

So begins another day in my month-long wait for Sophie. Initially, a free, open-source software project from the Institute for the Future of the Book, the project is now being developed by The Andrew Mellon Foundation, the University of Southern California, the Macarthur Foundation, and Astea Solutions. The second version of the software is supposed to be available tomorrow. But it was also supposed to be available on Oct. 15. But deadlines are made to be pushed back, right? Especially by not-for-profit entities providing a potentially game-changing software tool for free? Well, if they push the deadline back another month, I’m fine with that. No hard feelings here. I just want to get a look at this new version.

So what is Sophie? It’s basically a software product designed for the production of digital documents that sort of bridge the gap between web pages and traditional print strategies. Like a traditional book, it will often have a cover, will included pages, pictures, and text, as well. But Sophie books can also include much more sophisticated (pun intended, others implied) technologies, like single-page timelines, multi-page timelines, video, audio, slide shows, dynamically populating text, static text, collaboration, external links, internal documents, etc. I’m not sure about how this version of the software with interface with pdfs, flash content, HTML, databases, etc. I’m also not sure which browsers will be able to view these books–whether or not a plug-in will be necessary, and if it will be available right away.

If you’re one of the lucky/unlucky souls who tried to use the intital version of the software, you’re probably aware of most of its limitations. Sometimes unstable (especially on Windows machines), sometimes counter-intuitive. Sometimes impossible to understand what’s going wrong, with little help available online. But the biggest roadblock to Sophie’s success was the lack of browser integration for viewing and/distribution. Basically, if you wanted to view someone else’s Sophie book, you had to download and install the Sophie Viewer, and then download (and often troubleshoot) the Sophie book itself. Some of the texts were certainly worth it, but it was never going to become even a popular technology until it was viewable via browser. So let’s hope they’ve got it ready to go tomorrow. I’m hoping to put together a little book of my own to give it a test drive early next week. I’ll be sure to post it if everything works out.

In the meantime, I’ve embedded two videos below. The first is the latest version of Sophie’s into video. The second video, which highlights some aspects that the first doesn’t is also embedded.

I’ve also included this second video, which highlights some aspects that the first doesn’t.

If you’re one of those who are also looking forward to this release, or if you’ve composed in Sophie before, or you’ve got any questions about it, I would love it if you would take a minute to contribute a comment below.

Fingers crossed…

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