Investigating Scalar

Scalar is a really interesting project in that it’s not trying to be a content management system in the same way that WordPress is king when it comes to building out websites. The focus for Scalar is on a born-digital publishing platform. eBooks are all the rage and too often publishers see the web as way to recreate the physical by way of throwing a PDF or poorly-formatted ePub file on a website and calling it a day. Quite the opposite, Scalar offers a host of opportunities to build out robust web-based publications that take full advantage of being digital. From annotations and deep linking to embeddable widgets like timelines you can create a compelling project with Scalar that doesn’t have to follow the linear structure of a common book. What’s more, Scalar has the idea of collaboration built in with native multi-author setups.

When you install Scalar at Reclaim Hosting you’re essentially setting up an environment that allows you to create multiple books. That can be a bit confusing if you’re hoping to setup a domain and host a single publication since visiting the homepage greets you with a rather generic page like this:


What most folks do is set up a redirect in cPanel so that going to their main domain will redirect them to the index page of their book. See for an example of this (in fact, this site is a great example of various features of Scalar). Scalar has a great user guide (built in Scalar, naturally) at that I think is a great way to learn some of the basics of the software (I’ve actually often lamented that more open source software doesn’t provide an all-inclusive guide like this.) Looking at the table of contents there you can see how easily pages and subpages can be connected to build out a hierarchy.


A particularly interesting feature in Scalar is that its pages don't have to only be text and images. Scalar provides layouts that have predefined templates for things like a cover page, a media gallery, maps, media, and more. Consider this introduction page from the Stanford University Press website Black Quotidian which is designed as a media gallery. Opening individual media items brings up the metadata and caption information for each one, and that media is also available for easy linking or embedding across other pages.

Embedding media elements that are interactive like videos and widgets is not too difficult and a native feature of Scalar. The key learning curve is that most elements like galleries and maps will require data to be tagged, annotated, and geolocated prior to embedding the interactive elements. For example you can see the widgets menu here:


Selecting to create a map simply asks you to choose which items to include which should already have longitude and latitude markers attached to them (note that it can be media, pages, even comments.)


Scalar works well by gathering your source material and importing it in advance of building out your publication (not unlike with Omeka where you’re building a repository complete with metadata) and then using that material to build out a digital publication. Annotation is native to the platform and even has support for which is great.

While many consider Pressbooks for web publishing using WordPress as a foundation as the only option, Scalar offers a different experience by truly embracing that web publishing doesn’t have to be linear or look anything like a book. If you’re looking to play around with Scalar you can do so by firing up an install in Reclaim Hosting or utilizing the free hosting available through USC at (which is also a great place to check out some other examples of public works created with the platform).

Was this article helpful?
1 out of 1 found this helpful

Articles in this section

Reclaim Hosting Support Hours
8:00 am - 5:00 pm ET, Monday through Friday
Submit a Ticket
Get a quick and helpful response from the pros.
Need Extra Support?
No problem, we're here to help! Talk to us about Professional Services or custom Service Level Agreements.