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About Scalar

Scalar is an authoring and publishing platform, supported by USC Libraries, Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, and the School of Cinematic Arts, and used by faculty and students in college and university courses worldwide to create born-digital, media-rich research projects and exhibitions.

As an authoring and publishing platform, Scalar gives authors the tools to assemble media from multiple sources, to juxtapose that media with their own writing in creative ways, and to craft works that take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats. The platform also supports collaborative authoring and reader commentary. Scalar is free to use and open source.

Ahmanson Lab staff support the design and development of Scalar projects across USC. See past Scalar projects on which the Lab has collaborated.

The Lab offers programmatic support for faculty who wish to use Scalar in their courses. Faculty can apply here.

The Lab also offers an annual Summer Scalar Institute designed for librarians (and others) who wish to support the use of Scalar on their own campuses.

Specializing in richness, depth, experimentation, and understanding.PC Mag logo

Scalar is a free, open source authoring and publishing platform that’s designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online. Scalar enables users to assemble media from multiple sources and juxtapose them with their own writing in a variety of ways, with minimal technical expertise required.

More fundamentally, Scalar is a semantic web authoring tool that brings a considered balance between standardization and structural flexibility to all kinds of material. It includes a built-in reading interface as well as an API that enables Scalar content to be used to drive custom-designed applications. If you’re dealing with small to moderate amounts of structured content and need a lightweight platform that encourages improvisation with your data model, Scalar may be the right solution for you.

Scalar also gives authors tools to structure essay- and book-length works in ways that take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats. The platform also supports collaborative authoring and reader commentary. The ANVC’s partner presses and archives are now beginning to implement Scalar into their research and publishing workflows, and several projects leveraging the platform have been published already.

Scalar is a project of the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture (ANVC) in association with Vectors and  IML, and with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Easily annotate a variety of media.close up image of an annotated video on Scalar

Easily annotate video, audio, images, source code, and text using Scalar’s built-in media annotation tools. Video and audio annotations appear superimposed live on the page as media plays, and you can embed links directly to the annotated portion of a media file. And, because annotations are also pages in their own right, they can contain not only text, but media as well making it possible to annotate just about anything in your book with anything else. Want to annotate source code with poetry? Or audio with video? Scalar makes it possible.







Broad support for popular media formats. icons representing various file types

Since Scalar pages are HTML, just about anything you can embed in a web page will work in your publication.  However, for native support (where Scalar knows how and where a media file is being used in your project and creates a unique URL for it) the following media formats are supported:

  • Maps: KML
  • Audio: MPEG-3, Ogg, WAV
  • Image: GIF, JPEG, PNG, DZI
  • Text: HTML, JavaScript, Java, TXT, XML, PDF
  • Video: FLV, M4V, MPEG-4, Ogg, WebM, QuickTime

Plug-ins may be required to support some of these formats in some browsers, and not all browsers support all media types.

For more detailed information on media support in Scalar, see our User’s Guide.



Anything can do anything to anything. diagram representing a complex structure of relationships between different media

Digital publications open up new possibilities for structuring your work, and Scalar enables those possibilities through two primary tools: the path and the tag. Paths are linear sequences of content, like a chapter full of pages or a tutorial full of steps. Tags are non-linear groupings of content, like items in the index of a book or descriptors on a media-sharing site. Where Scalar differs from most other publishing tools is in the flexibility with which grouping and sequencing can be applied. Paths can contain other paths, and tags can reference other tags, making both hierarchical and rhizomatic structures possible.

In Scalar, “anything can do everything to anything,” which means that not only can any piece of Scalar content become a path or tag (or both), but it can also reference any other piece of content: text, video, audio, imagery—making it possible to build images that link to sequences of videos, audio files that group together related texts, or just about anything else you can think of.




Standards come standard. graphic representing Scalar

Scalar’s content model is based on RDF (Resource Description Framework), one of the foundational standards of the semantic web, and most of its content relationships are expressed using widely accepted ontologies and standards such as Dublin Core, Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities, and ArtSTOR. HTML5 media handling is supported wherever possible. Any content element in Scalar can be enhanced with custom Dublin Core metadata that can be accessed both within Scalar and from custom front-end applications using Scalar's built-in API.







Take your content anywhere. Diagram depicting Scalar's multiple uses

You can mashup your Scalar content with other data sources, build your own visualizations, or create completely new interfaces for your materials using Scalar’s built-in API. All of the content from your project is available either directly via URL-based requests which return data in RDF-XML and JSON formats, or through a free JavaScript library which creates a unified model of your downloaded Scalar data and makes it easy to access that data in a variety of ways, all while queueing requests and caching results.

Read more about the API in our User’s Guide.






Media from sources fair and wide. Depicts various sources of media

Scalar’s support for media import from popular media sites like YouTube and Vimeo, as well as major scholarly collections like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and all Omeka sites combined with our archive partners like the Internet Archive, Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library, and the Shoah Foundation Institute Visual History Archive offer you a rich selection of media resources that are easy to use in your Scalar publications. Search archives, preview, and import media from directly within Scalar—only the media’s metadata is transferred to your project, leaving the files themselves in their original locations. Our support for direct import of video, audio, and images from Critical Commons, an archive designed from the bottom up to bolster fair-use claims, enables you to include media from a variety of sources in your publication with confidence.






Start a dialogue. graphic with speech bubbles and the scalar logo

Blog-style threaded comments, both anonymous and attributed, are available on every page of your Scalar publication, offering frequent opportunities to engage with readers. Comments can be set for automatic approval or moderated individually by the project’s authors. Authors can also opt to receive email alerts when readers submit comments. What’s more, each comment becomes a page in its own right within the publication, allowing user responses to be fully integrated in the content of a project, its visualizations, index, and more.

Finally, with the integration of the plugin, authors can now activate an expandable/collapsible annotation sidebar in Scalar’s reader interface, effectively allowing readers to interact with the full text of a Scalar project. Using the sidebar, readers can offer queries, comments, and ultimately, initiate threaded conversations with other readers, about text they select on any page in a Scalar project.





Just in case they do judge your book by its cover.  Collage of different Scalar page layouts

Scalar’s reader interface has been built to give your books great visual impact. With a number of page layout options to choose from— image header and splash layouts, various media galleries, even a Google Map layout—creating beautiful and visually versatile books is as easy as ever.

In addition, you can also use your own background image or add CSS to customize the look and feel of your book. Even better, custom backgrounds and CSS can be applied at multiple levels: across your entire project, within a single path, or on a single page only, enabling you to turn your publication into a journey that’s both textual and visual.







Built-in visualization: more than just pretty pictures. Collage depicting various visualizations of Scalar projects

Scalar lets you structure your publication in ways that would be impossible in print and includes built-in visualizations to help you and your readers navigate those structures. Scalar’s visualizations open the door to digital writing which not only describes ideas, but also viscerally embodies those ideas as well. Want to illustrate a rhizome of connections between a community of authors? Make each author a tag, and then use Scalar’s tag visualization to show how they connect. Visualizations are useful for debugging your work too, enabling you to quickly identify orphan content that hasn’t been linked to anything.

Scalar visualizations come in two varieties: page level and book level. Page level visualizations, which can be used as the default view for any page, generally show only content linked to that page. Book level, or global, visualizations show content across an entire book and allow readers to choose the type of content and relationships they’d like to see visualized as well as the graphical format of the visualization itself.






Get the band back together. Or start a new one. Diagram representing multiple authors working on the same Scalar project

Any Scalar project can have multiple authors, whether it’s you and one other person or an entire class, opening a wide range of collaborative authoring possibilities. Import a video into your project for others to comment on, create a library of media for a set of contributors to embed in their own writings, or have each author create their own home page within the publication with links out to other items in the project or on the web. Every content update is tracked, saved, and identified with the name of its creator, so you can keep track of who did what.