Hybrid Book is a multimedia application which enables the user to follow its content simultaneously in the form of text, audio recording and image. It is designed primarily for users with severe visual or hearing impairment. The content of the publication can be viewed either as a text, an audio recording of this text or a video recording of the text translated into sign language. The format of the Hybrid Book allows for multi-level navigation which takes into account the hierarchical structure of the publication.
The project followed up on a joint project between MTA (the Hungarian Academy of Sciences) and CNR (the Italian National Research Council) (DigiBook COP806), which, thanks to the grant support of Italian Centro Nazionalle della Ricerca and the Hungarian KFKI (Paolo Graziani, IROE-SNR, Italy and András Arató, LSTR-KFKI, Hungary) developed the hybrid book project that was introduced at the book fair in Milan in 1999. Drawing on the results of this project and in collaboration with its authors, the Czech research team was set up, consisting of employees of the Support Centre for the Blind and doctoral students from the Laboratory of Searching and Dialogue at the Faculty of Informatics, Masaryk University, Brno. The application was developed in 2002 with the support of the Ministry of Education Fund for the Development of Universities.
The original Hybrid Book consisted merely of the combination of text and audio recording; it primarily served the blind students of universities and it was distributed via CDs. Both the application and the structure of the document have been gradually innovated. In 2006 it reached a web form, which has been its manner of distribution ever since. The Hybrid Books Online browser was created along with a database structure maintaining information about the documents and the synchronization of their contents.
Hybrid Book – created in 2002, it is distributed exclusively on CDs; for reading a software browser running on MS Windows platform is required.
Hybrid Book Online – the original Hybrid Book converted into web form; there was a change in the structure of the documents which can now be browsed with the help of a web application running on all principal web browsers.
Hybrid Book 3.0 – a reworking of the Hybrid Book Online where the main innovation is the addition of video recordings which enable mainly viewing of the text translated into sign language, thus extending the service to persons with hearing impairment. The data structures of the document were also reworked, being transferred to the universal XML format, and the document was also ultimately separated from the browser.
A Hybrid Book offers three types of recording, all of them equal in information value – an electronic text, an audio recording of the text and a video recording of the text translated into sign language. It is possible for the reader to switch between these options or to follow the recordings simultaneously, so the final information can be assembled from more than one source. This is an approach called "hybrid reading". It was the original intention of the creators of hybrid books to offer the users this possibility of accessing information. Documents presented in this format are not aimed precisely at users with a particular kind of impairment; the system enables the reader to devise an individual approach to acquiring the information offered.
The structure of a hybrid book document allows for intuitive navigation on several levels:
In practice (in the hybrid book browser) the navigation steps are realised via keyboard shortcuts (or graphical buttons).
The standard format for hybrid book text is HTML, which is also one of the most accessible formats while using a screen reader. Furthermore, the HTML code is intrinsically carefully structured so that individual HTML elements are in semantic correspondence to the sections of text presented (headlines, lists, tables, links etc.). This ensures that the text is as easy as possible to read using a screen reader.
The graphical elements of the hybrid book browser are provided with corresponding labels and the entire interface of the browser (and other parts of the hybrid book website) is continually being improved in order to be maximum accessible via assistive technologies.