About Codex Press
The web of 2016 is a remarkable place: we can do more in our pages than was ever imaginable before. But have you ever noticed how almost every article on a newspaper or magazine web site looks pretty much the same? It’s still difficult to do great design at scale. Contrast this to the print experience, where pages are drawn by hand and each article is often given a unique design treatment that reflects its content. The result is magic for readers.
Codex Press is a new way to write and read articles that take advantage of everything the web can do.
Art-directed Story Design, Every Time
Writing should not feel like filing boxes on a tax form. Yet, most publishing systems take that exact approach, over-structuring content into templated designs. When publishers venture out of these typical patterns, the result is often beautiful work that stands out and gets lavished with attention from readers. But these single-story efforts require dedicated time and bespoke code from a designer and developer. Codex was designed to make these types of articles easily reproducible.
The same story can be told in different formats, but they each have their own proclivities. Images hold emotional power but they won’t move us without the context that writing provides. Video can transport us, but only to places where the camera can reach. Codex was designed to enable unholy mashups of these traditional formats, combining their strengths freely.
Articles on Codex are device and aspect-ratio agnostic. We’ve built visual tools to help crop images and video dynamically for small screens, showing them as large as possible while maintaining all the important things in view.
Stories have power because they have conflicts that are resolved and characters that change. Many of the previous tools for building interactive web articles have emphasized non-linear content, allowing exploration in any order. This often leaves readers lost in sea of options, floating aimlessly and drawn off course. Codex advocates a return to first principles: authors guide readers through a story from beginning to end, giving the level of detail that’s needed. If there’s a sidebar, it’s a separate article.
We’re committed to helping publications and individual authors make money from their work through advertising, subscriptions, donations and single-story sales that they can control. Great journalism costs money and there should be more of it. We believe that readers and advertisers alike are willing to pay a premium for high-quality content that captures attention.
There’s an adage that only computer scientists would call computers “clients” and people “users.” In our current moment in time, there’s a lot of talk about “user experience” and how it is good or bad or might be improved. Codex was built to create a better “reader experience.” We believe that reading is a special act of concentration that’s quite distinct from most of the things we do with our computers. Indeed, from most things we do.
Reading in depth on the web can be rough. Yet all of us, including our parents and grandparents, are reading more and more electronically. What if the web became the dominant place to read, but it was still hard to read on the web? We at Codex don’t want that to mean that we read less.
Codex is making the web read better. How, specifically, are we doing that? One way is respecting and safeguarding concentration. Have you ever loaded a web page and began reading only to have the sentence you’re looking at jump halfway across the page as an image or advertisement is loaded somewhere above it? Yeah, us too. We’ve done a lot of hard work to make sure that never happens on our pages.
In the past few years, there have been huge advances in how we build web applications, but this innovation largely hasn’t touched the publishing industry. Codex is a single-page application for journalism, which brings an app-like reading experience to the web.
Codex preloads articles in the background and readers can side-swipe or side-scroll to advance from an article (including this one). We’re hoping to clean up sidebars cluttered with dozens of links by replacing them with interactions and gestures that we already use.
Codex also makes reading more enjoyable by enabling diversity in pages. We think that putting every article into the same inflexible template is just a little boring.
These days, code running inside web pages does as much to make them work as the remote servers that deliver them. Yet traditional publishing tech stacks provide no help in this area, leaving a dizzying array of choices and the task of integrating back-end and front-end technologies to publishers and editors ill-equipped to handle them. Too often, the result is laggy pages and janky animation that kills attention.
We’ve built the first full-stack CMS. Front-end code is growing increasingly complex and it’s where the exciting things are happening these days. We are helping publishers with small (or nonexistent) technology teams get a piece of the action.
It feels like everyone hates the software that powers their website. We think we know why: these systems try to do too much, making assumptions about what we want or need in the process. When you need something unforeseen, you end up fighting the software.
We built a publishing system that can do everything the web can do — just a little bit easier. Perhaps the most important part is “just a little bit.” We’re not claiming to magically solve all the difficult problems, because any attempt to do so would constrain your possibility. Codex is a thin layer that only takes out the most inconsequential and nwork of web publishing.
We designed the Codex editor to be the place where writers, designers and developers can collaborate because they all have a crucial role in a well-constructed site.
WYSIWYG is Dead; Long Live WYSIWYG
The what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) model of electronic publishing has broken in the era of the mobile web. The reality is that readers will view your articles on a vast array of screen sizes and shapes. The idea that we can reliably simulate this in an editing experience is no longer possible or even desirable.
Similarly, if we want to take our stories to the next level with a tasteful dash of animation or a radical design treatment, the way the story looks can become a distraction to writing it and copyediting it.
At the other extreme, actually writing an article in raw HTML is a chore: there’s typically no spell checker in code editors and verbose tags and links make it difficult to see what you’ve done. You can’t even add an ampersand without knowing a special code.
Yet HTML has features needed for complex pages like grouping paragraphs into sections with elements and changing styles with class names. If you want to do anything remotely different with an article, you end up mixing chunks of HTML inside stories, which brings with it a host of other issues.
Codex is a word processor for HTML — a way to edit it without having to look at it. You can think of it is as a consumer-grade version of HTML template languages like Pug or HAML that are used by developers.
Codex gives authors a clean, no-nonsense space to write with control over all aspects of the resulting HTML document. When it comes time to make articles look as good as they read, we offer a live preview of how the stories will appear on an array of screen sizes.
This approach makes it a breeze to snap in existing code and lets producers with little web experience take advantage of it. Want to use the Bootstrap grid system? No problem. Want to use the latest, greatest CSS framework? Piece of cake.
It also means that everything you already know about HTML or front-end development already applies to Codex. You will not have to learn new terms or “our way” of doing things. And if you gain new knowledge as you work with Codex, what you learn will be transferable to everything else you do on the web.
Often new online publications will start out by hiring a developer to build templates for a handful of story types and a few surrounding pages. The problem is that after developers move on to the next project, the people that use these systems are helpless to change them.
We’ve enabled a modular approach: developers still write code but editors and authors are empowered to use it in a flexible way that fits their content. And we’re releasing our own designs and special effects to get you started.
Responsive Image Layouts and Multimedia
Sizing and cropping an image to fill a variety of screen sizes in CSS is a pain. Positioning readable text on an image can also be quite difficult. Combine the two problems and you’re about to waste an afternoon on one image — even if you know CSS inside and out.
This is a visual problem and Codex has a visual solution. Authors highlight the focus of the image and set its size. Inside the browser, the software crops the photo for the size of the device that it’s viewed on. Text is positioned visually and will never overflow into parts of the image where it isn’t legible.
Codex uses the exact same tools for multimedia content. Our video player has a scroll-triggered autoplay and other effects so that video can meld into the surrounding text.
The platform uses a powerful media manager to keep track of images, videos and audio clips, resizing and transcoding them for low-bandwidth or memory-constrained devices. And Codex makes it easy to use SVG images, injecting them into pages inline so they can be styled with CSS.
Front-End Developer Heaven (And No Back-End Developers)
Running your own server with open-source software is not for the feint of heart. Publications on Codex never have to worry about connecting to a database, installing the latest security patches or keeping WordPress plugins up to date and cooperating.
We know how difficult code can be and we want to help you write it painlessly. We’ve added a tight integration with the de facto standard version control system, Git, and its ubiquitous cloud-hosted cousin, Github. That means you can edit and manage code assets with the tools you already know. Deploying front-end code to the platform is as easy as
git push and using it inside a story is even easier.
Developing in a cloud system is often a headache because you can’t run servers locally on your own machine. We’ve solved this issue with a built-in IDE that can inject code served from your localhost alongside stories in production. Make a branch to share a preview of the changes with remote colleagues and then push to master and have it in front of readers in seconds.
The web is constantly changing and Codex was built with the latest web technologies in mind. We’re using HTTP/2 to serve pages, dramatically cutting down the overhead required to load external assets in a page, obviating the need for most concatenation and all the pain that comes with it. We’ve also integrated automatic minification and common front-end tools like Less, Browserify and Babel. Developers can write code without having to worry about complex build steps or the annoyance of committing transpiled code to repositories.