David Wees

Mathematics Teacher, Stratford Hall

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What is this "ebook" missing?

I'd have to argue that this ebook is missing some of the most important features of the interactive Web. Maybe 4 minutes isn't enough time to actually talk about this, but what I see is interactivity with static content, which in my mind is a dead concept.

Our world knowledge base is constantly changing, so at the very least our new wave of ebooks should recognize this. How is this book updated? If it is updated, how regularly is it updated? Does the book contain search results for related concepts?

Can we translate the book into our language of choice on the fly? What about changing the reading level? Will the ebook read itself to us? How accessible is it to people who are blind, or have physical mobility issues? Can we search through the book to find information we want? How is it indexed?

Most importantly, how is this book integrated with social media? How can we comment on the book, annotate it, share passages of the book with other people? If I want to share the book, like we can do easily and all the time with print text, do I need to share my entire iPad? How do we tag content? How do we set multiple bookmarks, so we can go back and reread our favourite sections? Can I read the same book on my laptop? Is it possible to make edits to the book when I see errors or omissions, or just want to play with the text?

In today's digital age, we should be very suspicious of any ebook which doesn't offer all of the features listed above.

  • Jun 8 2011: The term and physical object, book is purely a definition bound by economics and tradition.

    We have just completed the "first" rewrite of a non-fiction book, which by-design is divisible, sortable, expandable and much more with the key unit being more than two hundred (visibly and invisibly) data tagged stories. Nevertheless, it is still static in an iterative way. That is, different forms can be cast depending upon the reader or audience. Each form becomes in today's language a book or a similarly customized compilation.

    This places us about half way to filling in the missing elements outlined in these comments and yet this is "not" really revolutionary as Art Melman points out. It is easy to say what is missing. Bridging the gap step by step I believe will be the magician's hat trick. So here is what we’re pondering: What would you pull out of the hat… also when and how?
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    May 11 2011: I agree completely. I was expecting to see something innovative and I saw pretty much what I could do with Macromind Director in the early 1990's, but using a CDROM and a mouse. Adobe did a magazine project with Martha Stewart last year that was more interesting than this.

    I agree with David, there are many new and existing functions that could have been added to enhance the experience. But fundamentally the technology, wireless interactive books, should enhance what we read. Why can't we use technology to make entertainment content more entertaining? Likewise, educational books should use interactivity to enhance the learning process. If you really want to create an interactive book, shouldn't it be written in conjunction with developing the interactivity as a cohesive experience?

    But herein lies the problem, most authors are not interactive designers. And, the cost to publish a book of copy and pictures is far less than developing an interactive application, which is what we are talking about. So what we are left with is easily reproducible "interactive" content that adds little contextual value to the experience of the book and the reason for reading it. I would also assume that publishers are asking for an application that their existing staff can use to "re-purpose" content. The reason is simple, economics.

    Of course I could be wrong...
  • Apr 29 2011: I agree with most of what you said, but some of it has been a standard part of ebooks for years. Individual commenting, bookmarking, uniformity of format for laptops and mobile/tablet.

    I'd also like to see hyperlinking, being able to view references in the moment (including other books), and mapping tools to branch together various ideas.
  • Apr 29 2011: I agree David... the whole time I was watching this, I was especially thinking about the fact that social media should be embedded into the product (assuming it is not already... but I think he would have demoed it). I think that most new tech-oriented products would be wise to consider this aspect as very important for initial engagement, as well as giving the user purpose in visiting the product again. Books are wonderful at inspiring conversations, so bring the conversations to the book. You could create virtual book clubs where everyone discusses parts of the book right there in the book itself... and possibly make the comments available to be translated as well. Lots of ideas here...

    As far as updating, I really view these types of 'ebooks' as mini-websites, and I think it would be in the author's interest to make the content more dynamic and socially relevant going forward. What if there is a breakthrough in new green energy technology in a year... wouldn't Al Gore like to be able to add a chapter and then republish to all of the people that purchased the ebook? If you are going to have ebooks, one of the advantages should be that they do not have to be static and relevant only to the time period that they were purchased in... they should be adaptable.

    All of your other points are valid as well. Perhaps with the language selection, though, you could download it in your desired language (I don't want to bloat the file by including all available languages), but then let the dynamic content (like social aspects) all pull from the same source (if a German reader made a comment on a section while reading a German translation, I can still see it in my English one).

    I don't agree that these should be stumbling blocks for this product... moreso it should be forward-thinking on how it can be continuously improved upon. We're still early in the life of 'ebooks' and all of these ideas will be incorporated going forward, I'm sure.