27 Jul

A Partial eBooks Features Wishlist

The following was a comment submitted to a video blog entry proposing enhancements for the iBooks reader on the iPad. I’m also publishing it here, just in case (and because I tried to put some thought into it):

While I love my books and am very interested in the future of books in a paperless UI, I cringed at almost every idea in this video, tending to agree with the list posted (in comments) by Brian (around book stats, reader privacy, social networking, resource linking, images). Few of the ideas proposed in the video seem to leverage ebooks in helping readers make their way through the book and possibly in the world or, where they do, they seem restrictive, trivial, or intrusive.

Too many suggestions I see are “get on the bandwagon” social networking applications (which tend to sequester people in very controlled and nonsubversive experiences–the opposite of the reading experience). Most people read as a solitary activity, for pleasure, enlightenment, or requirement. They don’t belong to book groups (and even book group members don’t want to be supervised). People who lend books or share reading experiences do ask others where they are in the book–not typically out of a need to micromanage but because they really want to talk about the book. You don’t need a big brother interface for that. And, if you lend an “ebook” why do you need it back? My god, what a DRM nightmare!

Instead, link books to a range of outside information sources (giving me defaults and the ability to add or change sources). Instead of funneling me into the giant tosspot social networking environs we have today, help me find where people have expanded on the book’s ideas or setting and published that work–whether it’s textual, visual, or oral. If the book includes geography, show me sources on those parts of the world today and, if applicable, in the story’s historical setting. Don’t place those links in situ (or give the reader the option between that and back of the book)–not everyone wants or benefits from the distraction.

Provide a friendly query interface to customize the book–if it’s a reference on health, show me the parts related to a condition, limited to N degrees of separation.

Bundle with human voices reading aloud and the ability to add my own. Accept voice commands–“read that again”–“go back to”–“help me find”–“learn more about”…

If illustrations are present, add optional unique and subtle ways of highlighting interesting complexity, relationships, or details.

Something else: writers who provide rich experiences have minds like magpies. It’ll take some thoughtful filtering to link to key outside resources rather than known resources about everything experienced or behind ideas in the book. Possibly a combination of the reader selecting and the book suggesting (helping with discovery). Otherwise, you’ll quickly and literally be lost in a good plot.

Bottom line, (unspoken) jokes and wishes about adaptively intelligent primers aside, develop ideas that create broad opportunities and solve problems worth solving. Write them up as requirements (I realize that the requirements for the brief list above are implied and should be stated.) And publish the hell out of them. Better yet, build a few of them yourself, if you can.