I want my ebook!

September 30th, 2002

People wax rhapsodic on the joys of carrying 4000 songs worth of music on their little iPods, “If I had to carry all this music as CDs, I’d need to replace my back pocket with a Mac truck to fit it in.” So, have you ever tried carrying 4000 books?

The Usual Suspects

It is unfortunate that the greed of certain companies (Adobe, we’re looking at you) is totally undermining what could be an incredibly cool tool. Right now the demand for ebooks is totally driven by the companies who want to sell them. And they all want to be the next Sony (including Sony), leverage their way into consumer electronic mega-opoly and “Big Media”-hood, by selling the world’s fanciest metaphorical razors (think Playstations) at cut rate costs, and then make a killing selling for big bucks the blades(video games, or electronic books), which are manufactured for fractions of a cent. To turn anything into the ever desirable razor blade you must commoditize it. In the realm of ebooks this means, the companies want to control how you read the content, and how many times, and regulate (most likely deny) your ability to lend said ebook to a friend, copy out a piece, or generally maim, spindle, plagiarize, share, and make collage art out of it. All things you can do with a normal book. (in the most famous case, Adobe released a version of “Alice in Wonderland”, a public domain book, with a license that forbid you to read the book aloud to your child).

The Unrealized Potential

Because of this, most of the discussion regarding ebooks has focused on the negative; what the consumer will lose when profit mad, short-sighted companies get their way, and destroy books as we know them! So much so that people react badly to the idea of ebooks without even thinking about it. But they could be so cool!

I’m about 5 hours away from my primary library. 3000 miles from some of my most important books. I’ve got both an account with Baen’s Webscription (early chapters from Bujold, and its cheap!) and a Safari account with O’Reilly, but only when I can find a net connection.(preferably an open access point) I’ve got a bookshelf full of spiral bound notebooks for ideas I’ve jotted down on books I couldn’t mark up, a box full of stickies for when I wanted to write in the margin of library books, and a repeated sense of loss when I’ve had to hand back borrowed books (and lost all those lovely marginalia that came with them).

Ebooks could solve all these problems.

Don’t just tell Jesus you want a Winnebago, tell him what color

I want a small, light, thin panel, that runs off a decent battery, preferably consumer grade, with a USB port, and a screen that can be read, if not in bright, direct sunlight, then at least outside. Ideally I would want it to be made out of some sort of nifty flexible material, that I can roll up and shove into small places, but I’ll take that in the second generation model. But physical specs are easy, it is software that would be critical.

The software of the reader needs to be open, and upgradeable. It needs to support open, intelligent formats like DocBook, as well as popular formats like PDF. (format handling should be transparent) Given an intelligent format, you could…

  • Attach annotation, and footnotes to lines, passages, and individual words, e.g. scrawl in the margins. Perhaps using Annotea RDF vocab. (also in the unrealized potential category)
  • And share those annotations!
  • Search, plus intelligent indexes.
  • Lots and lots of bookmarks, that never fall out when you pick up the book from the wrong side.
  • (and perhaps venturing into the realm of fantasy) For books, fictions, or non-fictions, which are written in an interleaved fashion, liberate just one theme, or one thread from the story to be read front to back, something I wanted when reading Brothers Karamazov, or when re-reading the Sparrow, but only wanting to read the deeply touching characters sketch of pre-Launch, and not the heart wrenching mutilation story that is woven with it.

This would require the reader to be built on open, flexible formats, that could change and grow with the users demands, and be setup to make intelligent use of the networked society that we live in, versus trying, futilely, to cripple the devices into being network unaware. All features that would totally fail to make the ebook readers into loss leaders for the high profit racket of selling limited access to free bytes.

One response to “I want my ebook!”

  1. […] moved more often then I care to admit: ebooks! Its the only way. Oh, and congrats to Linden Labs. 0. (Aside, books,friends) […]