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Open Question: How Can Ebooks Improve the Reading Experience?

In “Random thoughts about the Kindle,” Seth Godin suggests three ways the Kindle could improve the “act of reading a book”:

* Let me see the best parts of the book as highlighted by thousands of other readers.

* Let me see notes in the margin as voted up, Digg-style, by thousands of other readers.

* Let me interact with hyperlinks and smart connections not just within the book but across books.

What suggestions do you have? How can digital books — or, more broadly, digital content — improve the reading experience? Please share your thoughts in the comments area.

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Comments: 6

  1. The key to improving an experience is working *with* a medium, rather than layering a different medium’s experience over a new system.

    As Seth Godin touches upon in his post, ebook creators need look no further than the Web for inspiration. Digital material functions best when it’s placed within the context of other information (or, to put a philosophical spin on it: an unlinked Web page isn’t really a Web page — it’s a digital document).

    For me, the reading experience would be improved through the contextualization (or the “webification”) of digital ebook content. I’ve grown accustomed to clicking, searching and examining on the fly, and if I’m going to partake of digital material, I expect to be able to do the same things from within whatever document or device I’m using.

    As I read, I want to have the option to explore words, phrases and references. I want to be able to share material, note it, tag it, and sort it in ways that are relevant to me. Digital content is meant to be flexible — that’s where the real convenience lies — so my needs are really quite simple:

    * Put ebook content into reflowable, linkable formats (HTML, CSS, EPUB, whatever).

    * Provide an always-on connection (the iPhone’s WiFi/cellular system would do the trick).

    * Provide a *true* Web experience, not the watered-down “mobile” Web.

    * Allow me to connect to the Web-based resources I rely on to categorize Web material (i.e. “cloud” applications).

    Really, the best way to improve the digital reading experience is to let me have a *digital* experience.

  2. Search would be my number-one improvement.

    If the base format is XML (even just XHTML, as in ePub), then the possibility of enhancing the content with semantic tagging makes search really exciting, especially in non-fiction. “Find me all direct quotes by George Bush in Scott McClelland’s memoire.”

    When book content is semantically tagged, it’s possible to leverage the discovery technologies that are already in wide use in academic digital publishing, such as OpenURL. I should be able, from the device, to immediately identify references to other works, and reserve them from my local library, purchase them directly on the device, or jump directly to a free snippet (possibly even the exact target of the reference).

    Other than search, there are some great social possibilities. The device should be able to tell me which of my friends have read the book, which are currently reading it right now (and where they are in it, so I know when I can share spoilers) and see any of their public notes or highlighted passages.

  3. i’d say you’re mushing together too many spheres
    for anyone to answer the question intelligently…

    are we talking about hardware? or software?
    apps or file-formats? online or offline?

    can we route the text of the book elsewhere,
    which means d.r.m. would have to be disallowed?
    if we cannot, then can we program the hardware?

    i think you’re much better off if you start with
    the question of “what do we want e-books to do?”,
    and then specify the sequence we would need for


  4. Whatever advanced features are added to an e-book, I want the ability to turn them off and return to straight content mode. If you take Seth’s suggestion and let thousands of other readers attach comments, how many of those comments will actually be worth reading? Few, if most blogs are any indication.

    As for new software features, I’d like to be able to tag sections of text and add my own notes. Then I’d like to be able to export the tagged text and notes to a document. I often read business or technical books that contain information I want to act upon. Right now I have to write my notes on a notepad and reference the page with the supporting information in the book.

    In hardware features, I’d like the ability to hook up to the store/download facility with whatever Internet connection I may have. In our house, that means I need an RJ45 connector or 802.11 wireless configurability. We don’t get a cell signal at our house, so the Kindle is not an option for us.

  5. >How can digital books — or, more broadly, digital content

    The difference is the key to me. There are so many 40 page specs, tutorials, and papers out there, often in PDF, that I’d like to read, and I hate having to choose between reading the whole thing off of a regular glowing computer screen or using up all that paper and toner in my printer on something that I’m going to throw away. I want a light, high-resolution, high-contrast reading device that I can use to read these documents. (Of course, I want to be able to move this content there myself, and not pay the company who sold me the device to move my content to the machine that I bought from them.)

  6. You ever read a hardcover book standing on a crowded subway with a briefcase slung over your shoulder and tried to turn a page? The e-book is the perfect commuter reading experience.