• Print

Mobile as New Medium

While prepping for my talk tomorrow on mobile publishing at the Digital Publishing Group in New York, I was also popping in and out of a related ongoing email conversation about textbooks and iPhones, and couldn’t help but weigh in on the question of how to handle some the issues like cross referencing and annotations on the iPhone compared with in a textbook. Several people suggested the comments were worth sharing with a larger audience:

These are relatively minor technical problems that generally already have solutions. The bigger issue I see is that thinking of the problem as “how do we get a textbook onto an iPhone” is framing it wrong. The challenge is “how do we use a medium that already shares 3 of our 5 senses — eyes, ears, and a mouth — along with geolocation, color video, and a nearly-always-on Web connection to accomplish the ‘job’ of educating a student.” That’s a much more interesting problem to me than “how do we port 2-page book layouts to a small screen.”

Mobile is big on the agenda at TOC Frankfurt, TOC New York, and I’m sure will come up during the upcoming TOC online event.

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  • bowerbird

    that’s deep, andrew.

    must be nice for you to be in an “ongoing email conversation”
    – let me guess which one! — where you are the _smart_ one,
    and most of the other participants are as dumb as a board…

    -bowerbird

  • jim christopher

    LOL bowerbird. . . . thank you

  • http://jodischneider.com/ Jodi Schneider

    Great quote! Thanks for sharing it.

    Attention to format and media differences is *so* important. A few days ago, while reading a kindle preview of a travel book on my iphone, I came across a pull quote. It seemed so out of place! For one thing, it appeared a screen or two before that line appeared in the text. For another, it disrupted the flow.

    I see a big market for XML/XSLT workflows that translate page idioms to screen idioms.

  • http://www.magellanmediapartners.com Brian O'Leary

    Bowerbird, I can follow your logic in tweaking me and others for a big-ticket bias on XML installations, but I don’t get you here.

    Publishers and people continue to struggle with how to use mobile effectively, but not because they are dumb. As an industry, we’re trying to figure out how to be in multiple formats simultaneously, not an easy task for a business whose core processes are overwhelmingly built on inspection. We also don’t have much experience and we lack an effective answer on how to port from existing content workflows to the multi-sensory platforms Andrew describes.

    Andrew reminded and encouraged people to think broadly about the possibilities. That idea is not new to you, but it is useful to a lot of other folks who aren’t as steeped as you are (and maybe I am) in the subject.

  • bowerbird

    brian, i consider you to be one of the smarter ones… :+)

    but yeah, i think there are a lot of real dummies out there…

    and a big part of the reason i think they’re dumb is because
    – most of the time — they’re asking the wrong questions…

    even on this topic, people are asking the wrong questions.

    first, it isn’t hard to put a textbook onto an iphone. it’s not.
    you reflow the text. you restructure the nature of the flow,
    so sidenotes (as mentioned above) and all the other material
    that’s outside the main textual flow appears in a useful place.
    you resize the graphics so they’re shown at the screen size,
    and then you give users the ability to zoom ‘em as necessary.

    does any of that sound like anything more than common sense?

    does any of it sound particularly difficult? i can’t imagine why…

    and that’s even without adding in stuff like audio and video,
    shared annotations and feedback, and other creative ideas…
    we’re just talking about a straightforward transition to digital.

    yet take a look at some of the viewer-apps that are out there.
    the latest one appears to work like .pdf, showing each page as
    a graphic, so the user has to scroll left-to-right to read a line.
    that’s immensely backwards, reminiscent of deliberate sabotage.

    even scrollmotion — the publishers’ favorite — is brain-dead,
    with its purely-stupid combination of scrolling and pagination.
    who’s putting out this crap? why are they doing such a bad job?

    given this tremendous failure of vision, it’s not at all surprising
    some people are framing the issues badly, but to anyone with
    any sort of brain in their head, it is certainly sorely frustrating.

    -bowerbird

  • http://www.i2s-bookscanner.com Alain Pierrot

    Don’t forget the accelerometer and multitouch interface, which emphasize the physical handling of interaction.

    I can remember warm discussions when the mouse was introduced in the 80s…

  • http://twitter.com/ntardiff Nathan Tardiff

    I know these are just first steps for publishers, but I can’t wait for the day when e-book/e-textbook is not just synonymous w/ PDF. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a lot of organizational change for big publishers, who are so focused on delivering in one primary medium, to become platform agnostic. And I agree w/ Jodi that the more pubs can build this into their workflows, the better off they’ll be, as I do not see even the big publishers having the resources to do this well if it’s not done extremely efficiently.

  • bowerbird

    brian-

    it occurs to me i could have addressed your point more directly.

    the focus on .epub (and, more generally, xml/xhtml/css) has
    failed to update the publishers’ workflow to be more flexible…

    so that’s another instance where focus has been wrong-headed.

    publishers are now locked into a workflow with obtuse markup,
    the same environment that led us to “browser incompatibilities”
    on the web, and an overall too-long-and-steep learning curve.

    and, of course, the focus on corporate publishers and the whole
    matter of “saving the publishing industry” is wrong-headed too.

    the name of the game here is _disintermediation_ and everyone
    (artists and fans) cheers the downfall of the r.i.a.a. and m.p.a.a.

    so why should we care about corporate publishing dinosaurs?
    and why should we care about the format they have crowned?
    (especially when they don’t even really support it themselves?)

    oh sure, there’s a little network of publishing insiders who’ve
    managed to create an echo-chamber on twitter and elsewhere,
    and people who stumble on the scene think they’re in charge…

    but their impact will soon be exposed, and then it will implode.

    short of turning off the internet completely (it could happen!),
    there’s nothing that can stop authors connecting directly to fans.

    -bowerbird

  • http://None Rob

    It’s 4 senses – touch as well ;-)

  • http://www.magellanmediapartners.com Brian O'Leary

    @bowerbird.. that’s the clarity (and tone) I have come to expect. You may well be right, that this is the right time for publishing and the wrong (or end) time for publishers. I could live with that, unless of course it affected my publisher.

  • http://twitter.com/ntardiff Nathan Tardiff

    @bowerbird While it might be easy to see how a textbook WOULD be formatted for an iPhone, I’m not so sure the actual manner of getting there is as easy as you describe. Since this is the Tools of Change site after all, I think it’s important to recall that part of publishers’ problem is that they don’t have the tools to work cross-platform, and they are not in the business of developing such tools. And though there’s a lot of talk about how XML could be used to allow for cross-platform publishing, once again, the tools don’t exist yet to make that happen.

    Many publishers already do incorporate XML at some point in the their workflows, but it’s just not being harnessed to do much of anything special yet. The core tools of most modern publishing workflows are Adobe InDesign/InCopy. These tools are great for outputting PDFs that get made into books, but they certainly do not help create a good product for digital platforms. Until such equivalent, reliable, scalable tools exist, we will continue to see subpar digital products. I think we can all imagine how great a digital textbook could be, but getting from point A to point B and doing so w/ a workforce that in many cases is still adjusting to InCopy/InDesign and is not about to get up and learn XML markup or anything even close to that technical is the real challenge.

  • bowerbird

    i said:
    > their impact will soon be exposed, and then it will implode.

    well, i’m glad i got that prediction on the record yesterday,
    because the implosion happened even faster than i thought.

    > http://quartetpress.com/blog/about-quartet-press/to-our-friends-in-the-bookish-community/

    -bowerbird

  • bowerbird

    nathan said:
    > While it might be easy to see how a textbook
    > WOULD be formatted for an iPhone, I’m not so sure the
    > actual manner of getting there is as easy as you describe.

    ok, let’s see what you mean…

    > Since this is the Tools of Change site after all, I think
    > it’s important to recall that part of publishers’ problem is
    > that they don’t have the tools to work cross-platform, and
    > they are not in the business of developing such tools.

    i think you overestimate the difficulty of creating such tools.
    i’m just a garage programmer, and i’ve programmed them…
    of course, my tools are built for my light-markup approach,
    meaning they don’t have to deal with archaic heavy markup.
    that’s the secret.

    > And though there’s a lot of talk about how XML
    > could be used to allow for cross-platform publishing,
    > once again, the tools don’t exist yet to make that happen.

    that’s because the programming of tools that can work around
    the obstacle of heavy markup is extraordinarily difficult, and
    any programmer would’ve told the markup wonks that’s true,
    except the markup wonks didn’t consult with any programmers.

    > Many publishers already do incorporate XML at some point
    > in the their workflows, but it’s just not being harnessed
    > to do much of anything special yet.

    that’s because “harnessing” x.m.l. is unnecessarily difficult,
    which is the reason that it shouldn’t even be in the workflow.

    > The core tools of most modern publishing workflows
    > are Adobe InDesign/InCopy. These tools are great for
    > outputting PDFs that get made into books, but they certainly
    > do not help create a good product for digital platforms.

    i think that’s a pretty good assessment, yes.

    yesterday’s tools worked well for yesterday’s workflow…

    > Until such equivalent, reliable, scalable tools exist,
    > we will continue to see subpar digital products.

    well, i agree with this point, but only up to a certain point.

    you seem to be saying the absence of tools is the problem.

    i’m saying it is an ill-advised workflow that is the problem,
    because it’s being built on the foundation of heavy markup,
    and that’s why the tools are not being built. but even once
    the tools _are_ built, the bulkiness of the format will mean
    that the content isn’t nearly as flexible as we’d like it to be.
    the tools won’t work well enough, and users will be frustrated.

    > I think we can all imagine how great a digital textbook
    > could be, but getting from point A to point B and
    > doing so w/ a workforce that in many cases is still
    > adjusting to InCopy/InDesign and is not about to
    > get up and learn XML markup or anything even close
    > to that technical is the real challenge.

    i agree with you that the x.m.l. learning curve is too steep,
    and too long. things just don’t have to be so complicated.

    that’s precisely why i’ve hammered out a light-markup system,
    built on simple rules a 4th-grader can learn and understand,
    to create a workflow with easy-to-code authoring-tools and
    viewer-programs, so that self-publishers can concentrate on
    the _writing_ of their content without worrying about all the
    messy details of a clumsy workflow to generate digital output.

    because if it is easy to see how a textbook (or any book)
    _would_ be formatted for an iphone, then it should be easy
    to create a workflow for the actual manner of getting there.

    -bowerbird

  • Brandon Nordin

    The real issue to me seems ‘who would want a text book on a mobile’. Don’t get me wrong – this ain’t a paean to the lingering power of paper – rather to looking at user behaviour and application. To date, mobile reading seems best suited to applications that are primarily mobile – travel guides, quick references etc. and/or interactive/link driven. (ie its a change of platform/technology but not primary utilisation) Text books, or at least the primary content parts of them, don’t really fit this model: the experience will be far better on a traditional laptop.

    JISC, the UK educational library policy agency, released an interesting report recently showing that, despite all the excitement etc, today’s students still use paper books – and view e-texts as secondary supplements. I can see mobile partnering with texts – quizzes, quick notes, AV media supplements, especially, as the JISC study also suggests, if they are tightly integrated into both the book and an online learning/monitoring environment.

    And yes, at some point, text books will totally depart the book format (serial, chapters, pages) to take on the new information flow (multi entrypoint screens, hyper linking): but that is going to take a radical change in teaching/learning objectives and process to support.

  • Brandon Nordin

    The real issue to me seems ‘who would want a text book on a mobile’. Don’t get me wrong – this ain’t a paean to the lingering power of paper – rather to looking at user behaviour and application. To date, mobile reading seems best suited to applications that are primarily mobile – travel guides, quick references etc. and/or interactive/link driven. (ie its a change of platform/technology but not primary utilisation) Text books, or at least the primary content parts of them, don’t really fit this model: the experience will be far better on a traditional laptop.

    JISC, the UK educational library policy agency, released an interesting report recently showing that, despite all the excitement etc, today’s students still use paper books – and view e-texts as secondary supplements. I can see mobile partnering with texts – quizzes, quick notes, AV media supplements, especially, as the JISC study also suggests, if they are tightly integrated into both the book and an online learning/monitoring environment.

    And yes, at some point, text books will totally depart the book format (serial, chapters, pages) to take on the new information flow (multi entrypoint screens, hyper linking): but that is going to take a radical change in teaching/learning objectives and process to support.

  • bowerbird

    brandon said:
    > The real issue to me seems
    > ‘who would want a text book on a mobile’.

    students who live a mobile lifestyle, that’s who.

    which means just about all of ‘em, these days…

    > today’s students still use paper books –
    > and view e-texts as secondary supplements.

    considering the absolutely awful quality
    of today’s e-textbooks, it’s a miracle that
    any students would even consider them as
    “secondary supplements”.

    however, were they to be properly done, and
    initially eased in alongside paper text-books,
    e-textbooks would loved by today’s students,
    who would gradually begin to use them as
    _replacements_ for their paper equivalents,
    especially if the two formats were bundled…

    today’s dinosaur corporate publishers can’t
    see the forest for the trees, so they do not
    realize that selling a file — whose cost of
    reproduction approaches zero — repeatedly
    is far more profitable than selling paper books
    – whose cost of reproduction stays high –
    but you can bet mammal publishers will
    understand that underlying dynamic fine…

    -bowerbird

  • http://www.op.co.za Damian

    I have ventured into xml using indesign and various other tools, and its hell. No wonder publishers avoid it. Just another investment in technology with no or little return.

    Trying to re-purpose existing educational content for ebooks/cellphones will not work as the content needs to be written for the medium. I think it is ill advised to just reflow the content and expect it to work. Sentences need to be shorter, more sub headings to break up the text and assessments will need to be live – get immediate feedback on how you did and suggested further material to cover the area which was poorly or incorrectly answered.

    It appears that many publishers consider cellphones and ereaders an extension of print publishing. Rather, ebooks should be considered as a new medium, and, in my opinion, the base level of wide acceptance by learners only be when there are built in assessments with immediate feedback, animated illustrations, video, sound, and collaboration tools.

    While this is quite possible for “first” world countries where most students have access to laptops and big screen cellphones, “third” world countries will need the same but on a cellphone with a tiny screen and showing limited colours.

    It’s time for those in publishing to be innovative and throw some resources at creating great content that learners will look forward to. If the don’t, some _one_ else will.

  • http://twitter.com/ntardiff N. Tardiff

    Hmmm, some momentum toward tools that allow for better e-books (including interactive content) on the iPhone?

    http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6698353.html?nid=2286&rid=##CustomerId##&source=title

  • bowerbird

    damian said:
    > I have ventured into xml using indesign
    > and various other tools, and its hell.

    i agree. but it doesn’t have to be that way.

    it’s possible to strip everything back to
    a very simple workflow, if you want to,
    and still create quality e-books that are
    both beautiful _and_ highly functional…

    > the base level of wide acceptance
    > by learners only be when there are
    > built in assessments with immediate
    > feedback, animated illustrations,
    > video, sound, and collaboration tools.

    and surely, once you think of the iphone,
    all of that becomes simple to obtain, yes?

    -bowerbird

  • bowerbird

    n. tardiff said:
    > http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6698353.html?nid=2286&rid=##CustomerId##&source=title

    um, no. that’s just a pair of middlemen who are joining forces
    to try in stick their fingers in the pie of the corporate publishers,
    who are clueless on what they need to do, and therefore suckers
    for these kind of snake-oil salesmen with their vague promises
    to “monetize the content” so publishers can keep their mercedes.

    -bowerbird

  • bowerbird

    as of october the third, saturday,
    the two latest posts to this blog
    have had comments disabled…

    that’s a curious development,
    if it is indeed a development,
    and not merely a temp glitch.

    -bowerbird