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Context matters: Search can't replace a high-quality index

Kevin Broccoli on the importance of indexes in ebooks.

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This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.


I’ve never consulted an index in an ebook. From a digital content point of view, indexes seem to be an unnecessary relic of the print world. The problem with my logic is that I’m thinking of simply dropping a print index into an ebook, and that’s as shortsighted as thinking the future of ebooks in general is nothing more than quick-and-dirty conversions of print books. In this TOC podcast interview, Kevin Broccoli, CEO of BIM Publishing Services, talks about how indexes can and should evolve in the digital world.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Why bother with e-indexes? — Searching for raw text strings completely removes context, which is one of the most valuable attributes of a good index. [Discussed at the 1:05 mark.]
  • Index mashups are part of the future — In the digital world you should be able to combine indexes from books on common topics in your library. That’s exactly what IndexMasher sets out to do. [Discussed at 3:37.]
  • Indexes with links — It seems simple but almost nobody is doing it. And as Kevin notes, wouldn’t it be nice for ebook retailers to offer something like this as part of the browsing experience? [Discussed at 6:24.]
  • Index as cross-selling tool — The index mashup could be designed to show live links to content you own but also include entries without links to content in ebooks you don’t own. Those entries could offer a way to quickly buy the other books, right from within the index. [Discussed at 7:28.]
  • Making indexes more dynamic — The entry for “Anderson, Chris” in the “Poke The Box” index on IndexMasher shows a simple step in this direction by integrating a Google and Amazon search into the index. [Discussed at 9:42.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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  • Gwen Jenkins

    Curation should be part of any limited-content application, I think. (Web archives, for example.) Search only works if you know what you’re looking for. The bigger part of discovery is finding out the questions you don’t know enough to ask.

  • http://twitter.com/dwightwalker Dwight Walker

    It is amazing what Kevin Broccoli has got into these days compared to Web indexing in 1998. Good luck!