The Internet Archive’s BookReader got a lot attention at the Books in Browsers conference at IA headquarters in San Francisco last week. IA engineer Mike Ang gave a  technical talk to conference attendees on using BookReader with a touch interface (iPad, Android). He also did a demo as part of Brewster Kahle’s “Books in Browsers” Keynote which was open to the general public, and that’s mostly what I’ll discuss in this article.

The IA blog article on Kahle’s Keynote has a video that includes Ang’s BookReader demo, with some screenshots from it. But the transcribed text in the article doesn’t include the demo, so I’ll give a little summary here — Ang’s 11-minute demo (16:26-27:40 on the video) includes enhanced search capabilities, audio generation from text, use on an iPad, and the thumbnail view (shown in the picture at left), which I discussed in an earlier article.

Ang said in the demo, and also in the conference session, that his team has the new version of BookReader working well in all browsers except Internet Explorer, and that that’s the main hold-up in releasing the new version. He’s hoping it will be out in the next few weeks.

In the conference session, Ang said that it’s especially difficult to get BookReader to work on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets because “multitouch events” are programmed differently on each different device. I particularly took note of this because I’ve used the current version of BookReader on an iPad, and although it works quite nicely in general, I do notice that it’s fairly slow in pinch zooming. This is also noticeable in Ang’s demo on the video. I hope this problem can be solved — I think BookReader, if it can be made to work smoothly, has great potential on iPad-like tablets — A combination that no doubt seems natural to the people at Internet Archive since, as Ang observed in his demo, the iPad happens to be “the size of a small book.”

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

The Books in Browsers conference that met at the Internet Archive in San Francisco October 21 & 22 was a great experience for me and I’m sure for most of the approximately 100 attendees.

Follow-up: Conference reports & Commentaries – Most recent at the top

Presentations – List is derived from the pre-conference Agenda. Twitter addresses are included for presenters who have them — For other attenders on Twitter see here.

Thursday, October 21

  • Allen Noren (@allennoren), O’Reilly Media – Books in Browsers
  • Bill McCoy, Webpaper – Browsers for Books: Formats and User Experiences for Digital Reading   [Slides]
  • Dominique Raccah (@draccah), Sourcebooks – Immersion: What we actually know about adding media to books
  • Waldo Jaquith (@jaquith), VQR – EPUB for website producers
  • Keith Fahlgren (@abdelazer), Ibis Reader – Piercing the Clouds: Privacy, Confidentiality, and Web-based Reading   [Slides]
  • Nicole Ozer, ACLU – Digital Books: A New Chapter for Reader Privacy
  • Jason Schultz (@jason_schultz_), UC Berkeley – Using open licenses to ensure reader privacy
  • SJ Klein (@metasj), OLPC – Rural uses of browser books   [Description: PPT Slides]
  • Jim Fruchterman (@JRandomF), Benetech – Accessibility for browser based books
  • Joseph Pearson (@josephpearson), Inventive Labs – How we’re using Monocle in the Labs
  • Minh Truong (@minh_truong), Aldiko – Books and Apps
  • Daihei Shiohama, Voyager Japan – From mobile comics to broad platform experiences
  • Michael Ang (@mangbot), Internet Archive – Designing books for touch   [Slides in New version of BookReader | Old version]
  • Keynote: Brian O’Leary (@brianoleary), Magellan Partners – A Unified Field Theory of Publishing   [Full-text]
  • Evening Keynote: Books in Browsers – Brewster Kahle, Internet Archive   [Video & Text]

Friday, October 22

  • Keynote: Bob Stein (@ifbook), If:Book – For publishers, working together to support an open-source platform for Social Reading is the key to taking the initiative back from Amazon, Apple and Google   [Background]
  • Keynote: Richard Nash (@R_Nash), Cursor Books – Remember, the reader writes, too… On how discoverability begins with the writer.
  • Kovid Goyal, Calibre – An Alexandria in every neighborhood
  • Aaron Miller (@bookglutton), Bookglutton – A network of Books [Slides]
  • Otis Chandler (@otown), GoodReads – Finding Shelf Space in a World Without Shelves   [Slides]
  • Hadrien Gardeur (@Hadrien), Feedbooks – A Connected Bookshelf   [Slides]
  • Michael Tamblyn (@mtamblyn), Kobo Books – Life Among the Freegans: The Co-Existence of Free Books, Paid Books, and the People Who Read Them
  • Erin McKean (@emckean), Wordnik – Things are looking up for looking things up?
  • Eli James (@shadowsun7), Novelr – Pandamian: A Publishing Support Layer   [Full-text]
  • Kevin Franco (@FRANCOMEDIA), Francomedia – Thriller-based Transmedia and the reader experience
  • Fran Toolan (@ftoolan), Firebrand – A Conversation: Rights in the Book Web
  • Keynote: Matthew Bernius (@mattBernius), RIT – Returning to the Canon for Inspiration: Vannevar Bush, Walter Benjamin, and the future of reading   [Links]
  • Pecha Kucha 7 …
    Blaine Cook (@blaine), Romeda
    Craig Mod (@craigmod), “Post Artifact Story Telling”
    Jacob Lewis (@jacoblewism), Figment
    Cart Reed (@Ebooq), Ebooq

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Good writing relevant to a broad topic is often buried in a discussion of a more narrow topic — By its title, Zoe Rose’s recent article is about the Monocle eReader, which works in the Safari browser. But in fact much of the article is a good narrative about why networked eBooks are better than downloaded, device-tethered eBooks.

Rose’s article caught my attention for several reasons — It resonates with Hugh McGuire’s recent article about the future of connected books on the Internet and my commentary suggesting that Google Books gives a hint of this. As with McGuire, Rose’s writing on Internet-connected eBooks suggests what I’ve written before about Google Books as the new eBooks. Also, recent discussions of the Safari browser on the iPad outshining Apps for reading are much in tune with Rose’s emphasis on the appeal of browser-based eBooks. Here are her words:

Monocle is a new development in eBookery. It could be revolutionary, for one reason: it works in browsers. Which is to say, you access your eBook content through the Internet.

Fundamentally, there are two ways to access content using machines:
1. Content lives on the user’s own device. This is a download-based model. Example: iTunes.
2. Content lives on external servers which are accessed by the user’s device. This is a web-based model. Example: Spotfiy.

There’s a user-facing difference between the two, and I think the no-download model will eventually have the upper hand. For content users, the download model is the more annoying option, because it’s tethered to a device. To  use my husband as an example: At work and at home, he uses different machines. They’re powerful desktops, so physically lugging them about is not a good option. Because of this, a device-tethered eBook is no use to him. But he always has an Internet connection. He can always log on to a website.

There’s a developing trend of people using multiple machines to access their content, instead of the trusty old family PC. My household isn’t unusual – it has two people, a desktop, two laptops, an ipad, and an iphone. Matching that trend on the other side, we can also see Internet access growing exponentially – it’s quite likely (if not inevitable) that ubiquity is just around the corner.

Which is more likely? A future where people use the same device all the time, or a future where people have Internet access all the time? In choosing between browser-based and download-based content models, these trends point to an access-it-through-the-Internet model as being where the smart money is.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Twitter is notorious for having a short attention span – Trending topics tend to last for just a few days — The iPad has been a remarkable exception to this — Since it was introduced in April, its popularity on Twitter just seems to continue on and on. I experience this clearly myself because my tweets on the iPad are invariably the most popular ones.

With so much being written on the iPad, I often search in Twitter by combining “iPad” with another word — libraries, librarians, schools, learning, healthcare, medical etc. I’ve been surprised that combining iPad with library-related words consistently retrieves very little. So I did a little survey, counting the number of tweets retrieved in Twitter searches for some of these words, as shown in the graph at left (details on method below).

I don’t want to read too much into this quick-and-dirty little survey — Maybe it’s just a matter of time before the iPad surge filters down to libraries. But I still have to wonder … The apparent lack of interest in the iPad in the library world is especially surprising in view of the search figures in the chart for books, magazines, newspapers, and ebooks – the content of libraries.

As I was writing this post, I happened upon Brian Kenney’s article encouraging libraries to join the party and get into the “eBook game” like their patrons are quickly doing. The advice about libraries and eBooks in his catchy title fits the iPad also: You have to be in it to win it! – With the iPad having quickly established itself as the most popular device for reading digital books and magazines, and with its booming sales predicted to hit 28 million in 2011, isn’t it time for librarians to join the iPad party?

Methods — The numbers in the chart are the average of two searches done on Thurs, Aug 19 and Fri, Sept 3, each of the searches going back four days. I counted the number of pages for each search and multiplied by 10, assuming 10 tweets per page. For library related words, how about “library”? — I didn’t include it because of the varying contexts of the word — in particular iTunes library and iPod library — which are unrelated to libraries that are run by librarians. I did do a close examination of the 172 hits for library (on Sept 8th) and found that about 22 seemed to have some connection to the desired context, which would have raised the numbers in the chart a bit, but not enough to change the overall impression that the iPad is not mentioned much in connection with libraries. So I’ve chosen to stick with simple unambiguous words, especially so that the test can be easily repeated over time.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

With the new possibilities for multi-media storytelling brought by the iPad, Jean Gralley’s 2006 essay gains new relevance. I haven’t seen Gralley mentioned in recent talk on the eBook revolution, maybe because she writes as a childrens’ book illustrator. But I think many of her ideas resonate with recent commentaries on digital books more generally, so I’m excerpting extensively from her vivid language. Here are her words, with screenshots from the accompanying Flash video  > >

> >  I love everything about the traditional picture book art form. But when I discovered a hidden world of picture book artists who are creating traditional books in radically nontraditional ways, I was fascinated and hooked. As I played with these new computer programs, it dawned on me that my very thinking was being re-wired. Story ideas came that didn’t work well on paper.

It’s ridiculous to make a monitor do what paper does better. But the problem is not that things have gone too far but that they haven’t gone far enough. Let digital be digital. Let the digital medium create stories that can’t be told as well on paper — or told on paper at all. Imagine a story progressing not by page turns but by proceeding up, down, to the right, or even to the left. … Recognizing that our commitment is to the story and not to paper is powerful fuel for picture book creators; it’s all we need for liftoff.

Imagine words and pictures appearing, receding, and gliding into place. Envision stories that might proceed by unfolding like a flower, or sinking as if into a black hole in space.

As illustrators are loosening our paper bonds, so, too, can picture books. We’re able to create digital books because we’re becoming technologically and psychologically ready to create them and because our imaginations are lifting off the page.

The reader should be the prime mover. Just as in a traditional picture book, no matter what the digital book is capable of, the reader should direct the experience, determining the pace, backtracking or even skipping ahead. The reader should read. Unlike watching a video, the child won’t passively watch pictures while a text is being “told” via an audio file.

E-Books, with their fantastic ability to cross-reference, layer, and update information with ease and speed, are already being embraced, especially in academia. But developing their unique promise as a visual medium could make us re-think what a book is, in truly revolutionary ways. It makes sense that we children’s book illustrators would be the ones to take this step. We love to play with materials and forms. … Now some of us are thinking of leaving the page altogether.

For me, the concept of digital picture books is less about “embracing the future” and much more about our now. If we once framed the cosmos with a black-and-white sensibility, we are now swimming in a vivid Technicolor reality. If we once perceived the world as flat, it is now understood to be dimensional. Why shouldn’t our art and our stories reflect this?

The printed book is a beautiful, ancient, enduring form that will continue to exist. But these new tech tools are exquisitely appropriate for our time. To resist them seems to me to be not quite present. Although different tools may produce different kinds of tales, we are simply furthering the narrative of our one long tale. We are still moving along the age-old thread of storytelling. > >

*      *       *       *       *

Meta-story (How I came upon Jean Gralley’s article) – Recently Roger Sutton (@HornBook), the editor of the childrens’ book magazine Hornbook, followed me on Twitter. As I often do when I get a new Twitter follower, I poked around doing some googling on his website to see what there is about the digital thing, and came upon Gralley’s article — A real hidden gem, that confirms my idea that childrens digital book people have a lot of good things to say on digital books more generally.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Keith Peters used his new USB microscope to take pictures of magnified text, snips of which are below. His article on this included the pictures and a discussion of iPad and Kindle. He says little about the book and magazine pictures, and they’re far down in his article. I thought they added an interesting comparison with the iPad and Kindle …

The voluminous comments to Peters’ article, mostly on iPad vs Kindle, are interesting, with many heated opinions and citing of tech issues like dpi, bit depth, resolution and contrast. The arguments give an indication of how little scientific proof there is on what makes text readable/legible — Seems to be a case of who can shout the loudest! Not only is it difficult to define clear criteria to judge text on computers and eReaders, it’s also surprisingly difficult to find evidence about text on print vs computer – Googling for subjects like readability screen and readability screen print turn up little that’s relevant (Please email me if you’re a better googler than I am!) In Wikipedia, the most relevant subject seems to be Typography, but it also doesn’t speak much to the issue of print vs computer.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

It’s well-known that narrow columns are easier to read. So it’s surprising that I can find almost nothing (except this) that connects that observation with the unexpected success of the iPhone as a reading device.

Newspapers and magazines, of course, almost always have narrow columns. With the iPhone, books do also — Could that be one of the reasons for the iPhone’s success?

Here are examples of reading on an iPhone, from a Stanza eBook and the NY Times:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

As detailed in the Apple launch announcements for the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010, Steve Jobs described both as being “magical and revolutionary.” He makes this claim for the iPhone, he says, primarily for two reasons — multitouch and mobile Internet use. Notably, he doesn’t state any specific revolutionary features of the iPad.

I would suggest that history will judge the iPhone as a more revolutionary device than the iPad, for the reasons given by Jobs — multitouch and mobile web browsing — and also for other reasons not mentioned by him. The most interesting of these is that the iPhone has shown the practical appeal of reading on a handheld mobile web device. For anyone who’s had the experience of reading on an iPhone, this seems commonplace by now, but for the non-iPhone using world, as for everyone before the iPhone, it comes as a surprise that sustained reading on such a small screen could be appealing. But there it is, a runaway success.

The success of the iPhone for eReading stands out especially because it seems to have been completely unforeseen by Steve Jobs at the time the iPhone was launched, and still apparently little-noticed for some time even after it was launched — Jobs, of course, made his famous observation that “people don’t read anymore” a year after the iPhone launch, as the iPhone was in fact becoming a popular eReading device. Something apparently changed Steve’s mind, between early 2008, when he made that statement, and the iPad’s birth two years later — The iPad launch announcement, in contrast to the one for the iPhone, mentions eBook reading prominently, and the iPad has been seen widely by commentators as an excellent eReading device.

I suspect that one of the most significant parts of the iPhone story, as seen by future historians, is that its unexpected success as an eReader turned the fertile mind of Steve Jobs to reading. Where Jobs and Apple will go with this idea is an open, and fascinating, question. With the iPad, Apple seems set to continue on the road to becoming a media company, with iBooks being an important part of the App Store. And it all might have started on the iPhone.

This discussion sheds new light on the frequently stated reaction to the iPad that it’s “nothing but a large iPod Touch” — Indeed, Yes — If you accept the idea that it’s the iPhone/iTouch that’s truly the revolutionary device, then, of course, it’s natural that the next deviceful step for Apple is to apply the same innovative ideas to a larger device — The iPad.

Acknowledgements – Discussions of the ideas in this article with my son Brian Rumsey have been invaluable. Thanks, Brian, for helping me to clarify my thoughts :-)

Other articles on eReading and mobile devices:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey