A notable feature of the KIndle iPhone app that was announced today is that it has color, unlike Amazon’s Kindle device. The most complete comments I’ve found on this are at CNET.com, written by Nicole Lee (whose interest in comic books gives her good reason to look for color!) Her article is especially valuable because it has a good comparison of screenshots on the iPhone and the Kindle. I’m showing this prominently because it appears at the bottom of the CNET story, and I suspect may be missed by lots of folks. Lee’s comments on color are excerpted below the screenshots.

Here’s the text that accompanies the picture : “Comparing comic books on the Kindle and the Kindle iPhone app. The quality isn’t great since you can’t zoom in (which is a problem for reading text), but the potential is there. (Credit: Nicole Lee/CBS Interactive)”

And here are other comments from Lee’s story on color …

… there is one potential advantage the iPhone has over the Kindle, and that is this: Color. Why would you want color in an ebook? Why, for comics, of course. I’m a big comic book fan, so I went looking for comics in the Amazon Kindle Store to see how it would look on the new Kindle 2 with its 16 shades of gray. There aren’t a lot of choices out there, so I just downloaded a few samples to check them out. The results are not that great, sad to say. Each comic page is considered an image, so it’s a little slower to download. I was fine with the gray shading, but the comic format does not quite fit the size of the Kindle 2′s screen. Smaller format books like manga digests look a little better however. Still, navigating the pages is a pain. There’s no way to zoom in and out of panels, and if I wanted to enlarge the images to full-size, I had to do so for each page. Plus word balloons are almost impossible to read since I can’t zoom in.

I downloaded those same comic samples to the Kindle application on the iPhone. I still couldn’t zoom in, and it’s still hard to read the word balloons. But I was awed and amazed that they arrived in full-blown color. Yes, I couldn’t read any of them, but it gave me a small glimmer of hope that maybe some day there’ll be a way. Until then, I guess I’ll have to live with the individually-sold iVerse comic applications.

It’s interesting, of course, that the first format that shows the value of color e-books is comic books — But, the implications are far-ranging for illustrated books in general, such as medical and science textbooks in which illustrations have an important place.

When a link is clicked to a specific page in GBS Mobile, the page that always opens is the entry page for the book. There doesn’t seem to be a way to link successfully to specific pages. I’ve tried this in several examples, and have had the same experience in all of them. An example below illustrates.

In this example, I’m trying to link to a group of pages starting with page 31. But when the link below is clicked, it goes to the entry page, which is page 21, with the same URL as below except that the page number is 21 instead of 31.

http://books.google.com/googlebooks/mobile/#Read?id=yb8UAAAAYAAJ&page_num=31
[This link and the link in the image below are the same]

After this link is clicked, and it goes to page 21, then it does work to change the number from 21 to 31, and it goes to page 31. The right > next to “Pages 21-30″ also works.

When the link is clicked to go to page 31, and ends up on page 21, clicking the Back button goes to page 31. And the address bar initially initially reads 31, but then changes to 21 – So when the link is initially clicked, it does “pass through” page 31, but apparently there’s some signal on page 31 that tells it to redirect to page 21.

Does anyone see what’s happening here? Any help would be much appreciated! Please post suggestions in comments, or in Twitter.

.

.

.

.

.

Mike Cane hits the target on color eBooks

Truly, the first device that can do color eBooks will change things forever … There are three recent signs — as well as a total wild card — that point to possible dramatic changes in the eBook-reading hardware landscape. …

… The first is Samsung hitting the pedal hard on OLED screen manufacturing.

… The second development has been Hewlett-Packard demonstrating color eInk screens.

… The third piece of this puzzle: Amtek Rumored to Show Slate Netbook at CES 2009.

… The Wild Card in all this? … Pixel Qi, which brags it has revolutionary screens that will basically run on electrons by osmosis instead of the greedy sip-sip-sip of current technology.

Sad to say, this is one of Mike’s last blog postings — His incisive comments on eBooks will be missed.

Andrew Smith, at the Dallas News, writes on the same subject, in article — Why e-books will rule

… Nearly all non-fiction books cry out for far more illustration than they contain, but the costs of adding pictures and charts (especially color pictures and charts) are prohibitive. That’s why you see so many non-fiction books with all the photos bunched up into a couple of glossy-page sections in the center. It’s the only cheap(ish) way to get the job done. Color E-Ink will change that forever. Nearly all non-fiction books cry out for far more illustration than they contain, but the costs of adding pictures and charts (especially color pictures and charts) are prohibitive. That’s why you see so many non-fiction books with all the photos bunched up into a couple of glossy-page sections in the center. It’s the only cheap(ish) way to get the job done. Color E-Ink will change that forever.

Scientific and medical books, which make heavy use of color illustrations, especially stand to benefit from the advent of color eBooks, maybe lowering the prices, which can break a student’s budget for print textbooks.

Peter Suber, at Open Access News, has a good article on Google’s recent announcement that they are now OCR’ing scanned PDF documents so that they become searchable text documents in Google Web Search.

Scroll down especially to Suber’s comments, in which he describes the background to this Google advance, which is already in Google Book Search — As he says, it’s had an OCR’d text layer version of full-view books from the start, which is how they can be searched. (Google Catalogs also has a searchable text layer).

For more on searchable and non-searchable text see: Identifying Google scanned PDF’s

A little-discussed but valuable part of Google Books is the About this book page. This is sort of like an enhanced card catalog view of the book — In addition to standard bibliographic data, it also has a variety of other useful information. For books with pictures an especially valuable part of this page is the Selected pages section, which has thumbnails for a selection of pictures in the book.

The About page is especially useful for full-view books, for which it has a wide variety of information, including popular passages, references from web pages & scholarly works, other editions, related books, & places mentioned  (linked to Google Maps).

The About page is in strong contrast to the frontcover screen in full-view books, which is what’s linked from the main title entry for titles listed on the search results page. For full-view books Frontcover usually goes to the title-page of the book, which in most cases is much less useful than the About page.

In Limited-preview and Snippet-view books, the About page usually has much less information than in full-view books (This is apparently controlled by the publisher of the book). In these books, the Frontcover view really does go to the frontcover of the book, which, of course, is usually a colorful, exciting picture.

Interestingly, the basic URL for entries in Google Books, that just has the generic base + the ID number for the specific book, goes to the About this book screen …

http://books.google.com/books?id=2voCAAAAYAAJ

The URL for the frontcover screen then builds on this basic address …
http://books.google.com/books?id=2voCAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover

… Which seems to imply that on some level the designers of Google Books see the About screen as the more basic, elemental unit for the book.

I Just came across an old but still current article by Roy Tennant — Digital Libraries- The Other E-Books — written in 2001. Tennant says:

When People refer to e-books, they typically mean device-dependent e-books (ER: bold added, see below) such as those marketed by Gemstar (ER: a long-gone pre-Kindle reader) … The term infrequently seems to encompass efforts by libraries, universities, or others to publish e-books on the net for free.

Writing three years before Google Books launched, Tennant seems prophetic — I thought I was being rather original ;-) in my posting of last week — Are Google Books eBooks? — but Tennant made an inroad into the discussion long ago! Of course, what Tennant refers to as “libraries, universities, or others” has now turned into Google Books.

Meta-story – How I stumbled on this article – In thinking about how to refer to different types of ebooks, I wanted to try out the term “device dependent ebook,” so I Googled it, and Voila! — I saw that Roy’s 2001 article was #1 >> Google search: device dependent ebook

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

What are eBooks? WikiPedia says an eBook is “the digital media equivalent of a conventional printed book … usually read on a PC or … an e-book reader.”

This sounds like what Peter Brantley calls “the older model” of eBooks that are “downloadable and packaged … into dedicated readers.” The newer idea that Brantley suggests, in contrast, is of eBooks that will be “consumed over the network.”

In common usage, Google Books are not usually considered to be in the category of eBooks (The Wikipedia eBooks article linked above doesn’t mention Google). In Brantley’s language, though — eBooks being used on the network — I would suggest that full-view books in Google Books are in fact eBooks.

The eBook meme does seem to be changing — There’s indication that the term eBook is coming to be applied to Google Books — A recent Christian Science Monitor article on Google Books, refers to them in the title as “e-books.” The article quotes prominent blogger Siva Vaidhyanathan to the effect that Google is coming to dominate “the digital book world,” with the clear implication (with “e-Book” being in the article title) that Google Books are in the category of eBooks.

Browser-worthy small-scale devices like the iPhone and the G1/Google phone/Android make it increasingly likely that Google Books will be put in the same category as dedicated e-book services like the Amazon Kindle. Especially for reading books that have pictures, reading Google books in a browser is clearly preferable to using the Kindle, which does not even have color.

Maps and newspapers, because they’re rich in graphic information, benefit greatly from a zooming and panning interface. Text-only books, because they’re more linear and because text is easily searchable, don’t benefit from this sort of interface as much, but books with pictures certainly do.

zKimmer.com has recently implemented Google Maps technology for viewing non-map text and picture resources, such as magazines and newspapers, which are converted from PDF format. This is an exciting development especially because it holds promise that the same sort of technology could also be used for books.

With Google’s great success using a zooming-panning interface in Google Maps, and having recently launched Google Newspapers which also uses it, the question naturally occurs — Will Google developers sooner or later also use it for Google Books?

The zKimmer screen-shots above are from a magazine (though they could easily be from a book) and those below are from a newspaper. They both show how this interface facilitates navigating a resource that includes extensive pictures as well as text.

zKimmer lacks a good search capability (it has a search box, but it doesn’t seem to work) — So it’s not ready for heavy-duty enterprise use — It’s exciting, though, because it shows the potential value of a zooming-panning interface for books. Google Books already uses panning and zooming in a limited way, for navigating between pages, but a multi-page pan and zoom, as in zKimmer, would greatly simplify picture and text navigation.

Other implementations of the Google Maps API for non-map graphic resources are a desktop collection of elegant books by the reclusive German techno-artist Markus Dressen, and a card set from the World Of Warcraft.

Looking at Google Newspapers has got me thinking that the same sort of zooming-panning interface that’s used in that, and in Google Maps, could also be used for viewing books. An example of this is shown in the screenshots from videos on Seadragon linked below.

Seadragon is a zooming-panning technology, owned by Microsoft, and used as a component in other tools, such as PhotoZoom, Silverlight, Photosynth, and various Microsoft mapping applications. When it was acquired by Microsoft in 2007 it got attention as a powerful component of other Microsoft applications, but I haven’t seen it featured as a potential interface design tool for ebooks. This is a relatively small part of the videos below, but the screenshots give a feel for it. These are from two different videos, both showing how the system can be used to zoom in on pages from a book.

The sequence above, which is made up of 800 images from a map collection at the Library of Congress, shows how easy it is to zoom in to find pages that have text and pictures together. This video (2:13) is made by the company from which Microsoft bought Seadragon.

The second sequence is from a video (7:42, the first 2:50 on Seadragon) of a talk by Blaise Aguera, the creator of Seadragon. As indicated, it shows zooming in on a large text source.

Both of these videos emphasize the obvious usefulness of Seadragon technology for mapping applications. But they also show that it has potential usefulness for viewing online e-books — So it’s too bad Microsoft dropped out of the Internet Archive digitization project in May, 2008!

I wrote last week about the DjVu format that’s among the formats supported by Internet Archive, and why it’s so good for displaying books with pictures. In this post, I’ll detail how to take advantage of DjVu’s picture-viewing capabilities.

For the most part, DjVu is well-documented. It’s widely acknowledged that the DjVu format excels in the online presentation of images/pictures, when compared with PDF, but this is not emphasized as much as it should be. In most discussions of eBooks, the emphasis is on text, and pictures are an afterthought.

This under-emphasis of commentators about the capability of DjVu in presenting books with pictures/images is perhaps related to the fact that the DjVu system itself has surprising design lapses that make it hard for the user to intuit the system’s graphic capabilities.

DjVuThese powerful graphic features are especially related to use of thumbnails, which are much of what makes DjVu so useful for viewing books with pictures.

The thumbnail bar, shown to the left, is the key to navigating the pages of a book. The first hurdle in using this is that, oddly, the default display when a book is first displayed does not show the thumbnail bar. To turn it on, the user has to click the Show/hide thumbnail icon, which hides inconspicuously on the far right side of the toolbar. Turning on the thumbnail bar display can also be done by right clicking anywhere and choosing Layout – Thumbnails (In another odd, unaccountable oversight, the Show/hide thumbnail icon does not appear at all on the toolbar in the Macintosh -Safari version of DjVu, and the user has to use the right-click [or CTRL key] option to turn it on.)

DjVu
The default display of the  thumbnail bar is quite small, so the next step in using it to get a better view of page contents is to enlarge the size of thumbnail images, by dragging the mouse, as shown at left.

The thumbnail bar works smoothly — Thumbnails are loaded rapidly as the user scrolls down to see more. Surprisingly the speed of loading seems to be little affected when the size of thumbnails is enlarged. It’s odd that the default size of images in the thumbnail bar is so small, when the larger size works so well — Another indication, I think, that the DjVu developers are not thinking much about use of the system for viewing books with pictures, since it’s so much easier to see details in pictures with larger thumbnails.

Finally, one more hurdle to using DjVu seems to exist in Internet Archive, which is the largest source of DjVu records — When the DjVu format is chosen in the “View the book” box, the link to open the DjVu file is broken. The way around this is to click All Files: HTTP, which is at the bottom of the “View the book” box. This goes to an index screen listing several formats, and clicking the one that ends in .djvu (usually the first in the list) successfully opens the file in DjVu format. I sent a question about this on Sept 8 to the DjVu.org forum, and have not gotten an answer on Sept 10 — Go here to see the question and to see if it has been answered.

Yogi Berra quote of the day: “You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”