At his demo of the IA BookReader at the recent Books in Browsers conference, Mike Ang said about the new BookReader thumbnail view — “We think this is one example where the digital book has some advantages over the printed one.” Mike was talking particularly about the ability of  the thumbnail view to give a unique overview of a book’s contents. I came across an example that shows the usefulness of this, described below.

On the top frame of the graphic at left is a shot from the personal copy of a book by Isaac Newton that has his own personal annotations in the margins, that’s described in IA staffer George Oates’s blog article — This sounded interesting when I read it, but the article didn’t have a link or page number where the annotation in the example appeared in the book. So I searched for the book in IA, and I was able to visually scan through it quickly to find the annotation, using the thumbnail view, as shown in the bottom frame at left.

This simple little example fits in nicely with the idea I’ve discussed in several articles on this blog, that thumbnails are invaluable especially in books that contain non-textual material — In the examples I’ve blogged about previously, this has been illustrations, but marginalia also fits nicely into this category.

A few more details on the Newton example — The close-up of the text (top frame) is from a set of Oates’ slides (#24) about the project; it’s also in her article linked above. As mentioned, although these sources have nice detail about the unusual Newton treasure, neither has a specific link to the occurrence or page number of the annotation shown. The IA record for the book has a note saying “Includes Issac Newton’s handwritten notations,” but doesn’t say exactly where they occur. It turns out that the annotation is on page 73.

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

Marginalia — writing notes in the margins of books and other forms of user annotation — has seemed like an interesting idea that might be applied in eBooks. So I keep an eye out for examples of it in print books, and came across a new field recently — Devoted Bible readers, who, of course, make many notes and annotations of all kinds. The first one below is called a “wide margin Bible” and the second is a “journaling Bible.” …

Here’s one you can buy


And from Flickr user J. Mark Bertrand


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

Clive Thompson, in his recent comments on how crowdsourcing has the potential to transform eBooks, refers to a a rudimentary form of crowdsourcing that’s already being studied in print textbooks. The work he’s referring to is by Cathy Marshall, who finds that used-book-buyers place value in the annotations (highlighting and notes) left in the books by previous owners.

Thompson had no link to Marshall’s work, so I got in touch with her, to get more details. As she describes in her papers (listed below), the motivation for her work is to discover effective methods of utilizing readers’ annotations of eBooks. In her early research, done mostly in the 1990′s, she observed students, and interviewed them, as they looked for used textbooks, to see if they favored books because of the nature of the annotations in them.

After confirming that students do, in fact, value annotations, Marshall went on to study the nature of the annotations to find patterns that could be used as models for eBook annotating. In the example below, on the left are four copies of the same page from different reader’s books with their annotations. On the right is the middle paragraph from the page, which all four readers annotated, to determine more precisely what was marked by each reader — which turns out to be the first sentence in all four cases. (The graphics are from the Marshall 2008 paper)

Kudos to Marshall for this ingenious, basic, application of crowdsourcing to books! It’s great that her little-noticed work, started way back in the mid-1990′s, is finally gaining recognition, as eBooks come closer to reality, and producers look for ways to make them more usable.

As Mitch Ratcliffe said in April, creating marginalia (an old name for the annotations of Marshall) is “an art made for the era of crowdsourcing.”

Selected papers of Cathy Marshall on annotations:

Complete list of Marshall’s publications

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumsey

A few excerpts from Clive Thompson’s interesting thoughts on digitization last week:

Books are the last bastion of the old business model—the only major medium that still hasn’t embraced the digital age. … Literary pundits are fretting: Can books survive in this Facebooked, ADD, multichannel universe? … To which I reply: Sure they can. But only if publishers … stop thinking about the future of publishing and think instead about the future of reading. … Every other form of media that’s gone digital has been transformed by its audience. … The only reason the same thing doesn’t happen to books is that they’re locked into ink on paper. … Release them, and you release the crowd.

Thompson says that “the crowd” of readers is already at work transforming even print books. He reports on research done by e-Book researcher Cathy Marshall on students buying used textbooks — She has found that they examine books in the bookstore to find ones that have notes by previous readers — high-lighting and handwritten notes on the pages — and they prefer the ones that they judge to have the “smartest” notes. This rudimentary utilization of “the crowd,” says Thompson, is really nothing new: “Books have a centuries-old tradition of annotation and commentary, ranging from the Talmud and scholarly criticism to book clubs and marginalia.” Thompson cites current digital examples of the transformative use of the crowd:

BookGlutton, a site that launched last year, has put 1,660 books online and created tools that let readers form groups to discuss their favorite titles. Meanwhile, Bob Stein, an e-publishing veteran from the CD-ROM days, put the Doris Lessing book The Golden Notebook online with an elegant commenting system and hired seven writers to collaboratively read it.

Thompson closes with this: “Books have been held hostage offline for far too long. Taking them digital will unlock their real hidden value: the readers.”

Eric Rumsey is at @ericrumsey