A couple of recent commentaries, excerpted below, suggest that the best sort of books for eBooks are ones that are intended to be read linearly, navigating through pages consecutively (i.e. most notably fiction). Both observers say that books whose usability is increased by flipping back and forth from one section to another do not make good eBooks.

Writing about the Kindle, Jakob Nielsen notes the problem with non-linear content:

The usability problem with non-linear content is crucial because it indicates a deeper issue: Kindle’s user experience is dominated by the book metaphor. The idea that you’d want to start on a section’s first page makes sense for a book because most are based on linear exposition. Unfortunately, this is untrue for many other content collections, including newspapers, magazines, and even some non-fiction books such as travel guides, encyclopedias, and cookbooks … The design decisions that make Kindle good for reading novels (and linear non-fiction) make it a bad device for reading non-linear content.

Later in the review, Nielsen broadens his comments to eBooks more generally. In addition to the issue of linearity, he also mentions that books that depend on pictures are problematic:

11 years ago, I wrote that electronic books were a bad idea. Has Kindle 2 changed my mind?– Yes — I now think there’s some benefit to having an information appliance that’s specialized for reading fiction and linear non-fiction books that don’t depend on illustrations and don’t require readers to refer back and forth between sections.

Paul Biba, in comments on using a cookbook on the Kindle, says:

The concept doesn’t work. This is not the Kindle’s fault, but the fact that some things are just not meant for an ebook format. When using a cookbook one likes to flip through it browsing for recipes. You look at one, go back and compare it to another … see if you can’t combine the ingredients of [recipes] … You simply can’t do this flipping back and forth with an ebook … Going back and forth from the table of contents to the index is a time-consuming process. The ergonomics of the whole thing is just not set up for cooking and recipe browsing.

This is really the first time I have come across a complete failure of the ebook medium. I can’t see how it is possible to make any change in the hardware that would alleviate the problem. There is simply no substitute for flipping pages and marking them with bookmarks … The ebook format is, by its nature, linear and this linearity is not adaptable to serious cooking.

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.

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Until now, books with pictures, especially color pictures, have been a relatively small part of Google Books. But the addition of highly visual, popular magazines changes this — The titles added so far are filled with pictures!

On one level, more pictures in Google Books is gratifying — a theme of this blog! But the navigation/search capabilities for finding these pictures is limited. The best way seems to be to use Advanced Search and limit the search to Magazines. But the results listing for this is text-only. It would be much easier to search for pictures with the sort of thumbnail search results interface that’s used in Google Image Search.

In light of the launching of picture-laden magazines as part of Google Books, it’s interesting to note that only last month, Google launched Life magazine pictures, as part of Google Image Search. Google is facing the same choice that librarians have been considering for the last while — Should books (or magazines) that have many pictures be considered mainly as books that happen to have pictures, or as pictures that happen to be in books?

The pictures & links below are from magazines that are in Google Books. I’ve chosen them because I know from work on Hardin MD that they are on highly-searched subjects, which would likely appear in Google Image Search if they were crawlable.

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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!

A useful thread in exploring panning and zooming is the concept of the zooming user interface (ZUI). Demos of this are especially valuable because they give a detailed view of the power of panning and zooming for navigating an online environment that integrates text and pictures. An elegant example of this is illustrated in the demo from the Raskin Center, shown in the screen-shots below.

Note here in the intro screen (above) that it’s so easy to see where pictures and text are that the large print labels (Pictures, Documents) are really unnecessary. After getting used to the idea that small chunks of text can quickly be zoomed to a readable size, it’s easy to move around the environment. From the intro screen, the Human Interface box is zoomed to the the size below.

The second and third screen-shots (above and below) especially show the power of this sort of interface to integrate pictures and text — The tiny “thumbnail” picture of the Amazon.com page in the screen-shot above zooms to the full-sized page in the screen-shot below.

An interesting sidelight to this narrative is that the Raskin Center, where this demo resides, was founded by Jef Raskin, who launched the Macintosh Project, and is often called the “Father of the Macintosh.”

For more - WikiPedia : Zooming user interface has good links to examples of ZUI’s.

Google recently announced the launch of Google Newspapers. The first issue (and apparently the only one up currently) is the 1969 We’re on the moon edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

What caught my attention here is the ability to pan — to move around on the large newspaper page with the mouse by dragging the hand pointer. Use of mouse panning was introduced with Google Maps, and likely played a large part in its becoming so popular. Like a map, a newspaper page poses the same kind of challenge — How to design user navigation for information covering a large surface. As with Google Maps, here also it looks like Google Newspapers has set the standard for navigation of a large-paged information source, especially one with pictures.

Panning (and zooming, which is often discussed together with it) provide an interesting and challenging concept to search, because the words are in prominent use in other contexts, especially photography and video. Surprisingly, there’s no article in Wikipedia for the concept of panning as used for computer information navigation.

An elegant demonstration of panning is at the Hubble pan and zoom gallery.

Google: “pan around” google newspapers

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.”

Suzanne Chapman, at userslib.com, has the interesting tag Pageturners. This term has been used to describe eBook systems that allow the user to have the feel of actually turning the pages of a print book, by clicking an icon or by using the mouse to mimic the motion of turning a paper page.

Like Chapman, I’ve thought of “Pageturners” as a sub-category of eBooks, and have searched in Google for the concept/term. It turns out this is a difficult search term because it gets confused with use of the word to describe “a book so good you can’t put it down.” So use of the word to describe an eBook is, in a way, a cute play on words, but Google doesn’t do well with double-meanings!

Aside from the difficulty of searching, though, the concept is a valid one, and it’s useful to have Chapman’s links on it, especially in this posting and in her Delicious links.

Actually, I think I can see in Chapman’s lists that the meaning of the term has evolved in her mind, and I suspect also in the shared mind of the Net. In what seem to be her earlier links, the sites she links really were “pageturner” eBook systems, which tried to simulate the feel of turning pages in a print book. But other, seemingly later, links seem to broaden the concept to include eBook viewing systems that get away from the idea of simulating print books.

Likewise, on the Net generally, at first it seemed like the goal in designing eBooks was to make them feel as much as possible like print books. But as we get used to the idea of eBooks, it becomes clear, I think, that the best way to design eBooks is not the best way to design print books. Print books have advantages, and eBooks have different advantages. The real challenge of designing eBooks is how to convey their nature and content in the small amount of screen space of a computer window.

In thinking about the presentation of an eBook that features pictures, Google Books, I think, has established the principle that the intro screen for the eBook should communicate clearly that the eBook has pictures …

… Which is not to say that the Google Books About this book – Intro screen is perfect. But for now it has set the standard.

PS to Suzanne Chapman: Thanks for confirming my idea that “Pageturners” is a good tag — I’m adding it too. Though I think it’s an “old design” idea for eBooks, I suspect it will continue to be around for a while more.

Finding a heavily illustrated book that’s in both Google Books (GBS) and Internet Archive (IA) gives a good comparison of the strengths and weaknesses in the way illustrated books are presented in these systems.

Shown below are the “intro” pages for the book in the 2 systems. The clear advantage of the GBS intro page is that the sample thumbnails in the lower right make it immediately obvious that the book has COLOR pictures of good quality.

In Internet Archive the main job of intro screen (below) is to direct the user to options to view the book, in the box in the upper left, and there’s no indication that the book contains pictures.

Even after pulling up the DjVu option to view the book — which is a tricky matter, see how to do it here — there’s no intro screen at all in DjVu, just an imposing blank page waiting for the user to change display options or begin paging through the book sequentially.

DjVuIt’s when the user chooses display options and begins viewing the book that the advantages of DjVu become evident. The most important option, especially if pictures are an important part of the book, as they are in the Mracek Atlas book shown here, is to turn on the thumbnail display bar (at left) by clicking the icon in the lower right corner of the DjVu display window. It then becomes easy to scroll through the thumbnails and get a good view of the nature of the pictures in the book, and how they relate to the text. In the Mracek Atlas, it happens that the first third of the book is all text, and the last two-thirds is mostly pictures, so the user can scroll to the pictures easily.

Use of thumbnails is a good way to provide access to pictures in a book. But as simple and obvious as it is, thumbnail access is lacking in most e-book systems, so both GBS and DjVu are to be applauded for providing it, in their different ways. Here’s a comparison of the two systems …

In GBS, the About this book page gives immediate thumbnail access to a maximum of 30 pictures. Additional pictures have no thumbnail access, and can only be found by scrolling through pages or text searching.

DjVu has the disadvantage of having no Intro page that gives an overview of pictures in the book. But when the user knows how to set the display options, it provides good thumbnail access to an unlimited number of pictures. In a book like he Mracek Atlas, with over 100 pictures, this is a definite advantage.

Postscript: It wasn’t easy to find a book that’s in both GBS and IA, so I was especially pleased to find the Mracek Atlas discussed here that has pictures in Hardin MD! The full citation for the book is: Atlas of diseases of the skin, by Franz Mracek, 1899 [GBS | IA]