Notes in the Margin

On the intersection of web apps, digital content and social media

Archive for the ‘eBooks’ Category

Social Reading

There are social networks organized on all kinds of topics. For reading, two popular current sites are Goodreads and Shelfari. In each case, you add books you have read, are reading, or want to read. These titles are then visible to the book-related network of people you define and maintain on that platform. Each platform looks fun and useful – a way to get to know your friends better through the books they read, and to get recommendations on reading material of interest.

There is also a faint social element to reading on the Kindle platform, where you have the option to see passages that are highlighted by others. Amazon describes the feature this way on their web site:

Amazon displays Popular Highlights by combining the highlights of all Kindle customers and identifying the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people. Some books don’t have enough highlighting in them to have Popular Highlights. Popular highlights are marked with a gray dashed underline in your reading. You can see Popular Highlights for all books that have them at

Though intriguing, it’s a very modest social feature, through which you can learn which passages of your current book most people find interesting, a form of crowd-sourcing. It’s easy to imagine someone skimming an entire book by jumping from one popular highlight to the next (which is the very kind of superficial reading the Nicholas Carr bemoans in The Shallows).

But last week a new social reading tool was introduced that seems to be a significant step forward in this arena. Copia was introduced last week referring to itself as “part online bookstore, part social network,” and “the world’s first truly social e-reading platform.” In fact, it promises characteristics of both Goodreads and shared highlights in Kindle, but goes one important step farther. It allows you to create and share with specified friends annotations about specific passages in the book; and of course, you can read the notes of your friends as well.

Reviews of the new platform can be found on Mashable and ReadWriteWeb.

The result is a truly social reading experience which, short of book groups or re-aloud sessions, is more or less unprecedented. It may also be exactly tuned to the “participatory culture” of today’s younger readers, who create meaning socially more than any previous generation. In fact, social reading might be an antidote to the situation observed by Nicholas Carr, cited by college English professors, that students are increasingly having a hard time getting through a novel.

A cautionary note: Copia is riddled with bugs, and the user interface is unintuitive and overly busy. Unless these are addressed, the platform won’t get much attention. But simply as a lead example of an important and emerging social platform for education, it’s worth taking note.


Written by tstaley

November 29, 2010 at 2:54 pm

A Technology World That Revolves Around Me –

Nice insight into the idea that media is less about content and more about context. And the context is personal – you are the starting point. Content will conform to the individual – place, form factor, time of day, etc. – not the other way around.

When people want to know how the media business will deal with the Internet, the best way to begin to understand the sweeping changes is to recognize that the consumer of entertainment and information is now in the center. That center changes everything. It changes your concept of space, time and location. It changes your sense of community. It changes the way you view the information, news and data coming directly to you.

via A Technology World That Revolves Around Me –

Written by tstaley

September 13, 2010 at 11:06 am

What’s the Difference Between a Book and a Web Site?

Today’s post by O’Reilly’s Hugh McGuire is a real head-turner. In it he makes the following observation:

“(W)hat is a book, after all, but a collection of data (text + images), with a defined structure (chapters, headings, captions), meta data (title, author, ISBN), and prettied up with some presentation design? In other words, what is a book, but a website that happens to be written on paper and not connected to the web?”

He goes on to discuss the EPUB standard as a format that is, essentially, a web site container poised to look to consumers and publishers like a self-contained publication. In other words, the platform is already in place as a standard to deploy books as web sites (or portions thereof).

This augurs a convergence that is natural (but terrifying to publishers), in which the content encapsulated in a “book” becomes liberated to be a full participant in the free exchange of information on the web. Clearly Google Books is pushing this convergence, though it always seemed like a lossy integration, with the Google Book content not a full citizen in the life of the web, but some form of  shadow of the actual content. The GBooks’ content can be searched, but not deep linked nor copied and pasted, etc.

This evolution is another inexorable step to the point where content producers – authors, musicians, analysts, software developers – will find their content become part of the public domain, and they will be left in a new business model in which they have to perform for pay, by applying their “intellectual property” to specific times, places and circumstances.

The line between book and Internet will disappear – OReilly Radar.

Written by tstaley

September 10, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Lewis Carroll’s Original, Hand-Written, Alice is Online

Lewis Carroll’s original, hand-crafted version of Alice in Wonderland – titled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” – is available online as a set of images (91 web pages, each with two images for the left and right page).

The effort is remarkable – all hand-written in very neat but casual printing, on unlined pages. The illustrations are also remarkable – apparently only 16 of them, but Carroll was also a talented artist. Finally, the occasional “illumination” – embellishments in the margin – add character a whimsy to the overall effect.

As described on the first of the pages online:

Dodgson was fond of children and became friends with Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell, the young daughters of the Dean of his college, Christ Church. One summer’s day in 1862 he entertained them on a boat trip with a story of Alice’s adventures in a magical world entered through a rabbit-hole. The ten-year-old Alice was so entranced that she begged him to write it down for her. It took him some time to write out the tale – in a tiny, neat hand – and complete the 37 illustrations. Alice finally received the 90-page book, dedicated to ‘a dear child, in memory of a summer day’, in November 1864

Virtual books: images only – Lewis Carrolls Alices Adventures Under Ground: Introduction.

Written by tstaley

March 18, 2010 at 6:24 am

Posted in eBooks

Scribd Makes Online Documents E-Reader and Smartphone-Friendly

As one who really enjoys having Kindle books also available on my iPhone, this sounds like an intriguing new service. I find that I probably do more reading on my iPhone than almost anywhere else – besides my computer that is. Certainly in terms of Kindle content, my iPhone reading outpaces my Kindle reading about 2-to-1. (My favorite feature on Kindle is that it keeps my devices in sync – having read ahead on my iPhone, I’m alerted to the advance when I turn on my Kindle and move to the furthest read location.

Also announced here is the planned capability to convert PDF docs to EPUBS format. This further broadens the content for and appeal of reading on mobile devices.

I just tried the service now, and when using an approved document – a snippet from Walt Whitman – it was delivered neatly to my iPhone (as a web page). Interestingly, I also have a copy of Emerson’s Self-Reliance, which as far as I know, having been published in 1839 or thereabouts, should be in the public domain. So I was interested and surprised when I got the following notification back from Scribd via email:

We have removed your document “Self Reliance” (id: 27517883) because our text matching system determined that it was very similar to a work that has been marked as copyrighted and not permitted on Scribd.

Like all automated matching systems, our system is not perfect and occasionally makes mistakes. If you believe that your document is not infringing, please contact us at and we will investigate the matter.

I must say I am impressed that they take the care to this kind of background checking, and I salute them for being cautious when it comes to copyright. Guess I’ll have to go research the copyright law, or the specific copyright around Emerson’s work…

Scribd Makes Online Documents E-Reader and Smartphone-Friendly.

Written by tstaley

February 26, 2010 at 10:51 am

Posted in eBooks

E-Reads: The Medium is The Screen. The Message is Distraction

“My own research shows that people are continually distracted when working with digital information. They switch simple activities an average of every three minutes (e.g. reading email or IM) and switch projects about every 10 and a half minutes. It’s just not possible to engage in deep thought about a topic when we’re switching so rapidly.”

This is the opening of a sobering post from last fall, which I’ve just stumbled upon (as I willfully strayed from another article). I’m sure most would agree that reading and writing on and for the web is a different art, and one less inclined to the depth and introspection of their physical analogs.

Sandra Aamodt, former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, writes that “people read more slowly on screen, by as much as 20-30 percent… Distractions abound online — costing time and interfering with the concentration needed to think about what you read.”

The context was put perhaps most pointedly by David Gelernter, who described the move to e-reading and e-writing as “the cheapening of the word.” He describes an environment in which,

“…text messages buzz around the room and bounce off the walls, each as memorable as a housefly; where the narrowing time between writing for and publishing on the Web is helping to kill the art of editing by crushing it to death.”

Since the e-reading and e-writing phenomenon is here to stay, the only way out (as Robert Frost wrote) is through. We may all need to learn again how (and when) to read and write deliberately, with depth and introspection.

E-Reads: The Medium is The Screen. The Message is Distraction.

Written by tstaley

February 24, 2010 at 7:29 am

Posted in eBooks

Flat World Knowledge, a publisher of open textbooks

Thanks again to Peter O’Kelly for this reference. This new company, Flat World Knowledge, is looking to make books free online, in HTML and PDF formats, but available for a fee published – on demand, which would be the primary revenue source.

The philosophy behind the business:

Publishers need to be device-agnostic in the broadest sense. The printed book is one of the devices we target.

Talking with Eric Frank and Jon Williams about Flat World Knowledge, a commercial publisher of open textbooks « Jon Udell.

Written by tstaley

February 23, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Posted in eBooks