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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.


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    Thursday, March 30, 2006

    e-books: Book 2.0??

    I have blogged here before about the ethics of 'the book reading you' and Google collecting information about its e-book readers and also, more recently, on the lost opportunity of Google's 'plain-vanilla' offerings. On this point, Lorcan Demsey quoted Paul Kedrosky in Business 2.0:
    The current obsession with simplicity beats making products stupidly complex. But it's built on at least one false premise, that less is more. More is more, and it always has been and always will be. Good products can and should be feature-rich, laden with information and easy to use. [Business 2.0 April 2006]
    But to return to today's theme: the future of e-books. O'Reilly Radar blog quoted Gregory Crane, writing in D-Lib Magazine, who asked the provocative question, What can you do with a million books?.
    "Vast collections based on image books - raw digital pictures of books with searchable but uncorrected text from OCR - could arguably retard our long-term progress, reinforcing the hegemony of structures that evolved to minimize the challenges of a world where paper was the only medium of distribution and where humans alone could read."
    As they say, "many of his arguments are targeted to librarians and scholars rather than a tech audience [and] he frames the issues beautifully for anyone thinking about the future of the book" What Gregory Crane is saying is that page images and/or plain-vanilla text are not sufficient; for e-books to truly succeed, publishers have to enhance the paper-oriented pages with electronic- or Web-oriented value.

    Which is beginning to happen.

    Publishers add value by 'building in' dictionaries and encyclopaedia, by allowing bookmarking and contextual note taking, by bringing together libraries (cf. Cliff Lynch in the 1990s: we should not be thinking of e-books but e-libraries) and allowing searching across the whole collection.

    But this is as nothing compared to open-source software being developed by The Institute for the Future of the Book, which will enable readers and writers to have conversations inside of books. Their blog entry, The Social Life of Books, says:
    exchanges through comments and social annotation. I touched on this idea of books as social software in my most recent "The Book is Reading You" post, and we're exploring it right now through our networked book experiments with authors Mitch Stephens, and soon, McKenzie Wark, both of whom are writing books and opening up the process (with a little help from us) to readers.
    Its not an entirely new idea - quite apart from Terry Pratchett and Marvin Minsky of MIT: "Can you imagine that they used to have libraries where the books didn't talk to each other?" - Cliff Lynch wrote about it in "The battle to define the future of the book in the digital world" in First Monday. He wrote:
    What might the books in a personal digital library be saying to each other? They might well be sending inventories of holdings and reading patterns upstream to each publisher that has provided books that are part of the collection, so that the owner of the personal digital library can be notified of new books to add to the collection; they might be trading statistics about how often each book is being consulted, and through what search terms. As e-book readers morph into personal digital libraries, we need to think about what information is being shared, and with whom.
    So, times that are both exciting and concerning in the e-book world. e-Books will offer so much more than paper books (although, probably, never quite the same bibliophile, collect-me, touchy-feely experience) but at the same time publishers, libraries and readers have to think about the ethical aspects of books reporting back to base; of books 'talking to each other' - creating links and notes to and in each other; of books organising and adding to your collection for you.

    And returning to the points made by Gregory Crane, are digitisation programmes necessarily a Good Thing? Only if they do more than reinforce the old paper-based model.

    It's all very Web 2.0 and Library 2.0: even Book 2.0...

    Which by chance is the title of a Seminar at which I am speaking at the start of May. Look our for:

    Book 2.0: The Genie is out of the Bottle - on Thursday, May 4. The meeting will run from
    9:00 to 5:00 at the London Euston Novotel, 100-110 Euston Road which is near The British Library. No web link yet, but the seminar is organised by the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers and the contact is:
    jkuta@nyc.rr.com

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