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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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    Monday, June 04, 2007

    Anti-social software? Is this an unintentional promo for e-book readers?

    if:book has just highlighted a new offering from Google - in the Official Google Reader Blog there is an announcement for Google Gears - a browser plug-in that allows off-line reading. By which it means it will - when prompted - download your latest 2,000 items so that you can read or re-read them offline... on a flight, if you will. Thus bringing an online RSS reader into line with conventional desktop readers such as Great News (which I use)!

    Slightly more interesting was if:book's assertion that you can:
    take a chunk of the network offline with you for a more sustained, "bounded" engagement... This could be expanded into a whole new way of reading (and writing) networked books. Having your own copy of a networked document.
    I have two comments to make on this. Firstly e-book readers have been around for a long time and are now, with the latest generation of eInk and electronic paper-based readers offering both a very acceptable reading experience (see previous post) and the ability to carry a small library.

    Secondly, if we start using e-book readers with the networked book (or the social book, or blooks), we are at one step removing their much-vaunted interactive, social raison d'etre, and loosing the immediacy and currency of the creation process. What distinguishes a networked book from an e-book is the possibility (indeed, the intention in its design) of interacting with the author or editor as you read it. Remove that, and you have an e-book, plus an e-mail sent later in the day! You also have a private version of the networked book which is fixed in time and may be out-of-date by the time the download is complete.

    This seems to me muddled thinking by The Institute for the Future of the Book ("The printed page is giving way to the networked screen. The Institute for the Future of the Book seeks to chronicle this shift, and impact its development in a positive direction..."). On the one hand they are producing very elegant software to support social authoring, and on the other, they are suggesting that a networked book can "be experienced whole (or close to whole) without a network connection". I have always seen the networked book as an important sub-genre of born-digital e-books - the distinction lies in the progressive and visible authoring process and the continuous reader interaction - readers can and do share the growth of the book from virtual page-one onwards, and can comment to the author (and to other readers) as they so do. Certainly, a snapshot-in-time of a networked book can be read offline, but - much more importantly than with RSS feeds - this has to be distinguished from living-breathing-growing networked book online.

    Perhaps we need a new term: 'the virtually-social book'; 'the temporary book'; 'the un-networked book'...

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