Thursday, October 23, 2008

One eBook Issue

Regular readers will know what I think of the abominable Kindle. I won't post about it as a thing in itself, only to highlight broader eBook issues, such as in this post:

Can the Kindle Save the L.A. Times?
After my initial infatuation with the LAT Kindle edition wore off, I began to focus on some rather annoying limitations.

* No images of any sort. No diagrams, tables, or illustrations. No photos. No comics. NO COMICS!? No wonder the Kindle edition is cheaper than the print edition.

* Limited skimming. The top stories display a very brief summary. Many of the stories below the virtual fold display only the title. A surprising number of titles are not self explanatory (journalism 101, anyone?), meaning you have to click through to find out what the story is about. The Kindle is not exactly what I would call speedy, so this process can get tedious.

* Paging through the news as opposed to scrolling through the news. The first week of reading the LAT on the Kindle I found myself attempting to scroll through stories using the Kindle scroll wheel. Instead, I had to train myself to use the page buttons. It’s like reading a paperback edition of the LAT, which is something that I find to be completely unnatural.

Strangely, I have no trouble flipping pages on the Kindle when I’m reading books. This scrolling preference is clearly something I’ve developed from reading news online. I suspect this small interface quirk speaks volumes about the Kindle’s suitability as a replacement for reading news online.

* The Kindle is wireless, but it’s not connected. Reading the LAT on the Kindle is like reading an ebook of a newspaper. It’s a straight analog to digital conversion (minus the images and tables) with none of the benefits traditionally associated with digital news distribution.

These are very interesting issues that apply to all eBook devices.

The last one specifically: Don't mistake an eBook reader for, say, an iPhone. eBook readers are best for things that are not -- or have no need to be -- dynamically updated. Such as eBooks!

I don't know about the rest of you, but when I read something, I like to it remain that way for the next time I go back to it. I've read several entries in wikipedia over the years and the changes to those entries have sometimes been dramatic. Now imagine an eBook like that: "Oh, I just read about that. Here let me find it for you ... oh, um, uh, where did it go? Wait, here it is. No it's not. The same title but none of it is what it was before! It doesn't have the passage I remember!" (In fact, I go through that all the time with online news from Bloomberg.)

I think this distinction in function needs to be made clear.

Personally, I don't want things to change in eBooks I buy. The very word "book" implies an unchanging permanence.

If everything we read is going to be dynamic, why bother with the concept of "book" then? No files to download. Everything can stay on the Net and portions downloaded a bit at a time for reading. For free. Infested with ads too.

Won't that be great? Sitting there, quietly reading, then turn the page, and get slapped by an all-dancing, all-Flash, all-talking ad!

I don't think so.

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