Blog Category: ebooks

More details please!

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According to a story in Palo Alto Online, the Stanford Medical school will be rolling out iPads to its incoming class. Apparently, the devices will be used to hold electronic versions of medical textbooks. The article quotes Dr. Prober, an associate dean with the Stanford medical school. It’s interesting to note that this program doesn’t appear to be based on any real insight into how medical students learn; instead, the standard enumeration of putative advantages of multimedia are trotted out, including “virtual cadavers for dissection labs.” Unfortunately, it’s not at all clear from the article whether the iPads will do anything but display textbooks (no specific app for doing that is mentioned, however).

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BooksOnline’10 papers


The BooksOnline’10 workshop to be held in conjunction with the CIKM 2010 conference in Toronto this fall will include keynote addresses by James Crawford (Google Books) and by John Ockerbloom (University of Pennsylvania). It will also feature the following papers, which will ultimately appear in the ACM Digital Library.

  • HCI Design Principles for eReaders. Jennifer Pearson (Swansea University), George Buchanan (City University) and Harold Thimbleby (Swansea University)
  • The sBook: Towards Social and Personalized Learning Experiences. Myriam Ribière, Jérome Picault and Sylvain Squedin (Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs France)
  • Real-Time Document Collaboration Using iPads. Jennifer Pearson (Swansea University) and George Buchanan (City University)
  • Ebooks Children Would Want to Read and Engage with. Monica Landoni (University of Lugano)
  • A System for the Collaborative Reading of Digital Books with the Partially Sighted. W. Xavier Snelgrove and Ronald M. Baecker (University of Toronto)
  • Implementing New Knowledge Environments: Building Upon Research Foundations to Understand Books and Reading in the Digital Age. Ray Siemens and Julie Meloni (University of Victoria)
  • Working with First Nations: On-Demand Book Service. Nadia Caidi and Margaret Lam (University of Toronto)
  • Biblioteca de Livros Digitais: The Privileged Space of a Transliterate Experience. Fernanda Bonacho (Universidade Nova de Lisboa)
  • The Active Reading Task for Evaluating E-books. Monica Landoni (University of Lugano)

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Et tu, Nook?

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After a round of price reductions, Nook has now joined Amazon Kindle in offering a software application to read books on Android devices. I take this as more evidence in support of my earlier assertion that dedicated book reading hardware is not useful for customer who also carry other  devices such as smart phones or tablets, and that multi-purpose devices will win out in the not-so-distant future.

Papers, now with notes

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I was excited to see annotations mentioned in the description of the updated Papers app for the iPad, but was disappointed in the execution. They added two kinds of annotations: text notes and highlighted passages. While both are useful for active reading and appropriate given the characteristics of the device, the implementation left a lot to be desired.

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Links and chains

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Hereford Cathedral Chained Library, Hereford, England

I came across an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education on St. Leo’s University, whose library is investing heavily in electronic titles for its students. This makes sense for them because a large number of their students are off-campus (and perhaps even off-continent). The article didn’t go into much detail on how students would actually read these books (other than to mention “computers, smartphones, and iPads”). I expect that most of the interaction with the books will consist of clicking on links in a browser, without the benefit of interfaces for active reading.

What intrigued me more were the comments, particularly the one by zenbrarian, who pointed out that the way these e-libraries are typically implemented is by the library obtaining electronic access to titles without actually hosting the books themselves. It makes sense if a library doesn’t want to get too deeply into the IT business, but it does mean that the publish not only retains the right to jack up the fees at will, but also maintains control over who gets to read the books.

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Can you patent a page turn?

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In a recent Bits column, Nick Bilton wrote about a Microsoft patent application that claims a curling page transition when flipping pages on a touch display. Very much the sort of thing you find on the iBooks app on the iPad, and on other applications. Very much the sort of thing that Ian Witten’s group has been writing about for years. I am not an expert on patents, but it seems to me that various aspects claimed by the Microsoft patent can be found in the following papers:

  • Chu, Y., Witten, I. H., Lobb, R., and Bainbridge, D. 2003. How to turn the page. In Proceedings of the 3rd ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (Houston, Texas, May 27 – 31, 2003). International Conference on Digital Libraries. IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, 186-188.
  • Liesaputra, V., Witten, I. H., and Bainbridge, D. 2007. Lightweight realistic books: the greenstone connection. In Proceedings of the 7th ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (Vancouver, BC, Canada, June 18 – 23, 2007). JCDL ’07. ACM, New York, NY, 502-502.

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Listen to the students

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Recently, I came across an interesting article on students’ attitudes to reading online vs. in textbooks. The article appeared  in the Nieman Reports, published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Esther Wojcicki, a teacher, relates her students’ reactions to being asked to read online. She reports that

…early in the school year many of these students had written a fiery editorial about e-textbooks in their social studies classes. In part it read, “… online textbooks hinder study habits and force the use of computers. … and are detrimental to learning and inconvenient.” The editorial concluded with these words: “If the school wishes to cultivate the use of e-books, it should at the very least offer students the option to continue using the old, hardcover books.”

The teacher thought that six months of use of online reading devices (she doesn’t say which, but I am assuming that a Kindle device was involved, since she says that this happened before the iPad was released) would accustom students to the new medium. She was wrong.

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Smooth ink on the iPad

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To try to understand the software limitations of inking on the iPad, I had earlier described an ad hoc writing experiment I had conducted on some free iPad applications designed for drawing. The goal was to understand whether the software imposed any fundamental limitations on marking on an iPad using a finger or a stylus. Because the device is designed to be operated with a finger, there seem to be some hardware-based limitations on the size of the tip of the stylus that prevent the kind of fine-grained visual feedback one needs to write. My conclusion at the time was that there was something wrong with the way applications got stroke data from the device that made all of them track so poorly.

It appears that I was over-generalizing. First, given the capabilities of the iPad platform to download and render video,  it seems unlikely that the hardware is not capable of providing events fast enough; the question was really about the software. A reader of this blog pointed out that I had missed the Penultimate app, and this app was apparently quite good at handling ink. I had indeed not tested it because at the time I was testing only free apps.

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CFP: BooksOnline ’10

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The BooksOnline ’10 workshop will be held on October 26, 2010 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in conjunction with the CIKM 2010 conference. The goal of the workshop is to bring together researchers with interests related to various aspects online reading, including digital collections, user experience, and design and technology. See the Call for Papers for a more detailed description of relevant topics. The workshop is organized by Gabriella Kazai (Microsoft Research, UK) and Peter Brusilovsky (University of Pittsburgh).

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Kindle’s fate

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Last week I made a handshake bet that Amazon will stop selling the Kindle device in a year’s time. Today I am putting it in writing. Amazon will stop selling its devices for several reasons: because the margins are higher on books, because ultimately people won’t want to have multiple, specialized devices with significantly-overlapping functions, and because the devices themselves are quite limited.
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