Part 2 of my Books in Browsers post. Read part 1 here.
Maureen Evans and Blaine Cook presented Poeti.ca, a really interesting web interface for editing books. Working with an editor is most productive when there is a sense of trust, they said. Poeti.ca helps build that trust, but adding feedback on the “page” the way and editor would write it, instead of using track changes. They studied written editing to replicate how it looks, and so Poeti.ca creates a humane interface, and by making it a web page you can share it with anyone.
It’s more paper-like, and it can become a virtual gathering place around the body of writing. Groups of people can suggest changes instead of making changes, and it has the personality of written commentary, which can hopefully enable conversations, connect people to do more human work, and rekindle the joy in collaborative work with editing.
Teaching the Browser EPUB 3
Bill McCoy of IDPF spoke about Readium, an EPUB 3 reader. Readium makes content accessible for even blind readers, and it can be installed or used in a browser. It’s available in six languages, and has been worked on by multiple contributors. It’s a seamless experience, though McCoy said that developing for the open web platform is still too hard. He said we need to create tools that work together, and we need to talk about books as open web content.
Daniel Buchner from Mozilla spoke about web components. Developers can create custom tags that are parsed directly with other content on a web page (semantic markup). He also talked about having content morph itself for any device, and to be free from default tags so anyone can get involved. Using Mozilla, anyone can layout their content, and build out a system that enables you to build anything. They could build meaningful tages for publishers, that dictate experience and give people the thing they expect from apps, he said.
It’s democratized rich content, which makes it less effort, he said. It will all be in the browser, and won’t require an extension, and it will be shareable on the web as modules. Developers can create custom elements, and it returns the power to users, he said.
Zen and the Art of the Modular Book
Liz Castro gave a talk about modular ebooks. They are short, can get out in a timely manner, and are good for updates and really specific topics, she said. Modular ebooks can also help solve the issue of pricing, she said. Authors can charge less for a smaller book, and it lends itself well to bundling. The one downside, however, is people who aren’t used to modular ebooks may think it’s a complete book and not read the other ebooks that go with it.
Having My Cake
Kate Pullinger is an author who talked about digital fiction projects. She spoke about the networked novel. One example was a Wiki page where anyone could add to it. With this project, over 80,000 people logged in, and 1500 people wrote and edited it. However, one issue was how to control and contain it. It was subject to creative vandalism (passages deleted, for example), but it could be easily reverted to the previous version. One example of creative vandalism was one user changed all the nouns in the text to the word “banana” (his username was bananaman).
It’s a different kind of collaborative project, she said, but the market of digital fiction is an emerging market. Books can be spreadable media, she said, making digital fiction more successful.
The Death of the Ten Dollar Text File
Matt MacInnis from Inkling talked about his company’s strategy. He said that every product needs a way to be built, distributed, and used. But scale doesn’t always solve meaningful problems. Content isn’t trustworthy when built at scale at the cost of all else, he said.
Inkling Habitat is about content discovery. Content discovery is the fundamental reason no innovation is happening on the commercial side, MacInnis said. If no one can discover it, then it’s not really there. And the problem is finding information in the world at large.
People search on Google, he said, but they can’t find books easily there. There is no commercial book content in Google’s index. To appear in Google search, results must be able to directly access with a web reader and have no login barrier upon click. But there are contractual rights to excerpt and distribute, and there needs to be a infrastructure to directly monetize content. There is a granular structure on the web, and Inkling can be used to find books. It allows readers to explore content before getting a pay wall, and purchase a book. They can see content from Google and Twitter and share.
Content found from Google, he said, means higher quality discovery through semantic search. It allows for diversity of formats because Google only favors winners in search, he said. Clicking on a link and not the back button is a vote to become the number one result in a query.
Google says there must be five clicks in content to be on search. Inkling does this by structuring content via paragraphs (or cards), and not by chapters.
Books in Clouds
Ron Martinez from Aerbook talked about designing books in the cloud. He said that architecture really matters, and that having abstraction in the cloud allows for export to any formats. Using Aerbook, publishers can render any parts of the book to the web for social and discovery, and make books in real time for iPhone and iPad, as well as other native apps. Users can publish to the web and to SMS. And they can text a keyword to a phone number, to subscribe.
Matthew Cavnar from Vook said that people can’t just be literate, these days they have to have the appropriate device to read an ebook. Vook generates landing pages for content and links out to a storefront. It also allows readers to download directly to their devices or read content online. By having them purchase from their storefront, they can keep customer information. CSS is key, he said, as well as a markup language compiler and extensible templating. With Vook, there is only one tool that allows you create styles, and it renders the styles for consumption.
Social Book Production
Adam Hyde from FLOSS Manuals talked about book sprints: creating a book in five days, with collaboration. The inspiration came from unconferences, he said, and leading people through a process of mind mapping.
The Written World
Tobias Green from Playlab London talked about gamification. He said that games and books are not as fundamentally different as we might believe. About 26 percent of people who read do so to learn knowledge and discover information. Both books and games tell stories, though books have gained a reputation of telling deep narratives, and game protagonists tend to be silent vessels for players to inhabit, he said.
One example is a cotillion game, he said, rendered in text so it feels like a novel. Both books and games both teach, he said, and it’s impossible to play a game without learning something.
People with high reading levels have a better life, better job, and are happier, Green said. Games can help contribute to research projects, and game mechanics can give a glimpse into people’s mindset. Games can collect points as people go through a narrative and be used to challenge something you don’t agree with. They can also help young people in conflict areas.
People growing up playing games now are the ones who will be consuming literature, Green said.
What Do Readers Want?
Kassia Krozser from Booksquare said that readers spend a lot of their time on the web. Readers also trust friends and strangers to steer them to new content, and they read everything everywhere without regard to traditional publishing boundaries.
The question publishers should ask is, which reader are you creating products for?
- Vacation reader
- Beginning reader
- Audiobooks reader
- Vision impaired reader
Readers want to solve a specific problem or need, Krozser said. Sometimes they want a good cry, or something emotional. Other times they want information or something technological.
A lot of reading systems are cool, but how does it fit into a readers life? How is it better than what they have?
Readers want good metadata, in buying and post buying experience, Krozser said. They don’t know ISBNs or publishers or copyright page information. But, they want to know the actual good description of the book, whether it is out of print or not, the genre, whether or not it has good dialogue. They also want good quality, and content must have value.
Readers are looking for answers to questions, and they don’t care who published or wrote it. If they don’t get the information they want, they will go somewhere else. They want context over containers, and not everything needs to be in book format.
Krozser also said that ebooks should not be treated like print books, access to technology allows content to be read in new and different ways, and reading in the future will mean eyes, ears, touch, taps, and swipes.
The last presentation of the conference was by Kevin Franco from Enthrill. He said it was critical to be device agnostic and to appeal to a mass audience. Enthrill produces title specific gift cards and merchandises them in high traffic locations. They launched on June 8, 2012, in outlets in southern Alberta. 97 percent of its sales are in retail, though there is an online sale component. They reward online sales to individual stores through a patent pending tracking system. There is no value on the gift card until activated by the store, and readers need a redemption code or account sign up to buy online. According to Franco, 39 percent of books are redeemed the same day as purchase, and 25 percent of sales at grocery stores are fiction books.