Your e-books are about to get a big IQ boost

From CNet:

Generations of college students have lugged expensive textbooks around campus. But a few years from now, students could shuck that burden as web technology radically changes what exactly a book is.

Imagine a chemistry book with a pop-up periodic table of the elements for instant reference, a sucrose molecule that rotates under your fingertip to show its 3D structure, a video demonstration of titration procedures, a chat box to message the professor and a built-in quiz that directs you to any subjects you didn’t understand. Oh, and it’ll be updated continuously so it won’t go out of date as soon as element 118 gets named oganesson.

Sound far-fetched? This e-book future is possible thanks to the World Wide Web Consortium’s absorption of the International Digital Publishing Forum, keepers of the Epub standard for e-books. On Wednesday, the W3C and IDPF announced their merger plans are complete.

The merger means that e-books are going to get a lot smarter thanks to a deeper embrace of web technology. While it’s simple for web browsers to show video and offer a quiz, it’s well beyond what you’ll see in e-books that you read on your Amazon Kindle. Expect that to change in coming years as e-books play a bigger role on your laptop or tablet.

. . . .

Books printed on paper will remain important, but e-books are where much of the next generation will learn, said Rick Johnson, co-founder of education e-book seller VitalSource, now part of publisher Ingram Content. VitalSource sells 18 million digital titles to 4 million people at 7,000 campuses.

“When you talk about people in college or pre-college or who are learning on the job or as a part of their job, they need web technologies,” Johnson said. “That’s how they’re learning now. I can’t imagine training somebody on a job or in a school without being able to show them video, without being able to quiz them and show them results.”

Link to the rest at CNet

22 thoughts on “Your e-books are about to get a big IQ boost”

  1. “Imagine a chemistry book with a pop-up periodic table of the elements for instant reference, a sucrose molecule that rotates under your fingertip to show its 3D structure, a video demonstration of titration procedures, a chat box to message the professor and a built-in quiz that directs you to any subjects you didn’t understand.”

    Hey, sounds like what you can do on that internet thingy! You’ve seen all this already if you’ve taken any online classes.

    So, they’re going to copy some web pages into a file and claim it’s an ebook?

    (Sorry for the smirk, But I’ve been doing that since the late ’90s. Was on dial-up and stumpled on this little web crawler called ‘webcopier’ that would save web pages to your local drive. I’ve forgotten the number of times I’ve been asked how I was getting a signal when my netbooks’ Wi-fi was off.)

    Sorry, it’s no longer an ‘ebook’ but just another ‘Enhanced Ebooks’, more of which you can find clicking the right hand link.

  2. “While it’s simple for web browsers to show video and offer a quiz, it’s well beyond what you’ll see in e-books that you read on your Amazon Kindle. Expect that to change in coming years as e-books play a bigger role on your laptop or tablet…”

    Magical thinking.

    Instead, textbooks–ebook or print–will play an ever-diminshing role, replaced by the same ubiquitous web browser the article briefly mentions in passing: an irreversible shift that’s already happening in schools all over the world, and one that will only accelerate.

    • There’s a reason school systems are adopting Chromebooks instead of iPads. All they need is a cheap terminal to connect to the centralized servers.
      Cheaper to set up, cheaper to maintain.

      • But they do need that centralized server. 24/7/365 isn’t quite there yet. Close, but if it goes down while you’re using it…

        • Schools don’t need (nor can they afford) 24x7x365.
          As long as it’s up during school hours/months they’re fine.

          Sometimes good enough is good enough.
          (Or as Adam Osbourne used to say “adequacy is sufficient.)

          Back in the days of the Corporate Reengineering Fad…

          https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000FC13HW/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

          …one critical issue they addressed was “the perfect library syndrome”: when you assign an expert to design a system, they will tend to design the best system they know how, which may not necessarily be the system *you* need. Which in a corporate environment means wasted capability that brings no added v alye to operations or products and is thus wasted money.

          Epub3 being the perfect example of this: a gold-plated uber-format that tries to be everything to everybody and ended being nothing useful to what should’ve been its core audience. More, even when those customers–traditional publishing–asked for a slimmed down version that focused on their needs (an epub2.5) the consortium failed to deliver.

          Instead of epub3, the commercial ebook market has moved to KF8 and iBooks and epub lingers in the single digits for market share.

          Small wonder they are being phased out via merger.

          • Schools don’t need (nor can they afford) 24x7x365.
            As long as it’s up during school hours/months they’re fine.

            The University of Texas School of Law had two server farms: one for the Macs and one for the PCs. They ran 7 days a week during the term and kept library hours (7am – midnight during the term, 7am – 2am during finals). More often than not, I was still in the library at 9pm. The library couches on the 4th floor are long enough to stretch out and quite comfortable.

          • Probably not 24/7/365 – but school systems need to be up a lot more than just school hours and months.

            My second go-round at college, whenever I referenced a work from the online library, it promptly got copied to my hard drive, and DRM stripped from it. I knew that I would inevitably be in the middle of getting a paper written just when a server maintenance cycle came along (or my internet provider had an issue, or…).

            It’s not all that bad to have a “gold standard,” either, even if it is not implementable right now. You have a road map at least for when the hardware and/or software catches up with the possibilities. Kindle, for example, now handles just about everything in the HTML 5 standard, which has opened up the device to a lot of possibilities – and is not an Amazon-only proprietary mess. (The browser wars were, and still are to some extent, an absolute nightmare for developers.)

            • Gold standards and roadmaps don’t sell product.
              Features don’t sell product, benefits do.

              While the interoperable epub world twiddled its thumbs waiting for epub3 to get even a working demo, Amazon and Apple cherrypicked the few benefits that *would* sell (and in Amazon’s case, could be implemented in updates to the bulk of the installed base) and ran with it for years.

              The main reason why proprietary tech beats committee standards like epub3 is customer focus. KF8 and ibook target actual existing markets why epub3 targets non-existent markets, hoping to jumpstart them and held their current supporters hostage to those blu-sky ambitions.

              What they needed to produce was a modular spec that addressed existing market needs while allowing the rendering engine to accept optional future plugins to address those markets if they ever materialized. Which they probably will…in a decade or two.

              They pretty much future-proofed epub out of the market.

          • I’m talking K-12 which these days is the domain of chromebooks. They do not need the high availability systems of, say, a bank.
            Nor can they afford it.

            • Having managed Bank Internet facing systems, it’s actually far easier to provide that sort of availability than you guys seem to think.

              This is ignoring the option of hosting the servers on Amazon (because the heaviest load is going to during school hours, within the borders of the schools)

              If you are equipping multiple schools, it’s pretty easy to make them redundant for each other for any sort of data retrieval needs.

              There is a subset of things involving manipulation of data stored by the students where this is harder, but if you narrow the scope of what is hard to do, you find that you can frequently get away with not doing it.

              For example, if the only think that can’t be done if a school’s computers go offline is test taking or grading, everyone can accept “Class X wasn’t able to take the test because the system was down, So they get an extra day”

      • Chromebooks connect to Google’s servers. Not only is the hardware simpler, but the Gnomes at Google have put together a really nifty management system that blows Apple and Microsoft out of the water. The accounts, the permissions, the email, the document storage, everything is managed through google, and the console that lets a school system do that is well-thought out. It’s all on the Internet. The schools don’t need to buy servers or software or anything. Our kids school has it. Every kid gets a google services account underneath the school’s domain. All the school has to do, really, is load their student roster and go. Because it’s all in the cloud, one chromebook is as good as another, so they just take one out of a rolling lockable rack. Believe me, Google has won this one.

  3. The potential of hypertext in non-fiction has been barely tapped. The big question for me is link rot or sources that are taken down after publication. The disappearance of climate data under authoritarian states comes to mind.

    • And that’s why you need actual ebooks (enhanced) rather than just a framework of links, because you need to:

      1) Provide an intellectual context, not just a page of links, and,

      2) Own or license the component pieces of enhancement so that they can function in a single package, which means,

      3) You can prepare new editions (possibly for free or as a subscription) as better component pieces become available, or the intellectual context evolves.

      Just because all the enhanced components exist online doesn’t mean there’s no labor involved in constructing a proper learning platform for a topic.

      • In my first experimental hypertext, (non-fiction) I used quite a number of external links. So far, no one has ever contacted me to tell me a link had gone or the content removed. No one has ever complained about my linking to their material, quite frankly, some of them are probably happy for the exposure. I give a few away, but there is also a price on the book. Bearing in your points, I wouldn’t have a problem with credible Commons-type material, or public domain, etc., depending on the license. For a text-book, with high markup and author credibility a prime concern, I concede that your view is the correct one. Big publishers are targets for lawsuits in any case. The perception is that they have lots and lots of money. In terms of putting it in context, my hypertext, Love, Sex, Money and Death in the 21st Century has all kinds of contextual matter of a speculative nature.

  4. Not technical enough to comment on the hyptertext stuff, but link rot is an issue I’ve experienced personally, on my blog. After almost five years, some of my older posts have become totally irrelevant because the links they relied on are no longer available [for whatever reason]. The internet is an unofficial co-operative, and we forget that at our peril.

    • Peter Winkler, Printed books are valuable because the power never fails. However, because paper is not forever, perhaps it is better that we chisel the text into stone, n’est pas? 😉 (I do not admit that I speak French.)

  5. And yet folks are out there scanning pulp magazines (and other genres as well) because paper rots and crumbles. God love ’em, because my pulp collection was fair to nigh unreadable due to brittleness.

    And link rot – I found an old bookmark list from the 90s and nearly all of the links had died in the last 20 years.

    As for ebook formats, as long as Calibre will let me convert them to the format my reader prefers, I don’t care how many publishers like or dislike them.

    Though I do despise ibooks, and, to a lesser extent, amazon’s custom formats.

    • here we go again, Amazon just picked a different standard (mobi) to base their product on.

      given what was posted above about the history of epub, it’s hard to say that what they did was wrong.

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