It’s not eContent in the book sense, but I think there’s a lot to be learned from how mlb.com (Major League Baseball) has taken the traditional box score and turned it into a dynamic gem. Take a look at the screen below:
Everything I need to know about the game can be found in that one small window. In fact, it’s small enough to be tucked on one side of my monitor, allowing me to do other things while keeping an eye on the game.
What’s so great about it? It’s an excellent example of how to layer content. For example, Tim Hudson is the fellow on the left (with the Atlanta Braves hat on). You can’t see it in this static screen shot, but if you hover your mouse over his picture, a nifty little screen scrolls out to the right (covering the black box between the pictures) and shows Hudson’s current pitch count and other statistics. If you’re looking for more information on Jose Valentin, the other fellow pictured above, you can hover your mouse over his picture and his recent at-bat information is displayed. See the playing field on the left? Wonder how Nady got to first base? Just hover over his name and the information pops up. MLB also uses a tabbed interface on many of the other boxes on this screen, enabling you to quickly flip to a different view of the information. I encourage you to take a look at a game in progress and click on the various elements to get a first-hand look at this wonderful interface.
What does this have to do with books? I think it’s a great example of how a boring old block of information (the box score) can be reinvented as a rich, new product. Another important point: It delivers the basics and encourages users to explore so they can discover more information if they want to.
What if you could carry that concept over to an e-book platform? Each bite-size chunk of information is presented in one small screen, allowing you to drill down deeper to get more information, but only if you want to. Access to additional steps, background information, sidebar notes, etc., would all be available from that screen (via links), at a deeper level to keep that primary screen as clean and simple as possible. This wouldn’t work for a novel or a tutorial, but it’s a great way to structure a reference work.
Most e-books today are nothing more than the PDF equivalent of the printed book. No wonder sales are modest and interest is low. A layered content approach for a reference book, similar to what mlb.com has done with their product, is a much more interesting solution. This solution requires publishers to take a completely different look at the content and spend the money required to rework it in a layered framework with this sort of presentation model in mind.