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In Search of the Perfect Computer Book

I’m going out on a limb here to say that the “perfect” computer book has yet to be published. Code errors, incorrect steps, typos, etc., somehow manage to infiltrate the book no matter how meticulous the development editor, copy editor and tech editor are. Everyone involved in the project generally works hard to eliminate the problems. It’s human nature to want to do a good job, right? It’s also human nature to make mistakes.

Some publishers don’t like to promote the fact that errata exist – they feel it’s an unnecessary admission of a less than perfect system. I don’t like to see errors in my books any more than the next publisher, but:

  1. I’m willing to admit they happen,
  2. I want to get corrections to customers as quickly/easily as possible, and, most importantly,
  3. I want to continue looking for ways to improve the system.

I think every book page on a publisher’s website should have an errata link. Shouldn’t we go further though and offer errata via RSS feeds so that customers won’t have to hunt for the corrections? Is this something you would like to see? What other suggestions do you have?


Cori Schlegel (kinrowan)

My thoughts?

A wiki? A blog? More dynamic communication between readers and the publishers (even better if you can get the author to be involved).

A more expanded comment at the blog entry in the trackbaks...


Dave Taylor

Joe, great post - as always - but I think you have a fundamental flaw in your thinking here, because achieving perfection assumes that there's a concrete, tangible, quantifiable goal or end point. That there's a version of whatever the author is writing about that's "done".

But software and technology are fluid, constantly changing, updated, patched, debugged, bugged, hacked, subverted, etc etc etc. So I put it to you that it's impossible to achieve perfection in an imperfect, dynamic world.


cori schlegel

Dave - Doesn't Joe deal with that issue? I read his post as acknowledging that you can never realy get to perfect. I guess I just set that issue aside as a given. The meat of his question, as I see it, is what changes to the book publishing process can make the experience *more* perfect for the consumer.

From the publisher's point of view there *is* a version that's "done". It's the one that gets to the printer. After that - in the current publishing model - anything additional is gravy. Joe seems to be looking for a way to subvert that model and come up with one that's able to account for the dynamic nature of the software industry. At least that's what I hope he's doing ;)

Jim Minatel

I like the idea of using some kind of online method for exposing errors and their corrections. Whether this is a wiki, RSS, forums, or something else, they're all just tools, and they each have flaws or limits.

RSS would be a great addition to the errata posts we're already doing, giving readers an easier way to find errata. Hopefully, each book's errata RSS feed would be fairly low traffic volume. But it might be easy to miss 1 errata post a month if you follow 1000 RSS feeds.

Wikis and forums are both prone to false positive reports of errors. In those cases, the author, editor, or another reader then has to correct the misinformation. There's the real potential for a reader to be led down a wrong path by another reader who is posting an error report that hasn't been through any sort of vetting. And if you go to a moderated system that vets all error reports and corrections for accuracy before releasing them publicly, that creates a moderation bottleneck that defeats some of the utility of a wiki or forum.

I'm not saying that any of these ideas might not be steps forward, but they may not be as helpful as we'd hope.

Joe Wikert

Tech books in particular come with a unique set of challenges. Dave is right about the fluid nature of our products. I tried an experiment a few years ago called the “Unlimited Edition”: we promised to add new chapters and other content to the book’s website on a regular basis. We basically added a chapter or an article-length piece every month. Despite the online nature of the audience, the website had extremely low traffic levels. It was an interesting idea but one that didn’t have enough perceived value for our customers.

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