A Couple of Thought-Provoking Quotes
Amazon's Next Move

Rethinking "Rich Content"

Lightbulb The inspiration for this post came from my most recent (and probably final) Kindle book edition purchase.  The book is called Kiss It Good-bye and it's the story of the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates.  How could a Kindle edition book about a baseball season 50 years ago have anything to do with rich content?

Let me start by saying what I mean by "rich content."  Many in the publishing industry are trying to figure out how to integrate video with text.  A book or article featuring step-by-step or how-to content might benefit from the addition of video, for example.  In fact, video tends to get most of the attention when anyone talks about rich content.  Most people either yawn or note that they'd prefer to not have to navigate around a bunch of video inserted into whatever book they're reading.  Good point.

When I bought Kiss It Good-bye I started thinking about ways it could offer rich content without being intrusive.  Although none of what I'm about to say could be supported on today's Kindle platform, it all started there...

If you own a Kindle you're familiar with the built-in dictionary.  You scroll to the line with the word you want to look up, click a couple of times and the definition appears.  Pretty simple.

Now apply a similar approach on the iPad.  You find a word you want to look up, touch it on the screen and a menu appears, hovering over the book page.  This menu not only has an option to look up the word you've selected, but other options as well.  For example, let's say I highlighted "Pittsburgh Pirates."  The menu options might include look-up's to the team's entry in the Wikipedia or the Pirates official website.  That's just the beginning though.

Now let's say you get to a chapter where the author discusses the events of "Game 7 from the 1960 World Series".  Selecting that string shows a menu with a variety of options including the game's box score.  That chapter will undoubtedly talk about the game's hero, Bill Mazeroski.  Touch his name and the resulting menu would include links to Mazeroski's career stats as well as a video of his exciting, series-winning home run.

In short, the book would be filled with all sorts of hooks to other content but none of it would interrupt the reading process.  No underlined words indicating links.  Nothing extra shows up till you touch a word or phrase on your screen, but it's all there waiting for you to discover it.

Up to now I've talked about integrating links to content from websites, but there's no reason you couldn't also build it out with related content from other books, magazines, newspapers, etc.  This builds upon the "network effect" Bob Pritchett talked about at our recent TOC conference (and I blogged about here).

Now the hard part: How do you build in all these connections?  If it's a manual process it simply won't scale.  I believe some level of automation is required for this to be successful.

One option is to put the book through something similar to the indexing process, but in this case, every word/phrase in it is run though a tool that pulls back all the top relevant links from the web, other books, etc. Handwork is required to ensure the best links make the final cut, but over time you're building a database of reusable links.  So every time you refer to the same team, player, etc., you wouldn't be starting from scratch.  Web links change over time though, of course, so verification would still be a required step.

The key is to make all this content accessible but not intrusive.  Maybe it requires a new authoring tool.  Or perhaps it's something that could be built into a publishing company's existing toolchain for editorial and production.  Either way, it's something I believe could turn static books into richer content products, without interrupting the natural flow of the original work.

With its full-color touch screen and 3G/wifi connectivity, the iPad is the perfect device for this, btw.  Do you see a opportunity for a product like this?


Peter Meyers

Love these ideas. "Accessible but not intrusive" should be a mantra for everyone thinking about creating enhanced ebook content. And I think you're onto something with the notion of combining human editing skills with automation. Anyone interested in these ideas should see my TOC presentation (Book Meets Tablet ; skip ahead to the 4 minutes 35 seconds mark) for a look at how this kind of implementation would help a novel or non-fiction book. I created a prototype showing character summaries for the novel "Pride & Prejudice".

Luca Fabbri

The specific rich content associated to a certain element of the book can have such an impact on the reading experience as a whole that the choice of content ought to be part of the authoring process. The "rich content" should not be something "different" - it is an integral part of a product that is not just static text anymore.

You almost want to have several layers of rich content: what the author produced, what the editorial process picked, and finally what the e-reader tool choses automagically (based on list of trusted sources and some contextual analysis).

The choice of intrusiveness should be left to the reader: I may opt for an undisturbed linear reading experience in one case, but prefer more richness of content in another.

Kathy Sierra

...and I believe we'll all be better served when we shift from a books/readers/authors mindset to thinking of what we craft as "user experiences". As a writer, I suck. Only if I design and build user/learning experiences, can I create bestsellers.

This is such an exciting time... we can finally look at what books are *for* rather than what they *are*, and design/build/deliver experiences that support the use-cases of those who matter: the people-formerly-known-as-readers. For some experiences (and some users), that will still mean *reading*. For others, it will mean a hybrid of reading + other things. And for still others, the actual "reading" may slip into the deep background in much the same way we quickly forget we're watching a subtitled film, despite the importance of the text.

(p.s. personal note: I'm choosing to view my long-delayed book as: I was simply waiting for the iPad to come along so I could FINALLY do what's right for the book--or rather, for the *users* of this tool-formerly-known-as-a-book)

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