A magic formula for ebooks

I don’t like the word “ebook”. I am one of the few people who still hyphenate e-mail, and so when I see ebook I think of it as a trendy word with plenty of hyperbole connected to it. Electronic isn’t what we use to describe this stuff, we call it digital. And yet d-mail never caught on…

Anyhow, when I say ebook, I really just mean long form text that utilizes this new set of standards and formats to essentially give the digital version of books and magazines. And when I say “magic formula”, I mean here are some thoughts on what would just be so kick ass, I gotta get this idea out there.

As for the actual formula:

OPDS-enabled server + “Code” repository + Reader application/device

What this adds up to is a collaborative and shared digital libraries. If you replace those values with actual software/hardware, you could get something set up that is relatively easy to maintain:

Calibre/Lucicat/Pathagar + Git + FBReader

Um, why?

The idea for this came to me when as I’ve been reading the Google Bookstore version of Pride and Prejudice. After just a single chapter I switched from the EPUB file to the scans of the original pages. There are just too many errors, and for some inexplicable reason, the last paragraph of each chapter is cut off. It sucks, because I really enjoy the interface, with the auto-formatting pages and optimal font size. Fortunately, on the tablet the original pages seem to be at scale, so it is fine reading it that way.

At any rate, I started thinking to myself, I wish I could submit the errors… and then it all came crashing down onto me. I don’t have to rewrite the entire book, checking for errors left and right. But if I catch one here and there, and everyone is doing the same thing, we could have a decent book, edited and published in no time at all! Of course, this is what the internet is for! We can map editions to versions! And push the changes to the readers so their books are always up to date!

! ! !

I am just so excited about this, because it is such a new way of thinking about books. Of course it raises a whole new set of issues, but this is a problem worth tackling! And while it would be a great way to decentralize the effort transcribe the classics, it also offers a new way of publishing for authors.

The other thing that I am excited about is the ability to share my personal library with people. I plan on collecting Public Domain and Creative Commons-licensed books, making my personal best of collection. With OPDS I can serve as a curator for my “friends” (meaning anyone on the internet). This is amazing.

One more thing! While I am not sure where this sits in the formula, or even if it just replaces it altogether, something to keep an eye out for is SiSu (Structured Information, Serialized Units). This seems to be ahead of the curve, and I am going to be investigating it more. The ability to create multiple formats and citing at a granular level is great, but I want to know how accessible the software is; we have to always try to make the software easier to use and available to more people.

We can truly achieve a paperless society in my lifetime.