Thursday, 27 May 2010

ereaders and linearity

building out from my recent post on e-book readers and scholarship, I came across a report from the Seattle Times that college students are also unhappy with the linearity of the reading process on the Kindle.

This is a live issue - informal tests of reading on e-book readers of various types, including my own - have concentrated on the mechanics of the reading process, not on usability for different types of reading.

This linearity problem seems to be a major stumbling block for using e-book readers - either devices or software like stanza - to work with reference works. We are of course talking digitised reference works rather than born digital reference works that come with search and indices built in, ie as an extreme example, compare looking for a word in a digitised dictionary, as opposed to using an online or cdrom version.

It also blows away one of the major use cases in universities. One thing that most universities want to do is to encourage students to read around their subject, and start to think and analyse content.

In the old days this was done by reading lists and putting journal articles on reserve. Nowadays, quite often this is done by producing a reading brick - basically a thick bound wodge of supporting material that students plough through.

Obviously if it worked putting this out as an electronic reading set for download would save a vast amount in printing costs as well as saving students having to lug around a large pile of bound paper. Unfortunately it doesn't look that this is the case.

As I've said before, we need more sophisticated ereader software, and perhaps some standards around metadata and indices to avoid some of the problems of lack of standardisation that were found in the glory days of cd-rom networking, where different vendors engines worked differently and provided different user intefaces

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