Tag Archives: interactive reading

Ebook Dreaming

(Though part of me wants to hyphenate e-book, I’m going to take a step of faith and ditch the hyphen. Ebook it is.)

This is just a quick note on my dream for perfect kind of ebook to please everyone, even folks who say how much they love the feel and smell of paper books. (Disclaimer: I’m an in-betweener. I’ve had a Kindle for two months and I love it to pieces, but I also love the physicality of books. I choose both/and.)

I’m reading a book now, and I’ve read books before, that just scream for multimedia add-ons. Either they post plenty of classical scores as examples, or they mention tons of pop pieces that seriously matter to the point of the book. In either case, I want to hear the things, but I often don’t go to the trouble, because I don’t want to log into my school’s library’s webpage, find the classical music database, and navigate to the piece I want to hear, just to hear a 30-second snippet that could legally, under fair use, be excerpted for me without all the work. Yes, there’s YouTube, but even that takes steps that I don’t always want to take–and that assumes I’m near a computer. (Wow, this sounds lazy, right?)

Alex Ross beautifully tries to fill this gap by providing a listening guide to The Rest is Noise (and also to his newer book that I haven’t read), which is full and rich in many ways: tons of excerpts, and an easy-to-buy iTunes playlist of the essentials already picked out. But again, I’ve got to be at the computer to hear it.

Yes, I’m complaining now, but this post is called Ebook dreaming for a reason. My dream:

  1. Paper books have invisible chips sewn into their covers or stuck to the inside flap as a sticker.
  2. These chips communicate seamlessly and wirelessly with portable music devices, including various brands of mp3 players and various kinds of phones. (Government regulation may be necessary to ensure standards.)
  3. When I read a place in a book where I want to hear the music described, I simply put on my headphones, touch my music device to the book, and scroll to track X (whatever the book tells me to scroll to), and listen. Ah, the comfort of musical knowledge.
  4. Digital versions of the books also include the same clips, playable through the headphone jack of the ereader or on the computer (or whatever device the book is being read on)

So, well–get on it. Thanks!

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Thinking about RSS

I’ve been thinking a bit about Traci Gardner’s recent blog post “6 Reasons Blogrolls Are Dying” over at pedablogical. She recently found that “blogrolls are a dying breed” (a phrase that, when read just under her picture of a cinnamon roll, is tempting to read as “a dying bread,” but I don’t even know what that would mean). The post’s comments remind us that lots of folks are using other tools to collect blogs these days that are more fancy than old-fashioned links that don’t aggregate or do anything but sit there and link.

It’s got me thinking about RSS, my own use of Google Reader to read RSS feeds, and attitudes/knowledge about RSS in English studies. I think of how our FYC director regularly suggests RSS as a solution for instructors–say, to make a dashboard using Microsoft SharePoint services and plug in RSS-enabled lists and content from elsewhere on our FYC site. But usually, he’s greeted with blank stares–methinks very few incoming graduate students in English have ever heard of RSS.

And even though I know about RSS, as if it were a secret magic hidden behind the face of a small number of blessed sites, I find I haven’t built it into my daily routine as much as, say, Twitter or Facebook or email. I tend to treat my Go0gle Reader as a bunch of stuff I want to skim over when I get a chance, maybe, and which I have to laboriously scroll through and “select all as read” when I haven’t gotten to it for a while, just to clean up the hundreds of updates. (Boing Boing is my favorite site on the Internet, but I can’t stand it in my feed, since they update so often.)

So I guess I’m saying that RSS seems like it has the exact kind of potential that we need in online tools–flexible and automated–but that I (and most fellow English studies grad students at my university) haven’t found a way to seamlessly integrate it into our regular online lives in ways that feel important and worthwhile. Part of the problem is filtering, since so many different kinds of content end up in my feed: video game news! Scholarly blogs! How to hack your computer! Friends from college talking about their kids! But it feels like something else is missing, too, and I haven’t quite put my finger on what it is. (And honestly, I thought by writing out this post, I would kind of start to realize what that is, but it didn’t work. Sorry.)

Are there any excellent feed readers that I should be using to help with this, to help me think of using RSS in more relevant ways?

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Third Day of Sharing: Choose Your Own Adventure

Graphic of Choose Your Own Adventure booksI can’t remember where I heard about this remarkable site: cyoa. It’s an in-depth, visual-heavy analysis of Choose Your Own Adventure books, which I grew up reading.

Be sure to check out the animations, which left me joyfully gawking. This site comes to me at a time in my life when I’m first starting to realize my love of good design. It inspires me to make all analyses beautiful.

(Why is this the “third day of sharing”? See Day 1.)

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New Alternate Reality Game

Over on BoingBoing, Douglas Rushkoff wrote a description of a new alternate reality game that ties into the story of a graphic novel he was involved with. Part of his description:

So people might follow my characters through a series of graphic novels, and learn something about them that they can then use in the games, or an artifact they find in the game might help them decode something in the comics. And even the ARG that people are beginning to play right now – through which they are “finding the others,” and forging coalitions with other gamers in their own parts of the world to solve certain challenges – is a set-up for the bigger game, where these larger groups will be responsible for various aspects of the coming war.

Why, oh why, oh why can’t we find a way to work this kind of experience into writing classes? (No really, why?)

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Take My Book. Please.

No surprises here: concerning book sales,

A year-long study has revealed that peer-to-peer piracy could actually boost sales, rather than eat into overall purchases. (via bookseller.com)

The trick, of course, is having the guts to do so in the first place. Even Cory Doctorow, in some essay that I think is in his Content collection, says that the first time he gave a book away he held back a little, using a more restrictive Creative Commons license. But he loved the experience so much, and he seemed to be selling more books than he would have otherwise, that he went even loosier-goosier with future books–and never looked back.

And now, there’s some research to back up his strong hunch. Sweet!

But like I said, taking that step is hard. Even with a department-written textbook that my colleagues and I put together over the summer, when I brought up the idea of putting it online, I was told by two knowledgeable, professional folks in drippingly sweet terms that if it were online, no one would buy it. So we reserved all our rights. I know the context here is probably different: a student who can get access to a textbook for free isn’t going to have that experience of, “This is so great, I want to be able to read the rest in a paper copy, and I’m willing to pay for it!” But that authorial fear of, “Should I let this get away from me?” was there, at least in a small way, nibbling at our (my) love of good content freely available online.

In the future, I’m going to ask the publishers what they think. For someone like me, I need all the publicity I can get–and now I can point to this story to back me up.

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Richard Baraniuk on New Models of Learning

In lieu of actually typing much, I’ll just post a link to a long-ish TED video on how the concept of the textbook could be rethought (remixed?) in the future–or actually, dismissed in favor of new digital modes of content delivery. (Thanks, Q, for the link!)

My biggest problem: when I hear stuff like this, I have this sad problem of not being very critical. I.e., I tend to get very cheerleadery and I don’t very well thinking of practical problems. But my experience in a writing program seems to indicate that writing teachers would indeed have lots and lots of serious issues if we actually suggested this kind of open education model at a major university.

Really, I’m just a sucker for digital music parallels. The second he starts talking about “ripping” and “mixing” education, my beard gets a tidge moistened with drool. (That’s gross, right? That’s probably gross. Sorry.)

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Conversations in Books

After writing a bit about interactive reading a few days ago, I’ve dug up two more thoughts on the topic:

1) I’ve been reading Stephen North’s 1987 book The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field as part of my qualifying exam reading. (I should read approximately half a book a day for the next 8 weeks.) I bought it used online, and apparently it used to be owned by a Mr. Michael J. Ma____e (can’t read his signature), who bought it in May 1989.

I’ve appreciated Ma____e’s pleasant, restrained style of annotating the book: mostly small checks in the margin, rare penciled underlines, and even more rarely, with words jotted down. Even though my style is wildly messier, it’s okay because he went first, which allows me to nod in appreciation of the things he appreciated but not feel annoyed that my book came pre-scribbled.

(Which is more than I can say about my much-reread copy of Frederick Douglass’s first Narrative, which came with 1/4 of each page underlined in fat red marker. I keep almost buying another, but I can’t quite make myself take the plunge to replace something I already own. That would be like replacing my cassettes of U2’s War or Boyz II Men’s Cooleyhighharmony with CDs, or replacing our Mickey Mouse waffle iron with one that doesn’t produce waffles that smile at you as you rip off its ears. Waste drives me crazy!)

Here’s an example of my favorite exchange in North’s book:

Scan of Stephen North's book with caption

Scan of Stephen North's book with caption

Captain Ma____e thoughtfully responded to North’s phrase methodological integrity by asking, “Is this North’s God-term?” I responded with an emphatic, underlined, “Yes.”

How pleasant! It was like a face-to-face encounter, all three of us chatting (or really, me and Ma___e gossiping about North pouting in the corner) about an idea.  This is my ideal for public commenting in books: real, friendly exchange that takes place easily and unobstrusively in the same medium where I’m already reading.  One day. . . .

2) On a music journalist pal’s Twitter page, I learned about FLYP (all caps necessary?), an online magazine that a recent Atlantic piece describes thusly: “Imagine a full-screen PDF of a magazine page with embedded features, like flyout charts and music and clickable images.” (They also link to my buddy’s article! Sweet!)

It’s a dreamily pleasant layout experience–one of few web pages that I would really care about reading on a large, crisp monitor. But for my context here, I’m especially pleased by the handy “comment” button in the lower-right of each spread. Commenting online is nothing new, but there’s something pleasant about being allowed to comment on magazine content that’s laid out like a magazine–something even Wired doesn’t do online. I’m not sure if that’s an old fashioned impulse or not–a leftover memory of reading National Geographics in my grandpa’s adventure-stocked Ohio attic. But layout and design increasingly matters to me, more than it ever has before, and Flyp delivers–and it delivers in a way that keeps the conversation alive in a layout-happy space.

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A Blog! (And W1N5T0N)

I figure it’s time to start a blog–for all the usual reasons a PhD student like me does:

  • To help me organize thoughts and responses to all the reading I’m doing for qualifying exams and an eventual dissertation
  • To set up a place to hear a mix of comments and conversations from my different communities (current and past student and faculty colleagues; scholars in the field; buddies who are interested in cool things)
  • To celebrate coolnesses worthy of celebration

Since I’m studying new media, intellectual property, remixing, fan fiction, information literacy, and delivery in classical rhetoric, you might find anything at all relating to those topics on here. But of course, I reserve the right to mention anything else that comes up as well.

For example:

Cory Doctorow’s site recently mentioned this exciting site, W1N5T0N, that posts the entirety of his novel Little Brother online in a format allowing users to make paragraph-level comments (powered by digress.it, a WordPress plug-in).

I’ve seen this concept used before for academic work (an undergrad thesis in Lost and a stellar CCCC 2009 panel, “On Making Waves without Falling Out of the Boat: The Experience of Composing an Electronic Dissertation”), but never for fiction.  It seems something like reading a fancy version of Shakespeare: lots of footnotes, half of which aren’t welcome and the other half of which are crucial insights that I’m glad I got. The difference, of course, is the people who are allowed to enter the conversation about the work: everyone, or only fancy, oft-published scholars.

There also seems that there’s a tension here: the best annotated works will be those that are popular enough to have a lot of people drop by to add annotations, but that eventually makes the novel that much slower to read as you pop back and forth between texts. (And it’s kind of sad, I imagine, to see a text formatted to allow comments that no one will comment on–something like passing a wonderfully small corner store that no one ever visits.) Doctorow’s work seems perfect in this respect: mid-level popularity with a dedicated (and, er, geeky) fan base that really believes in his copy-left agenda.

Now all we need is for the perfect ebook reader to come to pass–it seems to me that the more seamless the ability to add comments, the more services would offer it, and the more I would drool over it. In a recent Wired piece, Steven Levy describes Chris Anderson’s eventual dream for readers, which I think would fit nicely with the idea of the ever-annotated novel:

When I showed the DX to Wired‘s editor in chief, he rotated it to landscape mode to see whether it was wide enough to convey the experience of a magazine spread—it covered less than half the territory. Even the expanded screen could deliver only a shrunken facsimile. But then he took the leather binder that Amazon sells to cover the reader and flipped it open. The folio fit the open pages of Wired almost precisely. Imagine that binder crammed full of silicon and liquid crystal—that’s the form factor of the future periodical.

Drool, indeed!

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