Month: May 2013

E-Reader Implementation Issues

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E-readers have become standard objects used by patrons of libraries – academic and public alike. There are a slew of devices with which one can read and listen to their electronic audio and text-based books. Interfaces vary, variations in digitizing touch-to-action exist and screens are different. Some, such as the Nook by Barnes and Noble Booksellers and the Kindle by Amazon, are marketed specifically as internet friendly readers. Then there is the mini-Ipad, the Kobo reader and different builds of hardware on the Android platform such as the Nexus. The Nook even has ‘apps’ designed to work on its platform – a hybrid of Android and proprietary software. Each of these readers and/or features is not unimportant. I could even bring up differences in tablet readers and e-ink devices. I won’t. I want to talk about differences in implementation of reader software. I want to look specifically at real differences in e-publication formats, how they change what reading is as an activity on an electronic device and how formats are tied to reader software. No, I’m not here to break down code or look at processing algorithms. Fascinating stuff of course. But that analysis goes elsewhere.

There are many formats in which to read publications electronically. There is HTML, EPUB, Kindle and PDF (and a few others for readers popular around the globe). PDF works with lots of reader software, though not all. Kindle, of course, works only within the Kindle device or reader app because it’s a proprietary code. EPUB is not. It will work with readers as far afield as the NOOK, any Android Device and readers such as Kobo or the one sold by Sony. There are lots of publishers who, in an effort to expand the range of creativity in reader choices, publish only in EPUB. It’s generally considered an “open-source” coding for text. There are differences, however, in implementation of use of EPUB or PDF – wherein we note the crux of this piece of writing.

EPUB is designed to work with many readers. But the way it works with different readers changes depending on the vender of the electronic item. For example, two popular reader software applications that are compatible with EPUB and PDF and have been used by public libraries in my area: the first is the most popular eBook vender, Overdrive (which is a vender and a reader application); the second is Bluefire (which is a reader only with built in links to online spots to buy books or to download public domain titles).

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I currently read on a Google Nexus 7, touchscreen obviously (though I use my stylus to turn “pages” a lot) and I use both the OverDrive and BlueFire applications for EPUB and PDF texts. OverDrive is not as convenient a reader to use as Bluefire because it is tied to its connection firstly as a reader of books borrowed from the library. The application itself has a GET BOOKS tab through which books can be searched in libraries’ eBook collections. OverDrive works as a portal to the library’s catalog of eBooks. BlueFire is not as tethered. It operates as a third party option available to the reader to choose which reader to use if the option is allowed by the objects being considered or publisher controls etc. OverDrive does not list the actual format of the books in its library while Bluefire does – to the right of the title OverDrive just says eBook while Bluefire lists EPUB or PDF. The difference is no inherently wrong. Bluefire simply has slightly fuller metadata while OverDrive probably sees itself (just a guess here) as a reader use by the populace who (they think) don’t care about “technical” aspects of the text in front of their eyes.

The issue of metadata certainly marks a difference between these two readers. But it does not mark the most important distinction in my fBook (f for figurative 😉 ). The most important implementation variant between these two readers is the difference between content/quantity representation models in use – specifically the way in which each reader represents pagination in eBooks. OverDrive DOES NOT use page numbers – a fact which I believe to be problematic for reasons of making reference to books read, annotations made for future reference and ability to cite. In fact, this is an even more problematic feature of OverDrive because as more and more texts are being consumed in eFormat, if one’s ability to cite books for reference and scholarly purposes (professional or amateur researchers) is restricted, the reference to other books and facts built for new writing will be challenging. Bluefire does not have this issue. It lists the eBook as containing pages 1-whatever). OverDrive chooses instead to subdivide every section of the eBook into page sections that are counted as percentages.

For instance, instead of showing the first page of Chapter 3 of a book I am reading on Physics starting on page 40 as it does in the paper text, it represents this “page” as “Page 1 of 19” with Chapter Progress of 5.3% and whole book progress as 13%. The page number itself really means nothing in relation to the whole eBook and percentages have nothing to do with reading page-to-page. The lack of ability to cite this text – again, a feature tied to its use by the populace who OverDrive believes does not care to do reference work – is a major problem. But it’s also a contradictory stance because I bet the same popular reader is just as happy to be able to know what “page” they’re reading. I can’t imagine anyone really cares about what percentage of each chapter is finished within the overall book except as an arbitrary number to call out. These percentages smack of computer modeling and lack the granularity of real page counts. Bluefire does not have this problem. It has some of the same ability to jump from section to section by using a dropdown contents tab. But it makes reference to pagination within the overall structure of the content being read. This feature increases the granularity of the reading experience and makes citation possible with the use of as few marks as possible in the citation.

Thank you for your time. Take a look at different eReaders and don’t hesitate to reply here or at Twitter. I am always open for discussion and learning.

Content Submitted to LibraryThing

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The Meaning of Book Reviews for LibraryThing

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I have just finished my seventh book review for LibraryThing. Most of my review content uploaded to the site has been possible by books given away at LibraryThing by either publishers or promotional groups. The aim of this tiny essay is to inquire about the meaning of writing for a website such as Librarything given what is happening to publication in general across the internet.

When one enters text or other content into fields in LibraryThing, there is no editor standing over one’s back checking form, grammar, whether anything inappropriate has been included or even whether your content has “stayed on message.” None of these factors are taken into consideration when text is added after the user has logged into the site under his or her account. Reviews, upon submission, can be voted positively following current crowd-sourced, social trends. Reviews can even be flagged for content reasons. But there is no committee, fact-checker or grammar check required to submit.

There are myriad points one could make about writer-controlled content added to a popular and publicly used site such as LibraryThing. Many of the same points can be made about author controlled web-sites of any kind. Writers, like all “public” figures, want to appear to put their best looking foot forward. In our contemporary era, web personas and content added to pages attached to these personas, are submitted to websites. Some of these websites are built upon freely available web authoring software such as WordPress.com. Others may have started out as Blogger sites but have transitioned into full-blown branded sites. And I do mean branding. This means that even if the free code has been downloaded from WordPress.org, it has been manipulated and customized according to specific and unique interests and then hosted at one of the many places to host code seen through browsers as a URL.

Whatever code and style limitations that may have been imposed by free blogs hosted at WordPress.com (which always include .wordpress.com in the URL) have been evaded by adding more distinguishing features, but not limited to, branding through naming. Some famous authors with fully branded websites (which do not necessarily have to be based on WordPress.org code) are William Gibson, Thomas Pynchon and Jeanette Winterson. I mention these three as examples of different styles that are designed with the intent to brand each author for marketing (which is not a bad thing). Each site is different. In truth, each of these sites may have people who run them who are not the authors themselves. But that doesn’t matter because the authors themselves are in control of what happens on them and how content is uploaded for live viewing.# So even though each author’s controlled and branded site looks nothing like LibraryThing nor a “standard” blog that could be run by anyone with an internet connection, the overall demand from controlled web publishing technologies are the same – content added for all the world to see is uploaded/added by select administrative personnel who determine what content is loaded and may or may not have any fact-checkers, editors or “appropriate” content managers standing over their shoulders deciding whether said content has “stayed on message.”

Now, it probably works to the benefit of every author who has a branded website to “stay on message” and use all necessary fact-checking and editing skills at hand because, well, they’re authors who author (write) and who are interested in developing an educated and positive fan base. These aspects of web publishing, however, are used by every author. It doesn’t matter if an author runs a small blog hosted on freely available software (where the software is openly branded) or a site built on fully developed and manipulated code. Each author wants to put his or her best looking foot forward. One could argue the best looking feet on the internet are branded and controlled websites. But it is not the case that every author prioritizes his or her writing the same way as another more famous one. Plus, there are lots of important and famous institutions (some universities and publishers) who use freely available web publishing software (where the software is openly branded) to promote their goods and services. Why can’t a “normal” person do the same thing? Time and space change all the time.

It seems to me many authors who care about their content added to the internet will already do their best to upload and submit the highest quality content they can manage. No, not every submission or act of uploaded content counts as authorship or toward activities built to promote a “writer.” But these days with technologies such as websites, blogs, Twitter, google+, about.me, LibraryThing and other social media applications that can be linked to each other, why would an author not make the most of every act of content upload? The linking of technologies to each other, a form of interoperability, can be used extremely effectively to promote and cross-promote writing of all sorts all across the internet. In some cases, a single post in social media will automatically cross-post to other applications. Professional writers use these technologies intelligently all the time. An amateur or non-professional writer can as well.

In many cases, posting in social media dovetails into the history of a writer’s writing. Writing a “proper” essay somewhere for web or print publication in which content is theoretically edited by a “real” editor is then promoted via blogs, websites with branded URLs and social media technologies. And now with publishers of books and e-books lining up to get some of those same publications promoted on LibraryThing, literary minded writers and creators of creative critical essays can submit high quality reviews for others to read while “real” writers can submit reviews to “real” publications on the internet. I understand the conundrum of peer-review when it comes to what makes a “real” publication. In no way are those justifications negative. They make sense to me too. In tandem with this point is the statement from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers that users who write reviews are more likely to receive more books to review than those who fail to submit reviews for books received has the caveat: the actual content of reviews does not matter. In this, a submission to LibraryThing may not count the same as publication proper, but publishers are still riding a circle by using it so heavily to promote (alongside “real” sites of publication) their wares. One just hopes, at least I do, that all reviews submitted to LibraryThing exhibit the best looking foot forward by writers submitting content for this particular social web portal. There is obviously some value and some cultural cache attached to these reviews.

Thank you for reading.

As always, I am open to comments here or @ Twitter.

 

#If this is not true, please communicate with me in a polite and educational manner. Thank you.

Two Essays Published at GRL

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I recommend all readers dash over to Gently Read Literature and subscribe to the 2013 publication cycle so you can read my two review essays on Robert Day’s Where I am Now – Stories and Neil de la Flor’s An Elephant’s Memory of Blizzards.

The contents for the current issue can be found here.

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