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Tablets, eBooks, and eLearning Make Middle School Less… Awkward

Posted on Feb 7, 2013 in eLearning, Future of eBooks | 0 comments

Last week I toured the middle school that my daughter will be attending next year. One thing that struck me was the school’s decision to issue every student an iPad at the start of the term, as a core teaching device. The operating system was slightly modified to restrict certain applications and features; students can’t download games–the general obsession with Minecraft comes to mind–and after some experimentation this year, they chose to disable messaging as well, due to the (one-could-have-guessed) distractions it causes. The staff at the school cited the weight and heft of textbooks as one factor in their decision to go with eBooks on the iPad. But the advantages I saw went far beyond the tablet as a lightweight alternative to a child lugging a crippling backpack. While observing students in their classrooms, I saw that they were adept not only at note-taking, but in switching applications rapidly and effectively, from reading to research to note-taking. And all of those tasks now embrace interactive multimedia, which makes learning not just more immersive and stimulating, but actually fun. I recall spending hours poring through the World Book Encyclopedia as a child. I don’t miss it; I’d rather use and support Wikipedia. During the tour I had the opportunity to sit down with a 5th grader who had just completed an assignment on her iPad, an extended and thoughtful blog post (“essay” for you old-timers) on “Was Cooking in the 1950’s Fun?” Not only was this bright young lady impressively articulate and engaged, she was eager to share with me the process she used for her research (searching online sources), drafting (first on paper!), and project management (Evernote, which I have now downloaded upon her thoughtful recommendation). Students and teachers admit that the ability to cross-reference and flip back and forth between pages, especially of multiple books, was often awkward. And some of the larger form-factor textbooks might be a bit squashed as compared to their print counterparts. But overall, the students were far more engaged with their eBooks, and increased engagement simply equates to more learning. The middle school’s iPad experiment for the 2012-13 school year has been...

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Epilogue: The Miranda Proposal, Future and Facts

Posted on Jan 4, 2013 in Future of eBooks | 3 comments

My posts on the future of eBooks, describing a vision of tomorrow’s eBook platform (the Miranda Proposal), is a futurist’s view based on years of immersion in the evolution of digital media. But in this closing post of the series I want to calm those who worry about a world of “dancing, singing, and shamelessly social eBooks,” while also presenting some very recent data about paper books, eBooks, and eReaders. Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue  part 1   part 2   part 3   part 4   part 5   part 6   part 7   Epilogue First, despite these essays, I do not believe that there is going to be a single, inevitable path to describe the future of books. The eBook will evolve in many ways, and we will see different, concurrent, unexpected, and not always complementary adaptations. Just as there will always be those who love quietly paper books, so will there be those who embrace the social reading, interactivity, and creative new applications of tomorrow’s eBook platform. The Miranda Proposal describes an overarching eBook platform and a set of features that will transform books into rich, social, digital multimedia. But several have told me that their reading experience is one of private transportation, with the print book being the perfect vehicle. I share that love of print books as well. And if my ten-year-old daughter and her friends are any indication, that love of print could well survive for generations. (If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll enjoy this YouTube video from Pearson, which dates from 2010 but is particularly relevant now.) There are, however, compelling reading scenarios that call out for rich media today. Consider how advances in eLearning are converging upon the humble textbook, changing the way students interact with knowledge. Imagine a student clicking through an eBook to a video mini lecture, an interactive illustration, or complementary research. Or reaching out to a live network in realtime for assistance with complex concepts. Imagine members of that network getting “points” for serving as teachers, leading to “mentor badges” that they might even list on their CVs. Unlike a novel, a textbook doesn’t typically transport you; it is a...

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The Long Tail of Publishing

Posted on Dec 18, 2012 in Future of eBooks | 0 comments

There are several companies like Lulu and the Amazon acquisition CreateSpace that are helping writers self-publish their own books. This is similar to the YouTube model, where writers gain popularity through self-promotion and viral word-of-mouth marketing, with their books appearing on Amazon alongside works published through major publishing houses. Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”:  Prologue  part 1   part 2   part 3   part 4   part 5   part 6   part 7   Epilogue Self-publishing has long been associated with vanity publishing. It’s what you do if you can’t get a professional publisher interested, but you want to see it in print regardless. It’s largely the realm of the amateur: Auntie Irene’s favorite recipes and the calendar made by your local Girl Scout troop. But today’s digital self-publishing world includes a significant, serious, and growing movement: the democratization of publishing. Writers (and artists, musicians, and indy filmmakers) no longer have to rely solely on the rare attentions of traditional publishers; they can gain viral audiences using their own resources and the power of the social web. And it sometimes works on a grand scale; after all, pop star Justin Bieber began his career as a YouTube sensation, 50 Shades of Grey was originally self-published, and Lulu proudly states that “Over a million authors have used” Some have gone on to achieve market success, with a few best-selling authors included in the mix. There is a place for small-run specialty publishing, and self-publishing may be the best option if you have a book in you whose audience is small but important. Self-publishing is not new, and has a notable history in America. Writing for the Atlantic, Sarah Fay reminds us: “Ben Franklin self-published his paperbound pamphlet Poor Richard’s Almanac. And in 1776, one of the country’s unofficial founding fathers Thomas Paine self published ‘Common Sense’, a 46-page pamphlet that sold over 500,000 copies and helped bring about the American Revolution. During the next two centuries, authors such as Hermann Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Willa Cather, and Mark Twain also self-published.”   On the other hand, today’s Web-powered self-publishing can be a bit perilous for consumers. There...

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Who Will Develop the Next eBook Platform?

Posted on Dec 17, 2012 in Future of eBooks | 0 comments

The global eBook platform I have been describing—dubbed the Miranda Proposal in earlier posts—has such powerful potential, both socially and economically, that there will be significant competition among those who would seek to build and control it.  Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue  part 1   part 2   part 3   part 4   part 5   part 6   part 7   Epilogue The leader in the eBook platform war could well arise not from high-tech software and hardware companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft, but from the book publishers themselves, who have the most to gain from controlling the platform, and the most to lose if they fail to secure that beachhead. In many ways I hope they succeed. The problem with software and hardware companies controlling our media is that they really want to restrict you, as best they can, to their hardware and software. The companies I mentioned are focused on selling their own devices, so they have a stake in developing a proprietary eBook platform that will only work, or work much better, on their systems. But tomorrow’s eReader won’t be locked to a specialty device, like a Kindle or a Nook. It will be your smartphone or tablet—whatever device you have at hand from whatever manufacturer. All devices are now eReaders, and with cloud technology, each device will know what you are reading and which page you left off, no matter which device you used last. (Picking up where you left off across devices is already a Kindle feature.) The ultimate goal of device manufacturers is to sell devices, not books, so they have little motivation to create marvelous eBook platforms based on open standards. Amazon makes far more selling electronics and clothing than books, and would probably give away eBooks just to entice you to visit their store. There is a real danger in having a tech company control the eBook platform of the future. Apple is already trying to make content itself proprietary, in the area of self-publishing. The license agreement for iBooks Author states “If you want to charge a fee for a work that includes files in...

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What is the eBook Platform of Tomorrow?

Posted on Dec 14, 2012 in Future of eBooks | 0 comments

I’ve described several important aspects of the digital evolution of the book, making references to an overarching eBook platform that will embody all these wonderful technological advances. But let me take a moment to better define the eBook platform as I envision it, and to give this vision a name: the Miranda Proposal.  Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue  part 1   part 2   part 3   part 4   part 5   part 6   part 7   Epilogue The platform isn’t the file format of the eBook itself, although that is a very important part of the equation. Today there are many eBook formats, but I believe that EPUB3 and its descendents will become the dominant standard. Most devices support the EPUB format, the notable exception being the Kindle, but Amazon may soon embrace EPUB3 as well. EPUB3 was developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum, and I have great faith in open standards, especially those that benefit society, level the playing field, and support device portability (and not a single company). A platform is also much broader than the specific eReader software used to read the eBook. There are many interesting eReaders available. Some, like the Kindle, are almost synonymous with their devices, although you can read Kindle books through a Kindle app on virtually all mobile devices and tablets. There are proprietary eReaders from companies like Microsoft and Apple, and open eReaders that support a wide range of formats. Some eReaders are already taking advantage of EPUB3 features, like rendering mathematical formulas, sharing annotations, and linking to additional resources. Some cater particularly to education, some to science and research. But the eReader is your point of contact with your eBook, it isn’t the whole platform. The eBook platform will be a much broader system, like Facebook or; one that extends the functionality of your eReader in multiple dimensions. One dimension I discussed in a previous post is the ability of the platform to support a vibrant third-party application marketplace, including application developers. Another aspect of the platform, also previously discussed, is the ability to extend into outside systems, especially social networking. An eBook...

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The Rise of eBook Applications

Posted on Dec 12, 2012 in Future of eBooks | 1 comment

Tomorrow’s eBook will become an interactive platform for third-party applications—software that delights targeted reader audiences. There are already a variety of apps in mobile and tablet marketplaces that would complement many genres: cooking apps, history apps, and Harry Potter apps. But the development of independent software applications that can be plugged directly into an eBook will drive a new type of app marketplace that will make eBooks more compelling, interactive, informative, and fun.  Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue  part 1   part 2   part 3   part 4   part 5   part 6   part 7   Epilogue Books have historically been a static, linear medium: we progress from page one through to the end, and any interruption means a break in the flow. But society has been shifting to more of an interrupt-driven culture where multitasking meets multimedia. While Baby Boomers might have driven their parents crazy by watching TV while doing homework, today’s youngest generation is adept at combining simultaneous phone, text, web surfing, YouTube watching, and music listening (hopefully not while driving). The eBook of the future will be poised to cater to this “ADD Culture” by changing the linear, personal nature of reading into a dynamic, multimedia-enhanced experience. A year ago the EPUB3 standard, one of the most popular and open (non-proprietary) eBook formats, developed definitions for how internal and external links will be handled within an eBook. This is an important first step that will finally let the barbarians through the gates. My guess is, half of you are excited about the possibilities of interactive eBook apps, and half of you are cringing at the prospect of dancing, singing, self-interrupting eBooks. (I’d love to hear comments from both groups.) For the latter, let me reassure you that the nature of reading will not change for everyone. You can always read without apps, and I’ll even offer up that some books are simply meant to be read, period, in that wonderful linear fashion. But many books, and many readers, will be improved with the onset of embedded applications. eBooks will feature companion apps to aid in networking, research, and play, and everything...

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Social Reading: Beyond Gutenberg? Beyond Zuckerberg!

Posted on Dec 10, 2012 in Future of eBooks | 0 comments

In previous posts I’ve touched on some of the social-transformational aspects of eBooks, but perhaps the most interesting will be the effect of social networking. I’m going to propose in this blog post that the eBook platform of the future will support not just models for more social aspects of reading, but will support multiple reader personas to define how you interact with social networks.  Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue  part 1   part 2   part 3   part 4   part 5   part 6   part 7   Epilogue Today we manage our career network on LinkedIn, and a more personal network in the Neverland of Facebook. But that really isn’t enough to define who we are to our different social networks. While, as Zuckerberg says, “you have one identity” on Facebook, the truth is, most people are not so easily homogenized, especially after college. Facebook is only now realizing the importance of separating out our college, family, and other social interactions. In one sense, the Facebook experience will only mature as Zuckerberg grows up and becomes more multifaceted himself. We really have many different personas based on our different roles, interests, and hobbies. Let me illustrate with an unapologetically narcissistic example: I read literature in the persona of a former English Department faculty member. I read programming manuals in the persona of a software developer. When I read martial arts books, I am the sensei. Books on wine and cooking touch me in my beloved role as a party host, while repair manuals speak to the former mechanic who still has a garage full of shop tools. These personas are unique; they don’t generally speak to overlapping social groups. (Unless of course I want to host a party for members of my social network that are mechanically-inclined martial artists who want to discuss Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.) More than any other media, what we read defines our interests, and who we are as a reader. So the eBook is the natural place to engage with that multifacetedness. The eBook needs to be a part of a larger eBook social platform, a foundation...

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eBooks and the Triple Bottom Line

Posted on Dec 7, 2012 in Future of eBooks | 2 comments

I’ve written about why eBooks are useful, and even inevitable. But I want to take this a step further, and look at why they are important, in the sense of social impact. One useful measure is to see how eBooks serve the Triple Bottom Line (TBL).  Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue  part 1   part 2   part 3   part 4   part 5   part 6   part 7   Epilogue Triple Bottom Line refers to the three pillars for measuring organizational success: People, Planet, and Profit. TBL has been adopted by the UN and various governments for public sector cost accounting and corporate social responsibility initiatives—which of course makes it sound awfully dull. But TBL is actually a progressive and useful way to think about how a technology will transform the organizations and societies it touches. The Effect on People and Society We live in the Information Age, of which the Internet is often described as the key driving force. But the Internet is just a communication vehicle, a vast cloud of information, disinformation, and generally wasted computer space, largely curated by Google. On the other hand, eBooks are catalogued, edited, and critically validated. Whether they deliver wisdom, entertainment, facts, fancy, lies, or opinion, eBooks are part of a global digital library that is far better managed and organized than the hopelessly cluttered and chaotic Web. While eBooks are personal and static today, they will soon become networked. Once we connect them digitally, eBooks will serve as interactive “knowledge nodes” on a vast social network. The cloud-based technology infrastructure is already here; it’s now a matter of building the eReader platform that will connect every eBook to the global community. That’s when things will get really interesting.   Tomorrow’s eBook will have the power to transform society in fundamental ways. It will drive social change in health, education, and literacy. It could even fuel a new global Renaissance. Or at least cure boredom on a global scale. Consider just a few examples, and then think about what will happen when the truly innovative thinkers get going with it: a medical worker in a remote village in Africa checking...

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The Future of Books

Posted on Nov 29, 2012 in Future of eBooks | 0 comments

I previously wrote that it is high time for eBooks to evolve, and of course this begs the questions why, how, and by whom? I’ll answer all of these in a series of upcoming posts, but let me first address why even book lovers should not decry the inevitable ascension of the eBook.  Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue  part 1   part 2   part 3   part 4   part 5   part 6   part 7   Epilogue I am a book-lover myself; my home office is a library with almost every square foot of wall space dedicated to bookshelves. I believe that old hardbound books are beautiful. I collect rare books on a few particularly arcane topics. And I keep literary paperbacks not because I want to hand them down to my daughter (a romantic notion that is fast fading), but because every time I look at them I recall fondly the memory of having read them. But book-lover that I am, I see a time coming when I will clean out many of my paperbacks; that age is slowly coming to an end. Yes, book sales are still strong today, but as anyone who has worked in the news industry will tell you, change is in the wind. Today we buy books and, like cast-off college textbooks, we sell them back on eBay and Amazon in order to fund new purchases. My daughter is already plotting how she’ll spend the money she’ll make selling back her American Girl and Magic Treehouse books (for new books and perhaps a few new games). This sort of buying and selling of physical media is inefficient; it is simply a means to reduce the cost of new purchases, and a way to keep the Postal Service in business. The ultimate expression of what we are trying to achieve is the eBook, which wings its way silently, instantly, and digitally into our hands. Such is the digital future of all media: news, movies, music, books, magazines. Digital media is downloaded directly into our lives and crosses easily from one device to another, always within reach. This is not to say that the paperback...

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Prologue: It’s Time for eBooks to Evolve

Posted on Nov 27, 2012 in Future of eBooks | 0 comments

I’m a habitual bedtime reader—especially my daughter’s bedtime. I’ve been reading to her almost every night for what is coming up on 10 years; since she was almost 10 months old. We have gone from Sandra Boynton to Dr. Seuss, from all the Magic Treehouse books to countless American Girl books, from timeless classics like the Little House on the Prairie series to fantasy classics like The Hobbit and of course Harry Potter. I dread the day, and I know it’s coming soon, when she’s too old for bedtime stories. Read the series: “The Miranda Proposal: Tomorrow’s eBook Platform”: Prologue  part 1   part 2   part 3   part 4   part 5   part 6   part 7   Epilogue A few years ago we purchased our first Kindle, and then an iPad. My daughter and I both like paper books, especially hardcovers, but we have grown comfortable with eBooks. I personally find them easier on the eyes, not to mention far more convenient while traveling (some of those Potter books are over 900 pages). A little over two years ago I wrote to a colleague, “Children’s online books need more than a black-and-white Kindle experience. Children need color and imagery, and the e-books of tomorrow will include animation and both sound and video narration. The technology is there; imagine sitting in bed with your child and an iPad, choosing what to read from among thousands of titles. Imagine a child not glued to a TV but to an e-reader. What kids and parents need is a safe and simple medium for discovering both old ‘static’ titles (perhaps enhanced by wonderful narrators with masterful storytelling skills), as well as a new generation of highly interactive books that resonate with the online world of tomorrow’s generations.” Today we are much closer to that reality, but eBooks are still far behind where they should be.  Color and multimedia are making inroads, and there is some rudimentary social networking, although nothing particularly interesting yet: just the ability to express your likes and tweet happily to your social network (which assumes that they care about your reading habits). Some of today’s eBooks offer text-to-speech, and Amazon Audible offers...

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