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.
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 SalesForce.com; 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 platform would be hosted on cloud-based servers, meaning they would be available everywhere you have access to the Internet. These servers will provide the software that will enable you to log in and manage your:
- Reader’s Personas, the real and fictional profiles that you maintain for different genres and social networks, as I described in a previous post;
- Reader’s Preferences, including privacy, language, favorite genres, certifications, and privacy settings;
- Reader’s Applications, third-party apps and the method for integrating them into your eBooks;
- Reader’s Network, the various social groups, book clubs, colleagues, and special interest groups with whom you share ideas, annotations, and techniques, on everything from favorite recipes to literary criticism.
The platform should support the widest range of eBook formats, with EPUB being the most important, open standard. The platform should support all eReaders, all devices, and all of its human members, speaking all their myriad languages, across the globe.
The platform won’t replace the Apple Store or Google Play, and in fact will likely integrate with those marketplaces as well as those of Microsoft, Amazon, and the stores of major and minor book publishers.
The eBook platform will grow far beyond the content of books. It will manage the myriad links to images, video, and interactive content (like presentations and Flash animations) that you will access from your eBook. It will also manage the links to people, groups, and both their private and public writing and annotations. The platform will become a less cluttered and more valuable version of the Internet: after all, by its nature the world of books is a world that is lovingly edited, indexed, curated, and reviewed by real humans.
And eventually this platform will grow to include other media, as all digital platforms do. Which is to say that music, film, games, magazines, news, and video will find their place among the books, just as they do at Amazon and your local and virtual Barnes & Noble.
Now, why do I believe that eBooks will give rise to such a marvelous platform, well beyond what we have today for movies and music? Simply put, books define our myriad interests better than any other media. We spend more time in books. They teach, inspire, entertain, and engage us on a fundamental level. This is why I believe that eBooks will lead to a global platform for connecting people and ideas.
It’s a compelling vision that deserves a name more lyrical than a technology acronym, so I have dubbed it the Miranda Proposal, borrowing from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: the Latin form of “one who must be marveled at.”
Now the question is, who will give birth to Miranda? And thus, the subject of my next post, “Who will develop the next eBook platform?” Mirabile dictu!