Tuesday, 22 November 2011

From Ebooks to Esites

Especially via our institution’s Yammer activity stream (private Twitter) I and several of my colleagues raise awareness of the evolution of ebooks with their serial information metaphor to what are becoming know as rich media ebooks amongst other names with their highly interactive model. Possibly one of the typical examples is the iPad-specific Inkling platform with about 100 textbook titles across a range of disciplines. Inkling retains the ‘book’ distribution model where the reader pays to download an electronic lump that contains all the rich media – text, images, audio, video, and interactive elements. Admittedly Inkling textbooks can be purchased in smaller chapter lumps.

Just a few days ago a colleague, Allan S, alerted us on Yammer about reactive documents:

Really interesting way of interacting with your web documents - "reactive documents" uses a JavaScript API to allow every word to become an 'explorable analysis'.

2011-11-22 SNAG-01Allan pointed us to the Explorable Explanations project created by Bret Victor that allows authors to create reactive documents which take several steps towards genuine rich media ebooks. Try out the examples especially the one Allan liked, the digital filter.

However if you are a budding author of a rich media ebook your doubts might be raised with the need to use a ‘JavaScript API’. As well as a writer you also need some programming skills. Then you need to add skills in graphic design, audio-visual creation/editing and an understanding of user interaction and behaviour.

Going further you need to understand the hosting and deployment of web sites – the only sensible cross-platform technology currently available. After all you will want your reactive rich media content to evolve over time, won’t you? Web site technology allows your readers access to your rich media ebook on all ereader platforms not to mention the wide range of other reading devices such as smartphones, tablets, ultrabooks and desktops.

It is clear by now that your rich media ebook has become an interactive web site or esite. Since it is unlikely you will have the range of skills just listed your esite must be built by a multi-disciplinary team either assembled by you or your publisher. We might expect software developers to create suitable authoring tools eventually that will significantly ease the authorship process. Even so authors intending to join the rich media ebook movement should expect to bone up on their 21st century skills that includes some scripting/programming knowledge and a familiarity with new media creation.

Start thinking esites not ebooks. A corollary is to forget native apps unless they are backed by an esite and are generated automatically by your esite authoring tool.