It’s not surprising that many readers have traded in weighty tomes for Kindles and iPads. eBooks offer a number of practical advantages over hard texts. On account of their weightlessness, for example, it is possible to carry around a miniature library’s-worth of books. Many ebooks are available free on the web (i.e., works in the public domain) and those that aren’t can easily be purchased from any number of ebookstores. Of course, that’s not to say that ebooks are unequivocally better than their paperback/hardback cousins. They just offer a different kind of reading experience that many people find appealing (myself included). And that’s what interests me in this post: the reading experience.
Readers are not just passive content consumers. They actively engage with the text, and part of that engagement often involves marking the text: inserting comments or scribbles in the margins, highlighting or underlining pertinent passages, drawing lines connecting different paragraphs or circling whole sections of text, etc. Unfortunately, this aspect of the reading experience is not emulated all too well by current ereaders. Apps like iBooks offer only basic annotation features (coloured highlighting and notes). For digitized texts to be maximally useful, in addition to being mobile, they must lend themselves to the kind of annotation that books have permitted for centuries.
That said, ebooks have the potential to innovate further. Whereas the margins of hard books provide only limited space for readers to add their own marks, digitized texts exceed this limitation by a great magnitude. Readers can do more than just add their own notes to virtual margins; they can append other types of content as well – images, audio, video, links to websites and PDFs, etc. Those all sound like great features, but no ereader app (that I am aware of) currently offers any of those functions. Future versions of Kindle or iBooks perhaps?