Let me go further and repeat what I have been stating on Twitter:
It is so.
All eBooks -- so-called -- are right now nothing more than a lightly tarted-up text dump into a specific electronic container. They're objects with less capability than print (go on, riffle through those pages with eInk's refresh rate!) and even dumber than print (uh, which page are you actually on?). They are linear, they are stupid. They are the lowest common denominator of what an eBook can be -- and even at that they are simply atrocious.
They are unworthy of serious consideration. Selling them is tantamount to legalized robbery. And the future will look back on them and wonder just what the hell we were thinking.
Here are two bits I've cloned from the blog of writer Warren Ellis:
When I showed this tiny, heavy thing [an original Sony Walkman cassette tape player] to Lili [his young daughter], I’m wondering now if she was thinking, "yeah, it plays music, but what else does it do?" She didn’t ask, but, knowing her, I wonder if that was going through her head. Whether that’s what goes through the heads of her Western generation, the third (?) internet generation. Where’s the controller? What else does it do?
-- from A Sony Walkman, By God
As a coda to the previous post, Jamais Cascio notes how the touchscreen generation interacts with a Kindle:
They try to "turn the page" by flicking a finger across the screen. But the Kindle doesn’t have a touch screen….Which means that the second thing that people checking out my Kindle do is get a funny confused look — why doesn’t it work?
-- from Shipping Broken
It's not unreasonable to expect people to look at an eBook today and wonder, What else does it do?
No, not the hardware device -- the eBook itself.
I can imagine the interior monologue: "Wait, you mean I can start here at the beginning and read through to the end -- and what else? That's all there is? That's stupid! That's dumb! That's like a printed newspaper!"
Yes: Like a printed newspaper! Exactly.
And what has the health of the printed newspaper industry been like in just the past year?
This post is my attempt to:
1) Save book publishing
2) Save eBooks from the fate of printed newspapers
3) Justify a ten-dollar (American) price (and sometimes more than that) for an eBook
4) Create an entire new industry
This post will also delineate two groups. The first is the one we know already: the dying dinosaurs of print, who can't figure out this "eBook thing."
The second group I'm designating second-stage dinosaurs. These are people who think they "get" eBooks -- and see today's pathetic excuses for eBooks as being eBooks.
Concomitant with those groups, there is an implied third group: those who will understand this post and all of its implications and see that, yes, this is part of what an "eBook" actually should be -- and it's time to begin to bring this about.
What I am about to describe is best illustrated by a short, two-word sentence:
There is more information contained in those two words than most people would imagine.
And it's that information that should be extracted. That hidden information is the foundation of part of what an eBook should be -- and is meant to be.
Below is an illustration of at least part of the invisible information contained in that short sentence. I don't intend this to be comprehensive nor to be professionally correct within the disciplines I'm bumping into. This is illustrative and a place to begin.
I'm using very rough markup language here. It's probably incorrect as all hell -- but it's a start.
<book-title=Christian Holy Bible>
<sub-book-title=Book of John>
<factual-person-label-02=Son of God>
<factual-person-label-03=Son of Man>
<factual-person-label-05=Lamb of God>
<factual-person-label-07=King of Kings>
<factual-person-label-06=Lord of Lords>
And all of that sample data above is just within a two-word sentence! How much more resides in full paragraphs?
Some people bailed or skipped down to this paragraph when they saw the tag, "<factual-location-galaxy=Milky Way>." Too bad for you. Put yourself in group two, as a second-stage dinosaur. Because you're not grasping the idea that tag can also be used in books about astronomy and the like.
And also because that tag has as its mirror, "<fictional-location-galaxy=>", which is applicable to what is broadly and coarsely termed "science-fiction."
All of this hidden information -- exploded out like that, made explicit -- turns an ebook from a dumb object into a smart object.
Further, it's then possible to associate it with other such objects in ways that are not currently possible. It would enable queries such as these:
Show me all mystery fiction books set in Los Angeles in the year 1945.
Show me all romance fiction books set in Maine in the year 2009.
Show me all fiction books set on Mars in any fictional year, published between 1940 and 1960.
Show me all books with alcoholic leaders.
Show me all books with alcoholic leaders who drink American whiskey.
Show me all books with Abraham Lincoln as fictional character.
Show me all mystery fiction books originally published in Portuguese in 1960 and translated to English with antagonists who are political activists with left-wing affiliations.
Show me all fiction books that mention writer John Straley.
Show me all first paragaphs from fiction books published in May 2009..
Show me all time-travel fiction books set in America in the century 1800.
Show me all time-travel fiction books that are set in Yugoslavia with any character who is Jewish.
Show me all fiction books with dedications to a wife.
Show me all fiction books with acknowledgements that mention Charles Bukowski.
... and many, many, many more.
This would open up book discovery in a way that's just not possible with today's crude and coarse methods. It would enable scholarship that has been impossible. It would give eBooks more possibilities than anyone today can envision -- or should try to envision.
Remember the Walkman cited above. What else can it do?
With such exploded data, an eBook is not just an eBook -- it becomes a ticket for admission to a vast collection of databased information.
An eBook becomes a local terminal connected to a growing and living cloud of associated information, with meanings and implications no publisher or writer can currently imagine. It lets the reader make those connections. It's an eBook that can do something.
And this is precisely why Google wants the Book Search settlement to go through: it sees that as the future. Google is staffed by geeks who juggle information with an expertise that print publishers lack.
Google makes information do things.
Print publishing freezes information into a static object -- an object that dies a little with each passing day. An object that stands alone, disconnected, unable to do anything.
Right now, the hierarchy of print publishing's stops at the Publisher. That's the pinnacle. There needs to be another layer slathered over that. The information geeks. The ones who will take the static objects, extract the hidden information, and database it. They will set the standards across the entire industry. They are new publishers for a new age.
This metadata and thin-sliced denotata has value. And that value will increase, not decrease, as it ages. As new connections are formed, and new data is added, its value increases exponentially.
The metadata value of a publisher could equal, if not surpass, that of the works on which it's based.
Metadata will become a multi-billion dollar business.
The entire global economy is built on metadata.
And it's accessing to that metadata that would justify more than a five-dollar (American) price for an eBook. Consumers would understand the additional value that justified the higher price. They would see an actual investment has been made to turn a crudely-decorated text data dump into something active and intelligent.
It'd no longer be a flat, linear collection of words. Dimensions have been added to it that breathe and grow. The eBook price --again -- becomes a ticket. People are no longer buying an object -- they are also buying into an ongoing experience.
And this is not only applicable to non-fiction. It's just as important to fiction too.
In the early 1990s, Oxford University Press published a hardcover collection of the Sherlock Holmes stories which were filled with descriptive and historical notes -- another kind of metadata!
And J.K. Rowling went to court over what was in some senses metadata (although too much of it actually turned out to be outright infringement).
If you've gotten this far and you can see all of the implications of this, good for you.
If you've gotten this far and you're asking, "But who would use this? What good is this?" then you're a second-stage dinosaur. Because you've just asked the kind of questions that executives at IBM and Hewlett-Packard asked when confronted by the MITS Altair and the Apple II and all those other "toys" of the late 1970s. What did those "toys" lead to?
It's beyond the scope of this post to delve into all the threads that lead from this: such as who owns the metadata, should writers have any rights to publisher-created metadata, etc.
It's also beyond my technical capabilities to suggest how this can be constructed. My instinct is the eBook resides locally and the experiential data resides in the Cloud.
And that data must be able to cross-query across all publisher databases for this to work. Imagine a thousand Googles, all having to speak a common language to present results to one UberGoogle.
My aim here is to help push eBooks into what they should be and today must begin to be.
Oh, one more thing: Cost. Yes, it will cost. But would publishers rather go out of business? Or would they like to have third-parties springing up to do this for free? Jump while the window of opportunity is open! Save publishing and advance eBooks.
Your taxonomy is your future (portion; most behind member wall)
Managing taxonomies strategically
On the front lines in knowledge base publishing (Google Cache HTML of .doc file)
Developing and Creatively Leveraging Hierarchical Metadata and Taxonomy
Metadata? Thesauri? Taxonomies? Topic Maps!
ownership of metadata