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Ebook Enhancements, Take Two: Shorter, Less Sparkly, More Functional

Ebook readers have made their preferences clear. Video extras, background audio, virtual tours of the author’s workspace: No thanks, say buyers. So-called “enhanced ebooks” have generated a reaction similar to New Coke’s reception: a “massive withdrawal of enthusiasm” (so said a Coke exec, in a massive, if admirably clever, bit of truth telling). Is ebook innovation over? Is the finely polished print replica all there is to the digital publishing revolution? Not from where I sit. I spot five likely areas where we’ll soon see ebooks exceed the appeal of print. These features aren’t meant for every book, nor for every reader (hi Mom!), but this coming wave of utility-driven improvements are exactly the tools that serious readers — with habits shaped and sharpened by their exposure to other kinds of digital media — are looking for. Start Screen The table of contents presents a pretty dry and rigid itinerary to a book. ... Read More

What Readers Need vs. What Devices Can Do

Rethinking how to pick ebook enhancements Most ebook experiments do a better job of showing off our devices rather than solving specific reader problems. We get video extras, web links, piped in Twitter feeds. Problem is, these “enhancements” often answer the wrong question: what can we add? In an age of Information Overload, readers don’t need more; they need help. A video of battle footage may be fun to watch, and a simple way to add what’s not possible in print. But what students of World War Two often struggle with is much more mundane: remembering key events for that upcoming test or prepping for an essay they’re writing. Rather than starting from what the iPad or EPUB 3 makes possible, we should instead think about where print fails to solve readers' needs. By keeping a simple question in mind regarding any enhancement — what’s it for? — I think we can ... Read More

Overheard in Austin: Apps, Tools, Sites

A quick list of digital goodies I encountered at SXSW Wow, what a lot to digest from my first trip to South By Southwest. I’ll be chewing on everything I learned for weeks to come, but here’s an ultra-quick roundup of my “need to check this stuff out” list. I jotted these items down during sessions, bar chats, lunches & plane rides. Lightly annotated and satisfaction most definitely not guaranteed, but I’m thinking there’s some gold in these nuggets. Tools

  • Ready-Media. InDesign templates for firms that want to publish on the web, the iPad, and other platforms—all from one source. A big attraction here is the involvement of legendary publication designer Roger Black (who also gave a pitch for another project he’s worked on: Treesaver, an open source JavaScript framework for web content that looks good on a wide range of screen sizes).
  • SlideRocket. Web-friendly presentation software. Features include: collaborative tools
... Read More

Picturebook Lessons: The Art of Letting Readers Fill In the Blanks

The iPad can display almost anything an author imagines. But are we shortchanging readers by overstuffing our apps? Isn’t it ironic how a device whose design embodies minimalism often gets used to show off overwhelming amounts of media? Recently I’ve begun looking for what might be called minimalist apps—those whose contents match the iPad’s spare design. My search gained new impetus thanks to Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, which studies an art form that, like the iPad, has attracted creators interested in mixing media. One of the points that struck me in this wonderful study is how some of the best artists exercise a design restraint, leaving out more than they include. Often this is done because of their audience—young kids not yet equipped to process lots of info at once. This condition—this input sensitivity—struck a chord: it reminded me of my own current battle with Info Overload ... Read More

Multi-screen Messages: Spreading a Story Across a Lotta Displays

How do stories & presentations change when you use more than one screen? I’ve been fiddling with the idea of using multiple displays to give a presentation—putting different slides on different screens. One design sketch—working title: “Documan”—has gotten some chuckles around my office : Why on earth does the world need to see a man strap on a half dozen iPads? And, more importantly, what kind of message would benefit from a rig like this? Beats me. But I do think that content experiments, designed expressly for the screens we all use—rather than our ancestors’ print pages or single PowerPoint slides—is the best way to figure out how stories and teaching change when they move onto the touchscreen. I’ll spare you, for now, the words and images I’m testing out to fill those screens. (One teaser, though: think about how easy Keynote for iPad makes it to build an action that exits screen right ... Read More

Tabletop Touchscreens: The Next Desktop Publishing Revolution?

Will big touchscreen displays—bigger than tablets—usher in new kinds of creative composition? I don't hear much talk about Microsoft's Surface computers, those industrial strength touchscreens-on-a-tabletop. But maybe the idea was about $10,000 too expensive and a few years ahead of its time. Hear me out while I play connect-the-anecdata-points and argue that 10-inch tablets are just the start of the touchscreen publishing revolution. I'll bet that large, touchscreen canvases are coming, and I think they’re going to change the kinds of documents we create. But first a quick bit on why on earth we need larger compositional spaces. After all, any decent novelist, blogger, or journalist can get by with a 11-inch laptop, right? Sure, but what about creative types who like scattering notes, sketches, and outlines across their physical desktops? And what if they want to mix and match different kinds of media and incorporate touchscreen gestures? Some tools ... Read More

Digital Bookmaking Tools Roundup #2

Thanks to all who joined today's webcast. Researching all these new digital publishing tools makes it clear: today's toolmakers are busy! Here's a list, with links, of all the sites and software I mentioned:

Sidelinks: Reducing Hyperlink Distractions

I’ve written previously about the distracting effects of excessive hyperlinks: how lots of “hey, click me" blue-lined text makes it hard to focus on a writer’s own writing. In this post I want to air out a design idea that accomodates links, but does so in a way that helps readers maintain focus and momentum. The example prompting this concept is similar to what you probably see online every day (click to enlarge): Example of web article with way too many links Are each of those time-consuming and attention-distracting links truly worth visiting? At a time when focus is a precious commodity, isn’t it odd how often digital documents place exit ramps in front of readers? My idea is simple. Remove the link from the body text and instead use a brief margin note to signal readers that additional info awaits. In sketch ... Read More

A Clarification: The Father of “The Kid Responds”

First, to set the most important facts straight:

  • I am not working on a sequel, a response, or any kind of book project related to Go the F**k to Sleep.
  • The publisher of that book, Akashic Books, has not commissioned me to write anything. Nor have they, or anyone else, shared with me any unpublished or planned excerpts related to that work.
  • During a presentation I gave at last week’s “Books in Browsers” conference, I clearly did not succeed in making the point that the story excerpt I read — “The Kid Responds” — was written by me.
  • It was a humorous attempt on my part to illustrate how a publisher might use an existing book to sell follow-on installments. (For example: “Like these five short stories? Here are five more from the same author, available for $1 a story”.)
Two lessons learned from this episode:
  1. When I’m having some creative fun in front of people
... Read More

Presentation Overload: Alternatives to Serial Speaker Syndrome

Can curriculum design help turn conferences into classroom-style learning environments? Ever suffer from “conference head”? It’s that feeling, after a couple dozen speeches and panels, where you wonder: wow, what did I learn from all that talking? Having just returned from Books in Browsers (BiB) a tweet from Liza Daly stuck in my head:  Much better to have talks as a series of refinements or rebuttals vs. 50 people telling us that the digital revolution is 'here'. It got me thinking: is the standard conference format — solo talks plus panel discussions — the best way to “program” a one- or two-day get together? What if organizers structured events more like a great class? A few quick caveats before I answer: I have never designed or chaired a conference myself and I offer up these thoughts from the perspective of a frequent attendee and with a huge helping of humility: ... Read More