Somewhat similar to the discussion kicked off by Jason Pontin in Technology Review, this collection of viewpoints pulled together by Anna Lewis of ValoBox for The Bookseller‘s digital blog FutureBook puts the case for HTML5 over the app/device.
“. . . HTML5 has laid down a new marker in browser standards. Not only does it enable offline capability through caching of content, it also lets you create websites that feel like native apps. The browser is certainly becoming a very different beast. So, does this mean publishers should rethink their approach to the browser, and see it as a way to deliver content, not just discover it?”
How the answers to this question play out affects the evolution of the book. Bookmark the concept if not this web page.
Other books in browsers covered include 24symbols, Padify and the Internet Archive. Follow these up on Lewis’s FutureBook posting. Offline, commentators have suggested Amazon’s Cloud Reader and Firefox’s EPUB Reader as well.
Also a three-part series of postings by Bill McCoy, Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), has begun at Tools of Change today (20120816). The first in the series articulates a key point about the book as content,
“. . . over time there will continue to be an increasing ability to conveniently publish directly to the cloud, as well as increasing acceptance by end users of cloud-based consumption. Perhaps someday the idea of a “file” will even become obsolete. But, at a minimum for many years to come – and possibly forever – it seems obvious that there will continue to be a significant role for reified content objects [italics added], particularly portable documents.”
Books On Books will add links to the second and third of McCoy’s postings by as they occur. The concept of the book as a reified content object (techy as the phrase may be) has its bibliographic and critical forerunners (in the work of McKerrow, Benjamin, Barthes, Ong and others) and its contemporaries (in the work of Illich, Hayles, Michael Joyce and others).
On its surface, the debate in which HTML5, EPUB 3, iOS apps, the ebook, the cloud are swimming seems to be a competition of technical approaches and tools. Beneath its surface, however, stirs something vital to the future of the book.
Updated bookmark begins here (20120817) . . .
Before Bill McCoy’s next posting (see above for the first), Jeremy Greenfield at Digital Book World (DBW) usefully flagged a timely collection of postings supporting “the cloud trumps the future” perspective on ebooks: Hachette’s return on its investment in the cloud, the State Department backing off its Kindle deal in order to research other options (cloud-based being the implication), the major textbook publishers’ adaptation to Virtual Learning Systems and MOOCs (massive open online courses), etc.
The “cloud” view, however, recalls an apt caution Michael Joyce made in his Adam Helms lecture in Stockholm in 2001:
Digital culture reels and swaggers like a drunken plowman who dreams of taking flight, relieved of mortal weight and presence. . . . an old dream, perhaps the oldest of human culture . . . . Much is made of how the digital escapes fixedness, . . . from electrons hurtling along copper corridors, upward to switched registers of transient values, and ultimately to brilliant phosphor letterforms which disappear like fireflies in a billion recurring twilights of a nanosecond’s duration.
However we situate ourselves in place and time alike. Cyberspace is not exempt from the mortal and moral geometry wherein we place our hope and find out future.
This from one of the pioneers of the ebook. What is ironic here and now is that Joyce made these comments while comparing ebooks to print books, yet today they are equally applicable when comparing ebooks in ereaders to ebooks in the cloud. As the ebook in the ereader stands with the printed book as a “reified content object,” the cloud gathers.