January 02, 2012
EBook Filtered Views Needed

Ever looked at a big book on the shelf and thought you wished you had the time to read it? Ray Sawhill (who spent many years covering the book publishing industry for Newsweek) frequently tells me books are too long. Publishers think they need high page counts to justify prices. But since books frequently have too much filler, repetition, and detail we aren't interested in we read fewer books and get less benefit per book than would be the case if books were written and formatted to optimize reader benefit.

Ray tells me he's long wanted publishers to include a 40 page short version at the front of a book. Read it for the gist. Then see if any sections seem worth reading in greater detail.

Now that a large and growing percentage of books get delivered digitally we ought to be able to do something even better. For some years now I've thought the publishing industry should agree to a standard way to provide multiple views into an ebook filtered for different reading purposes. Imagine your ebook reader allowed you to select between 10 page, 40 page, 100 page,and 500 page views of the same book. Writers and editors would need to decide what went into each view. Links in the shorter views could allow one to read a particularly interesting section in greater detail.

With a standard way to call out book subsets it would even be possible for 3rd parties to make and publish their own filtered views of a book. An astute reviewer could select subsections of a book that are most interesting and then publish a special filter file that enabled owners of the full ebook to look at a subset of that ebook as chosen by the reviewer. The subset files would not need contain the actual book text. For example, in the simplest version of a subset file it could contain just sentence numbers or other unique tag for each sentence (so all books would need a sentence numbering system - and that system would need to support fixes where publishers add or delete sentences to fix errors in the original published work). So there'd be no copyright issue with distributing the reviewer's filter.

The filter format should include support for added commentary by reviewers that goes with it. So one could get a filter that basically is both a fast way to read the book and a review of the book that gets into detail tied to specific sections of a book. Viewing software should even be powerful enough to show the subset chosen by reviewer A along with any additional sections which reviewer B wrote specific commentary about. So you wouldn't need to see all the sections reviewer B made visible. But you could still see the sections that reviewer B commented on.

Of course chopping out sentences might require adding bridge sentences. It is harder for a 3rd party to do that without potentially violating copyright. But bridge sentences are still a useful feature even if only publishers could add them.

An optional feature: the ability to link between books. Be able to basically create a view that interleaves 2 or 3 or more books. Anyone would owns all of the books could read them in a way that interleaves different treatments by different authors on the same topic. So, for example, a few books on algorithms could have their sorting algorithm sections linked together. One could cycle between the books to read different treatments of the same topic.

So I'm really proposing a few things here:

  • An industry standard electronic format for making shorter versions of long written works.
  • The ability of third parties to specify subsets without running afoul of copyright law.
  • The ability to use this format to also deliver reviews. The review text should be readable without the book but also readable with ties into the book if you own the book in a compatible ebook format.
  • The ability to link between books.

Any book readers have some thoughts on this proposal?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 January 02 07:02 PM  Comm Tech Gadgets

dorian said at January 2, 2012 10:47 PM:

For the mainstay effort, how about: Crowd-source reviews by chapter, and then reviews of the reviews to whittle out the chaff?

Say sample size of 5 reviews, with minimum background education/credentials (has to be registered site then), and a pass on the "editor" level with 2 people ranking the 5 should give you nice credible distribution. Tie it to some sort of free pizza and beer incentive and you have a web business! And... not wait for the pondersome publishers. who are all going out of business.

dlr said at January 3, 2012 7:13 AM:

I can't wait. I say the editing capability needs to be on a word by word basis, and DEFINITELY needs to allow additions and revisions as well as deletions.

Randall Parker said at January 4, 2012 6:07 PM:


Yes, book review quality is very important. And, yes, book reviewer quality is important as well. I certainly want to know:

- whether people I've decided are smart have ranked a book highly.

- when each of my preferred reviewers has reviewed any book.

- whether people with appropriate backgrounds have praised a book or panned it.

We need much better recommendation systems.

John said at January 5, 2012 7:42 AM:

I agree that we need a standard format for review. The number and quality of reviewers makes a huge difference in peoples ability to filter both in terms of appropriateness of subject matter and quality of content.

dorian said at January 5, 2012 5:15 PM:

There are already some rather nice free and open source "Editing" and management tools for ebooks. Calibre comes to mind, since I use it, and it has a wonderful community around it. There are others too. It think it would be nearly trivial to have a a few modules built for it to do a proof of concept of the crowdsourcing aspect to what you want done.

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