The Concept of an Unstructured Book and the Software to Publish and Read It

By Mengelberg, John Bauer | Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology, Annual 2007 | Go to article overview
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The Concept of an Unstructured Book and the Software to Publish and Read It

Mengelberg, John Bauer, Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology


Several years ago, people started to think about the computer as a way to publish--and hence, to read--a book. Some of us regarded this as the creation of a new concept, somewhat more general than a "book" in the traditional sense of the word. This paper describes a result of such an outlook.

Let it be stated that some of the very attractive possibilities of electronic books are mentioned but not described in this paper, since they are not only well known but also have become household concepts. The most significant of them are probably the inclusion of multimedia materials, the "live" references to other published items and very specially, due to its enormous impact on the way a book is now written, the possibility of including links--be they hypertexts or some other form of using the material in non-linear ways. Of course for some readers, the possibility of enlarging letters or having a software product read the texts out aloud may be the main difference. Many of the available software products which allow authors to publish such an e-book list the advantages of doing so, but are somewhat biased in their main objective, which is to maximize the author's revenues as a result of offering his material. For example, in the description of a product called ebook88 (ebook88: ebook Resources, 2002), the list of advantages fails to include the two features which I pointed out as the most important, but enhances environmental aspects, the cost of producing them and the ease of distribution. However, they included the possibility of making changes or adding more material to the book, which is also near the top of my list of advantages. An illustrative discussion comparing several terms, including e-books meaning the material as well as the device to display it, and e-texts as plain text files instead of the bundled files produced by most e-book products, was found in the article called precisely e-book (Wikipedia, 2007). E-texts were first introduced by Michael Hart in 1971, with the purpose of making all information available to everybody (Michael Hart, 1992). This in turn implied offering the material through the most available software products, and is obviously still the goal of many informers. However, as far as the book industry, many have chosen a different strategy, consisting in the use proprietary software to read the resulting e-books

After examining the offering of publishing tools, we concluded that the emphasis centered primarily on the economic results of the tool: one of the leading claims was that it would significantly reduce unauthorized use of the materials. As will be seen our approach to the topic is radically different, since we are not too concerned about the economic possibilities. For example, though some of our methods and possibilities could do both, our primary concern is not preventing unauthorized reading of the books but to bar individual readers from seeing something they should not see.

It will become clear that the new possibilities of the unstructured books described in this paper complement, but in no way replace, any of the existing enhancements due to the electronic medium. Neither is their introduction meant to cause a significant change in the publishing world. Its purpose is to offer a different way to communicate with readers of the material, who, incidentally, have a much bigger role in this interaction than in traditional books. Additionally, other uses of the concept are not only possible, but probably will have greater impact than the new types of books made possible by the added features.

The concept we describe was reached in three stages. Initially, I discovered that many factors may tend to bother certain readers of a book, since they often annoyed me. One of them is the way the author quotes foreign language texts, phrases or expressions: a translation replaces the literal quote, is added to the original quote or no translation is provided at all.

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The Concept of an Unstructured Book and the Software to Publish and Read It


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