James Linden

~# data ninja / linux guru / web dev geek / robotics nerd / idea machine / N6NRD

eBooks: The Case For Electronic Books

If people started thinking outside the spine, e-books would really start to take off as the viable technology we know it to be. Here are some of the things I have run across and/or thought about in my e-bookie life.

  1. Most people I talk to think that ebooks are only things like "How to get your site listed in search engines" and "Make $500,000 a month at home" kind of crap. The saddest part is that several of these people worked in arenas where they should know better (blind services, etc).

  2. Some ebook formats (PDF, LIT, OeB) are far too stuck in the print mentality to one extent or another. E-books don't have fixed page numbers or spines or covers. I will never understand why people think they do or should.

    E-books don't need to be displayed on a "cool" page-oriented background image, etc. Yes, one may argue that scholars want page numbers, or librarians want spine metadata, or that covers look "cool," but it all comes down to one fundamental thing--they aren't needed for anything. Having nice images (including covers) is good, don't get me wrong, but they should be molded into the overall presentation, not like a cover on a book. The spine metadata can be represented in more suitable ways. Unfortunately, these formats are the most prevalent ones (in the media, etc.--not necessarily in implementation).

  3. Complicated DRM is only going to stunt technology and/or market persuasion. Look at what happened with PDF, for example. I think their DRM would have worked, had they not made such a big deal out of it, and had they kept it in proportion to the need. DRM is mandatory for some things, useful for others, but completely wasted for some. Implementing DRM for public domain material, for example, seems daft to me.

  4. Finding specific e-book titles is hit-and-run. There is no easy and accurate way to find them. Google is the best, but getting the actual book one is searching for can be interesting. I've ended up on those dreaded "porn-popper" pages because it happened to match somehow, and wasn't an obvious bad result. Building a good online catalog with a simple search interface would go a long way, in my opinion. After talking with the powers that be, I've found that getting such a catalog going for PG, for example, would be a weekend project--and not just a hack job of it, either. Maintaining it, because of PG's current cataloging system, would be more complex, but certainly doable.

  5. Of course, the general format issue must come up in any list of ails and ills. While I have no hard statistical evidence to back up my opinions on this matter, I have strong feelings that PG's text format (among others) is holding things up somewhat. While PGTXT is usable and non-proprietary, it is hideous to most people for one reason or another. Keeping plain text versions is a wise plan, so we don't get stuck with unusable data later, but, we should have more enhanced versions available for EVERY text. Yes, this is my most common point of discussion, and yes, I have been working on the issue myself, via raptorbook.org, but solitary work won't get it done anytime soon. There are others, such as BlackMask - I'm not alone - but back to my point. When I hear complaints about PGTXT or other formats, I can't help but grunt and say to myself, "So do something about it." An average of 10 minutes per text is all it takes to get an etext from PG into various other formats using the RaptorBook Engine, and I'm just hoping someone else comes up with an even better solution than I have.

So, out of my list of ills, there are two items I am working on myself--cataloging and formatting, and while slow, it certainly isn't hard work. A couple hundred ants can move a pile of leaves in a matter of hours; a couple dozen humans could format PG's entire archive in a matter of weeks.

If you want better formatting for eBooks--then do it. Improve upon it, then do it again.

If you want audio versions of eBooks--then do it. Improve upon it, then do it again.

Work, when done properly, is not wasted, no matter how repetious or incorrect it is. Life is simple, as are life's problems. Break it down into smaller problems and solve each one, thus solving the entire problem.

photo of James Linden
Founder / Head Geek
Digital Dock, LLC
aka kodekrash & N6NRD
Alexandria, LA USA

What I Do

Linux administration & virtualization
Data mining, storage & analysis
Web development

What I've Done

Rescued a skunk
Built Prime GNU/Linux
Contributed to Spidering Hacks