Digital Editions Need Standards, Content Availability – and Experience!

Spot-on Tim O’Reilly post mis-titled Standardized Hardware for eBook Readers . Tim does start by referencing a good post Makezine post on Sony Reader that touches on that topic. But the real meat comes when he riffs into a concise call to action:
“In short, we need standardized hardware, standardized software, and standardized document formats. And then we need publishers to get their books into those formats”
Yes, indeed!
Tim also reminds us of the different jobs books do. As we think about a “digital edition” we shouldn’t be thinking about a monolithic single-function publication, much less a “digital replica” of paper. We need to be thinking about the flexibility to distribute and recombine content assets in a wide variety of ways, shapes, and forms. Clearly “short form” article- and snippet-length content bites will become more popular in the digital on-demand medium. As will collaborative community-based authoring.
Yet it seems obvious that “curated” assemblages of content – what I think of as a “digital edition” – will still have a strong role to play, both for long-form learning and entertainment reading and because to our tribal human brains the gestalt of an assembled whole will often remain ineffably greater than the sum of its even seemingly independent parts. An issue of Make: is a great example of this. The idea that text-based content of the future won’t be any longer than a page on MySpace or an article on Wikipedia is as fundamentally misguided as the notion that YouTube clips will completely replace Hollywood movies.
I think there’s one key issue leading some to the false conclusion that long form text is doomed: it’s that we don’t yet enjoy compelling user experiences for immersive reading in the digital world. Movies on PCs and music on iPods deliver essentially the same consumption user experience as their analog predecessors. But many of us have a hard time imagining reading a novel-length work on a PC, whether in HTML in Firefox or PDF in Adobe Reader. The user experience is far different from, and far inferior to, paper. We all read snippets on screens, so some people leap to the radical notion that long-form texts don’t make sense at all in the digital world. Of course a number of the jobs best done in paper in long form assemblages, such as reference works, are more effectively accomplished by searching out short form snippets in the digital medium. But there’s no reason to expect novels and other long-form content to vanish. But we do need to make immersive reading a great experience.
For long-form content to really take off in the digital world we definitely need standardized hardware, software, and formats. But we need to ensure that these technologies also deliver compelling user experiences for consuming that content. We’re getting closer, but to make “Publishing 2.0″ happen we clearly have some more work to do.