Books and the internet converge

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

At Forbes, Hugh McGuire writes about the vanishing line between books and the internet, or how books (now e-books) can become more tightly integrated with the kind of sharing, searching, and linking capability we expect from standard web pages. Before Google Books and Kindles, books existed outside the online world, referred to only in a context of purchasing them or painstakingly copied passages of text. But, McGuire says, books have always possessed the basic building blocks of other online content:

What is a book, after all, but a collection of data (text + images), with a defined structure (chapters, headings, captions), meta data (title, author, ISBN), prettied up with some presentation design? In other words, what is a book, but a website that happens to be written on paper and not connected to the Web?

Don't let that scare you away--it's the kind of oversimplified, technological utopian statement that dismisses the cultural value of books. But he's right about the mechanics of it. There's no reason an e-book can't be manipulated and referenced the same way a Forbes article can. When I'm reading an e-book on my iPhone or iPad and come across a choice passage my first instinct is to share it on Twitter, but neither the Kindle nor the iBooks app will let me, presumably because of copyright concerns. I should be able to. Why not limit the amount of text I can copy to, I don't know, 140 characters (or minus whatever it takes to link to their store). McGuire lists this among other things like linking to specific pages and searching across multiple books that will become standard as e-books evolve.