The goals of the sBook project are to develop a unifying information architectural framework for readers, writers and publishers that ties together emerging standards; and to invent new forms of functionality and interoperability to achieve our design vision. The name “sBook” refers to the qualities of the intended experience:
- Simple: the pleasure and beauty of human readable pages
- Social: developing context and community through social media tools
- Searchable: the power and practicality of electronic text
- Smart: intelligent recommendations both within and beyond the work
- Sustainable: effective use of material and energy throughout the lifecycle
- Synchronized: can be updated by author and publisher
- Scalable: open platform supporting new products, services, experiences
sLab's vision goes beyond the limited model of most existing ebook systems (such as Amazon’s Kindle) by fully supporting annotating, quoting, comparing, searching, taking notes, and sharing, a process which may be described as “active reading” and which many commentators view as the threshold that must be met for the support of true knowledge work rather than simple leisure reading [Golovchinsky 2008, Sellen and Harper 2002]. sLab claims that emerging digital text infrastructures (search and retrieval systems, social media) are increasingly good at facilitating collective and institutional textual practices such as citing, referencing, curating, publishing, managing, etc. However, they are not very good at facilitating personal textual practices such as highlighting, commenting, annotating, etc. This bias stands in contrast to that of paper texts, which facilitate personal practices while making social and institutional ones more complex.
A number of competing systems, open and proprietary, exist for sorting, delivering and engaging with texts. The focus of this project will be to explore why, when and how these solutions need to inter-operate, and to develop new pathways, 'middleware', and interface technologies that assist in connecting the pieces and experiences together. The first design task is to create a framework that maps and relates emerging standards, systems, and devices, working together and with external partner organizations to create innovative bridging of digital and paper text solutions.
Following from this phase will be the development of prototype displays, applications, and devices that seek to make use of and extend this framework, calling attention to the advantages of an open, shared and accessible infrastructure. In addition to these human experiential benefits, the sBook framework seeks to foster significant advances in sustainability by developing expectations and business models for print-on-demand, reducing needless inventory. The development of the sBook framework starts from three specific attributes of reading we see as important and in need of critical attention and material support:
- Reading occurs in a variety of spaces, places and at different times
- Reading is social practice that involves other people, collectives, and institutions
- Reading is an active process in the productive trajectory of intellectual work (that might include thinking, writing, making, linking, etc) rather than a passive process of consumption.
Given these precepts, the sBook framework is oriented towards conserving the valuable aspects of both digital and paper-based text. It is obvious that current text solutions foster and develop these aspects of reading to different degrees -- and for different reasons. Digital text solutions make personal rather than institutional distribution of texts more possible, but are currently limited in order to maintain traditional economic models of publishing. Ebook software standards and devices make markup and highlighting of text (important aspects of active reading) difficult, whereas paper copies encourage these practices. Key to our understanding of these issues is that they involve material and technical development as well as institutional change. The sBook framework does not discriminate between social, organizational, and technical development – it shall encompass all of these.
For more information, please visit http://slab.ocadu.ca/project/sbook-futures-of-the-book.