Life is a Mystery

25 October 2009 . Comments Off on Big book byte week

Big book byte week

Two bits of book news caught my eye this week, the Barnes and Nobel nook reader came out of the closet and my old friend HP announced that they are presenting University of Michigan books scanned by Google in their BookPrep system.

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To my eye the nook is a much more pleasant e-book reader than Amazon’s Kindle. I can’t imagine reading on the Kindle simply because it has all those buttons and keys on it. It feels way too much like a machine. The Nook is all smooth, with what appears to be a calm touch interface. Much more my speed. Not that I can imagine spending $250 on a single-purpose device anyway. I’d sooner read my e-books on an iPod Touch.

As much as I appreciate the Nook’s aesthetics, what really impresses me in the social aspect of Nook. For the first time that I know of, a mainstream e-book provider is planning to differentiate itself by allowing e-books with digital restrictions to be shared:

Lend eBooks to friends, nook lets you loan eBooks to friends, free of charge. Remember, what goes around comes around.

Publishers complain about the first sale doctrine which has given book owners the right to share and resell books. They have seen digital restrictions as a way to prevent the same behavior in the e-book world. I think this is horribly short sighted, since the social behavior of sharing is the best way possible to spread word about titles and authors that you love. It is great to see even a small break in this facade.

Another kind of electronic book is made accessible by HP in the BookPrep system. I didn’t notice BookPrep until the UMich announcement, but it is a great demonstration by HP that even the roughly scanned material from Google and other scanning projects will have a long digital life. They have developed a process to clean up the images of scanning projects so that the pages are legible and even pleasant to read online. I am really glad to see UMich being so proactive about getting the trove of material from the Google project into public view. Thank you John Price Wilkin and everyone else at the UMich Libraries.

Especially charming about BookPrep is the fact that after going to all the trouble to clean images of artifacts like page edges and binding curvature, the presentation software puts artificial versions of these elements back to make the experience of reading these volumes more bookish. Does the experience of reading a book really require the form of the book around it?

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I think nook indicates otherwise. I look forward to the day that nook can present all the content from BookPrep, Google Books, the Internet Archive, and all the other scanning projects out there. I think the form of the book will begin to fade, but the content still has a long life ahead.

18 October 2009 . Comments Off on Delta Disses Macs

Delta Disses Macs

Here in the Twin Cities the Northwest/Delta merger has been big news. Minneapolis and Saint Paul was the hub for Northwest and thus it will be hard to fly in or out of Minnesota without encountering Delta. As a Mac user, I loved the nwa.com web site. In almost 10 years of flying Northwest, I never had a Mac-related browser hitch. When you consider how Apple was doing 10 years ago, that’s pretty amazing.

Last week I used Delta’s web site for the first time. It had some major hiccups related to seat selection that prevented me from buying a ticket with Safari. I started over again with Firefox and all went well. OK, I thought, that is unfortunately more typical of the industry. I’ll just let them know and hopefully they will fix the bug.

I filed a report and got back the a form letter that said, among other things, the following:

To view delta.com, one of the following browsers is recommended:

Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher
Firefox 2 or higher for Windows and Mac
Safari 2 or higher for Mac

Great! Safari was on the list. I wrote back pointing out I’d used Safari 4, which was supposed to be supported. That’s when I got this puzzling reply:

Currently, delta.com is designed and constructed to be best viewed by a
Windows-based, PC platform using Internet Explorer 6.0 (and higher), as
well as Netscape 7.2 (and higher) browsers. This was established based
on the dominant type of users throughout the industry. We regret that we
cannot guarantee service on every computer platform. However, we will
regularly review the Mac population of users and respond accordingly.

Huh? IE6 and Netscape7.2? Not even any support for the Mac until some further “regular review” happens? That does not sound very helpful. Given the penetration of Macs into the home market that sounds downright disrespectful of customers. Not to mention blind to the direction web standards are heading.

If anyone knows the right way to put pressure on Delta to fix delta.com, I’d love to hear it!

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6 October 2009 . Comments Off on Free ride disclosed

Free ride disclosed

The blogosphere is bubbling with concern over new FTC rules, due to go into effect in December, which would require disclosure of any relationship between reviewer and reviewee. For example, if a reviewer received an advance review copy (ARC) of something they then reviewed, they would have to disclose that fact in the review. This is an effort by the FCC to stem the tide of viral marketing that appears “authentic” to the reader, but is in fact “paid for” in some sense by the manufacturer or publisher.

The rules seem, on the whole, reasonable to me. Granted, I’ve never reviewed something I’m paid for or received for free, so I’m not the “target” of these changes.

The one troubling objection I’ve seen made is that the new rules may hold the manufacturers or publishers liable in some way for false statements made by bloggers. In other words, the rules may treat blog posts and tweets as traditional advertising subject, in some way, to “false advertising” claims. As one blogger laments:

Like I want publishers breathing down my neck while I try to write fair and honest reviews. We’ve already turned away publishers who wanted to have oversight over our reviews. And frankly, I feel like I should be giving instruction to publishers on labeling issues.

This would, indeed, be a problem. I hope the FTC does not equate an ARC to the kind of payment and responsibility an advertiser assumes for an ad that they place. But on the whole I am glad to see the FTC thinking about the future of marketing and the consumer protections we need in place to be able to judge the information we get via the web.

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Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org