Reimagining the Printed Page

NYTimes has two articles today related to eBooks and electronic writing. (Brad Stone “Is This the Future of the Digital Book?” and Randall Stross “Small Company Offers Web-Based Competition for Microsoft Word“). I pair them together because they both describe ways in which current web-based media are nibbling at the edges of the reading and writing experience.

The usual points are made–people can and do read onscreen, web-based document creation is possible–but the first article goes on to frame reading in terms of “experience.” This is often left out of discussions about ebooks.

So in a comment ebook readers, for example, we find “for all the hype and initial success of devices like the Kindle, they threaten to strip traditional books of much of their transportive appeal. Images on the jacket cover, inviting fonts and the satisfying feel of quality paper are all largely absent, replaced by humdrum pixels on a virtual page.”

Will portability and convenience be enough, or do readers want to replace the book experience with something else?

The article begins with information about, Bradley Inman’s start-up that seeks to roll writing, video, and streams into compelling fiction. Also mentioned are WEBook, which “allows people to collaborate on writing books and is working on new ways to let readers give writers real-time feedback on their work” and Wattpad, a venue for new writers, and Fourth Story Media’s “Amanda Project” that will allow users to “to create their own characters, upload artwork and follow clues that relate to the books’ overarching narrative” on the site or on their iPhones.

Silly? Gimmicky? Ephemeral? Anyone remember Eastgate‘s hypertexts?

As for Zoho writer, the subject of the second article, it is adding features at a pace designed to help it beat Microsoft’s promised web-based editor. Like some online editors it allows for simultaneous editing. Even better, footnotes/endnotes, those two challenges of such online editors as Google Docs, seem to be solved. Now if only Zotero could nail down a way to work with it, academic writers could be set free from the Microsoft chain.

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