Digital Reading: Crowdsourcing an Ebook Wish List

Anne KostickWhile spending the day trying to trying to navigate my new Kobo e-reader—there’s a future usability column in that story—I started making my own wish list for improvements, fixes and general upgrades to my current e-reader experience. (“How many menus, oh Lord…?”)

Then I realized I’d already crowdsourced a beginning wish list through responses to earlier columns on user experience. Best of all, this self-selected batch of comments blended those from experts and those from non-expert, but passionate, readers: those who knew what they were talking about by training and those who knew what they wanted by experience! Perfect.

Many who are disappointed with digital reading’s progress so far just say, “Call me when you’ve perfected it; until then I’ll stick to print…” leaving us to figure out how to perfect it. That’s one of the topics we’ll touch on during an upcoming webcast, “Reader Experience and Ebooks: What UX Experts Can Teach Publishers.”

So, here are responses and reflections from my accidental survey. Publishers and developers, take note.

1. It should be very much like a book, but better.

“It would have to be really different from a real book, like very lightweight, pocket-size, extremely long battery life, yet seem a whole lot like a book while reading it. And include all illustrations and diagrams!”

(I love this one—it sums up the wishes of those who want digital reading to be just like a book and those who want it to be just like the Web.)

2. Visually connect to my place in the book (through a graphic or spatial reminder).

“I want to be able to easily find what I’m looking for.”

3. Include marginal notes.

“Marginalia is the reader’s conversation with the book!”

“I love the solitude of a great read. But I’m fascinated by the possibilities of a mash-up.”

4. No, don’t include marginal notes.

“I prefer my neural net-making not to be distracted by another’s marks.”

“It’s distracting in the Kindle. Why did someone highlight that? It reminds me of Yossarian censoring the mail in Catch-22.”

“I think it’s invasive. I just want to be alone with the author. “

“I want and need some time in the intimate space where it’s just the writer’s words and me. Talking with others during that time would be like commenting while a movie or TV show you’re riveted to is going on.”

(The obvious answer to this dilemma is under #8—make it optional.)

5. Include relevant multimedia.

“Background music: an author’s suggested faves, sampled and looped, available when you scroll over a certain paragraph or click a button?”

“Add audio accompaniments and it would be a small and valuable jump to turn e-readers into multimedia museum/gallery guides.”

6. Incorporate dynamically served features, such as GPS for travel books.

7. Better graphics.

“The ability to display non-text elements, possibly as a thumbnail that expands to a more detailed scrollable view if the element is too large to display full size on my device’s screen.”

8. Make features optional.

9. Easy transfer of purchased books across platforms / easy and broad sharing.

“Almost all the [tourists] here on the beach in Costa Rica have Kindles, which makes it very hard for me to trade books with them. Bummed…”

10. Better bookmarking, navigating and clipping.

“It would be great to more easily scan back to certain passages without remembering the line count prospectively”

“A UI that will let me select what I want to read, and allow me to easily navigate within it once I have, jumping to particular spots via either a Table of Contents, Index, or user-created bookmark.”

11. Buy a book once and read it in all formats.

12. Be able to carry a library with me wherever I go.

NOTE: DBW has launched an Editorial Forum on LinkedIn, a sub-group for editors and others working in trade publishing to discuss standards, workflow, best practices, and the general Qs that most print people feel when confronted with terms like “workflow.” The Forum is moderated by Anne Kostick and David B. Schlosser. Anne’s weekly column, Digital Reading, discusses the field of User Experience and explores what it offers to trade publishers.

Anne Kostick is a partner in Foxpath IND, a digital-print-web consulting and services company specializing in the transition to and from traditional content development, management and publishing. She is also the editor in chief of Dulcinea Media, an online publisher in the educational market, and is the current president of Women’s Media Group.

2 thoughts on “Digital Reading: Crowdsourcing an Ebook Wish List

  1. karen wester newton

    Some of what they are wishing for (especially linkable tables of contents, jumping forward and backward a chapter at a time) already exist. But they require the publisher to add tagging in the ebook files to support those features.

    As your list points out, not everyone wants the same things. That’s one reason both iPads and Kindles/Nooks are popular. Some people want color and LCD speed, and others prefer e-ink and no eyestrain or glare issues.

    I should also mention that the annotating feature for Kindle books is actually pretty easy to use; it’s the Kindle keyboard that sucks swamp water.

  2. Roymond

    I have a Kindle 2 and an iPad. The Kindle is sweet for reading pure text, but for my needs, that is a fraction of what I read. I also can’t put much on the Kindle that I didn’t buy via Amazon. So, I rarely use it. My iPad has all the various readers on it, supports native, full color and formated PDFs (required for physics textbooks, etc.) and causes no eye strain (I feel this myth was invented by Amazon)…except in strong sunlight, where I rarely do my reading. IAnnotate can also capture any web content as PDF to take or save for later, or email.

    What the iPad lacks, so far, is a comprehensive cross-app search and index feature. I manage most textbooks in a PDF app (iAnnotate), have many Kindle books and Nook books in their respective iPad apps, plus GoogleBooks and Kobo. Then there’s Overdrive for public library loaners, as well as a dedicated Shakespear app. I’d love to have one central list of all my titles, categorized, with ful text searching so I can find all references to Picasso in any content on my device. I imagine this will evolve, as people’s libraries grow and these issues become more apparent.

    I do all my reading on the iPad now, and I read so much more than I ever have. The freedom to access my library wherever I am, and have reference titles handy, along with all my manuals in one place, is truly a liberating reality. And this is just the beginning.



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