Campus Walk

August 17th, 2006 by Adam

Student at LibraryYesterday, Ed Mahlum and I spent a couple of hours walking around our old stomping grounds at the University of Washington to observe how people interact with both print and digital documents. We visited computer labs, libraries, and coffee shops. Here are a few random observations:

  • Librarians are very helpful and like to answer questions! Among other things, we were pointed to a site containing survey results on UW library usage and given direct contact information of those in charge of technology, library usage statistics, etc…
  • Computer labs at UW Campus were about 75% Dell / 25% Mac. I’m sure one of our new contacts could give us an exact count on this, but that is what it looked like to me.
  • The campus computer store and the people using laptops in free WiFi areas seem to be weighted the other way (about 75% Mac / 25% PC)
  • There is a lot of free WiFi on or near campus.
  • People we observed using computers were usually doing e-mail, on MySpace type web sites, or composing Word documents. We also saw someone using Wikipedia and a few people playing games. We wondered how folks go about installing their own software (games, for example) on computer lab machines.
  • Not many people were reading material on computers besides the activities above.
  • A librarian told us that eBooks were not popular with Librarians or students because of the archaic DRM restrictions.
  • The library will not subscribe to document databases (of academic papers or newspaper archives, for example) that restrict printing in any way. These databases are usually an annual subscription fee.
  • There was a good selection of flash drives and voice recorders at the campus computer store.
  • An employee of the campus computer store said that very few people want to buy scanners. He had a price sheet for some flatbed and multi-function scanners, but none in stock.

All in all, I think it is great to get out of the office and into environments where people will be using our products. If we choose to focus on higher education as a starting point (which is a strong contender), I think it would be cool to move our office to a major campus so that we have many more opportunities to cross paths with our target audience on a daily basis. Maybe we could even go Delicious Monster style and set up shop in one of the Free WiFi areas of campus!

Ed, I encourage you to chime in with other observations if I missed anything. You can see pictures from our trip here.

Vintage Quentin

August 16th, 2006 by Hugh

Exbiblio’s other founder, – I say “other” because he is based in England and often less visible around Exbiblio than Martin – is Quentin Stafford-Fraser. I was nosing around his website when I came across this rather interesting piece of footage which dates from 1995 and grew out of his Ph.D. You will see it is all about training a video camera on a white board – or on a piece of paper for that matter – and writing commands which tell a computer what to do – print, for instance. It intrigues me, partly because of its nostalgic vintage feel, but also because I think you can detect a strand of the Exbiblio thinking here. The linking of the digital world to the printed or written world is a theme which continues to this day.

You may need the Quicktime plugin to watch the video.

Publisher to mesh paper with digital

August 5th, 2006 by Hugh

Publishing giant HarperCollins has announced a deal with iAmplify to offer audio and video content along side books. It will provide free audio interviews as well as paid-for content that adds a new dimension to the words on the printed page. I quote from the press release:

“We are moving towards a new distribution model where content is available to consumers on demand,” Hidary added. “iAmplify provides digital content in any format and on any device – not only to iPods, but also to laptops and cell phones – that consumers can access digitally anytime, anywhere.”

Now imagine just how much more powerful this development would be if readers could swipe a hyperlink in the paper book and be whisked to a multi-media digital experience – for that is exactly the Exbiblio vision.

At the same time, HarperCollins is launching a “browse inside” feature for a range of titles on its website. It’s already including audio extracts (example from Isabel Allende’s Zorro). The browse feature, which aims to give online book-buyers a similar experience to thumbing volumes in an bookshop, was pioneered by Amazon, and emulated more recently by Google Books. It does not quite fulfill the Exbiblio vision of a digital text that a reader can place in a “Life Library”, but it is a significant move by a book publisher in that direction.

Meanwhile the New York Times reports that publishers are using video services such as YouTube to promote books. Companies like Expanded Books will make video promotions for around $4000. Top blog Gawker calls a video trailer for your book, “The hottest new marketing trend.”

Jeff Jarvis, one of the most widely read bloggers, talks of “exploding books” and says “authors are breaking free of paper.” Jarvis is perhaps a little bit too hasty to write the old-fashioned book off just yet (see Penguin’s best selling performance). Another way of looking at this is to say that paper is not “dead wood”, but is finding a new lease of life by becoming integrated with the digital world.

Doomsday Text Online

August 4th, 2006 by Hugh

One of England’s oldest and most important public records is now available in digital format. The Doomsday Book dates from a census of 1086 by the Norman invader, William the Conqueror. Its gloomy name probably relates to the fact that it was used as a basis for taxation. It listed just about every village, field and pig in the land, as well as the owners, though the big cities such as London were excluded. Many families can trace their names back to the survey, and the book is an important starting point for genealogists.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle relates how William commissioned the survey:

Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out “How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire.”

You can now search the Doomsday book online at the site of the UK’s National Archives. Unfortunately, there is a charge to see a facsimile of an individual page. This is a model that could prove problematic for Exbiblio, which aims to interlink paper copies with their online versions. Even so, it would seem likely that researchers will be among the earliest adopters of Exbiblio’s technology.

UC and Google Books

August 2nd, 2006 by Hugh

The Exbiblio system is, of course, about closely integrating print on paper with online texts. One of the obstacles that needs to be overcome is the fact that the majority of written texts do not yet exist in digital form. The Google Books Project aims to change that, but it faces quite a struggle against copyright holders, many of whom hate the idea of their property being propagated over the internet. Personally, I think they are wrong. The existence of digital texts does not discourage me from buying a nice paper copy of classical books such as War and Peace, but that’s by the by.

The LA Times reports that The University of California is in talks with Google to digitize 34 million volumes from its 100 libraries on 10 campuses. It’s said to be the largest academic library in the world:

Daniel Greenstein, UC’s associate vice provost for scholarly information, said that joining the Google Books Library Project — with its ability to search for terms inside texts, not only in catalog listings — would help “create access like we’ve never had before to our cultural heritage and scholarly memory. It’s a whole new paradigm.”

Greenstein mentioned the fear that a natural disaster might destroy this body of knowledge for ever. He was no doubt thinking of the fire at the Library of Alexandria where many of the great texts of the ancient world were lost, possibly during the war between Egypt’s royal family and Julius Caesar in AD 48. Incidentally, Stanford University has just recovered some lost works from the Greek scientist Archimedes who in the 3rd Century BC jumped out of his bath an shouted “Eureka!” – “I have found”.

More about the UC talks with Google can be found on Tim O’Reilly’s blog.

The Ultimate Computer Satellite

July 28th, 2006 by Hugh

I stumbled across this interview with Apple Inventor, Steve Wozniak. He has a number of interesting things to say about inventions, but I think this thought bodes well for Exbiblio:

Then there’s the iPod. Its success is due to the fact that it’s a satellite to a computer: The computer has become absolutely central to our lives

Wozniak believes that many areas in technology are swamped and that perhaps there should only be a dozen companies making computers. The industry is mature, and it’s hard to come by new inventions. But clearly he believes that an invention that is a satellite to the computer has lots of mileage in it.

From what I’ve seen of Exbiblio’s technology, it is about making the good old-fashioned book orbit around the computer – in fact, if Exbiblio suceeds, the book will be the ultimate computer satellite, perhaps even cooler than the iPod.

Video of Kibble Software

July 27th, 2006 by Adam

Here is a time-lapse video (no sound) of myself using our prototype Kibble software. I am doing the following:

  • Reading a printed Word document
  • Selecting key phrases using a CPen 20 pen scanner
  • (The phrases I scan are getting added to my life library)
  • Adding note annotations to each scan
  • Uploading the scans to a web server using a key code and then e-mailing the key code to the document’s author so that he can view my comments
  • I am then attaching the digital version of the Word document to the scans in my library by dragging the document icon onto the library entry (this happens automatically in newer versions)
  • When I click on a scan, Kibble is launching the digital version of the document on my hard drive and highlighting the portion of text that I captured with the CPen.

Documents on My Desk

July 26th, 2006 by Adam

So, here is my un-staged desk as of 5 min ago (for scientific observation).

Desk with Papers

The are 5 types of documents that I notice at first glance.

  • Digital documents on my screen (web site, e-mail, etc…)
  • Printed web pages (technical tutorial from
  • Printed PDF manual (from Apple)
  • A Post-it with some to-do items
  • A book (Practical C Programming)

What kinds of documents on your desk right now?

Bookend –

July 26th, 2006 by Hugh

Sand Storm is the latest literary blogger to predict the end of the book as we know and love it. He also points out that according to the International Digital Publishing Forum, some $11 million of digital books were sold last year. There are some other useful links in his post related to this topic.

I think that reports of the book’s demise have been exaggerated. Sand Storm compares the digital book to the iPod. It’s true that music downloads are giving the CD sellers a hard time, but then again, CDs haven’t been around for centuries. Books are deeply ingrained in our culture. They are going to be tough to dislodge from our shelves and our hearts.

For the foreseeable future, digital books will supplement print. You can search digital texts, annotate them, copy them, and share them easily. Exbiblio plans to closely integrate the print and online experience. But I don’t think you can write the obituary of the book just yet.

How to Make an Interactive Book

July 24th, 2006 by Adam

Welcome to the future of book technology! In this blog entry we will show hackers like yourself how to build your very own interactive book using supplies that are probably already in your home or office. Let’s get started.

Step 1 – Upgrading an Existing Book

Because interactive books are a cutting edge technology, books published with interactivity built in can be very hard to find at your local book store. However, this fact will not discourage the enterprising hacker from upgrading their own books (also known as “modding” a book).

First, find a black permanent pen (Sharpies are a hacker favorite). Then write “Interactive Book” on the cover of the book you would like to upgrade.

Warning: Be careful to use proper penmanship and spelling as the pen you are using is PERMANENT!

Interactive Book

That’s it! Now your book is interactive! To make the best use of your interactive book you will want to gather some useful accessories including:

  • Highlighter Pen
  • Comfortable writing utensil.
  • Small pad of paper (Post-Its work too).

Interactive Book

When your kit is assembled, you are ready to begin interacting with your book.

Step 2 – Select Some Text

Start by reading the book. When you come across a phrase that you would like to make interactive, highlighting the phrase.

Interactive Book

If you have more than one interactive phrase on a page, use a pen to write a unique number next to the phrase. These numbers only need to be unique to the page, because the page number can also help identify a phrase (for example: page 42, #1)

Interactive Book

Step 3 – Adding Annotations

To add an annotation or comment, simply write your text in the margin of the page. If the margin does not leave enough room or you would like to attach multimedia content (like a photo), add your comment to a separate piece of paper and staple or paperclip your annotation to the page, as shown below.

Interactive Book

Write your initials, date, and page number on all annotations. This will give important context to all future readers.

QUICK TIP: Good annotations will be useful to all future readers. For example, related URLs, insightful comments, or questions are all useful annotations.

As your book gathers more meta-data, it may be full of clippings and marks. Do not worry, this is a sign that your book is becoming more valuable! If the interactive elements make it difficult to read the original text, you may want to purchase a non-interactive book to use in parallel with the interactive version.

Step 4 – Publishing your Annotations

The most important capability of any interactive book is its use as a collaborative medium. Good annotations will breed other good annotations and fruitful discussions may be a positive side effect of well considered questions. To publish your interactive book, hand deliver or mail the book to other readers. It may be helpful to send them a link to this tutorial as a primer if this is their first foray into interactive literature.

QUICK TIP: Choose carefully who you send your valuable book to. A good collaborator will add great value to the book, a bad one won’t read your book, and might not even return it! However, no great reward was ever gained without great risk. Go ahead and send you book to friends, family, strangers you meet on the bus and people you admire (authors may be good collaborators).

Finally, remember to affix the correct postage to your interactive book!

Interactive Book

Step 5 – Hacking the Hack

For those who are not afraid of living on the cutting edge. There are even more daring experiments that haven’t been tried yet. You are encouraged to think of your own variations, but here are a few ideas to get you started.