Plugging into a good read. The rise of interactive literature and the iBook.

I’ve been exploring some of the new digital book formats over the last couple of months, looking at how people are taking the idea of a printed book layout and adapting it to digital. Approaches vary from simply sticking the text on screen through to creative, interactive designs that incorporate a range of additional media.

In particular, i’m interested in the opportunities that this translation brings in terms increasing engagement and learning.

The simplest adaptation is to just stick the text on screen. In something like the iBook format on the iPad, that’s just what you get. There are some ‘enhancements’ to the original, such as the ability to scale text up, to use a dictionary function to see what a word means, and the ability to add notes and annotations, but it’s still, at heart, a book.

After this, you can get progressively more sophisticated enhancements. Take the ‘World War Two Pacific App’, by Gameloft and Carlton Books. This is essentially a media collection, drawn together around an enhanced chronological narrative of events. You’ve got a number of sequential chapters, each of which tells a straight story, but the chapters are interspersed with narrated maps, showing the disposition of the armies and their movement over time. Within each chapter of the story, every page has photos that you can tap to enlarge, zoom and move around. There are also ‘dossiers’, which bring up facsimiles of original documents, such as a letter from the President, complete with hand written annotations. All the while, a rousing soundtrack plays in the background.

On the plus side, it’s pretty interesting. The content is written by Richard Overy, Professor of History at Exeter University. The story is authoritative and well laid out. Certainly, the ‘original’ documents are fascinating, and bring a new dimension to the piece..

There are few issues with it; the navigation is not always great, in particular, if you click on a place on the map, it takes you to the relevant section, with no way of getting back to the map. It’s easy to become ‘informationally lost’, but these are simple issues to fix. It’s certainly a very credible attempt.

Whether it’s a ‘book’ or not, i’m less sure. Historically, we’ve chosen which format to use to tell a story largely depending upon cost and convention. Printed books, short and disposable newspapers, visual stories on film and audio plays on the radio. There was never an active decision to segment things in this way; it was simply not possible to combine the media. You couldn’t put moving images into a printed book and text didn’t look good on the screen.

All that’s changing now. Video and text coexist, along with podcasts and images. The boundaries between media channels are fragmenting and changing. Production has got easier, the barriers to publication have fallen and distribution is at the click of a button.

I’m no luddite, but neither am i ready to dismiss the printed format altogether. I don’t buy any less books than i used to, but i do buy nicer ones. I’m more inclined to buy business books electronically and ‘social’ or ‘coffee table’ books printed. Doubtless i’ll find space in my ‘library’ for interactive formats as well, to join the podcasts that already adorn my virtual shelves.

The new formats bring possibilities of new forms of storytelling and learning design as well and I’m interested in designing some of these ‘interactive’ books for certain types of learning. There are also the possibilities that come about with electronic parsing and ‘mashable’ content, whereby readers can start to combine content in new ways by themselves.

In simple terms, the media of distribution are changing. This brings opportunities and challenges for storytelling and learning design, but I don’t think the humble book is going to be disappearing anytime soon. For several years i ran a museum research library, with shelf after wooden shelf of beautiful, faded, crinkled tomes, each one in shades of brown and with the distinctive smell of wisdom. They looked lovely, but i didn’t read many of them.

New formats are portable, eminently consumable and highly engaging, even if they’re less comfortable to curl up to with coffee and a muffin.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Book, e-Books, Interactive, iPad and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Plugging into a good read. The rise of interactive literature and the iBook.

  1. Pingback: The future of books: the evolution of publishing | Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

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