Lunchtime Links

Going to the O’Reilly conference was like going to Supermarket for Lunchtime Links. Grab a shopping cart and we’ll see if we can sneak 15 items in the 10 Links or Less aisle. Check the labels for how many of our items have the magical “social” ingredient. “Social” is the high-fructose corn syrup of new media.

Shelfari is a social network site devoted to reading. You create a bookshelf with areas for the books you’ve read/are reading/want to read. You can write reviews and give star ratings à la Netflix. You can connect with others and share your bookish experiences and discover new things. You can also try to make yourself look smarter and cooler than you really are by putting One Hundred Years of Solitude on your shelf and leaving off Garfield Beefs Up! You’re welcome to check out my Shelfari page, where I will attempt to look smarter and cooler than I really am.

The unfortunately named Bookglutton is an online social reading site where you can read books (mostly public domain oldies) in a window called an “unbound reader.” The book is displayed in the middle, and on either side you can open windows for chat with other people reading the book, or leave/read comments. You can start or join reading groups devoted to authors or subjects. You can also upload your own work for people to find and read. I would’ve called it BookJunky or something.

Feedbooks is a universal e-reading platform for mobile devices. You can download free e-books and share your own content. The thing I’m most curious about: the ability to create your own customized newspapers from RSS feeds and widgets. I love my RSS, but its crying out for something that brings it organization and design.

Bookworm is an O’Reilly site where users can create their own online library and read eBooks on their browser or mobile device. You can store your eBooks on Bookworm and download them when you want to read them in your iPhone (via the Stanza app).

Espresso Book Machine is a print on demand machine that makes paperback while-U-wait. It takes about 4 minutes to churn out an average book. The quality is indistinguishable from something you’d buy in a book store. At the O’Reilly show they had one with a clear side, so we could see how it works. Watching it in action is weirdly hypnotic. It was the most simultaneously amazing and boring experience of my life. (“This is incredible; when will it be over?”) Sort of like watching microwave popcorn. The makers humbly state, “What Gutenberg’s press did for Europe in the 15th century, digitization and the Espresso Book Machine will do for the world tomorrow.”

Buzzmachine is the blog of Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do? Jeff blogs about new media and the ways in which is is changing (or could change) business, journalism, the universe, you. Lotsa Big Ideers from smart people. Good stuff.

Institute for the Future of the Book is a “think and do tank” based on the premise that print is dead, we need to deal with that and positively shape those tools that will replace it. In their mission statement, they state one of their goals is to build tools for “ordinary, non-technical people to assemble complex, elegant and durable electronic documents without having to master overly complicated applications or seek the help of programmers.” Hmmm, wonder if they’re hiring.

CommentPress is one of the tools created by the Institute for the Future of the Book. It is a WordPress theme that re-orients the comments on the page to enable social interaction around long-form texts.

Safari Rough Cuts is a social, interactive publishing service that gives you access to pre-published manuscripts on technology topics from O’Reilly. Authors submit their working manuscript, which you can read and comment on to help to shape the final book. Call it CrowdEdit.

E-Ink is an electronic paper display technology with a paper-like high contrast appearance, low power consumption, and a taste just like raspberries (just kiddin’). It’s the technology behind the Plastic Logic reader.

IDPF is the standards body responsible for ePub. Lots of publishing companies, technology companines, and publishing technology companies are members. Important because ePub is going to be the standard format for eBooks.

The DAISY Pipeline is an open source collaborative software development project hosted by the Daisy Consortium. It includes includes beta versions of tools for the transformation of documents between different formats: “uptransforms” (non-XML text to XML), “crosstransforms” (XML-grammar to XML-grammar), and “downtransforms” (XML to non-xml deliverable format).

Adobe Digital Editions is a free RIA (Rich Internet Application) for viewing and managing eBooks and other digital publications in ePub and PDF/A formats. Although it’s free, it’s not DRM-free. You can use it with eBooks you download from your public library. Here’s the FAQ.

Bonus Quiz!

Is This What a Kindle Killer Looks Like?

One of the coolest things I saw and held at the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference was the Plastic Logic Reader.

plish-plasticlogic

As I played with it, two words came to mind: Kindle Killer. Yes, I know you won’t be able to buy a Plastic Logic reader until 2010. Yes, I know Amazon is bigger than the Milky Way, Coca-Cola, and Andre the Giant put together. I also know that what I held was like an iPod and the Kindle, even the much-improved Kindle 2, is like a Zune. During the session breaks attendees were swarmed around the Plastic Logic display asking questions and pawing at the thing. I had to trample to two authors and a developer to get my hands on one.

Plastic Logic is positioning the product as more professional and business-oriented than the Kindle, but from what I’ve seen it’s just a more compelling device, period. In my view, the Plastic Logic reader has three killer advantages over the Kindle: size, touchscreen, and file format support. Plus, I’m betting there’s an ace in the hole.

The touchscreen technology supports gestures for navigation, annotation, and note taking. You can draw on the screen, and attach notes. The touchscreen also allows for a virtual keyboard. I’ve never liked the Kindle’s look because of the keyboard. Maybe I’ve been brainwashed from years of iPod UI, but if it’s a reading device, the vast majority of the surface area should be devoted to reading.

This also relates to the size issue. The 8.5 x 11 display is much more like what I’d want to have for reading a magazine, news, or a complex work document. I know that makes it less portable, but the Kindle is 8 inches tall, so I’m not sticking that in my pocket either. Plastic Logic has a 150 ppi resolution screen (Kindle 2 is 167 ppi) which can be rotated to display content in either portrait or landscape format. Color capability is planned as well. Here are some YouTube videos on the product.

In terms of file format support, Plastic Logic wins too. For reading content, the Kindle 2 supports Kindle (.AZW, .AZW1), Text (.TXT), and Unprotected Mobipocket (.MOBI, .PRC). You can use .PDF, .DOC, and .HTML files only after they have they have been converted to Kindle-readable formats. To convert files you have to either pay Amazon a small fee (ca-ching!), or you have to attach your files to an e-mail that you send to Amazon (privacy? we don’t need no stinkin’ privacy), and they send you a link to the converted file. Come on. I just want things to work. Period. Plastic Logic supports Office file formats, HTML, EPUB, PDF, and more, out of the box.The claim is that it can display any file you can print.

That ace in the hole? Plastic Logic’s eReader already has a flexible screen. It’s just attached to a hard backing. So it’s not too hard to picture a foldable reader evolving from this product. Then you have one killer eReader. Any file format you want, big, color, foldable display in your pocket. Of course, Amazon has walked the walk. The Kindle 2 is out and you can own one. Plastic Logic is still somewhere between drawing board and reality. No word or street date or pricing, but they’re off to a very promising start.

PS: Memo to Amazon documentation department, regarding the 100-page Kindle 2 User Guide. Thanks for making it readily-available. But if you’re not going to put page numbers in the table of contents, for God’s sake give me hyperlinks to the pages. Don’t make me search or scroll up and down to find where a section might be. Never stop thinking UI, people. Thanks.

The Life of O’Reilly

I’m happy to announce that next Monday and Tuesday I will be in New York attending the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference. With all the bad news permeating the publishing world, it will be a welcome change to be immersed in the technology and the vision of people focused on future of publishing. I’ll be gathering and sharing as much info as I can on some of the most forward-thinking publishing technologies and the companies behind them.

I plan to sample as many sessions as possible, and will be posting and tweeting anything and everything I find share-worthy. The things that directly relate to InDesign, I’ll post at InDesignSecrets.com. Everything else I’ll post here or tweet here. The official conference Twitter page is here. I’ve already been doing my homework, reading up on the solutions that will be showcased, and there’s some very cool stuff. Should be a lot of fun—and a lot to write about.

The industry is quickly evolving from a linear print-driven desktop publishing type workflow to a collaborative, cross-media delivery of rich content. Publishing is being redefined. “Ecosystems” is the buzzword. No longer is it adequate to put out a beautiful book. You need the beautiful book, plus the Flash-enabled PDF eBook. Make it customized. And throw in a blog, a wiki, and a Twitter page for people to follow. In my mind, the key questions are: what do your customers really want? how do you make it? and how do you make money doing it? And that is what I will seek to find out. Stay tuned.