Sunday, May 19, 2013

Publishing Hackathon Pretty Much Ignores eBooks

The "First Annual" Publishing Hackathon was this weekend. As advertised, I participated and worked on an EPUB backmatter project. My awesome team consisted of me, Javascript/Ruby developer Max Jacobson (who's going to be even more highly sought-after when he finishes Rails school this summer), and TLC librarian Dianne Coan.

Here's our demo video:


Here's how we described the project:

Book Discovery INSIDE the eBook

When is a reader most receptive to reading suggestions? Right when they’ve finished a book of course! That’s why printed books have information about other books by the same author, the first chapter of the next book in the series and similar material at the end as part of the back matter.

Back matter has existed pretty much as long as books have. This includes the appendix, glossary, index, and bibliography. Back matter for digital books needs to be optimized to serve the needs of the digital reader. An informal survey by @suw indicates the most popular endmatter desires were other books by the same author and some information about the author.

Digital back matter for ebooks is not constrained by having to proceed the publication; unlike print, digital back matter can be kept up to date with the release of new content. For instance, if an author publishes a sequel, that title could be included in previously published ebooks.

It’s easy to insert a page listing an author’s other books at the end of an ebook, but how do you keep that list up-to-date? What if you’ve developed a great recommendation system to do “if you liked Pride and Prejudice, you’ll like X”? (or maybe “if you hated...”!)

The answer is to make use of the javascript capability of emerging ebook environments. Our project explores means of connecting to APIs from within an EPUB for the purpose of suggesting the user’s next read.

An existence proof is the “widget” capability of the iBooks iAuthor platform. It allows the insertion of html snippets into extended EPUB. Unfortunately, the javascript capability of ebook reading platforms, like the future, is unevenly distributed.

For this demo, we tested three reading EPUB environments, Readium, Readmill, and iBooks. We modified the Project Gutenberg EPUB version of Pride and Prejudice to include hooks and data to other books by Jane Austen.

Readium, which has been built as an EPUB3 reference environment, is the most capable for our purposes. It supports both javascript and connections to external web resources. In Readium, our EPUB displays the set of books by Jane Austen returned by the ReadMill API.

Apple iBooks has full javascript capability, but doesn’t allow connections to external resources (except perhaps via iBooks Author hooks- this deserves further investigation.) In iBooks, our EPUB displays a result page that we generated and embedded based on Jane Austen works published in 1813, when Pride and Prejudice released. We imagine that such embedded resources could be inserted at download time in a future production bookstore or library environment.

The Readmill environment does not support javascript at all at this time, so ironically, we’re not able to display the Readmill API results, or the iframe embedded resource.

Offline reading in Readium displays the resource embedded in the EPUB, similar to the iBooks version.
There were 30 projects in total presented at the end. Here's the list, along with my one sentence summary.
Banned Books in America
Website that maps book banning incidents and links them to Openlibrary
Book Discoverability: A Graphical Solution
Concept for browsing books as nodes on a graph.
Book Discovery INSIDE the eBook
This was us! Our demo crashed and burned. The popup screens from the wifi messed up the ebook reader display of embedded dynamic content.
BookCity Finalist!
Website that recommends books by connecting them to cities.
Website that helps you lend the books you've borrowed from the library.
Booklvrs: Read. Discover. Meet.
App that advertises the ebook you're reading to the people around you.
Website that multi-factor-matches you to books.
Website that aggregates book recommendations from your twitter followers.
Website that displays books as if they were on a bookshelf. I'm pretty sure there was more to it.
Website that recommends books to users based on books they've liked.
Captiv Finalist!
App and Website that uses machine learning algorithms and your tweet about last night's party to combat the short attention span of Today's Readers. I may not have understood this one.
Coverlist Finalist!
Website that believes in judging books by their cover.
Evoke Finalist and clear judging favorite!
Pinteresty website that recommends books based on emotions categorization.
Happy Chapter
App that recommends books based on tags you click.
I read your Brain
Brain-sensing rabbit ears that wiggle depending on your response to a book from a website.
Website that lets users rate romance novels for steaminess.
KooBrowser Finalist!
Browser plugin that analyses what you read to better sell you books.
Library Atlas Finalist!
Mobile app that sends you geographically appropriate quotes depending on where you are. My favorite.
Literary Trinket with Book Wish
3D printed QR-ish code baubles. Cooler than it sounds.
Website that turns reading into a game where you earn points.
Meme a book
Website that turns books into lolcats. (I may not have described this accurately.)
Website that recommends books connected to the movie you just saw.
NYPL Reinvent
Analysis of NYPL metadata advocating a divorce of the library from its classification system.
Website offering crowd-funded serial fiction (ebooks).
Website that recommends books based on a user's video viewing.
Reading Tollbooth: A Gateway to Book Discovery
Website to match kids to books.
Website that recommends books based on tags you click.
Valerie's Baby App
App that promotes literacy to a girl named Valerie by making sliding block puzzles and defining words at her.
Website that uses library data to make graphical book circles.
Website that turns ex-bookstore owners into book curation engines.
Interestingly, only 3 of the 30 projects addressed ebooks at all, which seems a bit odd to me, considering the industry's ongoing transition from print to digital. The emphasis on apps (7) and websites (21) is partly due to Hackathon's theme of book discovery, but it also says something about the tech industry. Apps and websites are what the NY tech industry is doing in 2013, not ebooks. Clearly, the publishing community developing ebooks and ebook standards needs to do more outreach to developers; the hackathon was a good first step.

It's also worth noting the growing importance of geo-tagging and other non-traditional metadata. In the new world of publishing discovery, readers want books that fit their mode right where they want to be. Neither MARC nor ONIX know enough to help.

My library friends should rest assured that the hackers did not at all ignore libraries. Although $1000 prize from NYPL was a factor, the ease of connecting to NYPL and OpenLibrary helped a lot. The RDA prize, it should be noted, went unclaimed.

Update: Sorry, Coverlist, I omitted your finalist status. Corrected!
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  1. I totally agree with what you say about the possibilities of ebooks and developing them (personally i'm not a friends of ebooks, to me they are a lame version of a website, though i can see their value as "compatibility products"). Thanks for your point about what the distribution of session topics at an event like this tells about a business, it's a valid point.