I have been thinking about this for sometime, and the post that I did earlier about the books that I am reading with the Kindle app have me thinking a bit more about how books as we know them are just one step from a major shift in format, and the Internet is totally the blame.
One of the defining characteristics of a book, if we want to take another look at John Dyer’s piece, is that aspect of relating content to other pre-written content or contexts. Specifically with non-fiction works, such as Abusing Scripture which I am currently reading, the ability to go to a footnote or an endnote and see where and author sourced a statement from is pretty commonplace.
But what if instead of simply being pointed to the page and reference, you were actually pointed to that reference in snippet form.
Here’s my roughy example:
You are reading a point, and click the link to the footnote.
You are then prompted that you will view the linked snippet as it appears in the source text.
After you open the snippet, you have a button asking you if you want to download/purchase the original source at a reduced rate (since you have something already linked to it).
From that point on, anytime you click that reference, the original source comes up, with it’s link in the first document you read.
Sounds like a web par doing some complex linking in real-time right? It is, and that is exactly what the Kindle app seems to be driving towards. I only wonder why this functionality isn’t already exposed on some level to those creating/publishing books.
In my opinion, it wouldn’t be so hard for Amazon to scan the index, footnotes, and endnotes of each book for references to books already within their library. These would be automatically linked to those books and take you right to their pages to be purchased.
I am not sure if Amazon is allowed to do in-book-linking, but that would essentially be the next piece of this. Where a reference to a snippet of text, not a page number, with the book reference would be enough to connect books to one another.
This changes instantly how we read non-fiction material. We can not only see what it is folks have referenced, but can also get a better understanding of the context that allowed this to be referenced. Using the community annotations/reviewing approach that Amazon already has in place, we’d enter into conversations with the author over their content, and possibly invent new ways (or refined ways) of teaching subjects such as languages, grammar, and reading comprehension.
In some ways, it bugs me that I cannot check the source material for Abusing Scripture without searching and purchasing the material. The idea of using metadata as a contextual link between items is something whose time is come for literary pursuits. And at the same time, I don’t think that the are enough of the good ole books that were used as sources to be pointed to in this fashion.
Still, I read with this understanding and yearning that there are fewer boundaries between browsing and reading than ever before. And it might very well be true that before my lifetime is done, that reading and browsing will be intimately I distinguishable from one another.