Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The future in one word: platforms

In this post, I'm going to expand a small piece that I had written in March entitled, What will be the iTunes of ebooks? (it's about what should be the platform for ebooks and why this decision is so very important).

One of the reasons why librarians don't talk very much about ebook platform choice is because, by and large, we've already decided the matter. Libraries have made their choice, voted with their dollars and their energies, and have overwhelmingly selected Overdrive as our platform.

Yes, we have outsourced ourselves with an ebook platform that betrays many of the values that the public admires us for in exchange for a user-experience that be described in any variation of the word horrific.

I don't think it's too late to change our minds. In fact, I think there will come a day when we will have to change our minds.

And that's because no platform can out-perform the Internet in terms of speed, participation, and innovation. And while is is very, very large, it will never contain all the reading material that you would like to read.

Like many, many people, I do a tremendous amount of reading all day (emails, activity feeds, blog posts, news articles, and - uh - journal articles) and most of my reading is material is done online. Only a fraction of my reading is deep, slow reading - and only if I have enough strength to read in the 20 minutes immediately before bed. As I have said before, the web is my reading platform and Zotero is my library.

But imagine this: instead of investing in Overdrive, what if libraries invested in Readbility instead?

I use Readability myself.  Most of the time I use it as just as a means to read long text on the screen in a less cluttered, more beautiful, more readable way.  Sometimes I use Readability as a means to get long text pieces from the web into my Kindle DX. And sometimes I use it as a way to easily clean up and import documents into my Zotero library.

Now, I understand that it's difficult to see where a library would interject itself between the reader, Readability, and the author and publisher.  To be honest, I'm not sure about it myself but I think it's worth thinking about because we need to start thinking about the entire health of the publishing / reading ecosystem before the entire thing crashes and Amazon re-builds on its disrupted remains.

I should say that I'm not entirely invested in Readability as our only hope. There are other options for corporation-agnostic personal libraries, like Calibre. The reader centric services of LibraryThing and Goodreads could develop into something more 'platform like' but it's more likely that a service like Readmill - with its open bookmarking and annotation services - is closer to what I hope could be the reading platform that a library could be proud to invest in.


Jean Costello said...

You got it, Mita. IMO, libraries are going down the wrong path by chasing technology as they have been. How can they possibly compete with the 4 titans (Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook) or startups that offer wonderful innovations?

No organization can be successful for long by offering low quality products & services like Overdrive & Freegal. With eCommerce driving the inefficiencies out of physical distribution, I also wouldn't hang my hat on transacting books, DVDs, etc much longer.

Libraries need to think strategically about what they can offer that no other organization can or will. They also need to coordinate resources so they aren't all re-inventing the wheel. This is way too inefficient and costly -- and if everyone has to start from ground zero (or close to it), none will climb very high.

For two years I've been pitching the idea of a National Public Library Corporation. Like our public broadcasting network, the NPL would centralize library resources nationwide where it makes sense and free up local outlets to specialize in things like local culture & history, community programs, etc.

One of the things I'd love to see the NPL do with its local affiliates is richly explore the act of reading, as you've begun to do in this post. I'd like to see it combine superb online and local resources that help people think, read and communicate --- with themselves, their communities and beyond.

Fostering these human connections is the transcendental mission of libraries and one that corporate titans & technology alone will never be able to touch. Libraries could restake their claim to this domain, though not with the current ecosystem which was built with 20th century resources and constraints.

monicarettig said...

Mita, you always ask the right questions. Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

Mita said...

Thanks Jean and Monica.

I neglected to mention in my post that another alternative is the Open Library Lending Program. Personally, I think of it as our best and only hope at the moment.

Dale Copps said...

Good post. I wish I could believe in the Open Library Lending Program, but I can't even figure out how to borrow a book through them!

Meanwhile, I expect OLLP, like our current public library/Overdrive model, is too little too late. Publishers are shooting themselves in the foot with all their restrictions, and public libraries are quickly falling behind emerging products (Amazon's Kindle Owner's Lending Library first among them).

Authors want readers and readers want eBooks, and one way or another they will find their way to each other. I just hope it isn't at the expense of public libraries.

See The End of Libraries at:

Mita said...

As a follow up, I can't use Readmill because I don't own an iPad or an Android device, but Peter Rukavena's had had great initial experiences with Readmiill as described in this post, "Readmill as Groupware Infrastructure"