Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Connect 4

I am beavering way on a special WhatTheyThink report on e-books and e-publishing, which is diverting me into downloading and playing with various e-book readers. eReader has a pretty good e-book reader for the iPhone, and Fictionwise is a pretty good e-book store. (Both eReader and Fictionwise have recently been acquired by Barnes & Noble.)

One section I was just working on--advantages and disadvantages of e-books (and e-periodicals) compared to printed books (and periodicals)--involves the idea of hyperlinking. From the (first draft) of this report:
It is worth mentioning that the great history of science and technology writer and presenter James Burke (of Connections fame) has written several books that have attempted to add hyperlinks to print. Introduced in his 1996 book The Pinball Effect, the way this worked was that a hyperlinked reference in the text was identified with a superscripted number, and the margin contained references to other superscripted numbers and their pages numbers. It was an intriguing idea, but kloodgy when compared to what a electronic version could accomplish.
I have all (well, almost all, I soon discovered) of Burke's books, and thought it would be interesting to see if any of them are available as e-books--and, if so, do they take advantage of the hyperlinking ability of the technology to further Burke's vision of creating a book comprising an interconnected network of links?

Alas, no.

First of all, what is very frustrating is that it is difficult to search for James Burke without getting all the hits for James Lee Burke.

The only title by the proper Burke is a hitherto unknown to me book from 2007 called American Connections, which attempts to link together signers of the Declaration of Independence. Uh, okay. Anyway, I bought the e-book from Amazon for my Kindle for iPhone app. In the introduction, obviously converted verbatim from the print edition, Burke laments,
In a medium other than print, I might have been able to offer each reader (user?) the means to make his own connections so as to become part of the narrative. Perhaps at some point in the future this book will take that form and you’ll be able to make the connections yourself.
Given that the table of contents is actually hyperlinked to the respective chapters (fairly de rigueur in e-books), it might have been fairly easy to go into the e-book and add these connections and links. At any rate, if there is one author crying out for this kind of elaborate proof-of-concept e-book experimentation, it is Burke. Jim--call me.

Still, the book didn't get very good reader reviews, even from Burke fans. I have not read it in its entirety yet, so I can't say.

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