I have been playing with electronic books in anticipation of my upcoming series of columns on education and iOS for iPhone Life. Today I had the pleasure of meeting with Inkling CEO Matt MacInnis.
I think we are at the very beginning of a major transformation, a beginning that Matt calls the “front edge.” What that translates to currently is market confusion. In book publishing, the end products all ended up in the end-point distribution as paper. Publishers and authors vied for the attention of academics and readers, but they all knew at the end, the results was a book – and from the experience standpoint, a book is a book is a book. In the world of eBooks that is no longer the case.
Experiencing a text-based book as downloaded from Project Gutenberg or basic PDF file. or test/PDF reconfigured by Chegg or CourseSmart is very different than an Amazon Kindle experience, but those are all much closer together than the far ranging offers being seen in Inkling and iBooks. And then you have books that aren’t books, such as the literature being redesigned for the iPad at TouchPress.
What Inkling has done right is design for an experience. They think about the content under their care as a set of independent objects, all of which can be acted upon (starred and highlighted, book marked and commented upon). Most importantly, the Inkling team sees eBooks as but a version of a book. If the coding architecture is right, the book can be formatted and delivered in a number of ways, including print.
And unlike paper books, Inkling books become part of a community. Amazon’s Kindle offers shared highlighting, but it doesn’t offer interactive community reading, which is critical to the transformation not only of textbooks, but of the learning in general. Classmates using Inkling can follow each others notes, but more importantly, they can communicate with each other through the text.
I’m going to go through a more thorough review of the various eBook formats in the future, but my first impressions of Inkling are good. The books are attractive, offer good navigation and a host of interactive features, images, slides shows and other supporting material. Perhaps I haven’t found it yet, but I haven’t seen a browse mode—in other words, I’m not sure how you just flip through and scan the text (of course, with assigned work the professor schedule out the interaction – but if your in a competency-based program, or a self-learner, you probably want to scan more. I’ve also had a few issues with selecting the text for highlighting working consistently—but we are on the edge and these are books that demonstrate not how to turn a book into a digital form, but how to use digital to reinvent the not-so “static” content side of learning. Matt tells me that in some courses he has the author interacting with the students – hopefully the design of the architecture for Inkling delivery includes ways for the author to rapidly update the books based on those interactions. I know I wish all of my books were interactive electronic versions so when I see something I left out, I can put it in without selling enough to go to second edition. When books become software, they should be perpetually current.
Stay tuned for more on Inkling coverage over the summer and into the fall.
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.
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