Discussion: Interactive Books

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Earlier this summer, I watched a TED talk about interactive books. I watch one TED talk every weekday and when I’m searching through the videos, ones that include books in the title obviously pop out at me. This one was especially intriguing to me because it was talking about interactive books. I watched a video a few years ago called “Text 2.0” that was about e-books that include options for highlighting and built-in dictionaries to define words while you’re reading and, as opposed to e-books as I am, that all seemed like an intriguing idea to me. When I watched this TED talk, I thought that the presenter — Mike Matas — would be offering up the same kind of experience in an interactive book. Sadly, he was not.

For the most part, Matas’ interactive book — “Our Choice,” Al Gore’s sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth” — hinged on visual modifications to the book. The book is presented on an iPad and Matas swipes videos across the screen and shows us how to enlarge the handsome photos included in the book. But is this really adding anything to the reader’s experience? Is this software doing anything more than simply capitalizing on the beautiful, cinematic photography that is included in the book and showing it off on a clear, glossy iPad display? Last time I checked, I can swipe through chapters in a traditional book with my fingers as well. Personally, I was disappointed by Matas’ presentation because it didn’t seem to offer anything truly exciting. I’ve seen touch screens, I’ve seen videos being played on iPads — show me something revolutionary!  Matas says, at the end of this talk, that he wants to develop this software for publishers. This looks great for an informational book like the one they’re presenting here, but would it work for all books? Would it work for books that are not reliant on data, graphs, and photography like “Our Choice” is?

I would encourage you to check out the Text 2.0 video that I mentioned earlier in this post. What’s being proposed in this video is the use of an eye tracker in e-books so that your book essentially knows what you’re looking at. This eye-tracking capability can be used to change illustrations based on where you are in the text, provide word translations and definitions as per your eye movement, and remind you of where you left off. To me, this kind of interactive book could actually be useful to boost literacy rather than simply act as an aesthetically pleasing piece of technology. Check out the Text 2.0 website as well for more information.

What do you think about interactive books? If that’s the way the publishing market is moving, what do you particularly want to see in interactive books? What features are important to you? Share in the comments!

— Jet Fuel Editor, Mary Egan

3 thoughts on “Discussion: Interactive Books

  1. Lucas Sifuentes July 6, 2011 / 8:42 pm

    Yeah, In Richard Lanham’s book, The Electronic Word, he very much gets into how with the future of e text (the book was written in the 1980’s) people will have a more engaging experience with their text and be able to interact with it in ways never before imagined. Me being the luddite here, along with you I guess, point to the pen as the best way to engage with and personalize a text. Exhibit a: the famous margins of Foster Wallace http://weloveyouso.com/2010/03/david-foster-wallace-scribbles-in-the-margins/

    • Editor July 6, 2011 / 9:10 pm

      I hadn’t heard of that book! I imagine it might be a bit outdated since it was written in the 80s, but still interesting. Ah, I definitely agree with you there. I’m a luddite mainly when it comes to book and I’m with you — writing in the margins of a book, feeling the pen sink into that soft paper, feeling the slightly forbidden glee of writing in a book is something I’ll always cherish. What can I say? I like tactile reading! And if it was good enough for Mr. David Foster Wallace, it’s good enough for me.

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