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Category: Deep Literacy

‘Kindle Opens The Book with deep-links’ (proposal)

Kindle books have revolutionised reading on tablets and computers but I would like to point out an area of potential great improvement with a relatively small and well protected investment: 

Pointing is a way of communicating we have had since childhood and which originates much earlier in our evolution than even homo-sapiens. An important type of pointing is a citation, where an author points to a specific section (such as a page, in a printed book) to refer to a specific point. Although printed citations were slow to follow, since the reader would need to find the book cited and then the page number, this is actually more convenient than with digital books; A digital book does not have page numbers and a commercial book, with copy-protection, does not allow a citation to point inside it. This means that not only does the reader need to find the book as before, it also means that once the book is found the reader will have to trawl through the book to find the passage cited. 

This constrains the dialog between books, one of the fundamental building blocks of intelligent, reasoned conversation. Not only can authors cite incorrectly, they can also ignore the context of any citation with impunity due to the effort to check.  

This opens up opportunities for what has become called Fake News. An author can make an assertion and bolster the assertion with multiple citations which gives courage to the converted yet no access for analysis for the critical reader, not only for the first citation, but also for the citations cited in the source–the network of discourse becomes opaque and intellectual curiosity constrained.  

The reasons for this deficit in intellectual capability comes from the copy protection of the books, which is an important aspect of their production and distribution so is not an issue in itself. The proposed solution offered here does not interfere with copy protection because it will be a solution built in to the Kindle reader, not by third party reading systems. 

The proposed way it would work#

The core functionality would work like this: 

  • The user comes across a section of text which she would like to cite and she selects the text and a new option appears: Copy As Citation.
  • The user then goes into her word processing application or web design application and Pastes this Citation which appears as text in quotes with a URL appended, to make sure it will be active/clickable in any reader application.
  • Once she publishes, a reader can then click on this citation and it will appear as a deep-link into the Kindle book and the user’s software will ask the reader if he would like to open it in Kindle. He can choose to do this (with the opportunity of purchasing the book if not already owned) and the Kindle reader will interpret the coded deep-link information and jump to that part of the book.
  • Kindle books could optionally show a larger section around the cited text as a preview before the purchase, allowing the reader to look inside the book, as is possible when purchasing the book through the Amazon store.
  • A software extension to open the book further could then add this: 

  • The URL which is Copied As Citation would always include all the bibliographic references to the book (encoded in plain text after the main address for any software to be able to read it, separately from the proprietary and protected Kindle location) so that if the book is no longer sold by Kindle or is available through the users library, the user can still click on the link and choose to open another instance of that book.
  • Therefore the Kindle deep-link becomes a convenient and value-added feature, but does not preclude access to other means of accessing the book and would therefore be more politically valuable.
  • The way the internal link would work in this scenario would simply be as a keyword search based on the cited text.
  • For this the reader software would need to be updated, something that an ‘Open Kindle’ system would encourage and show leadership with.

Benefits#

The end user benefit for the author would be more credible writing, since citations can be accessed instantly and provide the full context (in a purchased book) and for the reader it would make it much more efficient to really get to grips with the text. 

The societal benefit would be an increased standard of intellectual discourse. 

The benefit for Amazon would be doing something concrete to fight Fake News and support clear and open academic and political dialogue.  

In Summary#

In summary, I am offering this as an academic at the University of Southampton and a software developer who is working with the co-inventor of the Internet, Vint Cerf, on making electronic text ever more powerful.  

We host an annual Future of Text Symposium http://futureoftext.org and this year we are putting together a special Symposium honouring our late friend and (practically speaking) inventor of personal computing, Doug Engelbart http://doug-50.info/index.html If this is agreed to then the 50th Anniversary of Doug Engelbart’s ‘mother of all demos’ event could be a great announcement day for this, since what he called high-resolution addressing was core to his philosophy. 

We have discussed this approach with numerous libraries, including representatives of the Library of Congress with the response always being that this would be a capability of great social and intellectual value. 

Frode Hegland, 

London 

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Symbol Space

In Doug’s Capability Infrastructure Diagram the human system and the tool system are clearly shown as vertical columns with lines connecting in myriads of ways to create capabilities in the centre. For example, a tool system capability to ‘copy’ will only be useful if the user knows how and why to carry out the command.

What is missing from the diagram though are two things though: The technical infrastructure and the symbol space.

The technical infrastructure is document formats and network protocols. This is what either allows tools to give the user certain capabilities or constrain them. For example, the user cannot create a citation link to a specific section of a commercially bought and copy protected book, unless the vendor opens the software to allow this type of tool use.

The second issue is harder to explain and define and I’ve decided to name it the ‘Symbol Space’. What it entails is more on the Marshall McLuhan media side of things, it’s about the digital media; what it can enable–what the opportunities are and what the constraints are. The basic notion is that what a human manipulates thorough the computer is symbols.

This is where issues of symbol manipulation, view specs and high-resolution addressing comes in.

These are ‘things’ which can be implemented in technology, or ‘instantiated’ in many different ways, depending on what the infrastructures allow for. This is one thing I wish I had the opportunity to discuss with Doug.

I have put up symbolspace.info as a place to investigate this further from.

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Joe & Sally

The XEROX PARC chapter of personal computing explicitly changed the user from Doug Engelbart’s high-performance knowledge worker to the secretary, whom they called ‘Sally’.

As Alan Kay pointed out, and which Doug illustrated in his seminal ’62 paper with the user ‘Joe’, Doug was trying to make a violin but not everyone wants to play a violin. Today we have the Mac and Windows with their point-and-click ease and limitations, with scarcely an innovation in the last few decades worth mentioning.

This distinction was of course never in black and white and today the average computer user is much more experienced than in earlier decades and of course it is important to provide an entry to a user with a learning curve which is not too steep.

When Doug made the Keynote Address at the World Library Summit 2002 in Singapore, he pointed out that we have made ‘truly tremendous progress’ in using computer systems to help us solve problems. He continues:

But that is not what I am going to talk to you about. Not out of lack of appreciation – even a sense of wonder – over what computer technologists have developed – but because I can see that we are not yet really making good progress toward realizing the really substantial payoff that is possible. That payoff will come when we make better use of computers to bring communities of people together and to augment the very human skills that people bring to bear on difficult problems.
Engelbart, 2018

He clearly presented what he saw as the goal; ‘to get the significant payoff from using computers to augment what people can do’:

Furthermore, Doug discussed the “seductive, destructive appeal of ‘ease of use’ – A second powerful, systematic bias that leads computing technology development away from grappling with serious issues of collaboration – the kind of thing, for example, that would really make a difference to disaster response organizations – is the belief that “ease of use” is somehow equated with better products. Going back to my tricycle/bicycle analogy, it is clear that for an unskilled user, the tricycle is much easier to use. But, as we know, the payoff from investing in learning to ride on two wheels is enormous. We seem to lose sight of this very basic distinction between “ease of use” and “performance” when we evaluate computing systems.”

Sally is now well served by the software community’s continual, gradual improvements. Let’s give Joe another shot, let’s build knowledge work systems like bikes with rockets attached.

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