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05 March 2014 @ 07:38 pm
e-Novels vs. e-References  
It's funny; when people first started talking about ebooks, there was a feeling that they'd catch on more for reference books than casual reading, that it woulkd take a long time for newfangled gadgetry to make inroads on the comfortable, traditional feel of curling up with a good book.

The thing is, you read a novel in a linear mode, and need to skip back and forth in a reference book. That makes it more practical to keep reference materials (including game manuals, for instance) in a random-access format like a book, while you can curl up comfortably with a Kindle or a Nook and read a novel without much change in your reading habits.

Half of the reason that digital reference books aren't quite ready for prime time is that nobody's properly formatting them with e-reading in mind. They need copious hyperlinks, at minimum. Better chapter division -- the things should have tabs down the right side, like a big dictionary does. Bookmarks need to be enhanced.

On the flip side, e-readers need a redesign to be MORE reference-friendly. Multiple windowing capability would really cut down on the flipping-back-and-forth issue.

There have been a couple of designs with two tablet-like screens that clamshell together like an actual BOOK, and they were specifically intended for textbooks and the like. Alas, the KNO never went into production, and the eDGe (tablet on one side, e-Ink book reader on the other) just tanked.

There's no real point or conclusion here; I'm just pondering.



Addendum, 06 MAR 2014:

the_gneech asked a great question:
"What is Wikipedia if not an electronic reference book?"

And that got me started toward the beginnings of a thesis. I put enough thought into this that I figured it belonged in the main body of the post:

[Wikipedia is] the exception that proves the rule! It's extensively (exhaustively) hyperlinked; it operates in a browser, allowing for multiple tabs and windows (at least on a proper computer; not so much on tablets/phones); incorporates media and graphics smoothly and dynamically ... in short, it's what a digital reference book SHOULD be.

(Unfortunately, it requires a continuous internet connection, and if you've got an e-paper style ebook reader, you're SOL.)

I will note that I never bothered to pick up the 3.5 edition of D&D. I found The Hypertext d20 SRD to be far MORE usable than physical books. It's also available for full download, so you don't need a continuous internet connection to use it -- I think you're still out of luck with e-paper readers, but it's a situation where laptops are really more convenient than a tablet-shaped device.

Again, though, it's an exception that proves the rule. It's a fan-created work taking advantage of the Open Game License. When RPG companies release "digital editions", they're invariably PDFs, formatted for printing: entirely static, rarely taking advantage of the PDF format's ability to create sections and bookmarks, and, worst of all: they're laid out in portrait mode, often in two or even three columns, making it difficult to see an entire page on-screen, and requiring constant scrolling back and forth to read through a section.

I realized at some point that my vague desires for a tablet are largely because I want to be able to read portrait-formatted PDFs comfortably -- but the font sizes used for most game books make them difficult to read at full-page size even on large tablet screens.

I think the take-home message is that if you're really looking to REPLACE reference books, you have to do something more than just dump the print version into a file.



I should note that the online hypertext versions of the Pathfinder SRD and the Mutants & Masterminds SRD don't have quite so nice a layout or the clean, simple code of the The Hypertext d20 SRD. They're useful SUPPLEMENTS to the physical books, but they're just enough ... off ... that I can't quite see using them as my main resource like I did with the last.


 
 
 
SilverClawbfdragon on March 6th, 2014 04:42 am (UTC)
For me though it's also just the physical 'muscle memory' of where something is in a book. Having a physical place in a book I am familiar seems to be easier for it to occupy a place in my head.
John "The Gneech" Robey: Kero classthe_gneech on March 6th, 2014 11:40 am (UTC)
What is Wikipedia if not an electronic reference book?

-TG
Your Obedient Serpent: big ideasathelind on March 6th, 2014 12:26 pm (UTC)
Ahhh, now this is GOING somewhere!
The exception that proves the rule! It's extensively (exhaustively) hyperlinked; it operates in a browser, allowing for multiple tabs and windows (at least on a proper computer; not so much on tablets/phones); incorporates media and graphics smoothly and dynamically ... in short, it's what a digital reference book SHOULD be.

(Unfortunately, it requires a continuous internet connection, and if you've got an e-paper style ebook reader, you're SOL.)

I will note that I never bothered to pick up the 3.5 edition of D&D. I found The Hypertext d20 SRD to be far MORE usable than physical books. It's also available for full download, so you don't need a continuous internet connection to use it -- I think you're still out of luck with e-paper readers, but it's a situation where laptops are really more convenient than a tablet-shaped device.

Again, though, it's an exception that proves the rule. It's a fan-created work taking advantage of the Open Game License. When RPG companies release "digital editions", they're invariably PDFs, formatted for printing: entirely static, rarely taking advantage of the PDF format's ability to create sections and bookmarks, and, worst of all: they're laid out in portrait mode, often in two or even three columns, making it difficult to see an entire page on-screen, and requiring constant scrolling back and forth to read through a section.

I realized at some point that my vague desires for a tablet are largely because I want to be able to read portrait-formatted PDFs comfortably -- but the font sizes used for most game books make them difficult to read at full-page size even on large tablet screens.

I think the take-home message is that if you're really looking to REPLACE reference books, you have to do something more than just dump the print version into a file.
Moral Explorer: defaultnotthebuddha on March 7th, 2014 05:23 am (UTC)
Unfortunately, it requires a continuous internet connection, and if you've got an e-paper style ebook reader, you're SOL

ISTR several budget ebook readers that came with copies of Wikipedia aboard. Why would e-paper in particular have a problem?
Your Obedient Serpent: loopathelind on March 7th, 2014 12:38 pm (UTC)
I was under the impression that it didn't handle web browsing well. My only ePaper device was a Pocket eDGe, and it shunted any web browsing over to the tablet side. If I'm wrong, then bonus!

Still, I think some interface tweaking needs to be made for electronic reference books, on the actual devices as well as on the digital files. Ebook readers are currently optimized for linear novels, at least from what I've seen.
SilverClawbfdragon on March 8th, 2014 02:10 am (UTC)
Re: Ahhh, now this is GOING somewhere!
I bring my laptop to gaming precisely so I can use the d20pfsrd, as well as my books. I find that %50 of the time if it's in a book I have, I look it up in the real thing. More-so if I already have many tabs open.
Helvetica 'Foofers' Bold: Shiny Bubblesfoofers on March 6th, 2014 06:09 pm (UTC)
Tangent rant: you've also nicely summed up the nature of </i>design.</i>

At a prior job, though it wasn't my official job title, I'd sort of adopted the role of de-facto user interface designer for many of out projects.

Nothing in the world made me want to punch babies more than someone bringing me a nearly complete piece of (usually crappy) software and asking, "Can you add a nice user interface to this?"

What they were asking for wasn't design, but decoration...or colloquially polishing a turd.

The actual, underlying design is about how the conceptual pieces fit together and interact within your gray matter. Ideally it's the first step, before a single line of code is written, and not an afterthought. But people dwell on the curves and pixels and blinky lights as "design" because...I dunno...they think it's sexy or something. OMG look I put blue LEDs on it!

Rant. Sorry. :)
Your Obedient Serpent: workathelind on March 7th, 2014 12:49 pm (UTC)
Travelling down that tangent and taking one from there:

At work, I have to contend with our in-house proprietary software, which has an interface most generously described as "quirky" (and more accurately as "sloppy" and "inconsistent"). It has multiple modules for various work operations, and frequently, common tasks that you need to do in multiple modules will be accessed in COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WAYS from module to module. "No, no, on this screen, you have to RIGHT CLICK to do that ... no, not in this column, in THAT one."

I also just upgraded from Office 2003 to Office 2010 this week (hooray, I'm only four years behind now!). I am adjusting to "The Ribbon" better than I thought I would, though I still resent the amount of screen real estate it takes up to do the same thing as the sleek, narrow button bars of earlier versions.

In the case of Office, I've had a couple of moments of "Where did you put this function that I use all the time? Wait, 'Paste Special' is now a KEYBOARD SHORTCUT instead of a nested menu function? I LOVE YOU GUYS!"
SilverClawbfdragon on March 8th, 2014 02:15 am (UTC)
I've adapted to the ribbon on Word or Excel, and with screens as high as resolution as they are, the wasted space is annoying, but fine.

However in AUTOCAD, which has hundreds and hundreds of commands, it's just silly. Blocks of icons are fine for those oft-used commands. But for the rest of them, ones that you use once a week, month.. year, a list with a short description is what you want. In fact, many commands simply aren't in the ribbon at all unless you add them yourself. So the fact is that with the ribbon I find myself using the GUI less and the CUI more. That sounds like a failure of a GUI to me.