Leaving The Book Behind

A trend that took me by surprise at Books in Browsers was how indebted to the book most browser-based eReaders are. Prime example: all the ebook readers that were demoed at the conference had artifacts like pages, page flipping, and book covers. The books that were displayed within these readers were literally embedded in the browser – each reader was this little self-contained bit of javascript, CSS and HTML5, and that was to be inserted into a webpage or a rendering engine the same way one would embed a Youtube video, or a Slideshare presentation.

I’m not convinced that this is necessary, or even advisable. I will admit, however, that I came to BiB with the notion that books would literally be in the browser – that the form of the book is the webpage, and the controls for reading the book were the browser’s controls; not some arbitrary chrome that you had to include for it to work.

Is the browser a good reader?

I think browsers as a reading interface work just fine, and that people today are used to reading things in a web browser. Much of surfing is text, after all. And I think that you can and should leverage this behaviour when designing for a browser-based book reading experience.

Think about it: when you have embeddable content like the Monocle reader, you’re constrained by the fact that you must read in a container within a container. It isn’t a website, which means that there’s a layer of abstraction that the reader must get used to.

Why not have that content live as a webpage? The user doesn’t have to relearn anything. The controls are intuitive: one link forward for the next chapter, and one link backwards for the chapter before. The user behaviour for using browsers, for clicking links to advance (and scrolling to read) have existed for more than a decade now. There’s no need to reference the model of the book when reading behaviour already exists for the webpage.

The exception to this, of course, is the mobile experience. The majority of mobile phones have terrible web interfaces. And so it may make sense to serve something like the Monocle reader when you’re in a mobile device like the iPad, or the iPhone.

I’m biased, of course – web fiction exists primarily in web page form, and experience has shown us that this is highly readable in the context of a computer browser. But a strong mobile reading experience for the form may still be lacking. And that’s where these new readers come in handy.

For the rest – I’d argue that webpages work just fine.

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Category: Design