Skip to content

Books are not bags of words (and other e-reading complaints)

January 27, 2012

I’d fallen off the blogging wagon for a bit as things ramped up for the new year, but figured it was time to make a few moments to get back to it. This time I figured I’d share a few complaints I have about e-reading interfaces in general. But first, a caveat. In general I love e-books; I think they’re an incredibly convenient way to deliver and read books. These are complaints about e-readers: the interfaces that providers offer to e-books. Put simply, there’s room for improvement.

My current biggest pet peeve is that e-readers largely treat books as bags of words. They offer a linear control for moving through the book. You can move the slider left and right to move through the book, but all of the content is treated as equal. But the content isn’t equal, and it’s not uniform. Books, even e-books, have covers, metadata (such as publishing info), tables of contents, chapter divisions, indices, sneak peeks, etc. Why is it that the little navigation sliders offer no visual or interaction affordances for that content as I navigate through the book? Why isn’t there a separate navigation control that shows me a list of chapters (particularly if the chapters have titles) and let’s me choose one to jump to? How about a navigation view for indices that allows me to easily navigate just the index by first letter, or that lets me easily search just the index?

And how about having the horizontal navigation control provide other affordances, like showing me the furthest I’ve read or the places I’ve recently visited? Sometimes when reading I skim back to check a particular detail; why doesn’t the slider make it trivial to zoom back to the point in the story I’ve just left? When reading a reference book I sometimes bounce between a few points; why not have the slider show markers for the last 3-4 locations I’ve been and let me easily jump to any of them?

Yes, some e-book readers let you go “back” when you jump between locations in a book. Ignoring for the fact the convention of using a “back” button when “back” may move you “forward” in a book, the underlying assumption that my path through a book can be modeled as a single path of locations doesn’t always hold true.

Bottom line, we’re past the early days of e-books when the content was simple and the navigation could be too. We’re past Fred Ott’s sneeze. I don’t want advances like trying to retrofit page numbers onto e-books with mutable pages, I want advances that leverage information about the content I’m reading and my patterns of interaction with it that actually improve my reading experience. To my mind, one of the biggest strikes against DRM in e-books is that it reduces competition in the e-reader space.

From → Books, Design

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: