October 30, 2007

Social annotation and the marketplace of ideas

David Rothman has a wonderful idea from the growth of social annotation tools and the development of an open e-book format:

How long until savvy writers pester publishers to let them do interactive e-books? -- where readers' comments can appear in relevant places in the texts or elsewhere in the books. Imagine the possibilities for smart nonfiction writers and those in dream-with-me genres like romance fiction.

I am experimenting this semester with using Diigo to show students in one course my annotations on Supreme Court desegregation opinions. I've been able to provide translations of legal terms (certiorari, de jure, de facto, etc.), tell students where they can skip (e.g., issues of standing, which are tangential to the topics at hand for the course), what passages to read in depth, and some questions to think about specific passages.

There is already BookGlutton's idea for Unbound Reader, based on the epub standard. For those wondering what the One Laptop Per Child initiative is for, imagine an eight-year-old reading a copy of a story and seeing and replying to the comments of other eight-year-olds around the world on the same passage. 

For those who wonder about the monetization of this -- how can anyone make money off free books? -- Rothman has an obvious answer:

A community approach is worthwhile in itself, but along the way would reduce losses to piracy. You're less likely to steal from someone whom you and your friends respect. What's more, forum participation could be among the rewards for those who paid voluntarily for books distributed under Creative Commons licenses.

I suspect that savvy musicians think of mp3-sharing in similar ways, and if we're headed back to the days when vinyl records were the a way to get musicians concert gigs, maybe free books are a way to draw people into other ways to remunerate authors. For those in genre fields (romance, science fiction and fantasy, mystery, etc.), midlist authors might find that approach enormously attractive. And those of us in academe? There are some obvious possibilities that appeal to me to provide access to reading but some possibility for revenues where appropriate, such as books that are free online but that carry a Creative Commons license requiring a "binding license" fee, so anyone can read a book but where publishers or copy shops need to pay to distribute bound copies. This idea adds to that imaginary repertoire.

As Rothman notes, this potential requires a standard for annotation to be folded into the next generation of epub standards.

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Posted in Education policy on October 30, 2007 8:22 AM |