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Books in Browsers

Books in Browsers

Last October, the Internet Archive held a two-day meeting entitled “Books in Browsers,” cosponsored by O’Reilly Media. The goal of this meeting was to think through the new possibilities and challenges presented by delivering books through open platforms rather than closed devices.

Books-in-browsers present some significant advantages to readers in terms of portability and accessibility of content, as Brewster Kahle has explored. Delivering content via the browser also presents advantages for publishers, book sellers, and libraries, all of whom have an interest in balancing wide distribution with certain kinds of use restrictions.

In the last couple of months, several new browser-based e-book readers have been unveiled or announced, and other experiments are underway. Here’s a quick overview:

Kindle for the Web

This one’s still forthcoming, as yet, but the folks at Amazon have announced that sometime soon, you’ll be able to read your Kindle books directly in a browser. As a result, you’ll be able to access them from any computer, such as a teaching station, without having to install or log into the Kindle application. The announcement also notes that you’ll be able to synchronize your library, bookmarks, notes, and the like with the multiple devices on which you may already read your Kindle books.

Google’s eBook Reader

Brian wrote last month about the launch of the Google eBookstore and its associated iOS app, but Google has also made it possible for you to read the eBooks you add to your library directly in your browser.

Pride & Prejudice

The browser-based Google reader allows the user to switch between scanned pages and flowing text, to change the typeface and font size in which flowing text is shown, to change the paragraph justification, and to search within the text, but it does not as yet permit annotation or highlighting of your books.

Internet Archive Open Library

The Internet Archive Open Library, an open project that aims to build “one web page for every book ever published,” has developed a browser-based reader that allows access to public domain texts, as well as enabling users to borrow books from their local libraries. Even better, the reader is embeddable in other web pages:

Though the Internet Archive’s reader doesn’t have annotation functions, it does have a nifty “read aloud” function for many texts. And the larger Open Library project is open, and seeking user contributions.

Chrome Experiments

Among the recent Chrome Experiments, designed to push the limits of what’s possible with HTML5, Javascript, and Chrome, is 20 Things I Learned About Browsers & the Web, pictured in the header image for this post. Though the content of this one-off experiment might be a bit oversimplified for many technologically inclined readers, 20 Things is gorgeously designed, highly readable, and nicely animated, and it begins to suggest some avenues of development for genuinely browser-native books. Paradoxically, though, while HTML5 presents the opportunity for ebooks to do something more than simply re-create the page on the screen, this particular experiment plays most explicitly with the metaphor of the book, down to its page-turn animations.

More experiments and browser-based readers such as these are undoubtedly in the works. What features would you like to see in browser-based book readers? Let us know in the comments!

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