UC Berkeley researchers aim to revolutionize e-books

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UC Berkeley students in the campus’s School of Information are collaborating to enhance the efficiency of e-books in the hopes of revolutionizing the accessibility of information among researchers and the general public.

According to Master of Information Management and Systems (MIMS) student Jacob Hartnell, research on e-books will improve an inefficient system that is “app-based” instead of “Web-based.” He noted that existing e-books viewed on one device are often viewed differently or cannot be viewed at all on another device.

Hartnell and his team aim to harness a web-based platform, using the standardized Web language of HTML5, to create e-books as an alternative to private proprietary formats like Kindle and iBook.

“The power of standards really solves the challenge for publishers of, ‘How do we make the content work on all sorts of different devices?’” Hartnell said. “We don’t want to waste time developing solutions for all these different devices. It makes books accessible to everyone regardless of what device you’re using.”

Hartnell also added that making e-books available for viewing via the Web would allow for collaboration between authors, publishers and editors.

Lisa Jervis, another MIMS student, said she is interested in how the new technology can create a collaborative authoring platform that will make it easier for authors to share and compile information, especially for multidisciplinary work.

“I come from the nonprofit world, and I’m very interested in the way we can share information resources, and one way to do that is to create an information resource-sharing platform,” Jervis said. “Suppose that I were a tenant organizer and I wanted to produce a field guide for other organizers. I wouldn’t just want to write that on my own, but I would want to get advice and input from other organizers.”

Robert Glushko, adjunct professor in the School of Information, said that adapting the e-book for the Web instead of for specific applications would open up a wide array of new features for authors to utilize and make textbooks more interactive. Some of these features would include annotations, endnotes and highlighting.

“Imagine a textbook … where I have a core book, and I can add different types of features depending on the type of content I have,” Glushko said. “We’re trying to invent a new kind of book-reading experience, which reflects these new kinds of books (and) involve way more than turning pages in novels.”

Glushko noted that his team’s research will probably begin to see results in a year.

However, he added, “books are evolving all the time as we see more new capabilities of social media and technology.”

Contact Yvonne Ng at [email protected].