Thinking Tech

Internet book faces an eBook Tower of Babel

Internet book faces an eBook Tower of Babel

Posting in Education

All 26 eBook formats together represent Linux in market share, except they are incompatible.

This summer I finished writing my first Internet Book.

(The image is of The Little Tower of Babel, by Pieter Bruegel, painted in 1563, from Wikipedia.)

It's an update to something I first wrote in 2002 and described this spring at my personal blog. It's about Moore's Law, not just the original concept on silicon circuits produced by Gordon Moore in the mid-1960s, but all its various permutations and offshoots.

Exponential improvements are now the rule across the electronic spectrum. In radios, in hard drives, in optical fibers and on the Internet better and better comes faster and faster.

This book looks at all that, as well as forces working against Moore's Law and important areas where it does not apply. But instead of being supported by footnotes at the bottom of each page I have used hyperlinks.

I think this product, which I now call Moore's Lore, is pretty cool. Run it in an eBook reader, connect that reader to the Internet via WiFi, and you not only get a fine read but the start of a real adventure across the technology landscape.

My purpose here is not to sell you a book (although if you're a publisher or agent...) It is instead to use this as an example of a growing problem, namely the Tower of Babel that is today's eBook marketplace.

Sony has a reader, competing head-to-head with the Amazon Kindle. Microsoft has software to let your PC become an eBook reader. Apple appears poised to enter the market. At least two smaller outfits, Irex Technologies and Plastic Logic, are also in the frame.

The problem here is one of formats. They are all different. Wikipedia lists 26 different eBook formats.

Real books, by contrast, have one format, one most people find pretty easy to use. It features random access and support for tools like indexes that let you find your place, as well as bookmarks to hold your place. And they never need batteries.

True, real books don't support hyperlinks, but the same can be said for some eBook formats. Books are also expensive to produce. But they have a pretty stable business model, one that has stood for over 500 years with only minor tweaks.

Think of it this way. Real books are Microsoft Windows. All the eBook formats together represent Linux, except while Linuxes are fairly compatible these are not. They're more like the proprietary versions of Unix Microsoft killed off 25 years ago. It's insane.

So here's the deal. I want a single eBook format, I want one that supports hyperlinks, and I want it now. Whoever gets here first wins the deal for my "best-seller."

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure