The e-Book in Your Future

Back in February I wrote a post entitled, “Paper or e-Book?” where I stated a personal preference of using paper for fiction books and e-books for anything technical. I expanded on that post by writing about the advantages and disadvantages of online media when compared to technical books in my “Is the Technical Book Dead?” post. I even considered the effects of electronic media on libraries in my “Future of Libraries?” post. Let’s just say I’ve given this topic a lot of thought, but up until now, facts have been a little hard to come by. Most people speculate about e-books, but they can’t truly back up their speculation with hard facts of the sort that just about anyone can accept. However, I’ve been seeing articles such as, “Ebook Sales Both Rise and Fall in Wiley’s Divisions” (by Mercy Pilkington) as of late.

It seems as if I’m not the only one who finds the convenience of e-books addicting when it comes to technical topics. However, according to this article (probably the best of the batch I found online), the sales of e-books are stratified. Someone is less likely to buy a cookbook in e-book form, than a tome on writing your first application in C#.

My take on everything I’m seeing is one of practicality. A technical book in e-book form is convenient. You can pack entire bookshelves in an incredibly small form factor. Even the least expensive Kindle can pack 1,400 books in a tiny form factor. You can read all of your books anywhere you go and modern screens have become better at presenting information under a range of conditions, as long as you can focus on the e-book, rather than the surrounding environment.

I also see e-books becoming status-quo in the classroom. In addition to being able to store a hoard of books in an incredibly small space, schools will find book updates far easier to provide and less expensive as well. The media options provided by e-books will enhance the learning experience. From what I’ve seen, e-books are already becoming well established in the school system and I see a day coming soon where a student won’t touch a paper book as part of the educational process.

However, e-books are less useful in some situations. If you spill a sauce on your paper cookbook, you wipe it off and continue on as if nothing happened. Spilling the same sauce on your Kindle will have disastrous results as the sauce oozes into the device and damages it. Even a cheap Kindle costs $79.00 (at last look), which makes for a mighty expensive sauce.

I can also see problems using a Kindle for woodworking. For one thing, the print is small enough that it would be really hard to read construction instructions while using a Kindle. Not only that, but imagine trying to use a drawing in the Kindle—good luck. In addition, dust specs from the woodworking environment would eventually end up inside the device. I haven’t met an environment yet that wood dust can’t penetrate.

It’s hardly surprising then that e-books have become quite popular in some areas, but not in others. The debate is over though. Sometime in your future you’ll likely find yourself using an e-book for a practical need. The more time I spend researching the topic though, the less likely I find it that paper books will go away anytime soon. Paper is still quite practical for many needs and people will use something that’s both inexpensive and practical. Not many people are into gizmos for the sake of having them.

That brings me to my latest project. For the first time I’m writing a book that’s designed from the ground up for the electronic environment. The book is entitled, “Java eLearning Kit for Dummies” and the more I work on it, the more fascinated I become with the possibilities that this book provides. You’ll receive a CD with this book that contains a fully interactive environment. In fact, for the first time ever, you’ll be able to engage in one of my books without bothering with the paper content. You’ll gain access to the book’s information by interacting with the content on the CD. The entire concept is amazing and I’m having a great time working on it.  I’ll let you know more details when the book gets closer to release, but for now, it’s something to think about as you look over the book offerings online. Expect to see more books of this sort.

What is your take on e-books? What niche do you see e-books filling? Do you see yourself using e-books in the future (why or why not)? Talk to me about your expectations for e-books at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Using a Horizontal Web Site Layout

A friend recently wrote to me regarding an issue with Web site layout. Of course, I’ve dealt with Web design issues in a number of my booksmost notably C# Design and Development and Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements. If you look at most Web sites today, they all have three serious problems:

 

  • The line length is too longforcing the eye to work extra hard to read the material because the eye loses track of the line and actually making it tiresome to review the material.
  • The page contains too much material, which makes it tiresome for anyone working with a screen reader to listen to all the material before finding the one bit of information actually required from the site.
  • The use of vertical scrolling is contrary to the historical use of horizontal scrolling. If you look at how people worked with scrolling in ages past, it was always horizontal, making it easier to read the material.

She even sent me two articles that describe the problem in greater detail. The first article is entitled, “Are Horizontal Website Layouts the Wave of the Future?” and points out that research shows that most people don’t even read the excess material on a Web site. If nothing else, the strong research showing that my efforts are being wasted would tend to make me rethink my design. The second article is entitled, “Horizontalism and Readability” and it places more emphasis on the historical approach to horizontal layout, rather than focus on modern research. I tend to prefer tested approaches to presenting information when I can get them (new ideas are fine for someone else to test).

Of course, a Web site is not the same as printed material. Trying to equate the two could very well be a mistake. Here is my take on how the mediums differ:

 

  • The method of presentation differs. You’re not relying on paper, you’re using a video screen of some sort and that does make a difference in how the reader perceives the material.
  • The environment differs. I don’t usually sit in my easy chair next to the fire when I read materials online. I’m normally in my office in a formal work environment.
  • The approach to reading differs. My paper reading environment is relaxed and long term. It’s nothing for me to spend an entire day reading a good book. My online reading is more like a sprintI find what I need quickly and never read for more than a half hour at a time.
  • The technology differs. When I read a book, I get print in one size. So, if the print is less than appealing or causes eye fatigue, I’m just stuck with it. My browser allows me to change the font size a Web site uses so I can make the print eye friendly. In fact, I can even use a CSS file to change the typeface and other features for some Web sites.

The obvious question now is whether the two environments differ enough that considerations normally made for paper don’t apply to Web sites. My thought is that creating Web sites with smaller amounts of material, eye friendly design, and shorter columns are all great ideas, but I’m not completely sold on the idea of horizontal scrolling. What is your take on this idea. Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Is E-mail Dead?

I keep reading articles that tell me that e-mail is dead. In fact, there was one today on ComputerWorld that describes a company that is moving from e-mail to social media as an exclusive option. Currently, I don’t use any of the options mentioned in the article and don’t have time (or the inclination) to start using them. Don’t get me wrong, social media probably solves problems for some part of the population, it just hasn’t worked out well for me. I can’t see myself outputting tweets about my daily activities and some of the articled I read about Facebook are just plain scary.

My main problem with most modern communication solutions is that they’re overly intrusive. I was in the bathroom the other day and a guy was engaging in business while sitting on the commode; he just couldn’t be bothered to turn his cellphone off to take care of personal matters. That’s just one of many scenarios I’d prefer to avoid. There is strong evidence to conclude that our society has become preoccupied with communication, to the detriment of all. Just how many people died last year from texting accidents? According to the Washington Post, 28 percent of accidents now occur while people are texting or talking on a cellphone. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to talk with someone that badly.

I have to wonder how well social media will work for business needs. Social media assumes a level of connectivity that I’m simply not willing to allow. E-mail works better because someone can send me a message and I can handle it later; at my convenience. More importantly, I can handle the e-mail at a time when I’m not distracted by something else. In addition, I can provide a thoughtful answer; one that I’ve researched and thought through carefully. E-mail also provides me with a permanent written record that I can reference later when I have questions about the discussion.

There is some evidence to say that social media is actually costing business big dollars. For example, the BBC claims that social media is costing business £1.4bn. Other articles are equally certain that social media can save businesses money. I’d say it would be pretty tough to come up with a precise statement either pro or con when it comes to social media’s cost to business, but I know the personal cost. I tried a few solutions as an experiment and found that I was considerably less productive using them than turning it all off and using e-mail. Of course, that’s me, you may very well find that using social media makes you more productive; each person is different.

Personally, I don’t see e-mail as a dead communication technology. If anything, it’s becoming more important to me as I age and my memory becomes less dependable. As far as I’m concerned, the always connected nature of most social media today simply isn’t a good solution if you want to be productive. So, what’s your take on social media? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.