E-books need margins

For some reason I got to thinking yesterday about e-books and margins. Typically, in the west anyway, e-books don’t have margin-like capabilities (e.g. Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader, and even the fantastic Cybook).

If you like to notate or write in margins, as I do, then you don’t need any additional reason for wanting e-margins other than that you miss your real margins and the freedom of parallel thought that they allow you. If you find yourself not caring, however, then consider the added power that true e-margins could have. Consider that an e-book could easily act as a distributed platform for the exchange of criticism, as a permanent site for the accrual of knowledge around the themes and techniques of the original work. Instead of thinking, as Amazon might, of 400,000 “Da Vinci Code” copies sold, why not imagine that there is ONE e-”Da Vinci Code”, and that 400,000 accesses to it were sold. On that one master distributed e-book, thousands of comments accrued. Readers can subscribe to their favorite marginalists, or block them all out.

Suddenly, an e-book goes from an i-Pod style device for retraction and isolation into a kind of universal book-swap. The fruits of inspiration (marginalia) stay connected to the inspiring material. Why isn’t this happening? How could we let books become so isolated from our ability to notate our own reading? It is, after all, the flow of ideas of all kinds through the reading mind that makes books so worthwhile, not just the ideas supposedly ‘contained’ in the book itself.

Of course there is a much broader paean to marginalia of all sorts, including particularly marginal spaces, that one could put in here. If one had all day.

1 comment to E-books need margins

  • Great idea! It strikes me that we need a universal system of identifying these books — perhaps by chapter and paragraph? Comments could then be specified as: George Showman > Comments > Da Vinci Code > Chapter 4 > Paragraph 11 > Comment 1… Then we could easily save, cite, change all this.

    I was involved in trying to figure out how to do something like this with Homer last year, in the Homer Multitext Project (http://chs.harvard.edu/chs/homer_multitext); you wouldn’t think it would be that hard with Homer (whose lines are, after all, numbered by book), but actually it’s difficult. You would, for example, have to specify the edition, and conceivably even the date. But it would be a whole new universe of information-sharing. The key, I suspect, is, as often, collaboration between ideas people and expert coders. And then to get someone like Amazon to sign on to the thing.

    En avant!!

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