Ebooks of the future, says Tim Berners-Lee, should be permanent, seamless, linked, and trackable. That’s three good ideas and one very bad one.
Speaking at BookExpo America, he offered these as the four attributes of the ebooks of the future. They’ll achieve permanence through encoding in HTML5, which is what EPUB basically is. Any ebook that’s available only in a proprietary format with DRM is doomed to extinction. Pinning hopes on Amazon’s eternal existence and support of its present formats is foolish. Seamlessness, the ability to transition through different platforms and content types, follows from using HTML5. This is reasonable and not very controversial.
Having all books linked is the really novel idea. In HTML there’s no problem with including links, but what do you link to? Linking to URLs goes against the goal of permanence. Individuals and businesses lease domains, and site owners stop maintaining their sites. To give a personal example, the URL for my Tomorrow’s Songs Today will someday go away. Copies may survive in other people’s hands, but all links to it will break.
There should be some kind of permanent URI for books. It shouldn’t rely on the ISBN system; no central registrar should limit what books may have identifiers. This might be a useful application of IPFS.
But trackable? What is he thinking? I can’t find a source with an exact quote, so maybe this is a misunderstanding. The Book Business article says:
Along with interlinking, content should be trackable, said Berners-Lee. Publishers must have the ability to understand how books are being read and shared. “We should live in a world of linked data,” he said.
Ultimately, Berners-Lee envisions a world where ebook content mimics the openness and accessibility of the web. In this future publishing environment, new opportunities to connect directly with readers and monetize content will arise.
If publishers “understand” what you’re reading, very little stops governments from finding out. This is dangerous for people living where authorities suppress criticism. Right now, if you download books onto a Kindle, Amazon knows what you’re reading and how much of each book you’ve read. I solve that problem by not using a Kindle, but if all ebooks were trackable, I’d have to go back to paper for privacy. I wouldn’t necessarily want the government to know I’ve read REDACTED, not to mention REDACTED and REDACTED.
The one thing stopping us from seamlessly transitioning content across different platforms is DRM, not format.
But I have serious doubts that Berners-Lee grasps that problem, because the article implies that he is for more DRM, not less.
Only now they’re calling it tracking, rather than what it really is: spying.
Trackable. Along with interlinking, content should be trackable, said Berners-Lee. Publishers must have the ability to understand how books are being read and shared. “We should live in a world of linked data,” he said.
This is spying, yes, but the other problem is that any platform capable of this level of tracking is only half a step away from denying you access to the content when the tracking data isn’t being sent, or simply on a publisher’s whim.
I hope that Berners-Lee will clarify his comments and the report will prove inaccurate on this point.