I can’t get no…interaction

One of the Kindle forum members, Reno, recently asked the group what we thought the reading experience would be like in 2015.  I posted an answer in the thread, but I wanted to give a more thorough (and more specific) one here.

First, let me say that this is pure “blue skying”.  I’m not basing this on anything I know will be true, and I’m not going to limit myself to five years.  🙂   On the other hand, I’m not going to make an ontological leap into some new magical-seeming technology.  It’s possible that at some point books will be beamed directly into our brains, or that we’ll take them in pills, like Professor Woggle-bug’s students in the Oz series.  I’m going to focus on one thing: Interactivity.

Like it or not, this seems inevitable, and one of the biggest changes we’ll have in the basic reading experience.  Currently, most books simply sit there as you read them, and that’s what (I think) most people would tell you they want.  There are some exceptions: pop-up books, scratch and sniff, and touch and feel books

Those are mostly thought to be for kids, though, because, you know…kids don’t have as much imagination as adults.  😉  Actually, though, they are arguably for pre-literate kids and for kids for whom reading is still a challenge.

That doesn’t mean pop-up books marketed at adults don’t exist…there have been some very fancy art and entertainment books like that.

I’m talking about digitally enhanced books, though.  DEBs (as I’m going to call them), are going to have a way to connect to additional content: could be video, could be more text, could be audio. 

“Wait,” you say, “I don’t want that!  I want my books to just be books!  If I want video, I’ll go to a website!”

Yeah, like that dumb old dictionary on the Kindle!  We hate that thi–just a second, many readers love the dictionary!   That’s a digital enhancement, although it is provided by the e-book reader, not the e-book.

Why don’t we hate the dictionary?  It is because it is interactive, not obtrusive.  Gee, I love neologisms, so here’s another one: it’s an INO feature (interactive, not obtrusive).   I also like that it’s a homonym for “I know!”, which a lot of people shouted at Microsoft’s intrusive Clippy the paperclip Office helper. 

Clippy: “It looks like you’re writing a letter.”

User: “I know!”


INO is the kind of interactivity I think will work well with books.  It’s going to require a different screen than the E Ink screens we have now to be effective.  Going back to another neologism of mine, it’s going to require Dualume screens: ones that can switch back and forth between eye-friendly, battery friendly not backlit, and quick and flexible backlit screens. 


What will you get through interactivity?  One obvious thing is video.  I’m not saying that you’ll see new video of a scene in a fiction book, although that would be possible.  More likely might be scenes from existing movie and TV adaptations, but even though, I think people would be reluctant to do that…although they might enjoy it after they’ve read a scene.   My guess is the first thing would be non-fiction use…an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) fly-through of a body in a medical textbook, for example. 

Imagine reading a book that references Martin Luther King, and being able to watch the I Have a Dream speech.  That might not be while you were reading through a gripping section, but you might want to go back for it.

Similarly, audio would be possible.  That might be for things like speeches, but the Kindle is already set up to play “background music” while you read.  Maybe you’ll be reading a  Star Wars novel, and when Darth Vader comes in, hear The Imperial March.  It would have to be optional, in my opinion, but some people would like it.  They might even pay a bit more for a special soundtrack.

Again, you may think that sounds like an awful idea.  But what about reading an article on Beethoven, and having the option to listen to the Ninth?  Or reading an Elvis bio and choosing to listen to Jailhouse Rock?  Or a Monk novelization, and hearing that Randy Newman title tune before you start?  (Of course, I like that song, but it did bother me when they changed it…I thought it was a quite funny meta-Monk moment when he commented on changing themes songs being a bad theme to super-fan Marci Maven.   Pictures, audio, video…passages from related books, perhaps.  Look, people complain about non-interactive footnotes frequently (although some books do have them).  This is not much different.   Footnotes enhance non-fiction paperbooks…a similar, but more robust option exists for e-books.

If you are reading this blog on a computer, you can already do it.  You can click on the links, and it will take you to active material.  In some cases, you might have to buy it to experience it, but for non-public domain stuff, that’s the way it is likely to work.

That may also help support the content you buy (book or otherwise).  I get referrer fees for somethings you buy through the blog (although I recommend things just for that reason).  Most of it, honestly, I don’t…I link it for your convenience and interest.  But if you actually buy a Kindle, yes, Amazon gives me a cut.  I’ve talked about that other places, of course.  This is a way that e-books might be able to keep the prices down in a very different way than p-books (paperbooks).  I’ve bought paperbooks that had ads…they tried that for awhile with paperbacks, and it didn’t seem to work very well (they dropped it later).  This is much less instrusive, and some people would like the option.

How to interact

This is very important for people who want the traditional reading experience.   Pop-ups are going to be a bad idea.  Similarly, visual ads (banner or otherwise) won’t be popular.  Oh, I suppose you could have something appear at the bottom of the screen (“click to hear a theremin“).  The way it is now, where it is indicated by an underline isn’t too bad.

Eventually, our devices will get much better at reading our emotions through facial analysis.  You’ll be staring a bit longer at a name in the book, and you’ll look up and to your right.  This might indicate that you are trying to remember the visual image you constructed formerly for that character.  I’m just making that up, by the way.  🙂   The name might then become bold and if you stared for another second or so, a character description (limited only to where you are so far in the book…no spoilers) might be offered.  “Sir Charles Baskerville is the lord of the manor who was found dead on the moor of an apparent heart attack.”

They’ll also adapt to us in much better ways than they do now.  If you never chose to see one of those bios, it would stop offering.  The book could autoturn (go to a next page automatically), learning your pacing (although, of course, being aware if you weren’t looking at the page or weren’t there and slowing down).   If you liked music, you’d get it…if you didn’t, you wouldn’t.  If could learn to read your expressions to know if you liked something or not…although in the beginning, the “thumbs up/thumbs down” type thing we have on Tivos would probably be the way we expressed it.

Social networking

This is one of the biggest growth areas on the web, and it has obvious applications to interactive books.   Let’s say that you are part way through  And Then There Were None.  You are guessing “whodunnit”.   You can see what other people guessed at that point, and live chat if you want.  You could limit it to friends and family, or use it as a way to interact with new people. 

When you finished a book, you could discuss it with other people…ask them what they liked about it…and what other books they recommend.  You might even be able to chat with the author!


This is another fascinating area of expansion for interactive books.   Well, they don’t even have to be that interactive, except that the process should be tailored to you.  Liking one book might get you recommendations for other books.  When you finish a book from Feedbooks.com , there are links to other books.  What if the recommendations were based on how well you liked the book…and what you liked about it?

What if it went directly to the next book in the series?  You might like that, right?

How about if you subscribed to a “channel”, like a romance channel or a cyberpunk channel?  Finish one book, and you have the option to go right to another book of a similar type.   You could, naturally, read something different, but you’d have the choice. 

Lots of money is being spent right now on figuring out how to recommend things to people, and very different approaches are being taken.  Netflix tends to base it on you rating what you’ve seen, and then finding out what other people who rated similarly have rated highly.  Pandora takes a very different approach: they have teams of people break down the “musical genome” of songs (does it have “jangly guitars”?  a “throbbing baseline”? is it “melancholy”?).  Based on that, your Pandora station plays similar songs.

I’ve seen many posts from people who don’t think Amazon’s system doesn’t do a very good job of it.  For me, it’s hit and miss…sometimes I’m interested, sometimes I am one hundred percent not interested.  I know I can improve it by rating the recommendations, but I don’t do it that much…and I think most people don’t. 

That will get better, though.  I think it will get much better, and you may make some great discoveries of little known books that way.  That’s one big thing that recommendations can do: get exposure for lesser known artists.

Well, that’s a little bit of what I see in the future for the reading experience.  Have other ideas?  Let me know.

Until then, I’ll wait for the time when two Kindles get together, and one says to the other, “Read any good people lately?”  😉

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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