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Let's stop flipping and start scrolling.

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EBooks may be on the rise but they have a major flaw. Their greatest obstacle is that they function like paper books, but that’s not how we read.

I don’t know why it is that most eBook reading software now insists on using a pages metaphor. We had been forced into a certain format by the requirements of the medium. Back with the first books, it was because you could only carry around so big a stone tablet. Later on, it was because the process of mass production of printed content forced us to use bindings and other limits.

We read in a certain format because we didn’t have any other choice.  However, with digital technology there is a whole future of new options. We can start looking towards other formats. However, it seems we are still obsessed with the page flip.

After the Kindle, my favorite digital reading experience was years ago on my Palm Pilot. The best thing about it was the auto-scroll. I understand that the technical requirements of eInk make something like that difficult, however it seems to have disappeared everywhere. I thought that tablets would take advantage of technology to create a new reading experience, but for the most part they haven’t.

With digital technology we are moving back towards using the format of a scroll.

Sideways might be the new standard, but it doesn’t make it the only way. The down-scroll has become the dominant metaphor for reading online and for good reason, it makes sense. It allows us to format and enrich content for a screen rather than that awkward and heavy bound thing we’ve become so used to lugging around.

Besides that, we read down. Unless we are willing to scroll our eyes across one single line of text, we desire line breaks. Which means that the reading experience inevitably moves down, not sideways. Our reading devices need to reflect that.

There is no reason for mobile devices to take a step backward from what we’ve built online. Just because our screens are more book sized, doesn’t mean they need to function like books.

So what should we aim for in the future of digital publications?

  • Let’s get rid of the page turn, it’s just silly.
  • More auto-scroll would be an excellent feature for non-eInk devices.
  • As nice as it might be to sync up your reading with your friends, Amazon had the right idea. Page numbers make no sense on a digital document whose format is altered at the will of the user. Percentages are probably the right way to go.
  • Navigation of these new formats should rely on metadata than numbers. Not just chapters, but also commonly shared sections, mentions of new characters, events, and other narrative points.

That’s just a few thoughts. As we escape repressive book-bindings, what else do you think should change?

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