Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Digital Newspapers and Digital History

Was it a coincidence that on pretty much the same day Google made an announcement about its massive newspaper archiving project, Plastic Logic announced its plans for an eInk newspaper reader? Both stories were caught by the NY Times: plastic papers here, and deep print archives here.

If Plastic Logic have their way you will be able to read any of today's newspaper anywhere in a digital format on a single fold away sheet, something like a napkin (perhaps they will have a gingham pattern when they are in idle mode?). If Google have their way you will be able to read any days newspaper anywhere, going back over 100 years. Space and time are melting before our eyes. Everything becomes readable. Not that we have any more time to read stuff.

Whilst welcoming these marvellous advances, I completely share Martyn Daniel's concern, that the propositions will fail if we need multiple reading devices for reading different sorts of digital print. A Kindle for books, a Plastic Logic napkin for newspapers, and no doubt an iMag reader of some kind for magazines. That way lies madness. Google have a better plan try to deliver everything through a web browser. That should work in the direction of universal access. I hope Plastic Logic realise that their device needs to run a standard web browser before they commit everything to a Kindle-like proprietary device.

Of course Google has to view the digital proposition in the way that it does. Google is a search engine. Google's newspaper announcement is a not so subtle reminder that digital stuff, even flakey yellowing newsprint from the nineteenth century, has to be searchable to be useful. From which it follows that it really has to be deliverable through a web browser. What is the point of having something searchable if it cannot be delivered through a web browser? From which it follows that proprietary formats and platforms are doomed. Amazon would be well advised to re-visit their strategy.

1 comment:

PublishingMojo said...

This has been my knock on the Kindle (and all e-book readers) all along. They remind me of those kitchen gizmos they sell that don't do anything except cook hot dogs (
The e-reader killer app won't be a piece of hardware, it will be a device-independent sofware solution that includes:
* Searchable text
* Web browsing, downloads, and online shopping
* Collaboration and dialogue
* Links, bookmarks, and comments
* Images, audio, and video as well as text.
It'll run on a desktop or laptop, PDA, mobile phone, web-connected TV set or gaming system. It'll run on a napkin. To give users the full benefit of this technology, manufacturers will improve screen resolution and audio quality on these devices (as they have on TV sets).
There'll be lots of free content supported by advertising, but for folks who want content without advertising (one of the defining attributes of a book), content providers and aggregators will make it easy and cheap to buy content (like iTunes) and offer the option of a subscription model.
At least that's what I hope will happen.