Wanted: the ultimate mobile app for scholarly ereading

January 7th, 2011
by jodi

Nicole Henning suggests that academic libraries and scholarly presses work together to create the ultimate mobile app for scholarly ereading. I think about the requirements a bit differently, in terms of the functional requirements.

The main functions are obtaining materials, reading them, organizing them, keeping them, and sharing them.

For obtaining materials, the key new requirement is to simplify authentication: handle campus authentication systems and personal subscriptions. Multiple credentialed identities should be supported. A secondary consideration is that RSS feeds (e.g. for journal tables of contents) should be supported.

For reading materials, the key requirement is to support multiple formats in the same application. I don’t know of a web app or mobile app that supports PDF, EPUB, and HTML. Reading interfaces matter: look to Stanza and Ibis Reader for best-in-class examples.

For organizing materials, the key is synergy between the user’s data and existing data. Allow tags, folders, and multiple collections. But also leverage existing publisher and library metadata. Keep it flexible, allowing the user to modify metadata for personal use (e.g. for consistency or personal terminology) and to optionally submit corrections.

For keeping materials, import, export, and sync content from the user’s chosen cloud-based storage and WebDAV servers. No other device (e.g. laptop or desktop) should be needed.

For sharing materials, support lightweight micropublishing on social networks and email; networks should be extensible and user-customizable. Sync to or integrate with citation managers and social cataloging/reading list management systems.

Regardless of the ultimate system, I’d stress that device independence is important, meaning that an HTML5 website would probably the place to start: look to Ibis Reader as a model.

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Posted in books and reading, future of publishing, information ecosystem, library and information science, scholarly communication | Comments (5)

  • The authentication and DRM is the hard part, which is not entirely under the control of developers. There are certain auth and DRM requirements insisted upon by platforms and content providers which do not have good solutions in the software you imagine.

  • And iPad/iPhone iBooks does ePub, and PDF. If you’re talking about ‘doing’ HTML, it brings up the question of whether the ‘material’ is something you go out on the net to read, or something you actually ‘have’ on your device. ‘html’ isn’t something by itself you can really ‘have’ in a package, since material presented in html typically involves a variety of different files, with no one standard to package them up and ship them around as a coherent unit. ePub is in fact one such standard though, ePub is HTML.

  • Liza Daly says:

    Thanks for the Ibis Reader shout-out!

  • @jrochkind Thanks for the tip on iBooks: last time I checked it wasn’t available for iPhone. I still haven’t figured out how you’re supposed to get PDF onto the device: just via iTunes?

    HTML5 supports offline reading, but I know what you mean about HTML’s loose packaging. Apple’s webarchive format is also useful. And technically ePub is HTML & friends* along with some metadata in a tasty ZIP package.

    *friends=CSS, images, scripts