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Saved by Ben O'Steen
on January 16, 2009 at 10:29:04 am

Many projects that 'put books online' do so by scanning in the pages and presenting a graphical fascimile of a book, a page turning interface.


But is this the right way to go about things? Would people actually choose this interface to interact with the content of a book, given any alternative?


So, the premise is simple; given the scanned pages of a book, decent OCR text for each page and an indication of whether a page might contain an image, what are the useful alternatives? (alongside basic information about the book, author, title, date, etc.)


  • Use a service such as Yahoo's Term extractor to pinpoint interesting phrases, and compile an abstract of the book or even an abstract of multiple books, based on grabbing the paragraph or lines either side of this phrase. How then to format the results? And to present it? What about going full circle, and sending a PDF of the results to Lulu.com to create a real physical artifact?
  • If we add a simple UI to compare and browse books which recorded (or aggregated from external sites) discourse about these books, can we build interesting domain-specific links between books without having any domain knowledge ourselves? For example, if we spot a trend in threads that discuss sections of Frankenstein (Mary Shelley née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin) compared to sections of The Vampyre (John William Polidori), is presenting this link to future users a good thing?
  • Would a serialisation RSS service be a good thing? Chopping the text up into reasonable chunks and passing them out as an RSS feed. When you sign up for the service, you get a date-stamped feed URL, which will dispense a section every few days or every week, for example. (Which means it doesn't matter when you sign up for it, you will start at the beginning.) How about a book-club service? Every month, a novel is selected and the feed is passed around the group, each person receiving the same section at the same time - why does a book-club have to only convene once a month, why not act as a community, discussing each day's book if they want?


Ben O'Steen


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