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What Should an e-Book Be?

Yesterday, as part of my Suggested Reading I posted a link to a great post at one of my favorite programming blogs, Coding Horror.  The post is generating a lot of conversation about technology books, and in this case the books are 2 programming titles - one of which makes use of color in its interior.

Aside from the fact that its always insightful to get valuable feedback from programmers on tech books, there were a couple of comments that touched on some e-content issues that I was especially interested in.

I don’t really understand why anyone would even want to buy a programming book. No way to run the example code (without finding it online or on some attached CD/DVD), no way to copy and paste, no way to click a link to a different topic, the trusty web browser with Google bookmarked to look up terms or expressions you don’t know is far away. It’s like living in the dark ages again.

to which Jeff Atwood responded,

I totally agree- the idea that books are competing with other books is an illusion. Books are competing with the web. And the Adam Nathan book does a surprisingly good job of it.

Don’t we know it Jeff…

But the first point it begs the question, “What if books  could do those things?”  Ignore for the moment the state of e-book readers and maybe just think about using a programming book on a PC or Mac, alongside the programming tool of your choice.  What features would you want?  Seriously, the sky’s the limit.  Let’s design the ultimate e-content product for programmers - go ahead, pitch in.

Better yet, lets talk not just about programming books (because I am obviously interested in that) but lets talk about other books as well.  Whats the killer ebook app?

(photo courtesy jopemoro)

  • Jeff Lindsay

    Having used programming books some Ruby on Rails tasks, I can say that I really appreciated the option to pay extra to get the PDF version of the book as well as the softbound (e.g., Dave Thomas’ Agile Web Development as one example). When stepping through programming details, it was great to be able to cut and paste code directly from the PDF, and to explore some areas more deeply in bonus areas on the supporting Website. But there were plenty of times it was great to have the physical book to carry around.

    I write this as a newbie. Real programmers may differ and have much better ideas.

  • Lara

    I think ebooks need to be more than just text on screen. If you’re going to go digital, you might as well take advantage of digital technology and add to the reading experience. A good example is the Moxyland ebook - the first ebook that has an embedded soundtrack.