A Book Is A Book And Other Thoughts On Our Webby Future

home officeIn February I wrote that every book is a website and we need to embrace the webiness of books. This led to some good discussion about the nature of books generally and casebooks in particular and about the nature of websites. The discussion helped clarify a couple of things in my mind.

First, though every book is a website not every website is a book. As I mentioned in the previous article, once a book is in an electronic form such as EPUB the process to make the book into a website is straight forward. That is not to say that it is easy, but that the path from EPUB to website is clearly marked. The reverse is not true. Moving a website to a book format such as EPUB is not straight forward and may even be impossible.

A website is often a complex and carefully organized store of information. It may be fairly static, with a single information store arranged and hyperlinked for readers to discover. It may be interactive, drawing the the reader/visitor deeper into the site primarily through the use of hyperlinks to reveal or explain things. It may not even contain any text at all. The design of a website holds clues as to whether or not it can survive the transformation into a book.

Simple static websites are the best candidates for books. Information, often mostly text, is arranged in some sort of linear fashion. Links to outside sites are minimal. A single author or a small group of collaborators gives the site a particular voice. A blog is a good example of the sort of site that lends itself to being bookified.

Contrast this to a more complex and interactive site where the community contributes to the site or games are played or movies are watched. Information is arranged in a non-linear fashion. Links, both internal and external, abound. A multitude of authors, editors, and contributors all bring their voices to the site. Wrangling this into a book could not be done without destroying the value of the site.

This brings me to my second point, a book is a book. It does not matter if the medium is paper or bits, the form and structure of a book is still the same. Books have covers, title pages, tables of contents, chapters, notes (foot or end). The structure of a book is a known thing and the structure carries through all mediums. This is something that makes books unique. A book is a book in hard cover, paperback, on the Kindle, Nook and iPad, in the PDF file on your PC, and ultimately on the web.

Moving a book from print to electronic is not magic and it does not make the book better. The change in format just changes how readers access the book. If you want to make a “better” book, then build a website. Adding interaction and multimedia to a book are often valuable ways to enhance the information that is provided, but adding these enhancements are better done as website than a book.

Transforming a book into a website is the way to make a better book and destroy the book at the same time. Rather than spending time trying to shoehorn elements of a website into a book, we should let go of the book and embrace the web as the book of the future.


About Elmer Masters

Elmer R. Masters is the Director of Technology at the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (www.cali.org) where he works on interesting projects involving technology and legal education like eLangdell, Classcaster, Lawbooks, QuizWright, and the CALI website. He has over 30 years of experience building tech tools for legal education and systems for accessing law and legal materials on the Internet. He is the admin of the Teknoids mailing list (www.teknoids.net) and has been blogging about legal education, law, and technology for over 20 years (www.symphora.com). He has a JD from Syracuse University College of Law and was employed by Syracuse, Cornell Law School, and Emory University School of Law before joining CALI in 2003. Elmer has presented at the CALI Conference for Law School Computing (where he organizes the program), the AALL and AALS Annual Meetings, Law Via The Internet, and other conferences, symposia, and workshops on topics ranging from IT management in law schools to building open access court reporting systems to information architecture design and implementation in law.
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