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  • New Firefox Browser Brings Speed and Video

    I sound a bit like a broken record these days. Speed and video. Speed and video.

    Only last week it was the new iPhone touting these two words. Now it’s the turn of the Mozilla Foundation who today released a new version of its wildly popular Firefox browser.

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    Firefox 3.5 comes with a slew of new features but the ones that most interest here at Vook are its pronounced improvements in rendering Javascript (in layman’s terms, makes everything feel faster) and the addition of the new HTML 5.0 support for audio and video files (two words, embedded video).

    The combination of both of these advances make our vision for rich, interactive vooks that live inside your browser that more exciting.

    Now, if we can only convince everyone to upgrade!

    To download the latest version of Firefox, visit the getfirefox.com web site.

    The Future of Digital Books?

    I recently reread the Wall Street Journal article “The Digital Future of Books” by L. Gordon Crovitz. I was looking for guidelines to help me describe what a Vook is. Even though we’re building the product, it’s still tricky to articulate exactly what Vook is going to do for books — and someone has to do something for books. As a recent Onion piece joked, “90% Of Waking Hours Spent Staring At Glowing Rectangles.” The Internet, with its trove of instantly accessible content, is pulling more people away from books than even television could. But in his article, Crovitz makes the excellent point that books and the Internet have a lot in common – not in terms of the content and entertainment and information they provide, but in terms of their structure and the way we use them. As Crovitz writes, “The book introduced a disciplined way of thinking about topics, organized around contents, pages, indexing, citation and bibliography. These are the root of Web structure as well.” A few sentences earlier, he quotes from “Print is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age” where author Jeff Gomez writes, “What’s going to be transformed isn’t just the reading of one book, but the ability to read a passage from practically any book that exists, at any time that you want to, as well as the ability to click on hyperlinks, experience multimedia, and add notes and share passages with others.”

    What I’ve realized is that Vook fulfills that promise. It’s one of the main things I need to stress when I try to describe Vook. Ebooks have yet to take advantage of the vast universe of the Internet. But Vook will—it’s going to stuff access to the Web into the context of a book. At the same time, it’s going to break books out of their binding and bring them to life in the world where our information lives. It’s the world where our music and videos and pictures and friends live – it’s the world where we live – and thanks to Vook we’re going to be able to bring our books into it too.

    Hey, They’re talkin’ about us

    I don’t mean to brag or nuthin’ — but the recent article by Adam Penenberg in Fast Company is all about us, all about Vook.  Well, ok, he never mentions us by name, and the piece is supposed to be about  the war between Amazon and Apple for publishers and readers’ dollars — but listen to this (italics and commentary mine):   ” Taking on the charateristics of our present online habits, and riding a wave of rapid innovation in screens and microprocessors, books may soon become multimedia events.  In this transformative model, the book industry could actually be well-positioned(This will come as a pleasant surprise to all the doom and gloomers. . .) Publishers could team with authors and multi-media producers to forge a new channel for dynamic e-books books  that go far beyond linear prose.  (Yes!  The smart ones already are doing just that!) They may provide a blend of text, video, audio interviews, 3-D maps, an entire ecosystem of content built on top of the book.”  

    Didn’t we say that?!   It’s as if he took a page from our, um, vook.  Time to get Adam Penenberg to see a demo, don’t you think?

    A Date with the new iPhone 3G S

    I wasn’t going to upgrade. I swear. But my gadget lust got the better of me and I caved.

    So I spent the weekend with a new toy; my brand new iPhone 3G S.

    This is now the third generation iPhone I’ve owned after its launch weekend. Pretty pathetic I know. But I’ve kept my batting record at 1000.

    In my defense, it’s all for research purposes. Yeah, that’s right… research purposes. (At least, that’s what I told my wife)

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    But it’s true. Vook is betting pretty heavily on the iPhone space and I had to see if our prototypes worked on the new hardware. (Good news, it does!)

    So here are some thoughts on the new handset from Apple.

    The S is for Speed. And well deserved. A bump in memory and processing power means this is the snappiest iPhone to date. I never really thought of my old phone as slow. But going back to it now and it feels like a slug in comparison. Streaming videos and reading pages is a breeze on the new S.

    V is for Video. The new iPhone should really be called the iPhone 3G V. The integration of a video camera and software in the device stands poised to revolutionize the way we see our world. Imagine a scene where everyone has access to a video camera and access to the web to instantly upload and share what they are seeing. Well it’s now a reality and I predict we’re going to see an explosion of new uses of video — to share memories, report on current events and eventually, I suspect, tell stories. Exciting stuff – especially for a platform like Vook.

    If you are interested in upgrading to the new phone, check your eligibility on Apple’s web site. I’d give it an enthusiastic thumbs up.

    Is there a more e-savvy publisher than Harlequin , the Toronto-based “romance” publisher?   Sure, you think they’re all about bodice rippers for old ladies,  and mass market paperbacks you throw away.  But did you know that a full 4% of the company’s business last year was e-business?   That’s about 400 times the amount estimated by most major publishers.  

    I was on a panel at a conference in Toronto last week with Harlequin’s digital guru, Brent Lewis.   We were talking about what should be e-published and what it should cost to get your books digitally.  HArlequin has been experimenting with lots of different models, some free, some not.  Check here to see that they’re up to.. . .;

    Top 3 Vook Readers of the Future

    Here at vook we always have one eye on what’s coming down the pike in terms of hardware. We love our iPhones and Kindles but are anxiously anticipating the day that technology catches up with our dream of integrated video and text. The good news is I think we’re almost there.

    Here’s a handful of devices that are getting us excited right now.

    1. Fujitsu’s FLEPia

    Shown here as a prototype in 2024. FLEPia is color e-paper (which does not play video, yet). Launched commercially in March 2024 in Japan.

    2. Techcrunch’s Crunchpad

    Popular technology blog Techcrunch has been cheerleading a new device in this space and, frustrated by the lack of response by manufacturers, commissioned a product themselves.

    3. Google Android based netbooks

    One of the first Android based netbooks manufactured by GNB – demo’d here in June 2024.

    BONUS! The long rumored Apple tablet

    Much has been bantered about online about a forthcoming tablet device from Apple. Shown here in a rendering made by a fan.

    The kids are alright (and reading)!

    We were pleased to see Vook’s editorial consultant Sara Nelson quoted in a USA Today article on young adult readers and book culture yesterday – and we couldn’t agree more with her point: kids are reading, they’re just not reading in a way we’re accustomed to seeing. I’ve been hearing this point from a lot of different experts in the educational and publishing world. Last year, I briefly worked with Alan Sitomer, a Teacher of the Year and published author, who’s trying to develop a new curriculum (called Book Jam) for schools to get kids reading. Allen is religious about his belief that kids are reading more than ever: on their laptops, cell phones, even video game consoles. Sure, maybe they’re not reading big books, but they’re still learning to construct sentences and process information through the written word. He’s convinced that if you present the books to kids in the right medium and let kids read what they want to read—you’ll find they can get just as sucked up in a text as they can in the Wii.

    I’m personally convinced of this too – I grew up at the same pace as video games. From early text adventures to the graphical adventures from Sierra to the frenetic first person shooters of today. I still try to keep up with video games, but I often find they’ve moved too far from their origins in a rich story telling environment. Very few video games of this century can match the thematic and story telling complexity of a show such as Lost or a book like Cloud Atlas. I know there are exceptions – and I make sure to play them – but games are missing a vital element that someone like me, a rabid digital consumer, still can only find in books and a few exceptional television shows. I’ve been going back recently to the early text adventures I used to play (Zork’s even online!), looking for inspiration for Vook. There must be potential for a more interactive book experience that Vook could facilitate that would still keep the author in control. A surrealist take on Choose Your Own Adventure? Don Quixote meets the Sierra model? Once authors see what we’re doing with Vook and think about the potential – they could start producing stories that could finally realize the epic cross referencing, hyper textuality (and awesome story telling) that House of Leaves so promisingly hinted at.

    If Twitter can save reporting, think what Vook can do for books

    I’ve not been the worst Luddite, it’s true.  I started reading on a Kindle a week or two after the first version was launched, and still use it and a Sony reader for I’d say about 1/2 my reading.   (More, if you count newspapers)  But since I got to Vook six weeks ago, my tech knowledge/interest/time spent has increased probably 100fold.  But, still, I’ve been a bit of a Twitter hold-out — have address @saranelson, but rarely use. 

    But all that changed for me this week — as it did for much of the luddite land — when it was reported, several places, that reports on Twitter were the most honest, direct and compelling of all the news reports on the mess in post-election Iran.  For goodness sake, even Dan Rather thinks so.   “Small bursts of text—like old telegraph dispatches—by way of Twitter . .  .give us an incomplete but vital window into what is happening on the streets of Iran. . .”, he wrote.

    If somebody with roots as deep as Rather’s in mainstream media can have his head turned by a couple of tweets. .  .well, I think we ought to send him a vook and see how that rocks his world.     I wonder what he likes to read. . . .

    Summer Camp at Vook

    Summer at Vook is about work, very little play. Our team plans to launch five Vook titles in September and several more in October and many more in November and December of this year. The team is moving on lots of fronts: building out our technology; finalizing contract agreements; shooting video stories, author profiles and trailers; preparing marketing plans and building out partnerships. We are excited about our titles, our partners and the technology, and how this new offer is shaping up. We love the innovation in the category with platforms, devices and applications being announced every day. Grow the category is our motto!

    More on Vook from Vator.tv

    #dedede; width: 320px; text-align: center; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 10pt; padding-top: 4px; padding-bottom: 5px;">See this video on Vator.tv »

    Graphic Vook-lence

    Comics have pretty much lost their stigma as being just for kids and nerdy adults – even cute girls seem to have realized the geeks are onto something – and the Internet has been a huge player in making graphic storytelling more accessible. At Vook, graphic novels are a medium we’re really excited about, and not just because Watchmen did fairly well at the box office. Animation is definitely something we want to bring to Vook: charts, diagrams, even sharp historical lessons are all more interesting when they become quick, compelling videos. We found it a lot easier to get our heads around the credit crises after we saw an animated visualization of it from Jonathan Jarvis, a student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Explanations like his once only came from a detailed newspaper article or an economics professor, but a graduate student whose real expertise is design turned the disaster into something everyone could understand – without neglecting depth and complexity.

    Of course, animations are also great for storytelling. We’ve been churning through a lot of the graphic novels available in the Itunes stores, and while they’re pretty great and fun to read, we feel ourselves yearning for them to be something else – something bigger, better, more elegant and immersive. A little animation goes a long way. Just check out this excellent take on Neil Gaiman’s sweet and slightly sad little poem, “The Day the Saucers Came.” (You might have to be patient, it seems to have a long load time.) Though it doesn’t use flashy graphics or lots of movement, the images pair up with the words perfectly, and the whole experience becomes a lot more involving. It’s certainly a piece that we’re taking inspiration from at Vook. The poem’s part of Microsoft’s Infinite Canvas application that’s still in the Alpha phase – and as of this writing was having some problems loading at the home page. The piece implements Microsoft’s Deep Zoom technology, which, according to the blog Ars Technica, lets you “smoothly zoom regardless of the size of the screen, bandwidth of your network, or the complexity of the images you’re looking at.” If such a simple effect can make the reading experience more powerful, imagine what’s going to happen to books when we combine them with the full range of options we’re providing at Vook . . . Books and computers might really become one, as in “Notebook,” a very charming short video from Dutch art student Evelien Lohbeck.

    WATCH: “The Crisis of Credit Visualized”

    WATCH: “The Day the Saucers Came”

    WATCH: “Notebook”

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