I’ve been experimenting with eReaders. Google’s announcement of its software for several platforms helped me consolidate my thoughts on the subject. My conclusion is that eReaders are not where I want them to be, functionally. I believe this first few years worth of effort behind eReaders represents a transparent reach by companies for my pocketbook. There’s no heart behind their products yet, no deep attempt on their part to support my reading in a better way. They merely allow me to read in an obvious, flat, linear way. I am convinced that they need to understand the things people currently do in the real world in reaction to their reading, which will open up many options for functionality that will truly bring a change to the experience of reading.
What do I mean? I don’t mean evaluating how people use eReaders today. All the companies have practices in place already to conduct evaluative research into the experience with their existing products. They need to turn to problem-space research to obtain the insights that I mean. They need an understanding of people’s intentions and thought-processes while reading, regardless of tools, medium, or services. From this understanding they can generate truly new support for readers. For example:
What are all the real-life thoughts, actions, and emotional reactions that go through people’s minds and sometimes get translated to immediate or delayed action? Can these activities and philosophies be compared and grouped into a model that might illuminate our path forward? If we can understand these behaviors, then we can discover the strongest threads that will pull readers toward a smoothly supportive digital reading experience. Generative research like this has the side benefit of producing stable results that shift only over decades and human generations. Therefore research conducted now can serve designers for a decade to come.
Currently, all eReader software features are pretty similar. People can highlight text and write notes, and of course change the fonts and background colors and sizes. They can flow text differently to different devices, and they can synchronize across those devices. They can skip around and bookmark pages. But none of this is a completely compelling reason to choose a digital reading medium. People choosing digital right now are true pioneers, putting up with very limited functionality in their digital readers. Not everyone sees benefits to switching from analog to digital. To be compelling, a digital reading experience must support the little things that flit through people’s heads as they read. Without having completed any research yet myself, here are three imagined examples of how a digital experience can be made more powerful:
We are on the cusp of the digital reading age. There are hundreds of possibilities that will become “the norm” for humanity with regard to reading. The potential is massive. Using a deep understanding of the things people think as they read now, regardless of the analog or digital medium, will have a strong impact on the future direction of eReader software.