Michael Cairns blogged yesterday about a deal SharedBook has just made with ourenergypolicy.org to use an annotation technology SharedBook has. SharedBook is a client and I spent some time this morning getting updated by CEO Caroline Vanderlip about this new technology.
This is wikipedia-type capability with a spin that publishers and authors will really like. With wikipedia, the edits and annotations from “the crowd” (or from whomever is allowed to mess with the wiki) actually change and revise the content itself. With SharedBook’s annotation technology, the original published content remains locked, and the changes are appended as footnotes! The footnotes can be associated to a chunk, a paragraph, a word, a symbol, a diagram, a picture. Whatever you like. And using the capability to manipulate content into a one-off book that SharedBook is known for, a reader can order up a printed book with whichever of the footnotes the reader wants in their own copy of the book. They’re then numbered consecutively and gathered at the back of the book.
The possibilities here are endless. A professor could pepper a textbook with his or her own annotations. Or the class could use the technology to add their own annotations. A professional organization can (as ourenergypolicy.org will) restrict annotations to approved experts; then the “reader” can select which of those to include in their own unique version of the book. A mystery writer or sci fi writer could use this technology to capture thoughts from other writers or fans.
The “platform book” concept described by Joe Esposito might be handled differently using this technology, but perhaps that would be for the better. Certainly any author who believes in his or her own rendition, but also believes in the value of crowd-sourced input, would be more comfortable with SharedBook’s annotation technology than with a wiki.
Caroline told me today that it was this annotation technology that first attracted her to the company five years ago. At the time, she found it impossible to explain the benefits to any publisher. Thanks to wikipedia, that’s no longer a problem.
It is easy to imagine this annotation technology becoming an important tool in moving us toward a much more dynamic concept of what a book can be.