The Potential and Promise of “Live” E-books

In Digital by Edward Nawotka


By Edward Nawotka

Enhanced e-books with web and video links embedded in the text is just the beginning: “One of the things we can do is to enable the creation of unique new data sets using the Internet as a source,” says Bruce Molloy, CEO of Connotate. “Real time analysis and use of this new data will allow publishers to create what could amount to ‘live’ e-books, dynamic books that are able to be added-to, updated or amended as the information itself changes.”

Connotate is a deep web search services company based in New Brunswick, NJ and founded in 2000. It provides “user-empowered information access” –- i.e. sophisticated, precise search results — to clients ranging from hedge fund managers to government agencies.

“We use intelligent software agents to drill down deeply into a site to pull up granular information,” says Molloy by way of explanation. “It’s machine intelligence, practical real-world artificial intelligence, that can get into otherwise locked information silos -– provided you have a key –- and collate and aggregate the data.” Molloy estimates that some 25%-45% of information is essentially hidden from the average Web browser, either locked behind pay walls, on intranets, or else not readily available to search engines.

In the publishing context, Molloy says that Connotate’s services could be used to monitor the availability of pirated e-books, review and blog coverage of titles, or to aggregate foreign rights information. But the real potential for publishing is in the ability to create new products from collated and aggregated Web content.

The idea is, simply put, to turn the Web into an ally rather than a competitor.

Taking the rather straightforward example of adding book reviews to an enhanced e-book, Molloy suggests that one of the things that might be done would be to replace this static information with a continual stream of updated information, taken live from the Web as it is added, including tweets, blog posts and comments.

The potential then exists to create “live” e-books that contain a set of continually updated “texts” focusing on a given topic and pulled directly from the Web.

Academic publishing is just one are of potential application. Say you’re teaching a historiography course and want to give students a course pack that shows changing view of Napoleon by historians over time, you might create a “live anthology” that clips historical documents, texts and academic papers -– from say Google Books –- and also adds new blogs, books, academic journals, and other texts as they come online. In your hands you’d have a continually up-to-date “live” book.

A dynamic “live” e-book could potentially be even more engaging were it to address a topic of current interest, like the financial crisis or climate change.

Publishers like Cengage Learning have similar continually updated products (Cengage’s are called “portals”) and Oxford University Press promises something not-to-dissimilar with its recently launched Oxford Bibliographies. In both cases, the publishers enlist editors to collate and cull the information online. While this is what gives the product authority, Connotate’s service could potentially ease the daily burden of tracking and gathering such information from across the Web.

In addition, Molloy promises that Connotate has developed the ability to go beyond mere discovery and can actually analyze the overall “sentiment” about a given topic online.

“We can track positive/negative/neutral sentiment using a detailed level grammatical analysis, such as sentence structure and other variables” says Molloy. “It includes both headlines and body copy, thus giving you analysis on a complete story.” The results are delivered as a number on a numerical scale and can alert a user, say, when the negative commentary on a particularly topic exceeds a certain threshold.

What’s more, Molloy says product is “language agnostic,” which also allows you to track foreign-language content. (As proof, he offered me a look at an “agent” that tracked news about Afghanistan and demonstrated how it could troll sites written in Dari and Pashto, in addition to English.)

It must be noted that robust functionality doesn’t come cheap. Connotate’s services are available in three formats –- in-house, hosted, and via subscription -– and typically run in the mid-five figures to set up. At the moment, Connotate’s services would most likely be best appreciated by an established, albeit entrepreneurial publisher, looking to exploit its backlist and an existing customer base.

“Ultimately, we’re hoping publishers will use our technology and expertise to push the boundaries of what a book can be,” says Molloy.

VISIT: The Connotate Web site and learn about their services

DISCUSS: What content would you like to see become a “live” e-book?

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.