The Constant Distraction of the e-book Annotation

I’m fascinated by the internet and how readily available it’s vast collection of information is. But the availability is a double edged sword.

This video(2:19) of comedian Aziz Ansari illustrates the danger quite well.

E-book annotations offer up the same double-edge. They are there to clarify the text, which is great, but they are also an endless distraction. A link to a wikipedia page is a trap. You’ll click it, you’ll find out what you needed to know, but you’ll also be given extra information, information that will undoubtedly lead to more questions, and the answers are just a click away. Three hours later, you forgot you were even reading a book, and you know way to much about Joe Pesci.

Editors discuss the e-book annotation distraction problem here.

Excerpts Worth Discussing:

There’s an excellent book titled “What Jane Austen Ate and Dickens Knew” that goes into all the nitty-gritty background: how much was rent, how much did bread cost; if someone has an income of 500 pounds, is that a lot or a little? But it’s a good thing that this information is packaged up in a separate book, not embedded into my copies of Dickens’ books. But if someone could figure out the right way to build this kind of reading experience in a way that wasn’t intrusive, that would be really good.

Still, there are some texts for which the annotations are an indispensable part of the experience. I would have found “Ulysses” to be nearly impenetrable in places if I didn’t have the annotations handy. To have those annotations somehow built in to the ebook so that I could easily flick back and forth between text and annotation sounds very appealing…

The UI problem of all the ancillary material getting in the way of a clean reading experience can be solved easily, by simply making the links/extra info invisible until the user reveals them. That can be done through a gesture, a Ctrl+Click or some other unused-in-ebook-reading action. The reveal would be a toggle, so users could turn it off equally easily. That lets publishers include as much ancillary information as they wish without interfering with the reading experience.


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