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Presentation Details


Putting the Reader Back in Control: Engaging Electronic Publishing

Bob Jansen.

Human communication involves a sophisticated blend of strategies and techniques to ensure the message is communicated successfully. Sophisticated protocols have evolved to ensure that the communication achieves maximum effect.

"In the 1800's, readers of books were talked to poets, novelists and essayists addressed us all cosily as 'Dear Reader' or 'Gentle Reader'. We felt valued as the authors friend. We were engaged jointly, in an act of complicity." (Dorner, 1993).

Dorner continues, reading is an act of entering imaginatively into what the author is saying. The reader was someone to woo and writers considered carefully how to address the reader. There was the expectation that the reader would be led by the writer through the space, following the argument through its, sometimes, tortuous path to the conclusion. There was no notion of the reader using the writer's text beyond taking parts of it to pieces to examine ideas and techniques.

Recently, the e-book/e-publishing phenomenon has provided a further branch to this evolutionary tree.

We have seen the development of electronic paper, a digital simulacrum of the traditional codex retaining many of its characteristics. Like traditional codexes, e-books are paginated facilitating access, retain chapter structures described by table-of-contents. In fact, they are designed to act just as ordinary books.

Yet, the traditional way of addressing the reader has gone with the growth of the reader's use of the text. The 'oi-you' address is pervasive today, acknowledging that the reader is there somewhere and is being manipulated (Dorner, 1993). Oi-you is seductive because the writer has come to consider the reader as "someone to be manipulated, someone who wants a quick consummation without any of the preliminaries" (Dorner, 1993). Arguments are undressed from the first paragraph, details are bullet-pointed, numbered, summarised, displayed in charts and beguiling graphics. Texts have been broken into reusable chunks. Content has become information, a product people consume.

We have reached a Rubicon in this evolution.

Multimedia technologies provide a sophisticated mechanism to communicate a message to a multitude of readers in a personalised fashion. It allows for readers to personalise their 'books' in ways previously not thought possible or desirable. The message moves - the book moves - as the reader moves.

This paper will discuss one development in this area - Testimony Software. Testimony Software delivers synchronised video, audio, images and text to a client browser enabling the development of interactive, engaging books, books that respond to the reader, putting the reader in control of the interaction, rather than the reverse as is usual with conventional books and e-books.

Testimony Software has been used to develop oral history books for the National Library of Australia, the Laperouse Museum of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Sydney Jewish Museum. Earlier versions of the software have been applied to conference proceedings, some of which are available on the web.


Bob Jansen

  • Testimony software
  • Synchronised multiple media
  • Engaging electronic publishing
  • Reader control
  • Oral history

(30 min Conference Paper, English)