Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fixing Technical Books

Owen thinks Technical Books Are Broken. I agree, but I think his solution of on-demand print books doesn't really solve the problem. I think enhanced e-books with rich interactive elements would do so much more to address the issues with print books. The problem with e-books that he identifies has more to do with trying to recreate the print book experience in an e-book, versus using e-books to redefine what a book is.
Technical books also go stale very quickly. Even my copy of the above HTML reference is already out of date. It doesn't include the common HTML5-specific tags like section and header. And as the HTML5 standards change (like any technical topic does - very quickly), the book becomes more and more stale. Offering online supplements to the books keeps the information that the "book" offers more fresh, but then, is that really the book? If I wanted an online reference, and let's face it -- there are plenty of great, free online HTML5 references, wouldn't I choose one of those instead of paying for a hardcover book?

The main issue I have with technical books is that their digital incarnations are insufficient. We've somehow failed to develop a useful transition from paper to digital that includes a useful way to integrate the two mediums. The online versions tend also to be very poorly formatted for use when at the terminal. I actually despise using the Kindle version of most technical books because they're not anywhere near as handy as flipping paper pages. The mere thought that the paper version works better indicates to me that something is wrong with the UX of the digital version.

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