Chibimagic's Weblog

Archive for January 2010

Digitized text has many advantages over printed text, search being the most often touted. But continuous flowing text, as in a browser window or text document, brings back an advantage of the scroll that’s been lost since in the switch to books: location preservation.

Scrolls don’t need bookmarks. Want to remember where you were in a long passage? Just roll up your scroll. State is automatically captured. With books, you have to carry around a second object just to mark your place. An object that’s easily lost, probably not around when you need it, and another thing to deal with when you’re trying to read. Some books come with a small strip attached to the binding that you can use as a bookmark, but that only works on a book-by-book basis. If your book’s publisher didn’t feel like adding it, tough luck. And that’s true for the majority of books. Aside from these disadvantages, bookmarks aren’t even very good at their namesake: marking your place in a book. When you return to a bookmarked location, you don’t know which line or paragraph you last read. For that matter, you don’t even know which page you were on—bookmarks can only be sandwiched between 2 pages. If you don’t have a bookmark handy, you’re forced to dog-ear the page. Although this narrows down your location to a single page, it’s damaging to the book, and you still don’t know which line you were on.

Scrolling solves the problem of state. As you read, you scroll down the page, and your state is continuously preserved. No extra object necessary. If you switch to a different application, or leave your computer, your place is still there when you return. And, it’s implemented on a per-reader basis. If you have one good piece of reading software, you can preserve state in any piece of content without being at the mercy of the author or publisher. Scrolling is non-destructive, and finer-grained than bookmarks. Most people scroll so that unread content starts at or near the top of the screen, with a few already-read lines above it for context. If you leave and come back, just start at the top of the screen. If you need more context, scroll up a little. Some people scroll so that unread content is at the bottom of the screen, but that’s a matter of preference, and people are generally consistent in their scrolling behavior. You can try to emulate this in books by only stopping at page breaks, but content rarely breaks up into such convenient chunks. Scrolling reduces the amount of re-reading you have to do from 2 pages to 2 lines. This makes context switches faster and helps people multitask. This is a huge advantage of digital text: automatic, continuous, non-destructive preservation of state with line granularity.

Scrolling is a subtle advantage of e-books that’s usuallly overlooked. It’s also one reason why devices like that Kindle and Nook don’t really appeal to me. These readers are trying to shoehorn digital content into a traditional book form factor, ignoring the inherent disadvantages of pagination. When Apple announces the Jesus tablet next week, I’m sure their content won’t be paginated.

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