Tokyo firemen wrestle with ebook annotations


I’m a big fan of ebook annotations. Right now, when you’re reading an ebook, the annotations are part of the Kindle, Kobo or iBooks reading system and I enjoy highlighting sections and adding comments. When I go back to an ebook I can quickly scan through all highlights and comments, much quicker than with paper books.

Back in the days when I read 3 or 4 books a week I sometimes marked passages in a book, but the problem with that was that when I was on the road months later and wanted to check those annotations, I couldn’t, because the book was sitting in my bookcase at home. So I started to write down my annotations in notebooks and sometimes I would copy quotes from the book so I could read them back quickly. But this had another drawback. Now I had all annotations with me, but after a while the notebook reached the last page and I had to buy a new notebook and left the old notebook at home. Now I had nothing to fall back on when I wasn’t at home. And when I was at home and wanted to find a certain annotation I had to go through several notebooks, because sometimes I could’t remember when I had read the book.

Ebooks are much better in this respect. Whether it’s iBooks, Kindle, or Kobo, they all sync my annotations across devices and I can check my annotations wherever I am. I love that! But what I do not love is the fact that these annotations are locked into those systems. I would like to be able to export all my annotations. I would like to be able to easily share them, store them in a central place, copy them, in short, be in control off my annotations.

The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) is working on a solution. Open Annotation for ePub. This proposed standard would make it possible to store annotations within the ePub, or, if necessary outside of the ePub as a separate file. In both scenarios you would be able to share your annotations. A great feature I would welcome with open arms. Of course a lot depends on the developers of reading systems. If they do not support this open annotation standard it will be lost in good intentions.

In my view a developer of ebook reading systems would have a competitive advantage by supporting this new standard, since as a consumer I would much prefer a system that supports such an open standard, instead of a closed system. On the other hand it wouldn’t surprise me if the big players in this field will want to protect their closed systems by not supporting open annotations. We’ll see how this plays out in the coming years.

What does this all mean for Eboocz? Well, Eboocz is an ebook authoring system and it supports annotations, but those annotations are not the same as the annotations I just talked about. The annotations in Eboocz are annotations intended for writers while writing their book. Those annotations will not be part of the final ePub file. Annotations in Eboocz are in fact Markdown annotations and they are a tool while writing. They could be reminders that a certain passage still needs some work, they could be remarks by reviewers, anything goes. You don’t have to worry what happens to your annotations when you create your ebook, because annotations are ignored. One feature that didn’t make it into 1.0 of Eboocz is the possibility to export your annotations. That could be useful. Or the possibility to delete all annotations? Would that make sense? It’s something I’m currently exploring for the next version.

I did think about incorporating open annotations in Eboocz. Why not, I thought. But to keep development costs low, I finally decided this was not something for version 1.0, also because what could one do with this if there are no reading systems that support it? It’s good to be ahead with features, but implementing this right now didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I will keep a close eye on what’s happening out there in the ePub development world and if I think it’s time for open annotations in Eboocz, I will surely make that move.