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Explorable Explanations

I was totally impressed by Apple introducing iBooks textbooks this January which made me want to dive back into high school to have this extraordinary reading and learning experience. It reinvents the physical books into interactive and explorable multimedia information for better understanding to the content, changes the reading methods and provides a platform to create the interactive books.

However, only a platform that just puts text, pictures, diagrams, and videos together, making no difference to current webpages, is not enough. What we need is a format that the computers are able to interpret in order to have more interactive functions with the text.

The essay actually made me think of the text itself, in which the format plays a rather crucial role in translation. It contains definitions and formats. Each word has a definition and the grammar make them formatted to be fully understood. When we see a sentence, we automatically translate the words into the actual objects and format the information into a certain logic in our brains in order to fully build up the models behind the plain text.

For example, when we read “for example”, we will know that the following content would be a supplement that illustrates the previous statement; when we read “in summary”, we will know that the point would be exposed again and the passage is going to end; when we read “where is …?”, we will know it is asking about location; when we read “behind”, we will know it is at the far side of something. Throughout reading, we continuously put little tags around every words to make the text meaningful, just like what we do in HTML. So why don’t we teach the computers about the reading method that we use in our daily lives, then we could let not only the readers but also the computers know the model behind the text?

To make the reading interactive and explorable to the readers, the author should make the medium know about the information that is being conveyed. As the author could not possibly be available all the time to answer all the questions that a reader would ask, it is the medium that can take the role of the instructor who can both teach and answer questions. The article would be like in programming languages but should be no different than human language, after which being mature then we can think about much more possibilities of explorable information.

4 comments to Explorable Explanations

  • Nancy

    This is interesting…:As the author could not possibly be available all the time to answer all the questions that a reader would ask, it is the medium that can take the role of the instructor who can both teach and answer questions.”

    In reading it is implicit that a reader completes the writing.If I only wanted to explain something to myself I wouldn’t have to work so hard to write it so precisely. Or would I? Maybe I don’t know what it is until I write it precisely.

    What do you do when you have questions after you read something?

  • Max Ma

    Thanks for Xinran mentioned about iBook. The iBook textbook format is actually using the open ebook standard called ePub ((The EPUB standard ( is managed by the International Digital Publishing Forum [IDPF], of which Apple Inc. is a member.) There are tons of discussion of how Apple adapts or sabotages ePub open book standard. In summary, I am willing to show my respect for a company to push (sort of) the open standard moving forward. With the open standard people can collaborate, discuss together about the format of book, therefore, people can fulfill their needs for create a book, this is also what Xinran mentioned if books can be ‘taught’ to learn the context of the book content. I think to make book express it self can be possible by enabling open book standard.

  • Max Ma

    As Nancy’s question, whenever I got question after I read something, I always want to talk with the book author immediately. But it is always impossible to do that. (however, more and more tech book’s author are willing to provide their emails) Therefore, I noticed that there are some called ‘interactive book’ to provide some preset question as an appendix to answer some preset question by video, you may find this is a nice-to-have supplementary while you got questions about the reading. However, I think the other efficient and universal way is to utilize Internet’s capability. More and more authors/publishers have their own forum/website to discuss book’s content and also provides corrections, I will treat this is a fair way to connect with the author (or the representation).
    Another way is to get help from the crowd. If the book is one of the bestsellers, I believe that it is relatively easier to find readers that read the same book as me.

  • tw981

    Xinran mentioned a new interaction media about the readers and authors, it reminds me of the deivce for iphone. It is not novel at all, but it is an interesting solution for high solution of iphone
    Sam also did a interactive book which can open the audio when you read in this chapter in Pcomp final. I think it is a nice idea because when she think of a new media of book, what she did is remaining what the book look like and design a interactive tiny device out of book.