2008-09-19

On page numbers and electronic texts

I recently signed up for an account on Readernaut (still in closed ├četa), a beautifully and thoughtfully designed reading community site. It uses page numbers to track progress, giving the option of avoiding “spoilers” by hiding notes from other readers pertaining to unread pages.

Alas, I am now reading mostly on my new Kindle, which displays an abstract “position” but no page numbers. I'd love for Amazon to include “real-word” page numbers in its electronic book format, but unfortunately, the problem goes deeper…

Right now, I'm reading Robert Louis Stevenson's The Black Arrow on my Kindle. I found an HTML-converted Project Gutenberg text, and cleaned it up a bit myself before converting it and loading it onto my Kindle. Although it was undoubtedly displayed on pages of a book long ago, the numbers are long since gone.

And what about articles, essays, or even longer works written for the web? They never even had page numbers! Should they?

Readernaut's creator, Nathan Borror, argues that for digitized books at least, page numbers are essential UI, and their absence is a design flaw. I have to agree.

For my Black Arrow conversion to include page numbers, Project Gutenberg would have to settle on a simple text markup convention for noting page numbers, we'd have to come up with a matching convention in HTML, and Amazon would have to teach the Kindle about page numbers. Let's get started!