The book as a model, as an interface and object to be replicated, has no role to play in digital text. It’ll continue to exist as its own thing, as it has for centuries. But it is a mistake to assume that the book has any bearing on how digital text evolves from here. It might have at the start, decades ago, but the web, ebooks, interactive media, and apps have each manifestly become their own thing, each growing on its own in new directions.
The development of ereaders are a microcosm of this process. Apple’s iBooks launched as little more than a book simulator but with its latest version it supports dynamic EPUB3 files, multi-touch ebooks created in iBooks Author, and interactive fixed layout ebooks, each less book-like than their predecessor.
(EPUB3 does suffer from very serious flaws, most of them stemming from a desire to replicate print conventions and systems that have evolved over many years, but those issues are irrelevant to this discussion.)
Ebook platforms such as the Kindle and the late, lamented Readmill cite social reading, shared highlights and annotations, and discussions as big features of their systems. The ebook, from the reader’s perspective, has evolved into a beast very unlike the printed book with advantages, features, and capabilities unique to the medium, a beast that interacts with, and responds to, the reader in ways that print never can. The reader has power and influence in the digital context that writers can use to their advantage as long as their willing to give up a little bit of control.
Non-fiction apps, museum catalogue apps, reference and dictionary apps, all have broken with the book model both in their user interface and in their structure. Free from the book-spine-pages model, they experiment with native app-like tools for searching and reading.
And the web…
The web is a glorious and ugly thing. Full of horrendous designs, cluttered pages, inane prattle, lies, and idiotic writing, it is also an unending reservoir of information, eloquent text, heartfelt emotions, and loyal communities. There is nothing like it and it is fundamentally and ultimately a text-based medium. If it isn’t the future of writing, it will be a big part of it and deserves to be analysed as such.