Living Books: An Internet Approach

A Position Paper by Simon Polovina and Mike van Kleef

We support the view that hard-copy books, once published, become 'dead' documents, and argue that this fundamental limitation can be overcome by Internet-based 'living' books. We believe this to be the case, not only within areas of contemporary research, but also expect a renascence in the discussion on historic documents through the increased availability of online materials by projects like Gutenberg and the Dead Sea Scrolls, despite the original work's perpetual character.

During the course of our discussion we acknowledge that these electronic sources still do not have the comfortable 'look and feel' of printed books, typified by limitations imposed by hardware in the form of bulky computers with limited storage and small low-definition screens, software with its lack of proper tools, techniques and lack of application of structured document formats, and even the underlying Internet infrastructure with the severe delays that often seem to occur in accessing information. We also recognise that access to these electronic sources has traditionally been confined to computer experts, thereby effectively limiting the information domain to a small fraternity.

In support of our case, we reveal how the World Wide Web has led to a resurgence in the development of the electronic document, how the unified interface to the Internet enables domain experts access with a minimum of technical grounding, and suggest a framework for creating Internet-based yet usable living books that could be actively published, read, managed and updated by 'telecommunities' that go beyond the confines of computer experts. Within this discussion, we will cover the progress of various topical issues like markup languages, agents and the document-oriented computing model that is seen by many to be the next logical step in the evolution of both the user interface and the underlying storage model.

(Presented at the Eighth Annual Conference on Writing and Computers, Institute of Education, London University, London, UK, 7-9 September 1995.