Keeping your place in the book: Adobe’s Bill McCoy favors open syncing

image I’m not the only TeleRead guy with a newspaper-related novel. Stephen Walkwalker, one of our newest contributors, has written Say My Name, a thriller about a Boston newspaper guy framed for financial and sexual sins.

Steve’s book starts far too slowly. But like a train racing along in the open countryside after a pokey departure from a downtown station, this one really picks up. I can’t wait to read what happens to Steve’s hero, Stanley Branford, the victim of the ID theft.

The novel is a Kindle-format book written under the name of Steve Holt. And if I owned a Kindle II E Ink gizmo, I could go on an e-walk outside and automatically resume where I left off on the Kindle app on my LCD-lit iPod Touch. Caught up in the suspense of a courtroom scene, I wouldn’t have to waste time searching through the book for same “page.”

Time for open syncing capability

I’d love to see the synced-autobookmark feature in many other e-readers---with interbrand capability and the standard ePub format, and ideally without DRM to muck it up. That way, I might start in Stanza or another app on the Touch and go on to enjoy Say My Name on my Stony PRS 505, which, like the Kindle, has sunlight-friendly E Ink.

This scenario of open synching would be a win for most everyone, vendors and readers; even Amazon would benefit in the long term since e-book would be less of a hassle. The Lexcycle people, the developers of Stanza, loved the open sync idea when I discussed it with them over lunch at Tools of Change. The key is to have the right standards for syncing and reading among different apps and devices, and meanwhile, if Steve can release an ePub version of Say My Name, then so much the better.

Another friend of the sync idea: Bill McCoy at Adobe

Now the sync idea has yet another supporter, IDPF board member Bill McCoy of Adobe (who, you’ll recall, has joined Lexycle and others in championing another good idea---open distribution, formally proposed by Lexcycle).

In an e-mail responding to my query, Bill has actually gone beyond me, and I like where he’s coming from:

When you say "find their old places", do you mean stores/repositories or digital publications? Anyway, I would say "absolutely" to either.

The latter is a feature that I like to call "bookshelf in the sky.” Amazon Kindle now has a closed proprietary version of this with their iPhone app (and the experience as you upgrade from one Kindle to another), as well as a separate silo in their "Amazon Upgrade" [sic] browser-based reader.

Part of this is up to publishers. Forward-looking publishers realize that if they sell a digital book to someone they should enable them to read it wherever and however they like.

The former—finding preferred sources—is analogous to favorites in a browser. Makes sense and not particularly hard.

Whether it’s via a bookmark arrangement or maybe an interlibrary or interstore virtual "locker," e-bookdom would benefit from the wherever-and-however concept. Toward this end, both open distribution and open synching have important roles to play.

Update, 11:57 a.m.: Tim O’Reilly likes the open sync idea.

Disclosure: Steve not only is a TeleRead contributor but also said nice things, in his newsletter, about The Solomon Scandals (he decided on his own to write up my book). Judge for yourself, but I think that once you’re past the start of Say My Name, you’ll get caught up in Steve’s own book. I originally was planning to mention Say only at

7 Comments on Keeping your place in the book: Adobe’s Bill McCoy favors open syncing

  1. Please feel free to bloat up readers with any kind of bizarre feature anyone might want (hardware or software). Just remember to put in the switches for the user to TURN THEM OFF! (You kids, get off my lawn!)

    Personally, I hate the idea of automatic syncing between devices. I see far too many possibilites for unreliability, failure and mischief to make it worth the tiny benefit. I have no problem with manual syncing, by the way.

    For me, the closer an eReader works exactly like a giant box of paper books and a ragged little strip of a bookmark, the better.

    I don’t want automatic bookmark syncing. I don’t want automated dictionary lookup, though a good dictionary would be nice; I already know how to use one. I don’t want hyperlinked games or imbedded 3-D video. I especially don’t want Amazon, Google, or whoever to manage my bookshelf for me in the cloud. I’m just here to read.

    Now, if you could come up with a way for every ebook to have a working table of contents and a complete index, that would be a great advance. Solve the basic problems first.

    Then you could work on, oh, tables of figures, list of tables, maybe even a list of references or citations. You know, all those useful things well done books have had for a few centuries. Yes, I know some eReaders allow for some of those. I said ALL ebooks, please. “Allow for” is not “have”.

    Jack Tingle

  2. Hey, Jack, I totally agree with you on the glories of TOCs, and indexes would also be nice, maybe even for novels. As for autosyncing, it could be a default but not the only choice.


  3. No way, Jack. Automatic syncing is extremely useful. When I’m standing in line somewhere (or going to the bathroom…) instead of checking my email or anything else I now fire up Kindle on the iPhone and continue reading my book. Without auto-syncing, I’d spend half my time trying to find the place in the book that I was in, and then next time I’d open my Kindle I’d have to waste more time then too. The trick is for these things to happen without the user to be aware of the process. You should just open the book and see the exact same position everywhere without anything nagging you or any icons prompting you to wait for the sync to finish… The more devices this happens on, the better.

  4. Yes, better TOCs and better indexing all around – but I follow my various media feeds across multiple outlets, both mobile and home-based. I find that even with something as simple as Twitter, syncing my client apps as to where I left off reading the stream is an enormous help. Now, if I could share annotated bookmarks with specific individuals, communities of interest, and my own indexing and archiving, *that* would be even more helpful. As to bloat – yes, the formats should allow for these features, and give the user some fine-grained options for turning them on/off (default being OFF). Then we could see whether apps & formats benefit in the marketplace by providing this support.

  5. Keith Fahlgren // April 10, 2009 at 12:53 pm //

    David: this feature has already been discussed at length on ePub-interop. I don’t know why Adobe hasn’t joined and contributed there.

  6. Big thanks for the info, Keith. Any documents you can point to or reproduce? Records of discussions, or are they confidential? I think it would be a big help if ePub-interop got input from small publishers and actual readers. What’s the status of this within ePub-interop? Is it a sure-fire thing? Any obstacles cited? Any ETAs for incorporation in ePub or other standards? By when might the sync capabilities actually appear in reader software and firmware? (Just a guess.) I’d hope you would agree with me on the wisdom of a transparent standards-setting process in this case. As you can see, the interest is out there. When I discussed this with Lexycle folks in February, no one mentioned the ePub-interop angle. I’m also surprised that Bill McCoy didn’t know about it. I think it would be cool if every few weeks the IDPF sent TeleRead and others a report on its standards work so the public could provide feedback. The TeleBlog and others could reproduce the info in full to aid the process. Thanks! – David

  7. David: The ePub-interop group was formed in response to discussions at TOC in February and isn’t a part of the IDPF. The archives there are open and I do hope that we get to a place where input from publishers and readers is useful, but at this point the problem with this and the OPDS work is that we don’t have enough (any) working code. I’m sure the coming weeks and months will help to resolve this, but I’m saddened that there aren’t more ePub implementers out there/making themselves visible.

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