Making Books Available

Its all over the web now - the Internet Archive has opened up over 1.6 million books for the OLPC XO laptops and in general, any machine running Sugar. Before going into anything else, it makes sense to provide a more specific meaning of “opening up” here - it involves two main objectives completed at the Internet Archive end:

  • Making sure that the books are readable in the XO, keeping in mind its relative low-end hardware specs and disk-space limitations
  • Ensuring that the books are available via a standardized catalog format, so that one can find, browse and download books easily using a tool more tuned for the purpose (think of feed-readers versus blog-entries in a web-page)

Now that the books are available (not just from the Internet Archive, but from a number of other sources as well), the next step is to figure out the best possible ways to actually make these books available to the XO and Sugar users. The major constraining factor is bandwidth, we do have deployments with zero, or very limited Internet connectivity, and perhaps these are the deployments which need access to these books the most. I spent most of this week working on implementing a feature in the Get Books activity which would allow books to be distributed via what has been jokingly called a sneaker-net (or sandalnet/chappalnet, if you prefer those forms of footwear). The idea is very simple - at a centralized location with Internet access, choose a few thousand books (size of a typical book is usually a few hundred KB or less), put them in a USB pen-drive and add a OPDS catalog to the mix. Make copies of the drive, and send them to the schools without connectivity. The latest version of Get Books would recognize the drive, and let the student browse through the collection, search for books, and add whatever she wants to the Sugar Journal. Once a book is in the Journal, it can be shared among all the students using the Journal object transfer support in Sugar, or via the Read Activity directly. So essentially, you get a Library on a Stick, with thousands of books, something which, till now, in its physical form, has been largely restricted to better equipped (and usually richer) schools.
Of course, even larger collections can be distributed if a School Server (XS) is present in the mix (due to the fact that the school server can have a larger disk in it), and support for this type of distribution method involving the XS would hopefully appear within the next few releases of Get Books.

November 07, 2009