The transition from books to eBooks is unique in the sense that it involves a movement from the tangible (physical, manipulatable, paper books) to the seemingly intangible (an abstract entity which has to be rendered via some device). This is in marked contrast to the transition which happened for other recorded forms of human creativity and knowledge, since even in the pre-digital, “atom” form, they always have been intangible (for example, music used to come as LPs, or videos as film).
My area of interest has been to explore and understand this transition. Moreover, I felt that as with the previous transformation of books from hand-written to print, a number of new possibilities offered by the new form are yet to explored. As Alan Kay points out, it took years after Gutenberg to realize the true potential of the new printing technology, and a similar pattern can be observed in the current transition as well. My experiments in this area were to try to explore and discover the new vistas and possibilities for digital books. I experimented with editable (semi-wiki like) ebooks, programmable microworlds/shells inside ebooks (paper), and so on.
During 2009-2010, I was the architect in charge of OLPC’s effort to bring more and more eBooks to children. This was a project where we collaborated with a number of organizations with similar interests, like the Internet Archive, the Rural Design Collective, etc.
From a technical point of view, I ensured that the XO book-reader could read popular and common file formats. I implemented support for the industry standard EPUB format in Sugar’s Read activity, and advocated to make it the preferred format for eBooks in our software ecosystem. I also worked on annotations (which is tricky since we had to support around 6 file-formats via a single piece of software), as well as ebook discovery and acquistion via the OPDS standard. Our software was one of the first client-side implementation of OPDS and we also considered OPDS to address the problem of mass scale distribution of books, either over the Internet, or via the local network (using the OLPC School Server), or via the “sneaker-net” (using specially formatted USB pen-drives, which we called Library on a Stick). Along with Kushal Das, I wrote Pathagar, a book-server which offered both of a “traditional” HTML based book-browsing frontend, as well as a OPDS based one.