Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It never works out the way you want

Hi... I'm Tim. I am the blogger who works for the UW Tacoma Library, Gary introduced me a few weeks back. Anyway, I had hoped to get a story from Sound Transit on the expanded wi-fi service that they have introduced, but, unfortunately they have been very, very slow in getting back to me about the questions I have.

I guess I'll have to write about Amazon's announcement today that they are targeting the Kindle to the college crowd. I have previously written about the Kindle for my work blog and if you scroll through those articles you'll see that I'm not overly enamored with the device. Basically, my complaint is that it's a uni-tasker and in a world where people have hand held, touch based , multi tasking computing like the iPod Touch I can't see anything beyond a niche market for these devices. But I will admit that this new idea of selling e-textbooks on the Kindle seems like it holds a lot of promise.

Imagine, you're doing a group project and you show up to the meeting with a single device that has not only all the textbooks for this class, but all the textbooks you have used throughout your program. They are searchable, you can write notes in the margins, and they are the ultimate in a portable library. That's pretty heady stuff.

But stuff like that is probably 10 years away.

In the mean time, they will have to overcome an academic culture that is generally slow to adopt new technology. Already it's difficult to get many faculty to assign e-books to their students (though that's already happening at a faster and faster rate) in order for it to be a "mobile library" a majority of the faculty will need to assign e-books. Otherwise the Kindle is just another thing a student has to carry around in their already overloaded bookbag.

Students too might be wan to adopt the new technology. I can't see faculty assigning students to read e-books as the only option and so, unless the e-book is significantly cheaper, many people will opt for the handy old paper version. A paper book has some cache still; it can be resold, lent, borrowed, bent, marked, and is a generally sturdy storage device.

At $350, the Kindle unit is too is costly and since it's a uni-tasker students will again need to see a significant savings on their textbooks if there's any hope on Amazon's part that they will adopt them. In a day and age when a eeepc is a mere $500, why on earth would a poor college student want to buy a Kindle?

Which brings me to the last hurdle; technology is changing rapidly. Just look at the next generation OLPC; there's a folding screen, it's touch activated, and it already looks and acts just like a book. Not only that, but it's also a computer. A student can use that to read an e-book, write up their paper, chat with their group, email their professor, and play a video game.

As good an idea as selling e-textbooks to students might seem at first glance, it's devices like the next generation OLPC that are going to be in every college student's hands in 10 years.

If you ask me.

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