Research data produced for ‘Geographies of the World’s Knowledge’, a 28 page report on where and how knowledge is distributed across the world, (published in 2011), has been transformed by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and colleague Kunika Kono. Using the most innovative technology they have produced an interactive iBook to make their graphs and data more widely understood by the public. The iBook, also called ‘Geographies of the World’s Knowledge’ aims to be more aesthetically pleasing than the average research paper. It allows the reader to pick and choose how much detail they want to read, through the use of special interactivity functions of the iPad. It is now freely available to the public and can be downloaded from Apple’s iBookstore.
Compared to the traditional page layout of an academic journal or its online equivalent, the interactive iBook is almost page-less. It contains moving graphics, such as a timeline animation on global maps. The user can also select pieces of the picture to zoom in on and to glean further information. For example, if information is needed about a specific country’s literacy rate, information not visible from an overview map of the world, a tap on the selected country will reveal a pop up label containing more detailed information, the zoom facility working rather like a magnifying glass as what was not visible suddenly appears to the reader on selection.
Neither are global maps limited to the dimensions of an ordinary A4 or A3 sheet of paper as the iBook has a ‘page-less’ quality that allows the user to scroll through the material pulling out relevant material as they go.
Utilizing and extending ‘iBooks Author’, the software provided by Apple for users to design iBooks, the OII researchers custom-made their own interactive elements in order to push the boundaries further than the default widgets provided. Whilst the new iBook incorporates everything that makes electronic reading on iPads special: from paging gestures to direct navigation to particular pages, OII researchers have also developed ways for readers to interact with the visualizations.
The aim behind the book is to make use of cutting edge technology to make Oxford Internet Institute research more accessible to a much wider readership than would generally be found through traditional publications. Creating the book meant going beyond the structure that underlies the ordinary iBook so that more interactivity could be built in. Information revealed in the iBook is determined by the particular interest of the reader. Graphs and maps that might otherwise look dull and off putting are brought to life with some animation, in some cases, and extra pop up information where the reader demands it. It is hoped that this prototype will provide a new benchmark for other iBooks and will help to revolutionise learning tools for a general readership.
The electronic book has been made possible thanks to funding from the Convoco Foundation. Convoco is a charity whose mission is to share ideas and thought through communication.