My million dollar idea
I have a vision that text books should use a "google map style" to present content. Because when I am reading something new in a branch of knowledge I am not familiar with I always find myself lost (where am I?) in the middle of the book forgetting where what I am reading right now belongs in the overall context. Maybe this is just how my brain works but I think that is common. So I would love to mouse wheel to zoom out and check where exactly I am. So the "street view" would be like opening the pdf file itself and read it normally. Instead of page up and down (like in a normal book) we should navigate like in a map (with several levels like street, neighborhood, cities, states, country etc). Of course we can think of features like the location size relating to how many pages are under that level, marking "places" you have already read, pre-requirements to understand some text could be seen as visa and so on. The author of a book instead of making a simple table of contents would make a map (in fact any reader would be able to make his interpretation of the book and create a map other user could use). I can elaborate more.
There a lot of good programmers here and may someone is looking for a good idea. I don't want anything, but I know I can't make a program bigger than 1000 lines. I have read hundred of textbooks and I am convinced that is that way things should be, we are too attached to physical book even in the electronic media versions. I tried to find something like this but couldn't find. The closest thing I found was Prezi but that is for a totaly different purpose. I think a decent implementation could attract Amazon interest. I imagine a community per book were people create maps for that book or at least one map together. Making a map would be a great exercise to fix concepts and specially contextualization than just reading from page 1 to 500.
I like to discuss things for the sake of discussing things so if anyone wants to share they thoughts I would appreciate. I would be proud if anyone become a millionaire from an idea I had but was to lazy to make it happen.
I would love to see an illustration of the basic concepts behind this. Because I can sort of understand how a street view would be just a basic PDF and maybe chapters are cities and book marking different sections would be useful, but I'm not sure how this would be of use. Ii think I'm not fully understanding how it would be laid out.
I've had an idea similar to this but with an operating system for storing data like the classic folder > file hierarchy. No clue how it would work with books though.
Here is terrible paintbrush image showing 3 images each one with more zoom.
The idea is basically
1) in the "street view" mode you are just opening a pdf text like usual
2) in the map mode you are (in the very basic definition) in an improved table of contents mode
In an stantard table of contents you see the hierarchical division of the book and the page where each division starts. The program would transform the table of contents in a map.
In the picture I linked, the first image (top left) is assumed to show the topic industrial revolution. Unless it is a book about industrial revolution that image would just be a part of bigger map. But for a moment lets ignore we could zoom out and focus only on the part of the map that talks about industrial revolution. As you can see, there is a division of the map in pieces. I took that division from wikipedia entry for Industrial Revolution. The area of each division should be a representation of how much is written about it (number of pages). So we can immediately see that etymology of industrial revolution will not take as long to read as the causes of industrial revolution will.
At first we could suppose all subdivisions are independent so you can read any part in any order. That is not always the case, sometimes you are supposed to read one topic before reading another. For those cases you would not be able to open the pdf of those topics unless you read the pre-requisite topics or mark those topics as already read or disable the pre-requisite watch.
As you zoom in more and more you are going deeper in the book you will end up in bottom of the structure, as you see in the botton part of the picture. Each zone size is still a reference of the number of pages and now each one is a clickable link to a pdf file (short 1,2,3 pages max). The variation of the square sizes would be continuous (like in google maps), not discrete zoom values (like in the picture I linked). Changing the font size and making them disappear when they are too big or too small is the part of the challenge.
So in a more formal definition
book is a tree node with no parents
each node has children nodes (chapters)
each chapter has children nodes (sub-chapters)
and so on.
at scale 1x (no zoom in no zoom out)
each node size = sum of size of all its direct children
if a node has no children the the node is a pdf file and its size is the number of pages of the file.
for the visualization it would required an algorithm with entry
1) rectangle (height,width) --where height x width = number of pages under that rectangle
2) a partition of k values (p1,p2,p3,....,pk) where p1+p2+p3+...+pk = p = height x width
and the output would be a division of the rectagle into k rectagles.
I don't know if such an algorithm exists, I will check it out, but I think there are infinite solutions and finding a solution should not be that hard, but it is just a supposition.
You asked why this would be useful, lets say you is reading a lot of details about the causes of the industrial revolution. But you must also keep track all the time where industrial revolution belongs in humanity history, how long it last, the other events that happened near it. So maybe it would be good from time to time to zoom out to see where what you are reading belongs in the time line. I lose track all the time in a book but with a tool like this where I can just mouse wheel down and see the big picture, it would be much easier to not lose contextualization. Remember I am considering you are reading something very detailed so you may be reading about industrial revolution for several days. You will need to step back to see the whole picture quite a few times otherwise you get lost in detail with no contextualization.
I love stuff like this.
First of all, any talk of mapping information would be remiss without this classic essay by the founder of modern American engineering:
Second, you are asking a lot of your authors. There would have to be a universal, intuitive system available for people to map their content.
The 'table of contents' is a very robust, flexible system that has stood the test of time.
The modern equivalent (as prophesied in the essay) seems to be hyperlinks. Tim Berners Lee was thinking of just that when he invented html with it's traceable links.
Basically what I'm saying is you're absolutely right, but the devil's in the details, and in this case those details are <html> and <xml>.
*EDIT* I will add that your crowd-sourcing idea is pretty cool, for generating static maps of each book. That's the "brute force" approach but plop it on a platform like Amazon and it might just work. You might find a more willing audience by adding a 'map' section to Wikipedia's book entries.
*EDIT* as someone who likes to brainstorm about information, you might also be interested in my sort of 'imgur alternative', very very clunky still but as a concept : okonno.com/projects/depict It's like imgur but you can drag images on, draw and type on it. Collaborators welcome :)
Unless I'm mistaken, isn't this what an outline is? Most informational texts have these at the beginning and call them a Table of Contents. I know not all books have them, but ideally, they should have chapters, sections, and subsections allowing you to quickly find what you're looking for. These are usually combined with an index at the end that lists every relative term and where it's discussed.
I like how Prezi allows you to dig deeper into a subject (assuming the person that put the Prezi together does it this way). I believe it would be very cool to have an overview of a subject, and then within that overview you could press on a term or paragraph (or whatever) and get a more detailed overview of that subject. This structure would allow you to go as deep as there is data, with no need for the depth of any subject required to match that of another. This allows subject information to be added over time, increasing specifics, etc. The concept of hyperlinks is the same, except this would also include a presentation technique that allows you to "know where you are".
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