sBooks: Reinventing the Software of the Book
May 7, 2009

Just on the heels of Amazon's announcement of the Kindle DX, beingmeta, an MIT spin-off based in Boston, has announced the initial public beta of sBooks, a software platform which "reinvents the software of the book" and provides reading experiences which improve on interaction with physical books. The sBooks platform is the software analogue to hardware devices like Amazon's Kindle or Sony's e-Reader, enriching the reading experience with unique navigation, search, and social features. And unlike the $490 hardware of the Kindle DX, beingmeta's innovative software platform is available for free under an open source license.

Dr. Kenneth Haase, chief architect of sBooks and a founder of beingmeta, explains "sBooks are social, semantic, and structured. We are using the possibilities of technology to gently add context and background to the reading experience." For example, readers of sBooks can see and share selected comments with their friends and colleagues through existing social networks like Facebook. beingmeta hopes that the opportunity for social interaction around texts will draw readers to gather around the books they love and may even encourage some readers to take on texts which they wouldn't normally consider reading alone. "There are so many important ideas and conversations which don't fit into the blogbite or the video clip. A technology like sBooks supports the exposure and exploration of these ideas by providing context, framing, and --- most importantly --- community."

Readers of sBooks will also be able to take advantage of a special kind of knowledge embedded in the book itself. Instead of a traditional book's hierarchical index, an sBook contains a knowlet (a small knowledge base) which describes aspects of the real or imagined world that the book is about. This knowledge base is used to describe the content of the book and makes it easier to search, browse, or review. A book's knowlet also captures connections and variations among words and meanings, making search with a knowlet more natural and accurate than full text searches across the book's content.

"Most e-books try to be 'just as good' as a physical volume, but they should really be able to be BETTER," says Haase. This isn't neccessarily easy. "The physical form of the book tells readers how long it is, the progress they've made, and the places they and their co-readers have frequented. Thumbing the pages gives a sense of the scale and location of sections and chapters while notes in the margin can offer history or insights like echoes of past readers." The just-released web version of sBooks uses a light overlay on the book content to convey this kind of information as the reader advances through the book. It stays out of the way until the reader needs to draw on the context, background, or connections. beingmeta is looking at similarly unobtrusive approaches to deal with the relatively small screens of cell phones or the peculiar dynamics of the e-Ink displays on the new generation of readers like Amazon's Kindle.

sBooks take special advantage of the network connectivity provided by cell phones or Amazon's reader. By connecting to external resources and networks, reading and understanding can be amplified by a larger community. "The real opportunity is not bringing books off-paper but bringing them on-network." Haase thinks sBooks can provide a lifeline for the publishing industry. "For centuries, publishers have made money by adding value to the works of authors through editing, formatting, and distribution. As technology has driven down the margins on both production and distribution, consumers see less added value worth paying for. But sBooks provide new ways to add value --- social connections and rich networked metadata --- that are both more sustainable and harder to pirate."

beingmeta looks forward to helping traditional and non-traditional publishers add value to their content in new ways based on the possibilities of the sBooks platform. And as a company dedicated to both doing good and doing well, beingmeta sees its technology as a way of bridging physical, economic, and social boundaries around the shared experiences of learning and enjoyment engendered by books.

You can learn more about the sBooks platform (and how to use it with your content) at

About beingmeta
beingmeta is a Boston-based company founded in 2001 as a spin-off of the MIT Media Laboratory. The company's mission is to use technology to help people and communities be both smarter and wiser through social and semantic services and applications.
Contact: Kenneth Haase, beingmeta, inc, +1(617) 297-2536