Our guest blogger today is Will Zachmann, Web Manager in HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research
“Broadband is an essential platform for growth and opportunity,” says [FCC Chair] Genachowski. “It will be to this century what the universal electrical grid was to the 20th century when it comes to jobs and innovation.”
– Bloomberg Businessweek, January 21, 2011
Eons ago, the first humans kept & shared information they regarded as important – about who they were and the adventures they’d experienced — in the form of cave drawings, and a bit later, carved on stone tablets. Then paper, quill pens, and inkwells came along, and for a long time, penmanship counted (a lot), since everything had to be copied over by hand. This meant full employment for the scribes, but a single book could take weeks or even months to reproduce. Not very cost-effective and excruciatingly slow, but that’s how it was until around 1440, when Johannes Gutenberg came along with his printing press, and the floodgates of knowledge – not just for a handful of elite nobles and clergymen, but for anyone with the ability to read – sprang open, never to be closed again.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago, and we’re back to where we started… but this time, instead of rudimentary paint or hammers and chisels, we’re using fairly sophisticated computer code transmitted wirelessly through the air. And instead of heavy stone, people are beginning to carry their adventures and important sources of knowledge & information around on sleek, portable devices known variously as eBook readers, e-readers, and yes, media tablets. Talk about “coming full circle”!
Recognizing the emergence of e-readers and tablets as every bit the digital game-changer that CDs (and later, MP3 files & their variants) have been to the way many of us obtain, store, and experience music, HUD has been working very hard for the past year or so to develop an eBookstore, which we just launched.
Our initial offerings are modest in scope – we’ve formatted and posted the Top 20 most downloaded reports out of the 8,000 or so that are already available as free downloads, plus a few others we thought would be worthwhile to feature. But while our “traditional” download format is the venerable PDF, the problem with large-format, textbook sized PDFs is that some of the devices don’t automatically resize pages to fit the screens, so the user has to scroll or drag the document around to view full content. To resolve this issue, the reports we’re posting in the HUD USER eBookstore have been formatted in Mobi and ePub – two of the current standard-bearers used in eBook publishing – as well as in PDF. So regardless of screen size, the pages will re-size to fit the device, and all hyperlinks and other enhanced features are fully available and “live”.
Our plan is to continue expanding our e-book offerings based on both demand (the download counts we receive on the standard PDF-file documents tell us what folks are most interested in; last year, people downloaded a total of 8.1 million reports and data sets from www.HUDUSER.org), as well as rolling out new publications in eBook format as they’re released. Coding the reports to make them “tablet friendly” is still a fairly labor-intensive process, but with the phenomenal growth in popularity of these devices that we’re seeing, the extra effort is worth it.
Tablets and e-Readers do not spell the end of the printed word by any means: a large percentage of the population still prefers the heft and tactile feel of a book in hand (and the print versions never need recharging). But for those who see tablets and e-Readers as a viable means of lightening their briefcases and bookbags, enjoy having instant access to large amounts of content, and who just can’t get enough of the Gadget Lifestyle (you know who you are), HUD is stepping up to offer our latest and most in-demand content – by way of your preferred means of delivery – for free.