I did something unheard of in my house this weekend – I got rid of a book. It was a battered old paperback, probably an obvious choice for replacement. But that’s not why I tossed it. I got rid of it because I found I couldn’t read it. Surviving a mid-90’s Dreiser-Lewis seminar required putting my mark all over it, and you couldn’t look at the thing without getting distracted. I underlined every good sentence, valuable piece of information, or integral plot turn. I did all this in case I ever needed to search for something, particularly in class. And it worked. I could find almost any paragraph I needed to quote from, and fast. But ten years later I have little need for that level of search – I really just want to sit down and read the thing.

So what do most ebook readers want to do? Does everyone need to search and catalog a laundry list of details, or are there others, like me, that just want to read and discuss? UCD (user-centered design) is terribly important in website development, and to design around a user you need to define who she is. Goal-driven readers like researchers, writers and scholars will naturally want to dig around for specific information. That’s valuable. But it’s questionable whether the average reader cares if she has a robust search function. I’m pretty sure she needs a bookmark, and the ability to make notes. She’ll probably want something that looks nice. But when it comes to search I often wonder if developers throw it in there just because it seems like something you’d expect from a computer, rather than something that’s highest on the list.

We didn’t put embedded search in our list of core features for Bookglutton Launch, although you can search the catalog, and we’ll be adding additional search features over time. But sometimes the assumption that search tops the ebook features list strikes me the same way rear windshield wipers on cars do – nice to have but not something I really need.

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