NetLibrary sucks! or why electronic books need better design now.

NetLibrary is a horrible interface for reading or doing research.

Suppose I want to look up “Clifford Geertz” in the Encyclopedia of Social Anthropology. First I try a search - no results.

I know this can’t be right. Geertz is a pinnacle of anthropology, social in particular.

So I go to the name index. The index is not displayed as a single page of entries because each frame of the NetLibrary reader is tied to a physical book page. If you are going to put a reference online why not take advantage of the design opportunities presented by the medium. There is no reason why an index list needs to be broken across multiple web pages. Just put the whole list on one damn page.

I find the letter index in the side navigation bar and click on “G”. I scroll down to Geertz and, as expected, there are more than thirty entries. I click on the first, for page 60. The page opens in the viewer but the index term isn’t highlighted, so I have to read through the whole text to find the item. Performance - not much better than the book.

But the worst part is the missing context. I’m given no information about page 60. What part of the book does it belong to? Is it part of an introduction or part of an entry in the encyclopedia?

If I were reading the book I could glance to the adjacent page and I might see a bold face entry tag to tell me where I was. Or I might look to the top of the page and see a running title header. I look to top of the page and I see a running page number, information that is useless to me until I know where the hell I am or the context of the information I’ve followed blindly from the index.

I fervently hope that online books get better a lot faster before that becomes the only option, especially for reference books like encyclopedias.