Bookworm (bookworm.oreilly.com) is an open source project to create a free online eBook reader. O’Reilly Publishing contributes support and hosting for Bookworm. The Bookworm desktop and mobile ( m.bookworm.oreilly.com) web sites let you read electronic books in the epub format, an open source specification for xml based electronic books. Epub is fast becoming the most popular standard for ebooks. The Sony Reader and popular eReader apps like Stanza for the iPhone, Windows and Mac and FBReader for Windows, Mac and Linux devices like the Android and the Nokia N810 also support epub. Amazon owned MobiPocket‘s desktop software can import epub documents and convert them to MobiPocket format and the latest version of the MobiPocket Reader on some platforms has native support for epub. I wonder if the Amazon’s Kindle, which uses a modified version of the Mobipocket format, will get epub support? I hope so, it would go a long way to establishing a single open standard for eBooks instead of the tower of Babel of dozens of incompatible formats that currently exist.
Bookworm lets you read DRM-free epub books with your PC or mobile browser. There are no actual ebooks available on the Bookworm site itself. You upload books obtained elsewhere to read them on Bookworm. Free public domain and Creative Commons books can be downloaded from sites like Feedbooks.com and epub formatted DRM-free commercial books can be purchased from O’Reilly.
In spite of being a huge advocate of the mobile web I’ve had reservations about web and especially mobile web based eBook Readers. I like the idea of having all my books stored in the “cloud” complete with my current place in each book and any bookmarks or annotations I’ve added. That would mean I could switch from device to device without having to worry if the book and proper reader was installed on each one and it would eliminate the hassle of finding the place I left off reading when I switched devices.
But there are issues of performance and usability with web based readers, particularly on mobile networks where connections may be slow or intermittent. To date I haven’t found a pure web based reader that is nearly as fast and capable as a good installed reader application.
Bookworm’s mobile version seems to be designed for use with a full-web mobile browser like the iPhone, Opera Mini and most smartphone browsers. Each chapter in the books I’ve tried is rendered as a single page which means large pages, up to 100 KB. Many mobile browsers on basic “feature phones” can only handle pages up to 10 or 20 KB so Bookworm is unusable on them. The other issue with large pages is that while Bookworm tracks were you are in each book, it does so by the chapter. So every time you open your book you are dumped back at the start of the chapter and have to browse though it to find where you left off. Dedicated readers take you back to the exact mobile screen of text you left off on. Bookworm also lacks two features found in most dedicated reader software; the ability to create multiple named bookmarks and to make notes or annotations on particular pages. In addition there is no search function available in the mobile version of Bookworm although the web version does have full text search.
For now I think I’ll stick with using my installed eBook reader applications; Mobipocket on the N95 and BlackBerry and FBReader on my Zaurus C860. But the future is in the cloud. HTML 5 and Gears are adding local database capabilities to mobile browsers which will make it possible for web based readersstore all or part of a book locally for offline reading and faster page flipping and to remember the exact line you were on. I hope Bookworm continues to improve and will exploit the local database features that are already available in IE Mobile and Opera Mobile 9.5 using Gears.
Ratings: Content Usability
Ready.mobi Score: 2 “Bad”
Mobile Link: m.bookworm.oreilly.com