Russell Beattie’s just released a service called Mobdex, which serves up eBooks onto mobile phones. I had the pleasure of getting a sneak preview of Mobdex near the end of September, after Russ spotted a post about the Mobile Web on my blog and emailed me. So I’ve been waiting for him to release it to the public, so I can talk about it 😉 Mobdex is a service that takes “600+ Public Domain eBooks from Project Gutenberg” and re-formats them to be viewed in a WAP browser on a mobile phone.

One of the reasons Russ’ project interested me is because I’ve been reading predictions that Smartphone usage for eBooks will increase, while PDAs will decline. So the Mobdex service has a lot of potential, if you believe those predictions. Personally I’m not so bullish on smartphones as the future for eBooks, but I don’t deny that they will become increasingly important for the industry. I just wonder if I really want my eBook reading appliance to be integrated with my mobile phone (I wonder the same thing about my music listening appliance).

Per Paragraph Hyperlinks

One thing that wasn’t in the demo Russ showed me a couple of months ago, that he’s just now added, is paragraph-level hyperlinks for books. Excellent! This is something I discussed with Tim O’Reilly a few weeks ago. Here’s how Russ describes it:

“One of the ideas I liked was per paragraph permalinks so that people can discuss books and sections in their weblogs. So I added that in tonight by ripping off some JavaScript from Simon Willison and there you have it. Books online with permalinks.”

Very cool. In my interview with Tim, I talked about this sort of functionality enabling a “social networking experience”. For example – I’m currently in the middle of reading Tom Wolfe’s new novel, I am Charlotte Simmons. Imagine if I blogged my thoughts on it while I was reading it, with the ability to quote extracts and link directly to those extracts. With the likes of Google and Feedster indexing my posts as I go, it’s possible that a discussion about the book would ensue and I can swap notes and opinions with other people – all while in the middle of reading the book. That’s the sort of thing I mean by a “social networking experience” for eBooks.

Postscript: Networking above my station

On the subject of emails from bloggers more famous than I… yesterday I was thrilled to receive an email from Jonathan Schwartz, in response to a recent post I wrote that quoted him. How cool is that! I mean how else would a geeky wannabe writer from New Zealand get a chance to network with the COO of Sun or the CEO of O’Reilly Media, other than via blogging? I love the Web.