Digital Stories, Inc, was founded as a Sony Music Ventures-incubated company in mid-2000 to capitalize on the nascent electronic book market. I was brought on as its first employee and Vice President, Technology.

In this role, I evaluated any and all methods of creating, distributing, and protecting electronic book content. After a wide survey of all available electronic book formats (including Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Reader, DHTML, proprietary formats and hardware), and another survey of all the DRM (content protection) technologies that were available, I came to the conclusion that the ideal e-book technology would have to meet the following criteria:

  • Run reliably whether the user's device is connected to the Net or not
  • Be extremely lightweight, and require no extra applications or installations to run.
  • Give book designers the flexibility to mix and match unlimited multimedia types as appropriate.
  • Be truly dynamic and interactive.
  • Be capable of saving user preferences, state, and uploading usage data to online systems.
  • Work with existing DRM systems or use an internal DRM.
  • Require no special new GUI to learn.
  • Be self-upgrading.

The Media Delivery Agent (MDA) was developed to address these needs, and it meets all of them. Vegas, Baby! is the first complete book built with MDA technology. As you'll see in the examples, designers of MDA e-books aren't limited in terms of media types; if a browser can support the media type, then an MDA property can support it too. This means MDA books can include Acrobat e-books as subsections of a more extensive e-book experience, as well as all audio types and actual form processing in an offline state.

The 3 Megabyte download is 99% content; the MDA portion itself occupies less than 400K of that. It leverages Flash, DHTML, and C code to produce its interactivity and stateful behavior.

I came up with the two key technologies required to make this possible, and applied for a patent for Sony on them. My Chief Software Architect (David Lees) and I worked together to implement MDA prototypes and core technologies. I hired graphic designers to execute the visuals for Vegas, Baby!, which was custom written for Digital Stories by the authors of Big Night Out! The total team size, including editors, developers, and designers, was five.

We also executed a prototype of Big Night Out! as an MDA property, including about 25% of the content. You can see some screen shots of that effort here, or you can download it and try it out. (800K)

What's different about this e-book is that it has an interactive graphical slide-out map, vs the text/stack map used in Vegas, Baby! Also, if you click on the "!" in this book, you can see a slide-out panel with all the planned books in the Big Night Out! series. Had the company continued, we would have rolled all these episodes out, and the initial downloaded program would be capable of fetching and integrating those episodes into the same executable transparently to the user. Finally, banner ads were integrated into this prototype. The MDA was capable of communicating with ad servers and caching ads for offline viewing.

One other prototype we produced was The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. This children's e-book only includes a couple of pages.

What's unique about this prototype is that we show how MDA can meld Flash, Adobe Acrobat (PDF) content, and Real Audio-encoded narration cued by Javascript and DHTML, all within the same page, to maximize the viewer's experience.

You can see a screen shot of the opening page or of the main story page, or if you want you can also download The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (2 Meg) and try out this prototype out, too.

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