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When I was at AALL last month, someone asked me who I though would “win” the e-book format challenge. I think they were giving me a multiple-choice answer between Kindle, iBooks, HTML5, etc. However, my answer was “D — None of the Above.” In my mind, the “winner” doesn’t even exist yet. It may take a few years of weeding through moving “the book” to “the e-book” to actually moving to a format that really takes advantage of everything that is available to us now, and will be available to us in the near future. Now, there are a number of things that are going on right now that are moving in a different direction, and publishers and entrepreneurs should take notice and start thinking of re-purposing and bringing to market.

Make Existing Formats Better!

Take a look at what one of my favorite teaching, Khan Academy, tools is doing to make it’s wonderful YouTube videos better. Sal Khan and e-textbook startup Kno have teamed up to integrate Sal’s video tutorials (which by themselves are awesome) into Kno’s electronic textbooks with “Smart Links.” Kno has set up an algorithm to automatically tag new Khan Academy videos to appropriate e-textbook pages. In a way, making the e-textbooks a living document that changes and improves over time.

Don’t Limit the Format to What Fits in Their Hands!

Many years ago, I remember watching a video of an airplane mechanic that had a virtual mechanic’s manual integrated into a pair of glasses. The idea behind that was that it was actually a safety hazard to lug a five-pound manual up on top of an airplane, and it would be more convenient to leave the mechanic’s hands free to work on the machinery rather than fumbling through a manual while searching for the right page and the right tool at the same time. I couldn’t find a copy of that old commercial, but I did find this YouTube video of a car mechanic with a virtual manual to show that access to information shouldn’t require standing in front of a PC or even holding an iPad.

The Demand Is There — Will You Fill The Need, Or Let Someone Do It For You?

The constant desire for a “more efficient workforce” may not be a strong in the legal market as it should be, but as we continue the mantra of “doing more with less” even law firms will need to find ways to push the right information, to the right people, at the right time. Of course, all of these processes also need to come with an overall improvement in costs to deliver that information. Law firms may want to take a look at an announcement this morning from United Airlines on how they are moving toward the fluidity of information, improving worker productivity, and reducing overall costs at the same time.

United Airlines is converting to what it is calling a “Paperless Flight Deck” by pushing out 11,000 iPads to all of its pilots (both United and Continental) and getting rid of all of its paper flight manuals. The idea is that pilots will have easy access to massive amounts of instructions, as well as the ability to access real-time information at any point in their flight. This isn’t just moving the paper manual to the iPad, it is making that information better by having the ability to update it instantly and push out that information at the right time to the right people. Not only does it improve the ability for pilots to do their jobs better, it also has the added benefit of reducing the amount of paper United uses by 16 million sheets of paper and saving an estimated 326,000 gallons of jet fuel every year.

The “Winner” Still Doesn’t Exist

I still think that the eventual “winner” (however you want to define that) doesn’t exist today. There is some new Steve Jobs / Bill Gates / Sal Khan out there getting ready to drop out of school, or quit their job to start on a crazy idea of how to better put information in front of people in such a unique way that they will end up billionaires for their efforts. I, for one, can’t wait to see what that end result will look like.