Web service for “assemble-your-own-book” market?
My friend and former co-worker, Dave, writes:
Many years ago, when I was a technical writer, my team explored the option of moving away from writing the source files for documentation as actual document files (FrameMaker, Word, etc.) and towards writing them as heavily-indexed articles in a database out of which we could assemble documents as needed.
The idea being that if you wanted a manual that documented everything about process X, we could produce that; if you wanted a manual that documented operational instructions for all our processes, we could produce that; if you wanted a manual that documented operational instructions and technical reference data for all processes in a particular group, we could produce that. The three manuals would overlap significantly, but be distinct manuals written for distinct audiences.
We dropped the idea after a while, but I often think about it when contemplating the ways that the web behaves differently from published books. In some ways, it’s precisely that model – especially what the “semantic web” folks are trying to move towards – although people are still mostly talking in terms of search operations rather than filter/sort/assemble operations.
All of which has gotten me wondering whether there’s anyone out there marketing into the “assemble-your-own-book” market for reference materials.
For example, I can totally imagine a company that publishes travel books exposing a web service whereby you can identify where you want to travel, what price range you are operating in, and what sorts of things you are interested in, and they print up a nicely bound volume of “Exploring Nature Trails, Snail Farms, and Art Museums in France, West Germany, and Denmark on $50-$100 a Day” that you can take with you.
I wonder whether there’s actually a market for that sort of service.