The idea of finding out more about a word or phrase you run across while reading is becoming more popular. In reading applications on the iPad, and of course, Amazon's Kindle, it's now common to find a built-in dictionary tool, or a way to start a Web search on something that may have you scratching your head.
That same technology is coming to digital book and document repository Scribd via a partnership with Apture. Now, when a reader gets to a word or phrase they want to know more about, they can highlight it and select the "learn more" option that appears next to the highlighted text. Doing this opens up Apture's little pop-up information pane, which grabs word definitions, Wikipedia entries, Web search results, and media such as photos and videos. All of these things can then be seen without leaving the page.
As of this morning, half the public documents on Scribd will be Apture enabled, with the rest to follow in the coming months. The feature cannot be turned off, but it's been tuned so that if you're selecting large groupings of text, the "learn more" option will not show up. It's also available only on HTML5-enabled public documents (read: not through Scribd's Flash viewer); private documents that go public can then have the feature enabled.
Beyond user documents, Scribd and Apture are working with a handful of publishers to add additional Apture features to their books and publications. Author Kemble Scott is one of those users and has actually gone back in to rewrite parts of his books to adjust how Apture would do a search. Scott also opted to have certain sections highlighted by the technology so users would be able to click on it to start a search instead of having to highlight it themselves.
These are not things users will be able to do with their own documents--at least yet, according to Apture's CEO Tristan Harris, who told CNET yesterday that it's something that may be rolled out later on. Harris said he envisions this being most useful for things like legal documents and sheet music, two things that can be found in plentiful supply on Scribd.
Harris says that this is the largest use of Apture by a publisher thus far. The technology can also be found on The Financial Times' technology blog The Nation and Reader's Digest. To use Apture on sites that have not implemented it, it can be added to your browser via an extension.
Here's a video of the feature in action: