Boundless, Battling Big Publishers, Rolls Out New Site to Replace Textbooks

8/8/12Follow @gthuang

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textbook, and if there’s a match, Boundless will present alternative course materials. The text and images come from open educational resources, U.S. government sites (such as NIH and NSF), and independent sites that use Creative Commons licenses (like Wikipedia and Encyclopedia of Earth).

“We don’t create content, we curate,” says Diaz.

Also new on the site are design features intended to make it easier to do things like see where you are among various units of content (via a sidebar); jump to pieces of content you are looking for (via search and a table of contents); and keep tabs on your progress and note-taking (via a Facebook-like activity feed). Boundless is also working on social features to take advantage of the peer-to-peer learning aspect of the community it is trying to build.

All of this points to a future beyond traditional textbooks—though the transition will probably take years. “Our view is much more modular, much more sharable,” says Diaz. Physical textbooks are constrained by their weight and linear design, he says, and the first wave of e-textbooks are just digital representations of the same thing. But by using open Web materials, he says, “you can go as deep as you want, go as broad as you want, and we can surface the right information at the right time.”

Having the right level of interactivity seems to be important too. As it matures, Boundless will have to figure out how best to serve different types of learners. But its basic approach is to make a wide range of content available in bite-size chunks (see left)—something textbooks can’t really do. “It’s open, it’s a better product, and it’s way more social,” Diaz says.

Boundless has raised a little less than $10 million from investors including Venrock, NextView Ventures, Founder Collective, Kepha Partners, and SV Angel. The company has 15 employees and says its software is being used by students at more than a thousand schools. For now Boundless isn’t talking about its revenue model, but it’s probably safe to say it will be some sort of freemium arrangement, with content remaining free and open for students.

And, of course, the plan is eventually to reach all 20 million college kids in the U.S. “Our goal is to change how every single student learns and studies,” Diaz says. “If we can dramatically reduce the cost of content while improving the quality, that’s relevant to everyone.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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