dailylit experiments with public reading via twitter 06.26.2008, 11:15 AM
I made a passing mention of email-me-chunks-of-book-to-read service DailyLitin my recent-ish post on writing less. Though I've not tried it, it's been picking up some press lately as a way to get your reading done via the network.
The latest news is that DailyLit is experimenting with public and participative reading via Twitter. Texts on offer include Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
A little look around indicates that the Twitter element - slightly to my disappointment - neither involves abridging the text savagely for hyper-truncated delivery, or else delivering the unabridged text 140 characters at a time. Readers sign up for Twitter updates, which then alert them whenever a new instalment of the book goes up on DailyLit. This they can then discuss in related fora. So rather than proposing literature especially for Twitter, DailyLit is using Twitter much as many bloggers do: for status updates that drive readers to a webpage elsewhere.
Doctorow's book at present has 300 followers (nearly double the following of Pride and Prejudice...). There's not much uptake in the fora at present. But overall it's a timely experiment in networked, cross-platform public reading, and will no doubt have much to teach us as we prepare for the Golden Notebook public reading project.
lulu for magazines? 06.23.2008, 2:05 PM
A new project by HP Labs aims to make print-on-demand magazine publishing available to everyone. MagCloud uses a similar model toLulu for books, or Moo for stickers and cards: upload your digital content here and we'll deal with fulfillment.
In his post introducing MagCloud, founder Derek Powazek makes the point that well over 50% of most magazines never make it to a buyer - that the distribution shelves are merely a rest-stop between the printer's warehouse and the recycling plant. Between sustainability concerns and economic ones, a print on demand model seems a logical step for the ever-more-fragmented magazine market.
So will the days of Xeroxed 'distros' soon be behind us forever? It's hard to tell - it's still in beta at the moment, and publisher accounts are invite-only. Key to success will be how slick, user-friendly, customizable and adaptable the publishing tools are - or whether it's a matter of getting a PDF designed somewhere else and treating MagCloud like a slightly complicated printer. Then the magazines on offer for purchase are fairly sparse, and the interface for browsing before you buy is unwieldy. I'd like to see ways of embedding a Cafepress-style link into other webspaces, so as to give ezines and small magazines an easy channel to retail a print version. I'd also like to see and also more tools for users/readers to review magazines published through the site.
But it seems churlish to snipe too much - it's very early days, and the idea has considerable potential as a tool for leveraging the Web to service very small interest groups.
(Link via Booktwo)
if:book review 3 - privacy and net neutrality 06.23.2008, 4:50 AM
My last review post covered the debates around digitization of public domain archives, especially with reference to Google. Key to these debates are questions of access: who gets how much, what to, how is this controlled, and who by? And who benefits? Though Google is mentioned with disturbing frequency any ttime someone worries about privacy and ownership of data, the debate is much wider. So this piece takes a look at some related issues.
If concerns for privacy and freedom of speech usually refer to state interference, net neutrality often points the other way: towards private corporations remaking the Web in their image. Clearly this is frequently (as recent coverage of the ongoing Viacom/Google spat points out) about attempts to ringfence pre-Web approaches to copyright. But space is limited, so I haven't tried to cover DRM and copyright in depth here.
Net neutrality: who owns the pipes?
Ben's November 2005 post about net neutrality was the first if:book article on the topic. It picked up an article by Doc Searls about the dangers of the Web being hijacked by major telcos, and explored some of the parallels between the failure of two-way radio and the potential erosion of a multidirectional Web. A second post on December looked at the possibility that redrafted telco regulations could help the creeping transformation of the Web from a read/write medium towards a broadcast-only model.
Reports of Google's decision to serve a neutered service in China in response to Chinese governmental restrictions prompted a remarkable January 2006 article from Benthat ranged across net neutrality, privacy, censorship, and the utopian ideals of the Web. Very much worth a look. Ray picked up the theme again in February. The same month, we reported on Lessig's gloomy prognostications for the read/write web, drawing out the relationship between net neutrality and copyright. And in May, a handful of people protested against the net neutrality bill; in June, Congress passed the amended telcos bill, roundly condemned by this blog. But net neutrality seems these days to be of more concern to telcos than to individuals: a recent IPDemocracy post gives an indication of the extent to which the issue is a hot topic to carriers (which have an economic interest) and states (which have a political one), but of little interest to everyday internet users.
Privacy: who owns your (meta)data?
The first looks at the privacy implications of technologies that track your clickstreams across digitized archives such as Google and Amazon.
The second discusses Google's acquisition of Writely: would web-based word processing extend Google's domain of searchable private material even beyond email inboxes to individuals' private documents? (I have to say, from the vantage point of 2008 it is not clear that adoption of web-based office tools has been as overwhelming as some anticipated in those heady years of web2.0 fever. The view from here is a little more measured; Google Docs, as Writely is now called, is one tool among many but has none of the uncontested dominance of the search engine. But the post marks a key moment in the imperial expansion of the Google machine into ever new territories.)
The third is a wide-ranging essay that covers net neutrality, copyright, software licensing and Google issues. One paragraph is worth quoting in full, as it's remained central to many of the Institute's concerns:
Though print will always offer inimitable pleasures, the social life of media is moving to the network. That's why we here at if:book care so much about issues, tangential as they may seem to the future of the book, like network neutrality, copyright and privacy. These issues are of great concern because they make up the environment for the future of reading and writing. We believe that a free, neutral network, a progressive intellectual property system, and robust safeguards for privacy are essential conditions for an enlightened digital age.
In the runup to these posts, we also covered Yahoo!'s purchase of del.icio.us, the launch of the Open Rights Group, Siva Vaidhyanathan's sobering thoughts on Google, privacy and privatization (still very much worth a read) - and amongst other things a string of digitization deals between Google and public archives (see my previous review post).
The issue of privacy is not just a narrative of one corporation's info-expansionism. The issue of freedom of expression around the world collided with that of Google when it was revealed in January 06 that Google had decided to comply with the Chinese government's insistence on restrictive search terms within China, somewhat dampening the cred Google received for saying no when Cheney requested government access to citizens' Google search records.
In March, Jesse wrote about identity management in the age of search engines. Though the app he mentioned does not seem to have gained much traction, the issues are still relevant. In April, Ben drew together a string of net neutrality and privacy posts for a hefty post about the disturbing confluence of deregulated Web infrastructures and privatised info-accumulation taking place online.
One final theme that deserves a mention is that of Flash and other read-only media. Where the 'View Source' command enables the curious to review the code behind any HTML site, Flash and its kin, while making the Web infinitely richer and in some ways more accessible, has also exacted a price in transparency and interoperability across platforms. This has been discussed periodically, as here in October 2006, and again in March 2008.
new ways with words 06.23.2008, 4:43 AM
I'm delighted to announce that we've received a grant of £93,000 from the Esmee Fairbairn Trust to help us "explore how new media can be used to generate active reading, creative writing and fresh enthusiasm for literature amongst young people". In collaboration with teachers and writers, we'll be creating a library of materials for schools made in CommentPress and Sophie, running workshops and building on the success of our recent project FOUND, funded by Booktrust. Actor and writer Toby Jones (currently playing Karl Rove in Oliver Stone's W), worked with me and a class of twelve year olds in inner city Birmingham who found themselves immersed in the story of a lost child whose personality was, unbeknownst to them, being created by themselves. You can read a full account on the bookfutures blog which if:book london is developing for its projects and work with literature organisations in the UK.
the long tale: another book metadata app 06.20.2008, 11:00 AM
More fun with book metadata. Hot on the heels of Bkkeepr comes Booklert, an app that lets you keep track of the Amazon rank of your (or anyone else's) book. Writer, thinker and social media maven Russell Davies speculated that he'd love to have such a thing for keeping track of his book. No sooner was this said than MCQN had built it; so far it has few users, but fairly well-connected ones.
Reading MCQN's explanation I get a picture of Booklert as a time-saving tool for hypercompetitive and stat-obsessed writers, or possibly as a kind of masochistic entertainment for publishers morbidly addicted to seeing their industry flounder. Then perhaps I'm being uncharitable: assuming you accept the (deeply dodgy) premise that the only meaningful book sales are those conducted through Amazon, Booklert - or something similar - could be used to create personalized bestseller lists, adding a layer of market data to the work of trusted reviewers and curators. I'd be interested to find out which were the top-selling titles in the rest of the Institute's personal favourites list; I'd also be interested to find out what effect a few weeks' endorsement by a high-flying member of the digerati might have on a handful of books.
But whether or not it is, as Davies asserts, "exactly the sort of thing a major book business could have thought of, should have thought of, but didn't", Booklert illustrates the extent to which, in the context of the Web, most of the key developments around the future of the book do not concern the form, purposes or delivery mechanism of the book. They concern metadata: how it is collected, who owns it, who can make use of it. Whether you're talking DRM, digitization, archiving, folksonomies or feeds, the Web brings a tendency - because an ability - to see the world less in terms of static content than in terms of dynamic patterns, flows and aggregated masses of user-generated behavior. When thus measured as units in a dynamic system, what the books themselves actually contain is only of secondary importance. What does this say about the future of serious culture in the world of information visualization?
The Golden Notebook -? readers wanted 06.18.2008, 4:50 AM
if:book readers may remember my excited post from last October when Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize. I had coincidentally re-read The Golden Notebook over the summer and when I realized that none of my younger colleagues had read it, or even knew anyone of their generation who had read it, I started musing about the possibilities of having readers from two generations reading it together, commenting publicly in the margins in something like CommentPress.
I mentioned this idea to Antonia Byatt of the British Arts Council only to find that she, by coincidence, had also just re-read the book over the summer. Antonia was intrigued by the idea and eight months later we have a grant from the Arts Council and a deal with Harper Collins that will make this a reality. In mid-October 3-5 readers will begin reading The Golden Notebook and carry out a conversation in the margins. The site will be open and the rest of us will be able to follow their reading and participate in a related public forum.
Who do you think should be the readers? The book is perhaps best known for its role in the beginning of the women's liberation movements of the 1970s but it also confronts complex issues of race and the political fall-out from the ideological collapse of the soviet union. The original idea was to invite women from different generations, but we're open to other ideas.
Please, tell us who you would like to see as the designated readers. We're interested in general categories but also in specific recommendations. You can even nominate yourself. [The Arts Council grant includes a generous honorarium for each of the readers.]
By the way we're working with a fantastic group in London, apt, to build a completely new CommentPress-like application that should be much better for reading both the text and the comments.
google, digitization and archives: despatches from if:book 06.16.2008, 3:35 PM
In discussing with other Institute folks how to go about reviewing four year's worth of blog posts, I've felt torn at times. Should I cherry-pick 'thinky' posts that discuss a particular topic in depth, or draw out narratives from strings of posts each of which is not, in itself, a literary gem but which cumulatively form the bedrock of the blog? But I thought about it, and realised that you can't really have one without the other.
Fair use, digitization, public domain, archiving, the role of libraries and cultural heritage are intricately interconnected. But the name that connects all these issues over the last few years has been Google. The Institute has covered Google's incursions into digitization of libraries (amongst other things) in a way that has explored many of these issues - and raised questions that are as urgent as ever. Is it okay to privatize vast swathes of our common cultural heritage? What are the privacy issues around technology that tracks online reading? Where now for copyright, fair use and scholarly research?
In-depth coverage of Google and digitization has helped to draw out many of the issues central to this blog. Thus, in drawing forth the narrative of if:book's Google coverage is, by extension, to watch a political and cultural stance emerging. So in this post I've tried to have my cake and eat it - to trace a story, and to give a sense of the depth of thought going into that story's discussion.
In order to keep things manageable, I've kept this post to a largely Google-centric focus. Further reviews covering copyright-related posts, and general discussion of libraries and technology will follow.
2004-5: Google rampages through libraries, annoys Europe, gains rivals
In December 2004, if:book's first post about Google's digitization of libraries gave the numbers for the University of Michigan project.
In February 2005, the head of France's national libraries raised a battle cry against the Anglo-centricity implicit in Google's plans to digitize libraries. The company's seemingly relentless advance brought Europe out in force to find ways of forming non-Google coalitions for digitization.
In August, Google halted book scans for a few months to appease publishers angry at encroachments on their copyright. But this was clearly not enough, as in October 2005, Google was sued (again) by a string of publishers for massive copyright infringement. However, undeterred either by European hostility or legal challenges, the same month the company made moves to expand Google Print into Europe. Also in October 2005, Yahoo! launched the Open Content Alliance, which was joined by Microsoft around the same time. Later the same month, a Wired article put the case for authors in favor of Google's searchable online archive.
In November 2005 Google announced that from here on in Google Print would be known as Google Book Search, as the 'Print' reference perhaps struck too close to home for publishers. The same month, Ben savaged Google Print's 'public domain' efforts - then recanted (a little) later that month.
In December 2005 Google's digitization was still hot news - the Institute did a radio show/podcast with Open Source on the topic, and covered the Google Book Search debate at the American Bar Association. (In fact, most of that month's posts are dedicated to Google and digitization and are too numerous to do justice to here).
2006: Digitization spreads
By 2006, digitization and digital archives - with attendant debates - are spreading. From January through March, three posts - 'The book is reading you' parts 1, 2 and 3 looked at privacy, networked books, fair use, downloading and copyright around Google Book Search. Also in March, a further post discussed Google and Amazon's incursions into publishing.
In April, the Smithsonian cut a deal with Showtime making the media company a preferential media partner for documentaries using Smithsonian resources. Jesse analyzed the implications for open research.
In June, the Library of Congress and partners launched a project to make vintage newspapers available online. Google Book Search, meanwhile, was tweaked to reassure publishers that the new dedicated search page was not, in fact, a library. The same month, Ben responded thoughtfully in June 2006 to a French book attacking Google, and by extension America, for cultural imperialism. The debate continued with a follow-up post in July.
In August, Google announceddownloadable PDF versions of many of its public-domain books. Then, in August, the publication of Google's contract with UCAL's library prompted some debate the same month. In October we reported on Microsoft's growing book digitization list, and some criticism of the same from Brewster Kahle. The same month, we reported that the Dutch government is pouring millions into a vast public digitization program.
In December, Microsoft launched its (clunkier) version of Google Books, Microsoft Live Book Search.
2007: Google is the environment
In January, former Netscape player Rich Skrenta crowned Google king of the 'third age of computing': 'Google is the environment', he declared. Meanwhile, having seemingly forgotten 2005's tussles, the company hosted a publishing conference at the New York Public Library. In February the company signed another digitization deal, this time with Princeton; in August, this institution was joined by Cornell, and the Economist compared Google's databases to the banking system of the information age. The following month, Siva's first Monday podcast discussed the Googlization of libraries.
By now, while Google remains a theme, commercial digitization of public-domain archives is a far broader issue. In January, the US National Archives cut a digitization deal with Footnote, effectively paywalling digital access to a slew of public-domain documents; in August, a deal followd with Amazon for commercial distribution of its film archive. The same month, two major audiovisual archiving projects launched.
In May, Ben speculated about whether some 'People's Card Catalog' could be devised to rival Google's gated archive. The Open Archive launched in July, to mixed reviews - the same month that the ongoing back-and-forth between the Institute and academic Siva Vaidyanathan bore fruit. Siva's networked writing project, The Googlization Of Everything, was announced (this would be launched in September). Then, in August, we covered an excellent piece by Paul Duguid discussing the shortcomings of Google's digitization efforts.
In October, several major American libraries refused digitization deals with Google. By November, Google and digitization had found its way into the New Yorker; the same month the Library of Congress put out a call for e-literature links to be archived.
2008: All quiet?
But if Google coverage has been slighter this year, that's not to suggest a happy ending to the story. Microsoft abandoned its book scanning project in mid-May of this year, raising questions about the viability of the Open Content Alliance. It would seem as though Skrenta was right. The Googlization of Everything continues, less challenged than ever.
we're on our way back 06.16.2008, 10:17 AM
The period of extreme introspection is winding down. As you've seen over the last few days Sebastian Mary has embarked on a review of if:book's first four years. This will unfold over the next few weeks and will prepare the way for a re-design of the site intended both to encourage a lot more reader participation and also to free us from the chronological tyranny of the traditional blog format, which cuts off so many conversations just as they start to get interesting.
There's a ton of interesting things to tell you about. I'll be posting a lot in the next few weeks.
fantasy author's site hosts fan-created wiki encyclopedia 06.13.2008, 2:55 AM
In marked contrast to J K Rowling, whose battles against the publication of a fan-created Potter encyclopedia we've covered here, fantasy author Naomi Novik's website hosts a wiki in which fans of her writing help to co-create an encyclopedic guide to her Temeraire novels. It's no coincidence that Novik is one of a handful of fanfic writers who've made the transition to publication as 'original' authors. She also chairs the Organization for Transformative Works, an archive dedicated to fanfic or 'transformative' work.
Novik's approach reflects a growing recognition by many in the content industries that mass audience engagement with a given fictional world is can deliver benefits worth that outweigh any perceived losses due to copyright infringement by 'derivative' work. Echoing the tacit truce between the manga industry and its participatory fan culture (covered here last November), Novik's explicit welcoming of fan participation in her fictional universes points towards a model of authorship that goes beyond a crude protectionism of the supposed privileged position of 'author' towards a recognition that, while creativity and participation are in some senses intrinsic to the read/write Web, not all creators are created equal - nor wish to be.
While a simplistic egalitarianism would propose that participatory media flatten all creative hierarchies, the reality is that many are content to engage with and develop a pre-existing fiction, and have no desire to originate such. Beyond recognising this fact, the challenge for post-Web2.0 writers is to evolve structures that reflect and support this relationship, without simply inscribing the originator/participator split as a cast-in-stone digital-era reworking of the author/reader dyad.
virtual pop-up book in papervision 06.12.2008, 7:56 AM
Ecodazoo is a beautifully-animated if slightly inscrutable site created in Papervision, a real-time 3D engine for Flash. Scrolling around the page takes you to a series of animated 'pop-up books' that tell vaguely eco-educational stories.
It's pretty, even if it's unclear who it's aimed at. The heavy 'book' styling made me think though. Will the children of the future only experience pop-up books in animated form, onscreen? Or would the pop-up book conceit only have resonance for those raised on the paper versions?
To put it another way, would an animated 'book' enchant or simply baffle an adult raised since infancy on screen-based reading? If so, the many well-meaning attempts to transpose codex-like qualities into the digital realm ultimately serve only to comfort those dwindling generations (of which, at 29, I'm probably the last) for whom in early years print took precedence over digital text.
fifth avenue apartment encoded with puzzles by architect 06.12.2008, 5:26 AM
I was beginning to research an article about ARG genres when I came across this interesting tidbit. Without telling the client, an architect renovating an Upper East Side apartment included secret panels, puzzles, poems and artworks that - when they discovered it - led its residents on a scavenger hunt around their own home.
A frequent topic at if:book is the fetishization of the codex in its irreducibly physical qualities. This project - complete with its own fictionalized Da Vinci Code-esque book hidden in the walls of the apartment - takes this to new heights, while arguably gesturing at some of the elitism (the costliness and exclusivity of the postbit atom) implicit in this fetishization.
printable mini-books revisit eighteenth-century pamphleteers 06.11.2008, 12:17 PM
London-based creative studio and social think-tank Proboscis has put impressive effort into thinking through the incarnations and reincarnations of written material between printed and digitized forms. Diffusion, one of Proboscis' recent-ish ventures, is a technology that lays out short texts in a form that enables them to be printed off and turned, with a few cuts and folds, into easily-portable pamphlets.
For now, it's still in beta, though I hear from Proboscis founder Giles Lane that they're aiming to make this technology more widely available. Meanwhile, Proboscis is using Diffusion to produce Short Work, a series of downloadable public-domain texts selected and introduced by guests. Works so far include three essays by Samuel Johnson, selected by technology critic and journalist Bill Thompson; Common Sense by Thomas Paine, selected by Worldchanging editor Alex Steffen; and Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism, selected by myself.
Though the Short Work pieces are not exclusively from the same period, it's interesting to note that all these guest selections date from the eighteenth century. It can't be simply that these texts are most likely to be a) short, and b) in the public domain (though this no doubt has something to do with it). But the eighteenth century saw an explosion in printing, outdone only by the new textual explosion of the Web, and the political, intellectual and critical voices that emerged from that Babel of print raise many questions about the ongoing evolution of our current digital discourse.
if:book review 1: game culture 06.11.2008, 10:35 AM
I've chosen 'game culture' as the theme for this first review post, for all that many of these posts could just as easily be tagged another handful of ways. But games have always hovered at the fringes of debates about the future of the book.
Consideration of serious video games; repurposing of existing games to create machinima, and cultural activities arising out of machinima. Dscussion of more overtly cross-platform activities: pervasive gaming, ARGs and their multiple spawn in terms of commercialization, interactivity, resistance to 'didactic' co-optation and more. There's a lot here; as per my first post on this subject, I'd welcome comments and thoughts.
In February 2005, Sol Gaitan wrote a thoughtful piece about the prevalence of video games in children's lives, and questioned whether such games might be used more for didactic purposes. In April 2005 Ben picked up an excerpt from Stephen Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good For You, which pointed to further reading on video games in education. In August 2005, four British secondary schools experimented with educational games; someone died after playing video games for 50 hours straight without stopping to eat; and Sol pondered whether the future of the book was in fact a video game.
Between February and May 2006 the Institute worked on providing a public space for McKenzie Wark's Gamer Theory - not strictly a game, but a networked meta-discussion of game culture. Discussion of 'serious' games continued in an April analysis of why some games should be publicly funded. In August 2006, Sino-Japanese relations became tense in the MMORPG Fantasy Westward Journey; later the same month, Gamersutra wondered why there weren't any highbrow video games, prompting a thoughtful piece from Ray Cha on whether 'high' and 'low' art definitions have any meaning in that context.
Machinima and its relations have appeared at intervals. In July 2005 Bob Stein was interviewed in Halo, followed later the same month by Peggy Ahwesh in Halo-based talk show This Spartan Life. Ben wrote about the new wave of machinima and its relatives in December 2005, following this up with a Grand Text Auto call for scholarly papers in January 2006, and a vitriolic denunciation of the intersection between machinima, video gaming, and the virtualization of war (May 2006). In September 2006 McKenzie Wark was interviewed about Gamer Theory in Halo. Then, in October 2007, Chris mentioned the first machinima conference to be held in Europe.
Pervasive gaming makes its first appearance in a September 2006 mention of the first Come Out And Play festival (the 2008 one just wrapped up in NY last weekend). It's interesting to note how the field has evolved since 2006: where pervasive gaming felt relatively indie in 2006, this year ARG superstar Jane McGonigal brought The Lost Game, part of The Lost Ring, her McDonalds-sponsored Olympic Games ARG
Earlier, overlap between pervasive gaming, ARGs and hoaxes was foreshadowed by an August 2005 story about a BBC employee writing a Wikipedia obituary for a fictional pop star - and then denying that they were gaming the encyclopedia. I wrote my first post about ARGs and commercialization in January 2007, following this with another about ARGs and player interaction in March. The same month, Ben and I got excited about the launch of McGonigal's World Without Oil, which looked to bring together themes of 'serious' and pervasive gaming - but turned out, as Ben and my conversation (posted May 2006) to be rather pious and lacking in narrative.
Since then, both marketing and educational breeds of ARG have spread, as attested by Penguin's WeTellStories (trailed February, launched March 2008), and the announcement of UK public service broadcaster Channel 4 Education's move of its £6m commissioning budget into cross-platform projects.
I'm not going to attempt a summary of the above, except to say that everything and nothing has changed: cross-platform entertainment has edged towards the mainstream, didactic games continue to plow their furrow at the margins of the vast gaming industry, and commercialization is still a contentious topic. It's not clear whether gaming has come closer to being accepted alongside cinema as a significant art form, but its vocabularies have - as McKenzie Wark's book suggested - increasingly bled into many aspects of contemporary culture, and will no doubt continue to do so.
if:book review update 06.11.2008, 9:14 AM
Whew. I expected my review of the if:book archive to take me a few days, and selecting/commenting on posts to be a quick job requiring at most a handful of posts. Wrong. It took me a week of digging to get through the archive. As for reviewing what's there, it is hard to know how to do justice to it.
In the process of reviewing, it became clear that while a whole category of post reads more like extended, thoughtful essays many of which are as relevant now as they were three or four years ago, others tell the story of developments in the world of discourse online in a more journalistic style. It makes no sense to privilege one kind of post over the other; to foreground 'newsy' posts would be to imply that nothing stays the same long enough to merit commentary, and to privilege 'thinky' ones would be to suggest that if:book is merely a collection of arcane musings with no relationship to the world at large. Then of course, much of the time the 'newsy' and 'thinky' strands are inseparable, complicating matters still further.
In any case, I've chosen to break the posts down thematically as well as chronologically, and in this way attempt to trace developments both in the fields the posts describe, and also - where relevant - in the Institute's thinking on different topics. Though I've worked closely with other if:book folks on the period before I arrived at the Institute, this tracing, collating and commentary is naturally a partial activity that will to a large extent reflect my personal taxonomies and interests. But arguably archiving will always be somewhat guilty of this.
So over the next while I'll be posting my take on if:book past and present, along with whatever thoughts about linkrot, Web entropy, digital archiving and so on occur along the way. All help gratefully appreciated. First post to follow shortly...
bkkeepr 06.11.2008, 7:20 AM
The feed provides intriguing browsing, even in its current relatively sparsely-populated state. As usage picks up, I love the idea of individual books getting timeline pages.
A project of James Bridle's lit-futures endeavor booktwo, bkkeepr is one of a new crop of technologies weaving together real-world and digital media: neither pushing the transhuman agenda of uploading us all to a mainframe, nor agitating for a return to the analog past. It's still a bit fiddly for lazy bookmarkers such as myself to update (you have to send the ISBN number to bkkeepr, which is tricky if your edition is older than 1972) but promises an appealing, if skewed, map of what Twitter's compulsive lifebloggers are reading in paper form.
the doctor the salon 06.10.2008, 11:30 AM
Well, I don't want to give away much about what was a blindingly brilliant episode of Doctor Who, but suffice to say the library survived, though the whole collection had been backed up on the biggest mainframe in the universe. The Doctor also met a mysterious future friend whose diary was a reassuringly dog-eared notebook, not a wafer thin superblackberry.
Thanks to those readers who have been introducing themselves below - and I agree with not-so-snarky James that the writing finds the audience, but it is intriguing to discover a bit more about who finds us.
UK readers of if:book living near Leicester are very welcome at a Salon event at the Institute of Creative Technologies to find students of the Creative Writing and New Media MA (that includes me) showcasing their work. It's on Wednesday 18th June 2008, 5.30pm - 7.15pm (doors open at 5.00pm for drinks)
at the Institute of Creative Technologies, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK (see http://www.ioctsalon.com/directions.htm for map and directions)
if:book london... tomorrow the stars 06.05.2008, 11:10 AM
We've now launched a website for if:book london, the British iteration of the Institute, at http://www.futureofthebook.org.uk, and that links both to this blog and one which will focus on UK activities and in particular our work with the literature sector following a very positive reception by Arts Council England to the report by Mary and I: read:write - digital possibilities for literature and the imminent launch of another report, digital livings, how new media writers do, can and could make their way in the world , commissioned by the Institute of Creative Technologies at De Montfort University. We will be making both reports available to download as soon as possible.
I think this if:book blog is wonderful, stimulating, challenging, brilliant - and so somewhat daunting to post on. It has a strong sense of itself and, tell me if you disagree, but it doesn't feel right to me to start bombarding this space with discussion of very specific issues to do with the UK literary scene and the organisations which work around it. Which isn't to say that some posts shouldn't appear in both places.
One reason I'm hesitant about writing here is uncertainty about who I'm talking to.
I would love to know more about if:book readers and wonder if some might be prepared to step forward and tell us briefly about themselves and why they keep an eye on this place.
I would love to see an anthology of if:book's best bits, in print on page or screen. People have been writing serious, lengthy essays here, some of which quickly stimulate much attention, others drift by unnoticed like leaves in the blogflow and deserve fuller consideration.
Meanwhile Sara Lloyd, Head of digital publishing at Pan Macmillan in the UK quotes if:book in a fascinating book publishers manifesto for the 21st century. You can download it from http://thedigitalist.net/?p=155. It's more evidence that the future of the book may be arriving shortly in the NOW and, having led the way up to this point, now is a good moment for the Institute to reflect further on what role(s) it wishes to play in a rapidly changing landscape, whether it should be looking much further ahead for next big futurethings or focusing on specific interventions in distribution and creation in the digital here and now.
However on the 'it'll-never-catch-on' front, Doctor Who, Britain's favourite time traveller, is trapped on a gigantic planet-sized library on BBC 1 this week. Electronic librarians oversee rows of very conventional looking dusty tomes and death lurks in the shadows. The Doctor has already told us how, despite all the advances in technology, future life forms still love nothing better than the smell and feel of a proper old book. No sign of the great grandchildren of Kindle here yet then, but it is only episode one. More next week!
if:janus 06.02.2008, 10:23 PM
It's been pretty quiet on the blog for the last few weeks. This is partly because there's a lot of work going on backstage. But it's also symptomatic of the fact that the research, writing and blogging element of the Institute for the Future of the Book is in the process of serious self-examination.
My first encounter with the Institute for the Future of the Book was via if:book. I posted a comment, received an email from Bob, wrote back, and found myself having tea with him at the Royal Court Theatre in London a week or so later. In my naivete, I hadn't fully taken on board that it was the output of a think tank, a dedicated group of people whose full-time job it was to think about these things. Because most of the online creative work I was involved in at the time was part-time, voluntary and unpaid, I assumed that if:book worked the same way and asked how I could go about acquiring posting rights.
But the Institute has always been very open-sided. I got my posting rights. Then, shortly after making a first post, I was invited out to NYC to hang out with the team. What had begun as a playful, remote interaction of ideas suddenly took on form and force.
While the Web can often seem more divisive than social - a culture of mouse potatoes unable to interact with other humans save through keyboard and avatar - there are times when it can throw extraordinary, life-changing things your way. The Institute has been one of those for me.
But a lot has changed since I appeared on the scene a year and a half ago, both within the Institute and across the worlds of technology, digital arts and academia in whose cross-fire the Institute found its groove. With Penguin running ARGs, e-readers in the news every second week, and Web2.0 less a buzzword than an enabling condition of contemporary life, thought, debate and activity around discourse and the networked screen has exploded in all directions.
For a blog that explores these things, this poses a challenge. How to keep up with it all? Should it be curated? Should we commission content, generate content, or simply aggregate it and moderate discussion around this? And central to this are still deeper questions. What is such a space for? Who reads if:book? And, more profoundly yet, what will - or should - the Institute be in times to come?
From conversations with Institute members who've seen - as I did not - the space evolve from a blank canvas to a phalanx of ideas, an influential position and a series of projects, it's my understanding that the mood and mode has always been exploratory. One thing might lead to the next, a chance meeting to a new project; a throwaway remark to a runaway success. But it's not enough to say it's been an exploration, and that the time for exploration is over.
We're currently seeing the first shoots of an extraordinary flowering of digital culture. As the Web mainstreams, creators of all kinds - and not just the technologically adept - are finding a voice in the digital space. Let's say this is no longer the future of the book but its present - a world where print and digital texts interact, interweave, are taggable in Twitter or rendered in digital ink.
One might say that the research, thinking and writing that's taken place on if:book since late 2004 has helped plow the ground for this. Let's ask then: when the question is less one of whether books or screens will win, but of (say) best practice in collaborative authorship or the best way to render multimedia authoring programs indexable in search engines, does this world need a think and do tank to lead the way? And if so, what does it think, and what does it do?
We don't have answers to these questions. But they're at the core of my task over the coming weeks, which is to delve into the archives of if:book and, from my Johnny-come-lately position of relative naivete, review the story so far. And, hopefully, gain some sense of where it might go next.
A year and a half on, I'm out in NY hanging out with the team again. Over the course of my stay I'll be exploring the back catalogs, and talking to people in and around the Institute. When I did my first collaborative writing work, I learned that the best way to filter text down to bare bones for Web reading was to send it to a friend and then ask that friend to tell you what they remembered of it without looking at it again. I want to know which of if:book's posts stuck in that way: which acted as turning points, which inspired some new event or project, which sparked debate or - as in my case - brought new contributors to the team.
Clearly, also, this cannot be confined to if:book personnel past or present. The blog has had a dedicated readership over the last years, occasional guests, and a wide community of support. We welcome suggestions - whether one-liners or paragraphs long - of ideas or articles that have been particularly memorable, fruitful, inspiring - or the reverse. For me, this exercise will be a chance to educate myself about a significant body of work that's helped shape the conversation around writing and the Web; and hopefully to begin a conversation, review and summary process that can help take that body of work towards its own future.
Comments on the blog are welcome, as always - or if you'd prefer, send them to smary [at] futureofthebook.org and I'll add them as guest posts.