10 February 2009

Digital Books, Social Media, and the Open Mesh, (1st in series)

Little Mo here, continuing my San Francisco Bay Area tour with mentor & business partner, Doug Millison.

Today we met multimedia innovator & Web visionary, Marc Canter, to talk about our Nonhuman Communications publishing project.

Marc Canter
photo from his blog

This is the first in a series of blog posts about Digital Books, Social Media, and the Open Mesh.

Doug and Marc met in the early 1990s, after Doug co-founded and edited Morph's Outpost on the Digital Frontier (http://MorphsOutpost.com), a technical magazine in the form of an underground newspaper. Morph's Outpost identified and served the emerging "tribe" of artists, storytellers, movie makers, educators, and tool makers, who came together to create interactive multimedia software and publish it on CD-ROM and online.

Well before the Information Superhighway became the metaphor, Canter was helping pave the way for multimedia on personal computers, on the Web, and now in socialmediaspace. In June 1994, Canter featured prominently in the seminal ART TECO conference at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, that Doug organized with his Morph's Outpost colleagues, for the emerging multimedia designer/developer tribe.

Doug Millison & Sarah & the oysters
Photo by Marc Canter, blogged immediately
after he snapped it. Of course, Little Mo had to get
in the act, too. Took me 1 minute to mash up their images
with this photo at http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com

I, Little Mo, was a mostly fly on the wall at today's meeting.

Although, I observe that it's my tribe -- the emerging community of young (and young at heart) streetartists and graffiti writers, cartoonists, edgy scrapbookers, funky art journal writer-painters, Moleskine sketchbook sketchers graphic novelists, mad poets, film makers, musicians, podcasters, bloggers, and the rest of you do-it-yourself, hands-on, boundary-crossing, digital/analogue creative tribe -- that lurked around the edges of their animated, arm-waving, exhilarating discussion this afternoon.

My tribe: teenagers and 20-somethings, mostly, screenagers every one. We use iPhones and iPods, WiFi, DVDs. Some of us like books, some don't. But we love to interact with cool Web editorial and visual content. When given a chance, we love to read, discuss, and play with books online. That's what we're doing together at http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com prototype right now.

We met for lunch at the Walnut Creek Yacht Club. Not a boat in sight but amazing seafood.

Marc had proposed the following menu:

Order - Intro to the issues
Appetizers - Background
Entree- Brainstorming
Dessert - Hypothesis - Float a Solution

Doug Millison & Sarah & the oysters
Photo by Marc Canter, blogged immediately
after he snapped it. Of course, Little Mo had to get
in the act, too. Took me 1 minute to mash up his image
with this photo at http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com

Order - Intro to the issues

Our delightful waitress, Sarah described in delicious detail each of the dozen varieties of oysters on offer, Marc ordered half a dozen of the creamy Kumamotos and half a dozen of the briny Cortez Island. As we reveled in the oysters, followed by perfect deep-fried calimari, Doug outlined our Nonhuman Communications vision for books in socialmediaspace.

Appetizers - Background

Millions of books have been digitized, we can buy them an discuss them online. Yet people can't use books in social media environments the way they use photos, video, and audio/music content.

We're building into digital books a set of social media tools, such as people already use in Facebook, Flickr, and other social networking sites. First efforts at our prototype Web site are rough and ready, but enough to show the potential…and some surprising results.

Thus books can serve -- as photos, videos, and music files already do -- as vehicles to help readers connect with people in social media environments.

With built-in social media tools, the digital book helps previously isolated readers find like-minded friends, people who are reading the same or similar books.

The digital book in socialmediaspace comes equpped to connect readers with the online equivalent of the book clubs they enjoy out there in the dead tree/meatspace world and other online versions of their favored activities with books.

For example, in the fleshworld, book club members bring to their discussions their books all stuck full of Post-It's and hand-written marginalia noting points to discuss, post cards and photos of places mentioned in the book that the reader has visited or researched, & etc.

What do you do with all that stuff when you're meeting other book lovers online, in socialmediaspace?

We believe that when you read a digital book online it should also include creative tools that let you annotate, manipulate, and play with the digital book the same way you can now play with digital photos, video, and audio/music in social media environments online.

Mash it up, mix it up, tag it, the way streetartists and graffiti writers create and collaborate as they move through the streets of the city.

Tools to let the reader annotate and illustrate the digital book. Tools that let the reader share these annotations and illustrations with friends and colleagues in social media environments online.

Readers become co-creators, in other words, adding their textual and visual comments to the pages of the digital book, sharing them with friends.

In the right environment – the simple test-bed site at http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com, the first Nonhuman Communications implementation of a digital book for social media – readers can use these same annotation/illustration tools to create and publish their own digital books in our Web site, too. They are doing it right now.

The digital media book with social media tools lets previously passive book consumers become co-creators, authors, and publishers.

Entree- Brainstorming

As we feasted on West Indian "Pepperpot" soup, and fresh fish entrees, Marc led some serious brainstorming.

Structured content. Consistent, persistent tags. Digital book equivalents to photo collections and playlists. Everything a url that lives in the "cloud" so it can be reconfigured to meet future needs as they arise. How to build a digital book platform that takes advantage of the 2-way API's that Marc proposes to connect today's social media islands and silos. How to prepare to sort reader contributions into a wiki, how to prepare for applications we don't know about yet because they haven't been invented.

We'll dig into these topics in future posts. Marc explains many of them in detail in his book, How to Build the Open Mesh, and in the video of his recent conference presentation in Rotterdam, linked below.

Suffice to say, we've got our work cut out for us at Nonhuman Communications. But we're on the right path.

We've already gathered a small but growing tribe and have engaged them on http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com, at Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and elsewhere in socialmediaspace.

Some 2,500 souls claim some kind of relationship with me, Little Mo, with our book The Concrete Jungle Book, with our Nonhuman Communications project.

At http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com, and soon in a Facebook version of the Web site, members of our growing online tribe read the Beta edition and use simple annotation/illustration tools, to move from passive media consumption to active co-creation and collaboration, as reader/co-creators add their images and words, mashing up our book's pages with their own content.

These tribe members/readers/online co-creators & collaborators have already given us priceless feedback to the Beta edition -- feedback we've incorporated in the 1st Edition that we're preparing now for publication, in print for bookstore distribution and digital for iPhone, Kindle, and other relevant delivery devices, later this year.

We know the target audience loves our book, because they've helped us to fine-tune and shape it, and we've added our own artistry and imagination to exceed their expectations.

That's how we figured out that digital books need social media tools, and annotation/illustration tools in the first place, in the process of collaborating online – Steve Porter, Doug Millison, and me, Little Mo – to create the first draft, then inviting our friends to help us make it better with their feedback, delivered online as we began giving them simple tools to enable the feedback.

In other words, we're already demonstrating online, a live community of readers who are using a prototype of the digital book for social media. A rough prototype, but the functions can be seen.

Dessert - Hypothesis - Float a Solution

Sweet comes last, simple flan and fantastic chocolate mousse…and talk of monetization. Marc drilled into the four major revenue streams we've identified that flow from and through this new kind of digital book in socialmediaspace.

We've got our work cut out for us there, too. But, again, we're on the right path. The tools and technology we need are out there to implement our vision and carry it to fruition, beyond the rough and ready prototype that serves as the test bed at http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com.

In the next blog post in this series, we explain why the interactive scrapbook is the digital book format that our tribe prefers, and how the simplest of online creative tools can serve our tribe members' most complex creative needs.

After lunch, Marc drove us in his amazing Checker taxi cab – yes! big enough for a party inside – to our car, and we reached our overarching conclusion:

We believe that as digital books move into social media, we come full circle. McLuhan observed that before the printing press, readers were writers, copying and compiling books in manuscript, or hiring scribes to do it.

With the printing press, authors emerged, and readers became mostly passive consumers.

Now, in online social media environments, readers once more become writers, illustrators, authors.

We're demonstrating it right now.

Thank you for your kind attention. We look forward to your Comments and Questions.


Here's the scrapbook page we made for today's discussion with Marc Canter:

Contact Doug by dougmillison@comcast.net, on Twitter at http://twitter.com/dougmillison. Follow me, http://twitter.com/LittleMo92

, live Preview of a new prose+comics scrapbook novel ("graphic novel on steroids") demonstrating key elements of the emerging digital book for social media, what we call a Social Media Scrapbook.

Marc Canter on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Canter
Read Marc's blog http://blog.broadbandmechanics.com/
Learn about the Open Mesh in a fun video, http://blip.tv/file/1377855
Read his state-of-the-art book, How to Build the Open Mesh http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/564581

Walnut Creek Yacht Club
1555 Bonanza St
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
(925) 944-3474

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