12 February 2009

What do people want to do with books in socialmediaspace? #4 in the Digital Books & Social Media series

Sarah knows her oysters, at the Walnut Creek Yacht
Club, and Marc Canter,
behind the camera,
knows the Web & multimedia. Even Little Mo gets
in the act, after a little tag-it-up, mash-it-up, took me
a couple of minutes to add the clip art from The
Concrete Jungle Book with the simple collage tool
at http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com

Way back in the early 90s when we first started getting all hot and bothered about connecting with friends and family on the Web… when folks like my old friend Marc Canter were making multimedia possible… when not many people if any besides David Siegel were publishing "Web-based diaries"… we got excited about the potential of digital books, too.

Many a mind-boggling interactive multimedia CD-ROM crossed my Editor-in-Cheese desk at Morph's Outpost on the Digital Frontier magazine (see http://MorphsOutpost.com tribute site) Seemed clear to me then that, with authoring tools like the ones that Marc Canter and others were building, the next Great American Novel might just be published first on CD-ROM.

That didn't exactly happen, but both digital books and interactive multimedia came to stay.

Only after blogging enabled easy online multimedia publishing did people start expressing themselves in words and images the way I expected they would when interactive multimedia CD-ROMs were first taking off.

At lunch the other day, Marc Canter reminded me of the old saying. In any given group online you're going to have 90 percent lurkers, 9 percent will make a comment now and again, but only 1 percent will contribute significant content.

We were talking about digital books, with a focus on fiction and what people want to do with digital fiction online, in socialmediaspace.

Online, we can buy books, discuss them, read book reviews. We can read digital books online and we can use a variety of research and documentation tools with some digital books.

Far less than what we do with printed books, in other words. And you can't even do all of those things in one place online, not easily, and certainly not in the newer turf of social media Web sites. You find them in fragments, scattered across the Web.

I don't mean to discount the many projects and experiments that have shown a wider range of ways to interact with digital books online. Despite their promise, the capabilities they demonstrate have yet to enter the mainstream.

In the analog world, we read books and talk about them with our friends. If we're serious readers, we may take notes (and record them in a blog). We may collect images of people, places, and things in the real world that we also know in books. Lots of us join book clubs and bring our books – sometimes overflowing with our notes and photos and such – with us to the discussion.

I know of only one place online where I can do all of those things right now in one place: our rough and evolving http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com read/collaborate demonstration/testbed.

There, hundreds of people have paged through the Preview of our book and have used our simple tools to annotate the page images with their words and uploaded images.

We haven't implemented email or direct messaging yet, but Little Mo's online friends already communicate with each other via these annotations. That's what young graffiti writers and streetartists do, too, as they paint and scribble and paste up and stencil their manifestos to the world and messages to each other, on the walls of every city and town.

In previous posts in this series on Digital Books in Social Media, I addressed the need to add a range of social media tools to digital books, as Marc Canter suggests we do with everything online if we want to realize the potential of social media in the Web.

Marc and I also had a lively discussion the other day about how to present digital books online, how to let people interact with characters, settings, weave in and out of the plot, and how to handle all that in a flexible, robust online architecture. Marc knows what he's talking about, he's one of the people who started trying to do that back in the day, even before Morph's Outpost.

I told him I think we've seen that outside the realm of gamers and dedicated fanfiction writers, there don't seem to be that many people who want to interact with fiction online to that degree.

Most of us don't write books, after all. But we've all got opinions about books, and can rank them according to our preferences. Social media tools let us do that.

And, I think just about everybody could and would want to contribute to a book, the right book, that is.

Digital books in social media should also come with the tools necessary for a reader to contribute to the discussion that the book begins.

Let readers add text comments, and let them also annotate and illustrate the online book's pages with images, videos, audio and music files – all the multimedia that the Web now puts at our disposal.

Let these reader/co-creators print and purchase for themselves – and for their friends, colleagues, the great reading public – copies of the book they have thus extended and personalized to suit their needs.

If the authors, editors, and publishers of the book permit, the same tools can allow an ambitious and creative reader to join the team and contribute ideas and content to a future new edition of the book to be published online as well as printed for distribution out there.

That's what we're doing with The Concrete Jungle Book where the url on the cover takes you straight to http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com.

Online, our readers already use the simplest of collage tools to talk back to the digital book, to talk with each other about the digital book, to annotate and illustrate the digital book, to share their annotations/illustrations on the Web in blogs, social media sites, and via email.

We're already interacting with artists and writers who are helping to shape a sequel, TCJB Scrapbook Edge, to be published this year alongside The Concrete Jungle Book.

Little Mo made too many scrapbook pages to fit in the TCJB first edition, so he's putting the overflow into a new book, TCJB Scrapbook Edge. He invited his edgy scrapbooker, artist, photographer, designers, and mad poet friends to add their scrapbook pages to the mix.

Half a dozen have already committed to the book since we announced it a few days ago. We're already laying out the book and will add contributed art as it's ready.

At the right moment, not many months from now, we'll be able to push the button and publish via print-on-demand, the same way we created the uncorrected galley proofs for The Concrete Jungle Book that they're reading down in Hollywood right now.

These creative young people may not be ready to create a whole book, but they've got what it takes to add a scrapbook page to Little Mo's next book.

Let that serve as an example to the rest of us.

Thank you for your kind attention. All feedback welcome.

Please pass along the url of this article to your friends:


Next in the series:

"Why Collage is Key and Scrapbooks are King in Social Media"

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
Buy & read his state-of-the-art book,
How to Build the Open Mesh

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