11 February 2009

Young Creatives Want Social Media Scrapbooks part 2, "Digital Books, Social Media, and the Open Mesh"

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

My Nonhuman Communications partners and I did not set out to create a new kind of book, or a new kind of online reading experience for social media.

We started with a character, a story, and a vision for a book.

In the process of collaborating online on the project, co-writer Steve Porter, illustrator Srayla Tip, and I discovered that we needed social media tools and online creative tools to write, edit, and publish the book that we envisioned.

The Concrete Jungle Book is what we call a prose+comics scrapbook novel. TCJB mashes together:

--100 pages of traditional prose narrative, presenting the story from the human POV of Little Mo, his family, and friends.
--100 pages of visual storytelling, comic book style, that presents the story from the POV of the nonhuman characters - urban animals who help Little Mo in his quest for revenge against Sherikano and his nonhuman avatar Shere Khan the Tiger.
--100+ scrapbook pages, collages containing photos, drawings, diary extracts, quotes and factoids copied from Little Mo's favorite books, clipped from magazines and newspapers and from online sources.

Co-author Steve Porter lives in Oak Cliff, Texas. Srayla Tip and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. We used Google Docs to view and agree on revisions to prose narrative, comics, and scrapbook pages.

Next, we brought a small group of designers, artists, and book industry professionals to review our evolving draft. They provided feedback directly in our Google Docs pages, and by email. We also showed them hardcopy in person. We incorporated many of their suggestions in the Adobe InDesign book layout.

We wanted to get feedback from as many readers as possible in our target audience, too. Would they enjoy our prose+comics scrapbook novel hybrid?

Enter Chen Xiang, a Web developer then working at Art.com. Xiang had developed a simple tool to create comic strips and single panel cartoon by uploading photos or other images, then slapping on word balloons, captions, and text. HTML, not flash. He calls it Comicater.

Chen Xiang built a test site for us at http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com where we could display the pages of our first draft as a series of jpgs, and use Xiang's tool to let our Beta testers add Comments by typing in a text box, AND by adding new graphical elements, collaging their visual suggestions right on top of our digital page image.

We used Flickr to identify groups and individuals of people who appeared to share Little Mo's love of graphic novels and comics, streetart, and edgy scrapbooking. We figured if they liked to do the same things that Little Mo does, they are likely to enjoy reading his novel. We manually searched and read thousands of Web sites, blogs, Facebook and Twitter profiles, and identified hundreds more specific individuals likely to enjoy The Concrete Jungle Book. We started inviting them to come and Preview our book online.

After the San Francisco Chronicle published a favorable article about our project in July last year, and after BoingBoing.net linked to our site in August, traffic increased.

By now we have assembled a virtual online community that numbers more than 2,500 people who claim a relationship with Little Mo, our book, our Nonhuman Communications project. And they tell us they are ready to buy our book, t-shirts, and related products. We're nearly ready to start selling them, too.


By definition a scrapbook can display a variety of elements, visual and textual, taken from their original contexts and presented in the scrapbook as part of the story the scrapbook creator is telling.

"Scrapbooking" is what people have been doing online for several years, in our view, as they combine multiple media types and content in Web sites, blogs, social media site profiles.

The printed version of The Concrete Jungle Book will go into bookstores and other retails locations where customers will buy it, beginning later this year. We are still looking for publishing and co-marketing partners to help us with this part of the project.

The printed book takes customers to http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com where they can meet fellow readers, discuss the book with them, become friends with them in the social media way as they thus connect via shared interests. There they already use a prototype version of our first Social Media Scrapbook.

We will also publish TCJB in a digital version, available online in our Web site, and in a Facebook version. We will test various price points, from free to premium. Plus iPhone, Kindle, and on other relevant platforms.

In the fully developed Social Media Scrapbook version of The Concrete Jungle Book, readers from our tribe not only read and discuss the book online, they can chat with Little Mo and the other characters via IM-style messages. While they enjoy the book online, solo or together with friends, they can also listen to a soundtrack they create from their own song playlists.

These young reader/co-creators show Little Mo what they can do by adding their own art and words right on top of Little Mo's digital pages. They see how their friends have tagged up, mashed up, annotated, illustrated the book pages, and, like graffitiwriter streetartists, they "tag up" their friends' creations by slapping more art and text on top. The same way that fresh air, impromptu collages appear on the walls in public spaces, as artists add their tags, stickers, paste-ups, in assymetical collaboration.

The same way that streetartists can come together to plan and paint a mural, reader/co-creators can meet to co-author and co-edit their additions to The Concrete Jungle Book. Some of them use our site to create cartoons, comic strips, and multi-page graphic novels that have nothing to do with TCJB - they simply enjoy the creative process and sharing the results with their friends.

They are doing it online right now, in the rough prototype version of this vision, at http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com.

In our vision, a printed copy of the Social Media Scrapbook is a treasured souvenir of a rich social media experience that includes reading, discussing with friends, and creative sell-expression and creative collaboration.

We will also let reader/co-creators add their own pages to create, and purchase via print-on-demand, a personalized version of The Concrete Jungle Book. Instead of paying $20 for a trade edition, they can create their own front and back cover, add pages, do whatever they like, then order a print-on-demand copy for a premium price, with profit margin that will make traditional book publishers drool.

In fact, we have the capability to do this now with the same P.O.D. vendor we used to print galley proof copies of the TCJB Beta edition. We have the ability to insert reader art contributions and print out a personalized copy on demand. This is currently a clumsy, kludgy process that we need to streamline and automate more fully.

Our reader co-creators will also be able to sell their own creations, and mash-ups made with TCJB art and text, via print-on-demand, with Nonhuman Communications, and its publishing partners, collecting a commission for making that possible.

They also tell us, when they visit http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com, that they want TCJB t-shirts, caps, posters, blank scrapbooks to collect print-outs the pages they create with us online. They want to read and purchase other graphic novels, comic books, and novels by other authors and artists. We will accommodate their desires.

Now we need to improve the site, add more and better social media tools, add more and better creative tools. We need help to do this, and actively seek partners to help us do this. Our goal is to use Marc Canter's vision of the Open Mesh to make The Concrete Jungle Book, and its sequels, available in socialmediaspace everywhere.

We are a small team of writers and artists. Would you like to help us take this project to the next level?

If you're interested, contact Doug Millison by email, dougmillison@comcast.net, on Twitter at http://twitter.com/dougmillison. Follow me, http://twitter.com/LittleMo92

Thank you for your kind attention.

Next in the series:
We Need a Widget: How Reader/Co-creators are helping to create the sequel to The Concrete Jungle Book & helping to grow the community.

See it live on the Web right now:
http://TheConcreteJungleBook.com, read/collaborate 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.

The Concrete Jungle Book: A different animal
by Trevor Hunnicutt, San Francisco Chronicle
Thursday, July 3, 2008

The scrapbook presentation page for our lunch
with Marc Canter yesterday.

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