The future of the book: An essay from The Economist

Coverr

The Economist has a nice essay on The future of the book. (Thanks to Lynne for sending this along.) The essay has three interfaces:

  • A listening interface
  • A remediated book interface where you can flip pages
  • A scrolling interface

As much as we have moved beyond skeuomorphic interfaces that carry over design cues from older objects, the book interface is actually attractive. It suits the topic, which is captured in the title of the essay, “From Papyrus to Pixels: The Digital Transformation Has Only Just Begun.”

The content of the essay looks at how books have been remediated over time (from scroll to print) and then discusses the current shifts to ebooks. It points out that the ebook market is not like the digital music market. People still like print books and they don’t like to pick them apart like they do albums. The essay is particularly interesting on the self-publishing phenomenon and how authors are bypassing publishers and stores by publishing through Amazon.

eBookdata

The last chapter talks about audio books, one of the formats of the essay itself, and other formats (like treadmill forms that flash words at speed). This is where they get to the “transformation that has only just begun.”

The Material in Digital Books

Elika Ortega in a talk at Experimental Interfaces for Reading 2.0 mentioned two web sites that gather interesting material traces in digital books. One is The Art of Google Books that gathers interesting scans in Google Books (like the image above).

The other is the site Book Traces where people upload interesting examples of marginal marks. Here is their call for examples:

Readers wrote in their books, and left notes, pictures, letters, flowers, locks of hair, and other things between their pages. We need your help identifying them because many are in danger of being discarded as libraries go digital. Books printed between 1820 and 1923 are at particular risk.  Help us prove the value of maintaining rich print collections in our libraries.

Book Traces also has a Tumblr blog.

Why are these traces important? One reason is that they help us understand what readers were doing and think while reading.

Scopeware Vision Professional

I was reading about the Yale Lifestreams project which may have been one of the first life-tracking projects. Lifestreams was developed by Eric Freeman (it was his 1997 PhD project) and David Gelernter. They had some interesting ideas about how the computer should organize your data into streams rather than you having to file stuff. The streams could take advantage of the flow of your life. Here is how lifestream is defined:

A lifestream is a time-ordered stream of documents that functions as a diary of your electronic life; every document you create and every document other people send you is stored in your lifestream.

Freeman and Gelernter tried to commercialize the ideas through Scopeware released by Mirror Worlds. If you search Google Images for Scopeware you can see a number of screenshots that give an idea of how the interface organized files into streams.

Many of their interface ideas seem to have reappeared in things like Apple’s Cover Flow and Time Machine which explains why Mirror Worlds sued Apple (unseccessfully).

The idea is supposed to have come from Gelernter’s semi-philosophical book Mirror Worlds: Or the Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox…How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean (1991) in which he reflects on the change from small personal software to large networked software that “mirrors” the world. Google Street View and all the virtual surrogates available on the web would seem to prove him right, though he may have been imagining more of a VR type implementation. (Admission: I haven’t read the book, just reviews.)

What intrigues me is the focus on time and the move away from representations of time as a line that traverses from left to right. In streams you are in time and can swim back like driving down a road to the past.

Museum of Online Museums

From Twitter I learned about the Museum of Online Museums. The idea is great. It is part of a site by Coudal Partners, “a design, advertising and interactive studio … as an ongoing experiment in web publishing, design and commerce.” I’m not sure what that means? Will this survive? They also have an enormous Board which seems to be voluntary.

On the MoOM I found some neat online museums like the Sheaff : ephemera.

Buxton Collection of Input Devices

PivotViewer

Bill Buxton has made available his collection his Buxton Collection of Interactive Devices. This collection of input and touch devices like chord keyboards, watches, pen computers, and joysticks. I saw some of his collection when at GRAND in 2011 as he mounted a display for CHI 2011 which took place right before.

What is doubly interesting is the Microsoft Silverlight PivotViewer which is for exploring large sets of visual objects. You can explore the Buxton Collection with Pivot if you install Silverlight. Apparently Pivot is discontinued, but you can still try it on the Buxton Collection.

The interface of the PivotViewer reminds me of Stan Ruecker’s work on rich prospect browsing. He developed an interface that always keeps the full set of objects in view while drawing some forward and minimizes others.

The DH Experience Game on Vimeo

We have put up a video of the The DH Experience Game on Vimeo in the INKE Vimeo channel.

John Montague and Luciano Frizzera have designed a cool game that allows people to play at collaboratively completing digital humanities projects. We are now working with GO::DH to make the centers and projects real ones from around the world.

Fragmented Memory | Phillip Stearns

From Elijah Meeks’ hackathon at the Texas Digital Humanities Conference I learned about Fragmented Memory by Phillip Stearns. This is a project that takes binary data and then turns it into weaving instructions using Processing. Here is one of the large tapestries woven (and available for sale.)

If you can’t afford a $15,000 tapestry, there are also cheaper blankets here.

I’ve just put them on my Christmas list (which I can never find in time.)

Front Row to Fashion Week – NYTimes.com

The New York Times has an interesting way of visualizing fashion that you can see in their article Front Row to Fashion Week – Interactive Feature. They have abstracted the colour hues to create small swatches of different designers who showed at the New York Fashion Week. These “sparklines” or sparkboxes are an interesting way to compare the shows by designers.