Archives for posts with tag: publishing

29/365 (IPAD) by Jesus Belzuncem Licensed Through CCLast week two opposing editorials appeared on TechCrunch representing the two oppositional poles of a discussion on reading and the iPad. On the side of the iPad killing reading was Paul Carr’s NSFW: I Admit It, The iPad Is A Kindle Killer. I Just Wish It Weren’t Going To Kill Reading Too . In opposition to Carr, stating the iPad is going to fundamentally change reading and we need to rethink books is Dear Authors, Your Next Book Should be an App, Not an iBook, written by 21 year old ((The only reason I called out the authors age is that it was invoked twice within the article, once by TechCrunch and once by the author himself. I’m assuming that being 21 years old is important to understand his right to comment on these issues (as opposed to the fact that he’s a Reynolds Scholar in Social Entrepreneurship at NYU, and on the board of CoPress). For the record, as of presstime, Mr. Carr is 30 and I’m 35. Hopefully our ages are as important to our messages as Mr. Brown’s is to his).)) Cody Brown.

On the weekend of its launch Cory Doctorow and others (like myself) critiqued the closed nature of the iPad development platform and its relationship to innovation. Others have written in support of it.

What is it about the iPad that activates discussions like these? I mean, it’s a wonderfully engineered device, but it’s not all that and the proverbial bag of chips. Though it may replace some people’s “traditional” computers ((in particular folks who use a computer primarily for eMail, web surfing, & light word processing)) , neither the desktop, nor the notebook, will be going away anytime soon. And, while Apple will probably capture the slate tablet market, there are tons of competing tablet devices on the way. However, if the iPad had “just” been a tablet (like upcoming models from HP, Dell, or Google), I doubt that we’d be been having such focused conversations.

Having been witness to lots of debates on the iPad and its potential effects on publishing by pragmatic folks who, though technologists, are excellent at getting beyond the spin, I don’t think most of these discussions can be dismissed as simply buying into hype .

Nor is it necessarily the given reality of the situation, though transformations within the marketplace, like the move in publishing to agency model pricing is most definitely based in the immediate real. For the most part these conversations, take for example Carr and Brown, are fixated on the future.

So what’s driving all the churn?

I propose that the iPad is the metaphor ((I’m thinking about a metaphor in terms of Wittensteinian categorization, and not necessarily as Lakoff and Johnson do.)) that has allowed/enabled existing ideas to be developed in new (and potentially more productive) ways.

The iPad’s promise of a tight “device” (versus computer) experience, able to be “infinity” expanded through apps, creates just enough space of ideation to activate all the debates that we’ve seen (open v. closed, book v. app, etc). What the iPad adds to this discussion is a common understand of interaction and experience that allows us to greatly refine the discussion.

Beyond the specifics (like app store pricing and agency models), the iPad offers an “open bounded” experience — neither as single purpose as an “eReader” or as open as a “computer” (or perhaps even a “website) — with an easily understood interface (emphasizing the immediacy of touch) and platform (the easy availability of apps). If you’re in a ‘modern’ ((I admit that Modern is a deeply problematic term. I had initially “first-world”, but that is equally, if not more, problematic. Any suggestions?)) country and within a general age/demographic grouping, you don’t need to have held an iPad to participate in the discussion — we can easily conceptualize the experience from interactions with other technologies (computers and cell phones being obvious examples, but also think about interactions with touch screen interfaces in retail and other locations).

The brilliance of Apple, for better or worse, is the iPad’s intuitiveness ((Intuitiveness should be thought of as a mediation between intangible individual and cultural expectations about how a device should work and its material functioning. It emerges in dialog with an ever emerging total social experience of technology, and is therefore a constantly moving target.)) — using an iPad is far easier to imagine and explain than any other type of computer (including Macs).

If we take the iPad as both the subject of and a metaphor for the arguments, we can try and “step outside” the discussions to see what’s actually being argued. And the answer is, “the future.” Each of the debates, and positions held there in, encapsulate a specific ideology/imagination of a future (for publishing, for software, for users) which have been going on for quite a while. Should devices (with the iPad standing in for all) be open (democratic) or closed (authoritarian)? Will literacy fail or be irrevocably transformed? Is all development positive? And what is lost when, with the move to digital production and distribution, “all that is solid melts into air?” ((Marx and Engles, The Manifesto of the Communist Party))

From this perspective, the increasing heat of these reactivated debates should not be a surprise. Previous discussions about future ((I’d go so far as to say every discussion of the future, as like technology, the discussions around it are in an ever emergent state. Thus categories and concepts are always being created and modified)) suffered from lack of a shared conceptualization of computing. We might have conceptualized unfettered computers with transparent interfaces, “elegantly” fitting into our lives, but I don’t think that most of us were truly able to imagine them, at least in a shared way. Turning Marx’s quote on its head, Apple has taken the conceptual and given it a material form. And it doing that, it’s (momentarily at least) reshaped the discussion.

One of the great things about attending O’Reilly’s Tools of Change, or any good conference for that matter, is that you get the chance to kick different ideas around with really, really, I-mean-really bright people. In talking with folks from BookGlutton, Harlequin (yes that Harlequin… you know, the progressive publishing company – see previous post on their reading experiments), and others, I’m more convinced than ever that social reading is the next killer app, especially as tablet computing goes mainstream.

By social reading, I mean platforms that allow people to interact with each other through reading. In a perfect world, it connects authors with readers, and readers with each other.

Sounds simple enough, right? But how do you make the experience so compelling that people want to join, return to, and participate in the community? And equally important, how do you find a way to make it into a sustainable business?

Rather than pondering “how do we create a “Facebook” for readers?”, I think we can find answers to the first question by looking at a “parallel” experience: social music sites. In particular, I’m going to use one in particular, The Sixtyone, as possible model for a social reading experience.

Brief disclaimer: In January of this year, The Sixtyone went through a site redesign that was not particularly well received by members of the community (both artist and listeners). For the purposes of this write up, I’m choosing to not engage with that debate. You can read a brief summary of it here.

The Sixtyone

[The Sixtyone]The Sixtyone, named after the US highway, wants “to enable the creative middle class, providing talented artists the opportunity to make a living making music.” Artists upload their music to the site, along with supporting information such as lyrics, band pictures, and tour information. Users can browse, listen to, and comment on songs, create playlists that other members can view, share their music of choice via social networking sites, and purchase MP3 downloads.

[The Sixtyone Interface]

What differentiates The Sixtyone (or “t61” for short) is the fact that it also builds gaming into the experience. Listeners and artists are able to earn “reputation” by completing different tasks. The more reputation you have, the more you are capable of influencing aspects of the website, such as which songs are promoted to the homepage.

Let me give you an example: each time you return to the site you gain a certain number of reputation points. You also gain a number of hearts. Hearts are used to mark songs that you like. The more hearts a song acquires, the higher it’s rank on the site, the more chances that the song will be seen by people and receive more hearts. Plus, if a song performs well after you heart it, you’ll earn reputation points for picking a winner.  Players can also earn additional reputation and hearts by completing quests such as the following one:[Sample Quest]

At the time I wrote this, I’d tallied up some 555 reputation points, playing over 50 songs, and completing a number of quests. That ranks me as a level 3 user, on the way to level  4. Right now, I’m not able to do much more than heart a song once. After I reach level 5 I’ll be able to go back and give those songs an additional hearts, letting me get even more reputation from those songs if they get popular.

BTW, to prevent gaming, you need to listen to a song for at least a minute before hearting it. This prompts the listener to spend time learning about the artist, checking out other songs that they have, and getting recommendations on similar artists.

Once I have enough reputation, I can start spending it to influence the site. The primary way is by promoting a song to the home page. Every three hours there’s a reputation “auction”, where people make bids to “revive” a song. For example, at this moment, 724photography (level 10) is willing to pay 14,652 reputation points to move Iron and Wine’s Boy with a Coin to the homepage.

Artists also have to play the reputation game. The number of songs that they can post is tied to their amount of reputation.  So rather than dumping one’s entire catalog onto the site, artists have to pick and choose (and promote) songs that they thing are strong enough to build up their reputation. Otherwise, they can’t add more material.

Lessons to Learn (aka the Whuffie Model)

The first is to make sure you are focusing on the right verb. It’s easier to explain this by example. t61 is about music. So rather than focusing the experience on discussing music, it builds everything around listening to music. I don’t think the importance of this can be overstated. There are limited discussion capabilities built into the site, but they are not forefronted.

If you’ve read Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, the rest of the lessons that can be learned from the site should be more than a little reminiscent of the Whuffie System described in the novel:

  • Give participation value—Ok, so in the post Farmville world, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that gaming can drive participation. However, what differentiates t61, is that by playing, I get the chance to influence the site by paying to promote music (which may, in turn, can help me gain more reputation). Likewise, for artists reputation has a direct influence on how many songs they can have on the site.
  • Influence/Reputation only has value if you can lose it— Paying means paying. If I bid 14K of reputation to move a song to the homepage and I win, I lose that hard earned reputation. I may gain it back if a lot more people heart that song while it’s on the homepage, but there’s no guarantee.
  • Finding the right quests— Align the goals of users and the site. Part of what makes t61 work is that it pays me to do what I already like (listen to music). Most of the quests revolve around listening to new songs or ones with low heart counts. This lets me get more reputation through completing the quest and by helping promote good songs before they get big. Both actions reward me for sharing music I like.
  • Don’t make it too easy—I need to listen to a song for at least one minute before you can heart it. A minute is a long time to sit through a song that you don’t like. Likewise, you only get X number of hearts to dole out during a 24 hour session. Once they are gone, they’re gone. You either have to earn more through a quest or wait for them to refresh.

So how to apply this to Social Reading?

Building on t61’s example, I think that a Social Reading site has to be a reading experience first and a discussing reading experience second (an some are already doing this). This is a the model lends itself to poetry, short and episodic stories, and other content that can be read in a single sitting.

In terms of quests & reputation, I think those translate easily enough that I don’t need to go into detail.

What particularly jazzes me about this model, in terms of reading, is the playlist. I think that this has a lot of potential, especially in economic terms. I have to admit that I haven’t bought anything from t61 yet. Part of the reason for this is that I can easily access the song on the site, and while I’m logged in I can listen to it as much as I want. Reading is a little different. When it comes to reading, I want to be able to have the content at my fingertips (either electronically or physically). And while this may say more about my relative interest in books versus music more so than the market, I’m willing to pay to take my books with me.

So where does the playlist come in? Imagine what happens when we change the nomenclature from “playlist” to “edited edition.” I think there is a real possibility that people would be willing to buy collections of stories assembled by other individuals within the community who they trust. Authors could even get involved – remember that the iTunes store has been using this model for years. And, provided that the content is well tagged/structured, it’s entirely possible to have both an electronic distribution model and a print-on-demand model as well.

Admittedly, there’s a lot that needs to be worked out here. For example, if one’s collection gets bought, should she get reputation points or a financial cut? Based on some research I did years ago on YouTube revenue sharing, a financial cut may not be necessary, especially if the site is attentive to responding to user’s desires. Likewise there are questions about ownership and licensing of the content.

All that said, there’s a lot of potential to use this type of model to create a really compelling (and profitable) user reading experience.  The real question is whose going to give it a shot?

Two weeks ago at the online O’Reilly Tools of Change conference, I closed a presentation on eReaders with a discussion of the Microsoft Courier, a dual touch-screen digital codex. In theory, Microsoft will be bringing this 7” folding computer to market sometime next year. What excites me about this device, in terms of eReading, is the potential for new interactions with a text. One obvious option is to actually read an eBook in codex format (as we would a traditional “paper” book). However, that’s not really particularly interesting, nor does it necessarily take advantage of the real potential of this sort of device to create revolutionary new forms of reading.

How might the second screen enhance reading? I’m not sure, and I haven’t had a chance to really wrestle with that. But we can look to the example of the Nintendo DS portable gaming system. A key feature that differentiates it from the Playstation Portable(PSP) is the integration of a second, touch sensitive screen, into game experience. Given the possibilities that opened up, we shouldn’t be surprised if similar things happen with reading when we add a second screen. But, in order for that to happen, something else needs to occur.

Beyond the Courier’s innovative form, it has another key advantage over existing eReaders – it’s a software development platform. I can’t go out and download software to run on a Kindle. This means that the way we read on it, and other eReaders, is restricted to how their designers imagine we should read on them. While I trust Amazon to be experts at delivering content to the device, I don’t associate them with innovation in terms of reading; nor do I look to Apple or Microsoft (or Google… more on that in a sec) for that matter.

Just as modern printing was started by an run-of-the-mill goldsmith in Mainz ((sorry Gutenberg, but its true)) , I think that a truly revolutionary form of on-screen text interaction is probably going to be created by a programmer that nobody has ever heard of (maybe a member of the Open Publishing Lab). In order for that to happen, eReaders need to be able to have Software Development Kits and run third party software. ((At the time I presented, the Plastic Logic reader, just renamed the Que, was one example of an coming eReader that was supposed to have an associated Software Development Kit. ))

Bottom line, beyond price point and color, at the conference I said the future was multiple screens and open software development. Why didn’t I buy a lottery ticket that day??!! Since the conference, three new eReaders have been either hinted at or announced that all feature dual screens. And, if I’m reading the tea leaves right at least two of those will support third party software.

Each of the units features one eInk display and one LCD display. Two are tablet format with side-by-side displays. The third is a codex like the Courier. And, perhaps most interesting, if the rumors are true, all three will run Google’s Android Mobile OS.

The first reader, and the one we know the least about, is the just announced Barnes and Noble Nook. It features two screens and runs, according to Gizmodo, Android. Gizmodo, an indispensable website for staying on top of tech developments, also ran the following “leaked” renderings of the device. And at $259, the same price as the single eInk screen Kindle, Amazon should be concerned. The Nook adds a number of new features including unique ability for users to lend eBooks to friends. For a full comparison, see Barnes and Noble’s comparison of the Nook to the Kindle.

[Barnes and Noble eReader]

The other two readers were announced this week. The first of these two is the Spring Design Alex eReader. Like the B&N model, it’s a tablet with neighboring eInk and touch sensitive LCD screens. And, based on the press release, it’s definitely running Android. Also, like the B&N reader, it features telephony networking, via a GSM chip which means that it can access the web in the US and Europe. Spring Design also says that it will have expandable memory via SD cards. The similarity between it and the B&N device, in terms of features and form factors does lead one to wonder if there might be an OEM agreement between the two companies.

[Spring Design Alex eReader]

The final eReader is the enTourage eDGe™. The eDGe is a codex design which folds down to 8.5” x 10.75” x 1” (approximately the size of an average hard cover) with side-by-side sensitive eInk (stylus) and LCD (touch) screens. It will be expandable via USB and SD card and will have audio and video playback capabilities. Unlike the proposed Microsoft Courier, it doesn’t have a camera. And another big difference, like the Alex, it’s running Android. It’s also $490, which means that it has a tough road to hoe.

[enTourage eDGe™ eReader]

[Andriod Logo]
From a brief bit of research, there’s nothing floating around the web to suggest that Android is optimized for dual screen display. In fact, the only other dual screen Android device I was able to find is a Russian cell phone. That said its a free, open, wireless platform and operating system. It does everything a device needs to act like a computer, uses little power, and supports endless outside development. ((Thank you to Evan Schnittman for reminding me of what makes Android such a enticing mobile development platform.)) And that final point is the most important for this story. Android is, without a doubt, a software development platform, which, in theory means, that all of these devices should be able to run third party software. And that possibility of opening up software development means that we may be approaching the next phase in the development (tipping point perhaps) of eReaders.

There’s also another takeaway here. In a matter of a few days, Android has become a major platform player in the eReader space. If I was Apple or Microsoft ((It’s somewhat ironic that Android’s expansion to other mobile devices comes at a time when Microsoft is rebranding its mobile platform as phone only. Though to be fair to MS, apparently the Plastic Logic Cue will run Windows CE.)), I’d be taking notice at this point. If these third party companies pull it off, Android will have officially expanded beyond mobile phones to other hand held devices. Likewise, if I was Amazon, I’d be a bit concerned as well. The Kindle is a closed platform, whose primary appeal is based on an easy, one-click buying experience – not necessarily a reading experience. All of these devices are internet enabled, meaning that it’s entirely possible that they could bring a similar one-click experience to shopping for reading material. Couple that with potentially revolutionary reading experiences and we could have the makings of real Kindle killers.

Time will tell. And this should definitely make for an interesting Tools Of Change conference this Spring!

I just realized that I’m halfway through the sixth week of the spring Semester at Cornell! And over at RIT, they are in winter finals — which means that spring quarter is around the corner. And with spring comes the countdown to the Imagine RIT innovation festival. The next few months of my life will be beyond busy. Which really isn’t any sort of shift.

As to what I’ve been spending my time on (beyond school work) — the answer is video editing. I brought a Kodak Zi6 HD Digital Video Camera with me to the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference to experiment with its capabilities (aside: I’m planning to use it (or something like it) for my own research. And, for a ~$150 investment, I’ve been really impressed. I plan on reviewing it as a tool for qualitative research sometime in the near future.). So while at TOC I shot video of various demo products and also got a few interviews with people there. So I’ve also I had to dust off my (limited) Adobe Premiere skills to get them ready for sharing on the web. All of this has been a great, if slightly time consuming, experience. It’s solidified the fact that I will definitely have a media component to my PhD research.

You can check out the videos on the OPL’s news page and on our Vimeo page. The one that will most likely cause the most stir will be Tim O’Reilly talking about Open Publishing:

Tim O’Reilly makes the argument for Open Publishing @ TOC 2009 from Open Publishing Lab @ RIT on Vimeo.

Presenters and attendees at this year’s O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference spent a  discussing the topics of social reading and community. One constant question was are these spaces that Amazon or Google will own? A week after the fact, and drawing on my experiences with online community at, I’ve come up with the following assessment:

In this area, Amazon’s further ahead than Google, but I’m not sure that either is really in the right place (or could be the right service) for this to work. The reasons for this is that they’re fundamentally in the same business:

Connecting people with content

The sustainable community model is:

Connecting people through content

Amazon is arguably further along because they’ve fore fronted the approach of “Connecting people with content through other people.” Amazon makes you aware of other people asynchronously browsing the
content (with things like reviews and other people like you have bought). But there’s no concerted effort to connect you with those people. For example, you can submit reviews, but you’re not necessarily encouraged to engage in a discussion of reviews (though a threaded system of some sort). Likewise you can create lists, but not comment on lists. And while Amazon has discussion boards, they’re buried well below the fold line of the page (and beneath all the relevant content).

In Google’s case, those other people and what they do are a hidden aspect of the algorithm. Using Google is currently (gmail, gtalk, and latitude excluded) a solitary experience. While everyone is using it, you are not made aware of them (this concelment of the everpresent other is perhaps why Google can get away with more privacy things than Facebook).

Now all that said, as we learned at, its far easier to get people to discuss a given topic a a site organized around that topic than it is to get them to talk about a topic at a site organized around the medium that enables that topic. In plain language, people are far more likely to talk about photos of their baby at rather than in a “babies” forum/community at

Just as the photo was just a medium for the content (the baby) that connected, so to is the book another medium for the content that connects people. This is definitely an area where publisher and genre sites have an immediate advantage (provided they have to tools to do it).

None of this is to suggest that google or Amazon couldn’t overcome this. But it would take a lot more work than is immediately apparent (and take them outside of their current business models).