Book in Browsers, Day 1, morning sessions

Here are live conference notes taken Thursday October 24th during the Books in Browsers 2013 conference at the Internet Archive, San Francisco.

See an index of my live notes here.

Usual live blogging disclaimer (borrowed from Dave Crossland):

These are informal notes taken by me, Manuel Schmalstieg, at the event, and may or may not be similar to what was said by the people who spoke on these topics. Probably if something here is incorrect it is because I mistyped it or misunderstood, and if anyone wants corrections, they should email me – or post a comment. Thanks!


Jason Merkoski, BookGenie451

talks about his book, “Burning the Page
interfacing with social networks.
twitter #burning the page
shows statistical data, analytics.

“my users are from 129 countires”
99.3% opted in for email alerts.

measuring the engagement of readers…

i still found it very primitive. not a very good user experience – flipping over from the book to the browser.

bringing analytics and freebies right into the ebook experience.

amazon does it all the time, through Whispersync. it gets all back to the cloud.
You can’t as a publisher call Jef Bezos hotline, and get all that data.

Analytics behind the scenes, cookies, flash-cookies. What’s wrong in ads inside an ebooks?
The text has words, the words are semantically meaningful. Targeted ads can drop the price of books, they can be available for free.
publishers are happy, get more books distributed.

shows a test page, and a piece of javascript code.
this is simple prototype code. the script is posting data behind the scenes. could submit http.send(“user=username”), or anything else.

Could to A/B testing.

Does it work?
Tested on various readers:
in many browsers/book readers, javascript is disabled.

other method: loading a 1×1 pixel video, behind the scenes. that’s my trojan horse.

not the best way of doing it, but it works.

Introduces BookGenie – “we have 200+ attributes of data for each book”.
Complexity, Mood, Abstraction…

User attributes: analyzing the user base – their twitter streams, their facebook streams …

Apps vs. Ebooks – i don’t think apps will play well with the ecosystem in the future.

Steve Woodall and Clifton Meador: Artist’s Books Reborn

Running the Radical Publishing Project.
Columbia College Chicago

1999: i spent a year and half as artist in residence at Xerox Park.
XFR – experiments in the future of reading.
Made artist books with networked, digital tools.
It was a hackers environment, with people from MIT media lab.

The radical publishing project: a way of continuing that project. Research on the future publishing.

introduction of my colleague: A “famous book artist” (oxymoron).
“the fact that he is my employer affects in no way my appraisal”.
“i appreciate your objectivity, Steve”

Photos of lead type, large printing machines.
Shows examples of artist books. SOnia Delaunay, 1913.

Hacking technologies and assumptions about books, produces new genres.
Difficulty: general lack of visibility of the art form.

Idea: parallel, physical and digital editions.

In the first phase, the project will include iPad apps (ported to android later), to explore existing artist books.

Phase two: commissioning new artist books with apps.

Visibility and access. For the digital work, question of the archive – how to keep them alive for 20, 100 years.

First two books in that project.
“Four monologues” – here is a real copy.
Description of the artist book.

Electronic version: includes a film version of the monologues, also information on design and construction of the book.
Historic contextualizing. App format as a contained environment.

Another work: “Long Slow March” – an offset book from 19. Topic: civil rights struggle in Alabama, march on Montgomery, in 1965.
Heart of the book: a visual record. A visual reenactment of the march. Documentary photographs, expressive collages.
Printed in a typeface designed by the author.

Another book, prototype.
Wheel structure. Interactive and collaborative text.
Laser cut shapes.
Interaction with iPad app – screenshots of the app in progress.
Expanded book, QR codes, camera.

Images of a current show, calligraphy, photos and 3-d printed pieces.

Looking back to a talk given by Corey Pressman two years a go, Electric Incanabula:

Working with hands. The main feature of the human hand: the opposable thumb – it was not created to hit the spacebar. Reason for the DYI program, the letterpress workshops: using your hands.

Publishers may want to get involved more in R&D…
We need to support more creative writing programes with media from top to bottom.


(coffee break, missed beginning of Peter Armstrong, Leanpub)

Peter Armstrong, Leanpub

About Dickens – as an entrepreneur/publisher.

Serial novels of 19th century.

Release early and often.

Lady Audrey – completed 80 novels.

it was the “50 shades of grey” of the 1860s.

Literary fiction vs Sensation fiction/Genre fiction.

T.S. Eliot: prose should be interesting.

Dostoyevski. Uncle toms cabin – 300.000 sold the first year.

FFWD > Recent history

Most fan fiction is serial fiction.

50 shades of grey, started as fan fiction.
Popularity, pieces of fan fiction:
630’xxx for Harry Potter…
20x’xxx for Twilight…

Interesting: what the “advance buzz” of serial fiction can do. Big books are first published as serial fiction.
Hated, despised by critics.


Interactivity is What You Do

with Baldur Bjarnason, Unbound

my first experience of interactive media was hypercard.
then playing with director, flash, websites, now ebooks.

i want to find the commonality of all interactive media. focussing on the experience it creates for the audience.

interactivity is what you *do* – not what you watch, not what you read. the meaningful actions that a user takes to interact with the work.

THe experience *is* their actions.

Marshall macLuhan quote (medium = message) (took the idea from John Dewey)

the audience has no way of reading our minds. the whole experience is mediated. we have to think about the work as the “experience” that the user has when engaging.

— the Bits. (breaking it down further)

The objects, widgets, on the screen – it’s objects all the way down. Series of buttons, made of series of states … it’s not time-connected like in a novel. We can’t necessarily predict the relationship.

Second thing: Context.

Tetris. ((()) idea of a game with the same gameplay but instead of bricks, you need to stack corpses- just by changing the context, you shift the entire experience into something horrific.

Notifications + feedback, prompts.
A disconnect from the direct action

Play – “free movement within a rigid structure”.

every single bit can be playful, or not. interaction can be turned into a game experience.

There are Pitfalls.

You cannot make “non-interactive” interactive. a piece of interactive media is composed of different actions.

Perspective in painting: came from a demand in experience.

Ibooks author is a horrible idea. Asking designers to fit in boxes. You are abandoning a large part of the authorship of your work.

The programmer is a co-author – they have so much influence on the result – more than an illustrator, typesetter, designer.

Horrible: pre-built blocks, an app. You finish with cookie-cutter media artefacts.

The tragedy of design fads. Ibooks copying the book metaphor. The actual problem: it’s non-functional. The pages don’t show how much is left.

The “war between skeumorphism and flat design” – completely ignores the issue of interactive design. Flat design: assumes expertise of the user.

Final pitfall : from the perspective of the user, all experiences are linear. but there’s not necessarily an end. there’s a suspension.

interactive media: not a linear artefact. it has a linear experience.

Concrete examples:

“These pages fall like ash” –

A gloriously designed printed book. and interactive bits were spread out in Bristol, in wifi hotspots. Cues. The story was about an alternate-universe Bristol. Message from the other side.

Playfulness: the text responded to the touch. some moves, disappears, can be acted on. Had a few issues that were difficult to use. But it made money: people like buying souvenirs. People are more willing to pay for a printed book.

It was a fixed time event. Planned to be done in new cities, each would be different.

Other example:

Malcolm Tucker, the missing phone

He is a spin doctor. in the app – you get access of his emails. plots taking place in the political establishment. Voice mails. It replicates the entire phone experience. Uses the metaphors and language of mobile phone experience, incredibly interactive. And very funny.

you have access to his dropbox also, secret government files.

– this is hard.
– this app wasn’t sustainable, it closed. people aren’t willing to pay money for it.

an author has control over the pace of a chapter, and the reader of his speed of reading. in interactive media, that control is lost.


James Bridle : see previous post


Session 7: Beyond the Text: Writing Undercover on the Web

with Anna Von Veh, Say Books


“context first” – a unified field theory of publishing

notes, footnotes, biographic information.

Oral Storytelling tradition

spoil alert: Gutenberg

the printing press: the story fixed in specific container.
private ownership of a story.

Fan Fiction:
combination of two modes of storytelling.
dynamic. deeply collaborative and social ( oral traditions).
but doesn’t ignore traditions of the written book format.

Fan Fiction ….

the internet has given it shape. it started in chatrooms, discussing books and games.

in 1998, a lone programmer in california began

it still does function for the need s for the fanfic community.

daily updates, comments on the stories. beta-readers, editors behind the scenes. very active, but not very attractive.

now we have Wattpad
aimed at a younger demographic. has stuff not allowed in FanFic (fiction about celebrities).

Uploads on Wattpad:
4.7 million uploads (in 2013?)

The landscape (hand drawn graphic):
wattpad, ComicCon,
new zealand invention : can add soundtrack to books.

time… = allows to give timelines to your stories.

ComicCon: where a huge amount of interest is generated.

I am a fan – that’s how i came to fan fiction – of a movie/series, “Castle” – murder mystery comedy drama.

Alternative Castle universe: Spy Castle
has written 11 books, would be a 1900 pages book…

Screenshot: reviews on

Tumblr: one of the most important platforms for Fanfiction.

Fanvideo Awards – video mix created by “jyleafer15”

shows how much time fans devote to the worlds they engage in. we should be embracing these people. they are marketing beyond any dream we can imagine.

video “Closed Encounters”: used snippets from different episodes. overlaid with text.

The Death of the Reader

with Adam Hyde, BookSprints


Yet another speaker from New Zealand. “We’re a small country, and every little bit helps”

The Death of the reader. its a specific take. the empowerment of the reader, to stop being dependent of publishers.

Found myself in the place of publication through FLOSS manuals. developed platforms, and methodologies, for knowledge production.

I wanna just define what a reader is:

A person with knowledge needs – talking outside of fiction books.

I want the define the reader as not necessarily someone who consumes what the publishers make. The reader is something else.

Typically we think about readers waiting for knowledge artefacts to be released by the publishing industry.

COllaborative knowledge production: can be produced for your own needs. Instead of waiting for a publisher, go and produce the book.

A graph:
collaborative spectrum.

Weak end: Crowd sourcing.

Strong end: other things. One thing are book sprints. but it’s not the only item (but what i have knowledge of).

Weak CKP:
– crowdsourcing: passive mode. the “here comes everybody” type of ideas. isolated producers, …

Example of Strong CKP: Open Oil
a small, fantastic NGO. all bout Oil Industry transparency.
Johnny West, founder and CEO. Needs a book, so he can do workshops. in his network, he noticed other people need this book.

one of those is Jay Park. Managing partner at ::::
Snippet from his CV. “international Petroleum Transaction” course at some university. He is also a lawyer. Needs a text book for his teaching.

Other people needing the book:

long list . NGO, contract lawyer, from Sierra Leone, Uganda. People who know this things intimately, from different sides of the fences.

So what do they do? They hire me … they don’t wait for publishers.

It’s a strongly facilitated process, but very egalitarian. Shows some ambient photos of the process.

One of the most important things: eating, talking, living together in the same room.

So they make a book. Conceptualize it, outline it.
Write it, illustrate it.
Proof read it, do everything.

At the end, they send it to the printer, PDF, mobi, epub… All in 5 days.

It’s successful – 49’800 downloads
Second book sprint lined up, on mining contracts.
2 localization sprints planned, to make it more specific for some countries.

It has transactional value, it has authority.
From what i understand from people inside of that system.

You don’t have to be the person who just consumes. You can produce the knowledge yourself. Through strong collaborative knowledge production.

It has a massive and very important future.



Q: talk bout the facilitation process.

Adam: that methodology, booksprints, drives out of Unconference methodology (quotes name) … “all the cool stuff happens in the cafe” – “make the cafe the conference”. founding principle: non-hierarchical, facilitator makes connections.
peer writing methods. facilitator must read the dynamics, the social components. drawing the book out of the people

Q: what would be the diff in quality, if you had more days? what’s the tradeoff:

Adam: i think most people would probably die.

Q: fundamentally closed models of production? do you see “LeenPub” vs booksprints.

Adam: wanted to illustrate there are CKM. we need to know how to make them, through experience. book sprints is one point on the spectrum. but i don’t see much experimentation in that area. Experience is critical.

Q: teachers say all the time “the students aren’t reading”. is there a way we can direct readers towards things that do have quality?

Anna: from the outside, it’s difficult. in the fandom, you find recommendations by the writers. fanfic awards do curating work. it’s tricky…