Digital Reading: Other Conferences, Other Insights
By Anne Kostick, Partner, Foxpath IND
While everyone is getting ready for BookExpo and its concurrent gatherings, and while publishers are focusing on the details of e-book conversion and innovation, it’s good to check in with what’s happening in other media-focused industries. How can their knowledge and insights into user experience be applied to future digital books and reading experiences?
At CreateTech, an intensive, one-day conference on May 20 hosted by the advertising industry group The 4A’s, speakers from agencies as well as major advertisers discussed the results of working at the intersection of creativity and technology. For advertisers, user experience and response is critical. If innovative and attention-getting projects are out there in media, how might they apply to digital books and reading devices?
BestBuy’s Director of Emerging Platforms, Gary Knelling, emphasized his viewpoint with a short video about APIs and open platform development. Using a game metaphor is popular right now, but the message applies to e-books as well as websites, mobile apps and all other digital products: true creativity emerges when the fences are torn down. As we gain experience in digital books, let’s wean ourselves from templates and closed platforms. Reliance on them will only turn digital books into PowerPoints of literature. There has to be a better path.
The ad agency McKinney showed off one of its gamelike interactives developed for a charitable organization. “Spent” puts the user in the place of the homeless and unemployed. We try to stay afloat for a month in a low-paying job (if we can get it), dodging the various disasters of illness, car accident, lack of childcare, expensive food, and more. “Spent” is built with several feedback levels to the user, including standard social media such as Facebook (where relevant) and of course, links to the sponsoring agency. The “donate” button is prominent, and the interaction between absorbing information and making decisions that affect the next step is seamless.
Here’s a way of linking an immersive learning environment to a text on the same subject matter; imagine a digital book that, at a significant page turn or other cue, opens up an interactive experience (call it a game, if you like)—not just a multimedia option—connected via wi-fi through the e-reader, that deepens the learning possibilities on the subject.
In the same vein, Kati London of the game company Zynga displayed its partner Area/Code’s take on “participatory remix” in the game “Sharkrunners,” developed for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. The game (in which participants are researchers with grant money, boats, and crew members) connects users’ moves on a nautical map to actual sharks in real time. E-mail messages alert the user to a shark encounter and prompt her to take action at the website. The real-time aspect of this project is exciting—a shark encounter could happen any minute! (My last encounter happened at 3 a.m: unfortunately, I slept through it.) But think of the e-book possibilities: Peter Benchley’s “Jaws” as participatory remix? I can’t wait.
At the Mashable Connect event in Orlando in mid-May, TV Guide Digital’s general manager, Christy Tanner, discussed the news about social TV: viewer habits are changing, and not in the way you might expect. Studies show that people are viewing more shows “live” (that is, at broadcast time) instead of engaging in time shifting with DVDs or delayed webcasting. Not only that, they’re shutting down their social media while viewing. Is this behavior telling us that viewers want to regain an immersive experience with the TV medium? The takeaway here for e-books may be, “Too much social media spoils the ending.” So let’s make sure our mystery series, thrillers, and potboilers aren’t overrun with comments, critiques and ending giveaways when linking to social.
Finally, CreateTech’s conference offered a high-level, thoughtful presentation from JP Rangaswami, Chief Scientist at Salesforce.com, about the new social enterprise—or, as he put it, the decline of the antisocial enterprise. We now have so many easy-to-use tools to create “social objects”—tweets, messages, photos, videos—and the ability to map them to locations and other objects using scanners, APIs, and GPS, that we can create what he called “logical households” around shared data. The logical household around a certain book would be all those people reading, commenting, sharing, highlighting and reviewing that book.
Imagine the real-time possibilities: Maybe, just like in “Sharkrunners,” we could all have location tags that report our progress and whatever else we choose to share. How’d you like an alert at 3 a.m. that Anne has just reached the final chapter of that white-knuckle thriller you are also reading: would you like to chat about it? Just don’t give away the ending.
NOTE: DBW has an Editorial Forum on LinkedIn, a sub-group for editors and others working in trade publishing to discuss standards, workflow, best practices, and the general Qs that most print people feel when confronted with terms like “workflow.” The Forum is moderated by Anne Kostick and David B. Schlosser. Anne’s weekly column, Digital Reading, discusses the field of User Experience and explores what it offers to trade publishers.
Anne Kostick is a partner in Foxpath IND, a digital-print-web consulting and services company specializing in the transition to and from traditional content development, management and publishing. She is also the editor in chief of Dulcinea Media, an online publisher in the educational market, and is the current president of Women’s Media Group.