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IDEO’s The Future of the Book

September 28th, 2010 by karenmartin

On the fabulous The Literary Platform I came across this video Ideo have produced showing three concepts they have created around the future of the book. I love Ideo, they consistently come up with inventive and imaginative technological developments that take account of social factors and personal practices. However, I have to say, I am disappointed with their ideas for the future of the book and I’m surprised that they appear to have overlooked so many of the interesting questions around books as objects, the challenges of e-Readers and the augmented reading experience that are currently being considering in so much detail by others.

All three of the concept designs (called Newton, Coupland and Alice) are shown as prototypes for the iPad. This suggests to me that the idea that a book might be a souvenir of an experience (e.g. James Bridle) or an object for sharing (e.g. Bookcrossing) does not appear to have been considered in the design process. In my exploration of augmented reading over the past few months I have come to think of a book as the amalgamation of object, content, design, distribution method, author and reader. It might be getting a little pedantic but I would say that what Ideo have produced are prototypes for the Future of Reading rather than the Future of the Book.

So what will this future reading experience be? We are offered three versions.

Newton might best be described as an application for managing material already published on the Internet. It allows you to collate, compare and contrast different sources and materials around a particular topic.

Coupland is a form of book-related user-generated content and social network. Reading lists and recommendations can be compiled and shared allowing everyone to see and comment on the most popular books within a professional network. Individuals can contribute book reviews and content can be shared between different organisations and networks.

Alice combines hypertext, hypermedia and location-based services to create an augmented, reader-created narrative path through a story. Primarily presented as text-based Alice suggests that readers actions (in the example, tilting the iPad in a particular direction) might open up new branches to the story. Other actions might include being in a specific location where a particular set of GPS co-ordinates would trigger more of the story.

One of the most interesting aspects to me is how these future ‘books’ conceive of authors. While all three concepts require authors for the ‘book’ to be complete they each have a different model. Newton relies on writers who are producing content elsewhere on the Internet and Coupland relies on people within an organisation creating content for the ‘book’. Only Alice has bespoke writing and a dedicated author at the heart of the project which is then augmented by existing content. These approaches to authorship are not new of course but I find it fascinating that Ideo consider all of them to be examples of ‘books’ and I wonder how these fit with my concept of book-as-object-plus-content-plus-design-plus-distribution method-plus-reader. I can’t help feeling that the ecology of books is broader and more diverse than these concept designs acknowledge.

ps. There’s a fascinating commentary and discussion going on around this video at facebook.com/ideobigconversations

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