We’re now just over halfway through our kickstarter campaign for Outside The Box : a “game engine for your imagination” designed to inspire storytelling and improvise play. We’re trying to raise £4k to manufacture a 1st edition of the complete set to get it into people’s hands and see what they do with it. Its had a slow start but we’re hoping we still may pick up momentum.
Outside The Box has no rules, nothing to win or lose, it simply provides a framework for you to imagine stories and make up your own games. It’s made up of 27 cubes, 3 layers of 9 cubes, each layer being a distinct game : Animal Match, Mission Improbable and StoryMaker. Check out the whole OTB collection of cubes and books on bookleteer.
Animal Match starts out as a puzzle – match up the animal halves to complete the pattern. From there you can make it much more fun : mix the cubes up to invent strange creatures; what would you call them? What would they sound like? How might they move?
Mission Improbable is for role-playing. There are 6 characters: Adventurer, Detective, Scientist, Spy, Storyteller and Superhero, each with 9 tasks. Use them to invent your own games, record your successes in the mission log books or take it to another level by designing your own costumes and props.
StoryMaker incites the telling of fantastical tales : Roll the 3 control cubes to decide how to tell your story, what kind it should be and where to set it. Then use the word cubes as your cue to invent a story on the spot.
Outside The Box began as a side project when illustrator Mandy Tang joined Proboscis. Inspired by the Love Outdoor Play campaign to get more children playing outside, we came up with the idea of using our StoryCube format and our bookleteer self-publishing platform to make a set of cubes that would inspire playfulness. We think its a lovely thing worth getting out into the world – we hope you agree.
For a decade or so we’ve been designing custom notebooks and sketch books for use in projects and workshops – for individuals, groups of participants, communities and some just for anyone who wants to use them. There’s a small library of ‘eNotebooks’ on Diffusion – many by us and some by others (see below and/or click for an example by architect Rob Annable).
Next month I’ll be travelling to Papua New Guinea to share my experiences of using our hybrid digital/paper notebooks for recording and sharing Traditional Environmental or Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Never having worked before in such an extreme climate (Tropical jungle) and in such a technologically remote setting, I’m hoping to learn more about how effective they may be and how much we’ll need to work around them and other constraints to make something locally-specific yet useful and replicable. Right now I’m experimenting with printing eNotebooks on waterproof paper stock to take with me to compare with standard paper stocks for durability and effectiveness.
All this preparation for the PNG trip, along with conversations with my old friend Brandon LaBelle, who was in London recently to teach on this year’s Field Studies summer school, has made me revisit some old concepts and plans for Diffusion Series and dust off one of them. I have also been looking into the remarkable and inspirational Sketchbook Project organised by Art House Coop in Brooklyn, NY to push my original ideas further.
A few years ago, I began to develop an idea for a series of Diffusion commissions that would take the form of a designed eNotebook being given to a number of participants who would be asked to use it to conduct and record field work according to their profession, practice or discipline. Their investigations might be around place, a subject, a process or a community – whatever they choose.
This idea for a series remained a series of sketches and notes as my ideas at the time morphed into the City As Material series of events and collaborative eBooks of Autumn 2010 (and following series). However, with my own imminent PNG field work about to take place and being in the midst of thinking about the nature of what a field notebook or sketchbook might be, the idea has returned and seems highly relevant to the concerns of making and sharing – public authoring – that are driving the ideas behind the Periodical.
Thus Field Work has formed as a new and discrete project that can exist within the framework of the Periodical – each subscriber will receive a blank Field Work eNotebook of their own to record an investigation of their own in (should they chose to do so). All completed eNotebooks sent back to Proboscis will be digitised and made back into eBooks that can be read and downloaded from bookleteer. Depending on how many we receive back, we will select and print someone’s Field Work eBook to be sent out to subscribers as part of the monthly issue – perhaps 2 or three times a year.
Why do this? There is an enduring fascination with the notebooks and sketches of artists, writers, scientists and composers etc – we see this time and again with our own modest eNotebooks for projects which take something unique and handwritten or drawn and make them into ‘shareables’, where the trace of the personal is directly communicated in the digitally reproducible. So much can be appreciated about creative process and intentions from the scribbles as well as the precision of thought, eye and hand that simply evades a ‘finished’ book, typed and formally illustrated. I think that the Periodical and bookleteer both have much to offer not just as a mode of production and dissemination of designed publications, but also as a means of sharing creative process in the raw.
When I first began the long journey towards building bookleteer, back in 2003, we built a rough working prototype of what we called the Generator. I was asked to give a presentation about my concept of public authoring at a symposium held at BT Labs campus, Adastral Park, near Ipswich – People Inspired Innovation. I presented our work on Urban Tapestries alongside the first test eBooks made with the Generator, and suggested how we might in future link them to enable both the sharing of local knowledge and data on mobile geo-annotation systems with physical outputs. One result of this presentation was a series of discussions with anthropologists Genevieve Bell(feral data) and Ken Anderson at Intel Research on how it could be used as a tool for field research : quickly capturing and sharing field work as it happens. Years later I actually got to explore this idea with James Leach when invited to help with the Melanesia Project at the British Museum.
So, working towards a very simple initial template for an eNotebook (i.e. not so highly focused as with some of the ones I’ve designed recently, such as the Soho Food Feast We Are All Food Critics notebook or one I designed for Tim Wright & Joe Flintham’s The Haunter Field Trip) we will send out a printed copy to each subscriber to take part in building up a library of field notes and sketch books. I am also thinking that some field studies and trips – extending the work we’ve done with City As Material – may also form part of this project and would love to hear from anyone interested in taking part or helping organise some.
I am delighted and proud to introduce the first of our friends and colleagues who have agreed to take part in this experiment in conversational, relational publishing. They’ve all agreed to publish at least one eBook with bookleteer over the next 12 months which will all go into the wider selection pool from which we will source the monthly issues. This is neither an exclusive group, nor people who necessarily know each other – they are all people with whom I have worked over the past 15-20 years and whom I admire and respect. They are all people who walk their own paths…
“In a world where publishing distribution models are broken, the idea of ‘spreadable media’ – media that gains value as it is shared through peer networks – is more relevant with every passing day; the Periodical will open up participation and conversation in new and unanticipated ways.”
“We live in a world of living data. Data that are constantly changing and accumulating. Data that feed conversations rather than decisions. Bookleteer offers an opportunity to embrace this evolution and produce unique publications that constantly evolve.”
“I have been involved with Proboscis’s excellent bookleteer project in various ways and capacities since its inception, including working with Proboscis to publish a series of short stories arising from my 2009 Leverhulme Trust residency at the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies. I have done so because of my broad agreement with bookleteer’s clearly open and radical ethos, and because of what it offers to writers, artists and readers: a defiantly trailing edge e-publishing format which despite apparently low-tech underpinnings nonetheless remains sharply and continuously innovative. Indeed it is Proboscis’s (and the bookleteer format’s) continued capacity for evolution that makes this latest experiment possible; a new way of bringing bookleteer’s writing and reading communities together. For this reason I am delighted to have been invited to participate in the Periodical and I will continue to make it my business, both as a writer and as a reader, to use and to support the bookleteer project.“
“At a time of digital transience I am drawn back to the real, the physical. I am keen to be part of this project because it offers something very unique, special, desirable, to those who wish to immerse themselves in a timeless work of art. Words and images can resonate far beyond the span of a page but to return to that very same page again and again and relive it is something to treasure.”
I’ll post again soon with more quotes from others who’ve also agreed to take part – if you would like to find out more and take part, please read my “manifesto” for the Periodical, sign up to bookleteer and get bookleteering.
An eccentric monthly publication for an era of eclectic exploration
More and more beautiful, thought-provoking and inspiring eBooks are being created with bookleteer all the time so, with a nod to such illustrious forebears as William Hogarth, Joseph Addison, Jonathan Swift, Laurence Sterne and Charles Dickens we’re creating the Periodical, a regular monthly publication to share some of the best examples – from the most beautifully designed, illustrated and written to the most experimental uses of bookleteer, its API and what can be done with the format. Update : check out the new bookleteer Library page to browse what people have made.
For a small monthly or one-off annual subscription (see below), you can receive by post a different printed eBook each month crowdsourced from bookleteer. Our target is to launch the Periodical with at least 100 subscribers in October 2012, selecting and printing a new eBook each month for distribution. Whilst we build up the subscriptions we’ll be sending subscribers a choice eBook every month selected from among those we’ve previously printed for projects such as Professor Starling’s Expedition, Material Conditions, City As Material, As It Comes, Agencies of Engagement and others.
What Will Subscribers Receive? The Periodical will be a monthly delight landing on your doorstep – you can expect consistent eccentricity and eclecticism in our choices. We will be seeking out the most extraordinary and unusual eBooks created and shared on bookleteer. Some will be selected by us at Proboscis, others will selected by invited curators and from time to time we’ll invite subscribers to vote for their favourite eBook to be printed and sent out as the monthly periodical. Anyone who wants to take part can contribute a book for consideration for the Periodical by signing up to bookleteer, then making and sharing an eBook. Each month we’ll post on the blog about what we’ve chosen and why – but only after we’ve sent it out, so the subscribers have the pleasure of an unexpected arrival landing on their doorstep.
To kickstart the Periodical we’re inviting a number of our friends, colleagues, fellow travellers and others whom we admire to explore using bookleteer themselves and to create some new publications with it that will seed the initial pool of publications from which we choose the first few issues. We’ll announce more about these soon.
To complement the crowdsourced eBooks, we are also seeking sponsors to help us commission new experimental and imaginative publications using bookleteer. These will be printed and distributed to subscribers as well as shared digitally on bookleteer for all. We’re looking for sponsors who see the opportunity that bookleteer and the Periodical offer for commissioning exciting new experiments in publishing – sharing new ideas, new knowledge and experiences in multiple ways to people all over the world. They might be themed series in themselves (following on from our previous series such as Material Conditions, City As Material, Transformations, Short Work, Liquid Geography, Species of Spaces, Performance Notations) or simply a one-off commission. *** Please contact me for details of sponsorship opportunities.
Subscribing to the Periodical
You don’t need to use bookleteer or be signed up to subscribe and subscriptions from organisations and institutions are very welcome (email us with a purchase order to subscribe). The Periodical will be a great way to tap into the creativity generated with bookleteer, having some of its best creations delivered to your door.
Subscribers will also receive a 10% discount on any Short Run printing orders of their own (recouping their subscription by just ordering a minimum 25 copies each of 4 of their own eBooks).
Most writers have one or two trusted readers-of-drafts, critical friends who are relied on to make suggestions and offer that gentle critique that we didn’t know we needed. And the closer we get to conventional publication, the more likely we are to find ourselves working with an editor who scrutinizes our text for errors, ambiguities, sloppiness and – horror of horrors – breaks with convention. With the publication of my essay on picnic and community, published using Bookleteer last month, I had the chance to reflect on the experience of ‘doing without’ an editor. It was stimulating but also a little scary.
In the summer of 2011, I needed to take a decision about finalising and publishing the work. Choosing Bookleteer presented me with a new option: it meant I could go all the way to publication without any editorial oversight.
Picnic was an unfunded project: no client, no defined audience, no expectations, no responsibilities. That may seem liberating but it also means no feedback, no reassurance, no confirmation. I kept the text to myself (apart from sharing it necessarily with my collaborator, the artist Gemma Orton) at the obvious risk of missing out on potentially valuable guidance, having mistakes spotted, and being seen as arrogant.
The key justification for me was that to submit to editorial control would have been a crass betrayal of one of the essay’s themes. The essay contrasts picnic with formal meals, it contrasts organisation with networking, and disorder with order, as a way of exploring our tendency to idealise community in structured, formal terms. I felt that by submitting to the convention of editing – a fundamentally conservative process – I would have contradicted that theme in a rather feeble way.
I was also aware that Picnic challenges people’s expectations, because it doesn’t fit easily into any recognised genre. An editor might have made valiant, corrosive efforts to turn it into this or that.
I don’t wish to imply that the editorial process is either redundant or pointless, but it may be that many writers come to be over-dependent on editors. Perhaps this is to do with perceived differences between non-fiction and fiction. Few musical composers or visual artists would expect to cede so much influence over what they do. On the whole, editing is a process for confirming convention and reinforcing norms, which may not always be what’s needed. By making the publication process realisable, it was Bookleteer that empowered me to remain consistent to the theme without compromise.
Just before Christmas we implemented a major new feature on bookleteer – an API (application programming interface) enabling eBooks and StoryCubes to be generated by users direct from their own web applications and stored in or downloaded from their bookleteer accounts.
Realising Tangible Souvenirs
This has been a long-cherished ambition for us – harking back to plans we made for linking the earlier Diffusion Generator to our Urban Tapestries public authoring and mapping platform in 2004 – where we imagined people being able to select or collate material on Urban Tapestries by theme or around a geographic place and outputting it in different paper formats (Diffusion eBooks, postcards and posters). This was the origin of our concept for creating tangible souvenirs from digital experiences – bridging different media (online/offline, digital/analogue) with the different capabilities that people have. Our experiences of working with local communities in social housing and other contexts showed us how important it is not just to be able to share things in many ways, but to tailor a range of modes of interaction to the capabilities and capacities of the people who had the knowledge and experience to share, but not necessarily the familiarity with web and mobile technologies to be engaged by the opportunities we saw them offering.
We’ve continued to develop our tangible souvenir concept through other projects – such as the Sensory Threads prototype – but the bookleteer API now represents a crucial milestone for us in building the links between our earlier work on public authoring and media scavenging and the current ecosystem of web technologies and public/open data initiatives. We hope to see lots of exciting ideas building on the first experiments – bookcubes – we commissioned from James Bridle last spring. Look out too for some forthcoming experiments by Simon Pope & Gordon Joly.
Accessing the API
Access to the API is limited for the time being to Alpha Club members and guest testers whilst we put it through its paces and explore how it can be used (our resources are rather limited for supporting it). We’re hoping to organise some events in 2011 where people can come along and explore what they might do with the API. In the meantime, if you’re taking part in Culture Hack Day this weekend (January 15th & 16th) then you can ask to test it out using the special account we’ve created for participants (ask the organisers for access details on the day).
If you do have an exciting idea for mashing up the bookleteer API with your own web service or public data please do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you and see how we can help.
While Mandy was out at lunch Alice and I pounced on the StoryCube puzzle she’s working on because, well, because it looks gorgeous! Pencil sketches of farmyard animals, sea creatures, flowers, kittens, insects and snakes are scattered across a set of nine cubes and lie on a background of shades of blue. The sketches cross over from one side of the cube to another but change as you rotate the cube so that viewing different sides give the sketches a fantastical feel where kittens have flowers for feet and cows have snakes instead of mouths.
The nine cubes are intended as a puzzle with the goal being to match up all of the sketches of one type across all nine cubes. Sounds simple doesn’t it.. well, Alice and I didn’t manage it in the time Mandy was out for lunch!
ps. I also have to say good-bye today. This will be my last regular post for the bookleteer blog because I begin a full-time research position on Monday. I’ve been working with Proboscis on and off for the past five years and it’s been an incredible journey. I can’t thank Giles and Alice enough for the opportunities I’ve had while I’ve been here – and especially for giving me the chance to meet and work with all the fabulous talented people who’ve been in the studio over that time. Good luck with everything, folks!
In our interview, Niharika told me that she first used the eBooks on part of the Perception Peterborough project. She and Alice used the eBooks to document a cab ride around Peterborough using illustrations as a way to explore the different kinds of communities and systems that were embedded in the city. For Niharika, this early way of using the eBooks functioned more as a support for personal reflection. Although she would show the results to others, the eBooks she created felt more personal:
“It is shareable, but that is not the intent in which I created it. It was more like a personal log.”
Although she continues to be interested in this kind of approach, she has also used the eBooks as part of a more extensive project which I want to examine in greater detail:
Sample project: Articulating Futures
A few days ago we published a ScrapBook made at the Vintage Festival for a project Proboscis is participating in called Graffito – a collaborative iPhone/iPad app that lets people draw on a shared canvas. It was used in the Warehouse tent (which had a 1980s theme) as a collaborative VJ system displayed on a giant LED screen. A number of iPhones were lent out to people to draw with, as well as remote users playing from all over the world (the App is free to download from the AppStore).
For part of the 3 day festival, Jennifer Sheridan (Graffito’s project lead) sat in the control booth capturing snapshots of the screen and printing them off using a Polaroid PoGo printer (a very small portable printer that uses USB & Bluetooth to print ‘zero ink’ pictures from mobiles or digital cameras). She then stuck them into a blank eNoteBook I had designed especially for Graffito. Once back from the festival we disassembled the ‘ScrapBook’, scanned it in and republished it so anyone (whether at the festival, a remote participant or just someone interested) could have a hand made tangible souvenir of the project and the event. The process was very simple (though not helped by Apple’s blocking of Bluetooth connection to the PoGo printer on the iPhone) and points the way to similar uses for lots of other projects. In fact the whole process could easily be copied by anyone with an iPhone : simply download the Graffito app, start drawing and use the ‘snapshot’ feature to capture pictures of your favourite screens. Then download the blank version of the Graffito ScrapBook from diffusion.org.uk, print out and stick in the screen shots to make your own personal Graffito ScrapBook. You don’t need a PoGo printer (though they’re now very cheap to buy, around £20) – you could just print out the pictures on normal paper and glue them in.
As we develop Graffito further, part of our thinking will focus around how to personalise the creation of tangible souvenirs from the project even further. It could be possible, for instance, to request a series of screen shots to be taken from a particular time sequence and made into an eBook or StoryCube. This could be particularly fun for a group of people using it to draw collaboratively and could be combined with maps of where users are located in the world (there’s a short movie demonstrating this on the Graffito website).
I think this ScrapBook is a great example of just how simple it can be to design and make custom eNoteBooks or ScrapBooks for projects and events with bookleteer. Using simple and cheap tools like the PoGo printer, its possible to capture and print images using mobile phones (or cameras via USB) which can be stuck in and notes written around them. Whether its for festivals, art events, schools projects, field research or sports events, its possible to create beautiful and engaging ScrapBooks ‘in the field’ – as they are happening – that can be shared with anyone afterwards.
Get in touch if you’d like us to design a way of creating tangible souvenirs like this for your project or event.
While Alice was out getting lunch I took some sneaky photos of the 3-dimensional illustrations she’s been working on. The drawings for these come from the ones made in Brixton and Coventry for the Empty Shops Network tour. Parts of them have then been cut out, folded and re-attached to give a diorama feel.
I’d love to see my pop-up eBook experiments and Alice’s drawings come together some day to create a colourful hand-drawn eBook pop-up extravaganza.