Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Structures to Build

Being a scientist means asking good questions. A good question is one that you don't know the answer to, but the answer has consequences. In designing experiments, a good scientist can't worry so much about the consequences of the answer, because the truth is more important.

Being an entrepreneur also means dealing with questions you don't know the answer to. But the consequences matter much more than the answer. The entrepreneur does experiments too, but the object is to obtain a good outcome, not to learn the truth.

Experimentation has never been more important for the word of books and the stories they tell. We don't know how books will be distributed ten years from now. We don't even know if public libraries will exist. We hardly know how verbal stories will be told in 10 years. The answers to these questions are of great import to our societies and to the generations that will come. Since I think of myself as both a scientist and an entrepreneur, I have a lot of questions to answer.

The Uni Project- Home Stretch
While I'm busy with the experiment in the business of books that is Gluejar, I can't help but be fascinated other sorts of experiments that are in progress, and which are worthy of public support. While I'm sure that interesting experiments are being conducted in academic and government institutions and that many of these are being supported by foundations and research agencies, the most audacious experiments I know of are being conducted by passionate individuals and being funded by in non-traditional venues such as Kickstarter.

One of these is the Uni Project. Last year, I wrote about the Chinatown Storefront Library. Never intended to be more than a temporary installation, it has left a legacy of understanding of the ways a space designed for reading and books can interact with and enrich a community. The team behind that project, Sam and Leslie Davol, wondered whether structures could designed specifically to be temporary, itinerant libraries- quick to deploy, easy to operate, and dramatic to see. Working with Professor J. Meejin Yoon of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, they came up with a concept for a modular system of stackable cubes, each of which could contain a micro-collection of library materials.

I don't know whether this idea will work. But I do know how to help them find out: support them on Kickstarter. The project is currently 90% funded; they have 6 more days to raise another $1900. Update 8/11: The Uni achieved its goal with 3 days to spare!

I learned about another compelling experiment last week. This one aims to have people all around the New York City area contribute to a location based story, using an augmented-reality view of the twin towers as a unifying theme. Founded by Brian August, a New York technology executive who describes himself as "obsessed with the twin towers" 110 Stories will be an iPhone app that aims to both inspire and document the stories of the millions of us who saw the twin towers of the World Trade Center almost every day until they were destroyed on 9/11 almost ten years ago. Although the augmented reality feature gets the buzz, I think the story-telling aspects will be a lot more interesting in the long term. Imagine a location-aware ebook using the technology that Liza Daly demonstrated last year.
110 Stories

As of tonight, 110 stories has blown through its goal of $25,000 with the help of 423 backers, and the fundraising campaign has 4 days to go.

As we build Gluejar's ungluing books website, we're trying to work out whether the "only six days left" aspect of Kickstarter projects is a necessary ingredient for a crowd-funding site. Since we'll be working to "unglue" books that have already been written and published, they won't disappear if a fundraising goal isn't reached by a given cutoff date. A rights holder that's willing to release a creative commons edition of a book for $10,000 on July 31 will probably still be willing to do so on August 15, so there's not the same time-pressure in an ungluing campaigns.

Questions to answer. Towers to build.


  1. There's also been a location-aware musical album, FYI: http://thenextweb.com/apps/2011/05/31/the-worlds-first-location-aware-musical-album-app-drops-today/

  2. Great stuff! Have you seen the 9/11 Memorial project?: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/336401453/9-11-memorial
    They seem to be having trouble raising funds; perhaps they need more exposure?