Friday, November 15, 2013

Blogifying a Book

On Flatland the Blog, I'm turning a book into a blog. It's Flatland.

The ostensible reason is to promote our test campaign of Unglue.it's Buy-to-Unglue campaigns. It'll be a while before it's ready to launch for real, but I've found that there's no substitute for having real users try things out. One ungluer managed to find 2 different bugs within three minutes, partly by virtue of the 'ě' [LATIN SMALL LETTER E WITH CARON] in his username. Another user was the first to ever try changing their e-mail address to something invalid while having a username containing '@'. For some reason our unit tests didn't foresee these possibilities.

But really, I've been fascinated by the possibilities of the read-write book. We now have lots of ways to save and share annotations, but in most cases, this is done as a networked overlay on top of user-immutable texts. The annotation layers in Readmill, or in Kindle, live in their respective network.

Another effort to spread annotations over the web is Hypothes.is, which is trying to use standards to break the annotation layer out of closed networks.

I don't think there's anything wrong with networked annotation layers, but there's another technical direction that's been largely unexplored. What if a user's annotations are stored in the digital file that packages the ebook? This has the effect of restoring the individuality to copies of a book. The annotations could then be shared by sharing the file, the same way that pencilled annotations in a printed book might be shared privately. An anti-facebook, if you will, for an era when everything in the network layer is sure to be scanned by the NSA. And it also changes the dynamic of sharing a file in a library.

So what I want to do is collect comments and put them into the Flatland ebook that we're producing. I spent a fair amount of time producing a clean, attractive EPUB file from public domain scans by Google and Project Gutenberg, but I'd like to do more. The idea of turning the book into a blog occurred to me because Flatland's chapters were the right length, and, well they're curious, and need comment in the modern context.

So read along with me on Flatland the Blog, leave comments and suggestions, and at the end maybe something interesting will come out of the experiment!
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