Monday, 27 December 2010

swing time

And already Bookstart appears to have been saved - but we await to see what actually happens.
Now it's that inbetweeny time before new year, time to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off...

Sunday, 26 December 2010

christmas message

The Government's decision to cut all funding to Booktrust for Bookstart, Booktime and Booked Up
is diabolical and needs to be resisted. I'm wondering if we can't harness the power of the crying baby to help convince a re-think. 
Flash mobs of wailing children and pushy parents could be highly effective I reckon, 
leading to mass read-ins at highstreet banks perhaps.

Friday, 10 December 2010

shining on

My band the Bettertones do a latin version of this - but the song below isn't it.
We recorded Yolanda at a memorial concert for our much missed friend, comedian Linda Smith,
after her tragic death nearly five years ago.

Find more artists like The Bettertones at Myspace Music

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

doodling 2

...and this one's of Cliff Prior, CEO of Unltd, drawn on traditional paper (actually the agenda for the meeting) at a useful workshop on scaling up community enterprises.


Made using Brushes on the iPad: drawings of speakers at Lisbon LIR+ Conference
include Jose Afonso Furtado

why the net matters

Why the Net Matters, Canongate's latest iPad app, is a text in praise of networkedness By David Eagleman, given stylish illumination with pictures, web links plus those nice rotatable graphics they can do on the tablet, so that you can spin a picture of Michelangelo's David through 360 degrees. I read it in one sitting, engrossed. I liked the navigation and found it was shorter than I'd expected it to be, thought this bold restatement of the political and social potential of the web was useful and intelligent in its simplicity, and found something about it slightly quaint and retro. Overall the app reminded me of a pop up book, brightly coloured and with a visual ingenuity that only sometimes added greatly to the text. And because it's designed for digital, it reminds me that we're very used to words, links and pictures on line, but we usually call them websites and expect them to be free. A very enjoyable reading experience that asks more questions than it answers - which is always a good thing. 

Monday, 6 December 2010


Music video of the week: John Cage's 4 mins 33 performed on Ukulele.

I organised a staging of 4' 33'' in the Music Department of Birmingham Central Library, performed by pianist John Gough, as part of a festival of Silence in the Library, in the 1990s.

Now I'm looking forward to hearing the Christmas single, with Bob Dylan, Ludvig Van Beethoven, Billie Holliday and George Formby just some of the musicians who won't be heard playing on it. 

from publication to conversation

Freiburg looked ridiculously Christmassy last weekend when I went to speak at the Schreibwares conference, a thoroughly enjoyable experience. A panel discussion including WG Sebald fan Valie  Djordjevic from Berlin and Amsterdam academic Joost Smiers, caused some debate when Joost advocated scrapping copyright law entirely.

We're moving from a culture of publication to one of conversation in which some contribute tweets and comments, others fashion major texts in book form. But our legal framework is linked fundamentally to a model involving the mass distribution of stuff for passive consumers.

The model I'd like to develop through the Unlibrary involves the skills of a deal maker able to help the producers of online books/sites/things to find the best business model for their individual projects large and small, including templates for profit shares between all involved.
Please contact me if you think you might be able to advise.

Thanks to Kirsten Reach for sending us the video below. The best bit is the stretchable screen - I'd like one of those.  And the toothbrushing bit is good - is the mirror powered by the toothbrushing I wonder?

From Writing & The Digital Life: 

University for Strategic Optimism & Genetic Moo on Resonance FM Wednesday Dec 8th 2010.

Join Furtherfield on Resonance 104.4FM
Wednesday, Dec 8th 2010.
Time 7-8pm (UK - GMT).
Hosts: Marc Garrett, Irini Papdimitriou & Jonathon Munro
Special Guests: Tess Quixote and Étienne Lantier from the University for Strategic Optimism, Nicola Schauerman and Tim Pickup from Genetic Moo.

Info & downloads of past broadcasts (scroll down page):
Live Resonance FM broadcast:

This critically acclaimed broadcast is every Wednesday evening at 7-8pm, a series of hour long live interviews with people working at the edge of contemporary practices in art, technology & social change; discussing events and controversies, exhibitions, artworks and their social contexts.

Marc will be interviewing:
Two members from the University for Strategic Optimism, Tess Quixote and Étienne Lantier. USO have formed a university based on the principal of free and open education, a return of politics to the public, and the politicisation of public space.

As university buildings are boarded up their flexible and critical group physically inhabit banks and shopping outlets as public spaces for open debate; using these public areas as places for introductory lectures to their "course entitled ‘Higher Education, Neo-Liberalism and the State’." - View two examples of their recent public lectures at Lloyds TSB, London Bridge ( and Tesco Superstore Old Kent Road, London (

Friday, 3 December 2010

stationery and downloads

I'm setting off early in the morning to Freiburg, hoping to arrive for the STATIONERY conference there, at which I'm speaking, snow and ice permitting. For the journey I have on my iPad a pre-release download of WHY THE NET MATTERS by David Eagleman, coming very soon from Canongate - and it looks utterly beautiful as well as interesting, with spinnable graphics and nifty navigation. I'll report back on the whole reading experience on my return...hopefully.

The decline of the book from its position as the dominant social medium has been prophesied for decades. The book was threatened with a loss of importance more than half a century ago, as film and television became truly mass media. The book weathered all this change in the media, but today is faced with new and major challenges. What does the future of the printed word look like? Will we experience the end of the medium of the book or the “death of the printed press”, as predicted by communication theoreticians, marketing experts and publishers? Can a media revolution really be expected or is it more a matter of parallel developments in the media, of completely normal shifts in importance? Publishers, critics, academics, journalists, literary agents and authors will gether to discuss these and many other questions pertaining to the future of the book in the Alter Wiehrebahnhof in Freiburg from the 3rd to the 5th December.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

all power to the imagination!!

The protests against cuts to education are leading to some radical and playful adventures in learning.

The University of Strategic Optimism has been holding open lectures in Tescos on the Old Kent Road, while in Leeds The Really Open University recently held an excellent three day event, RE-IMAGINING THE UNIVERSITY (they also sell a wicked tee-shirt).

Meanwhile back at the UNLIBRARY, we're looking to provide a local setting for people to devise and run their own informal short courses and learning journeys, filling the gap between the formal education which is now becoming so prohibitively expensive and 'just reading stuff'. The public library is where that learning belongs. With ferocious cuts looming over libraries, we argue that these are still essential public spaces for democratic learning and dreaming. We are also committed to building an open community of creative collaborators which is resilient enough to survive and thrive in all circumstances, using digital means to connect, reflect and organise.

To join the Unlibrary, go to To read more about our Hornsey branch (well, ok, the only one so far!) see this article from the Ham & High Broadway.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

unlibrarying with kati and ruth

Unlibrary Artist in Residence Ruth Franklin  and writer Kati Rynne ran a fantastic workshop in the Unlibrary at our event on tuesday, creating beautiful books of collaborative writing for the shelves.
Here's a taste.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

dead poets society

Mick Kidd, half of the utterly brilliant Biff Comics team, came to our Unlibrary event last week and has now sent me this for wider circulation. 

Into the Mystic: the extraordinary life and poetry of WB Yeats

Friday December 10 
Free Word Centre,
60 Farringdon Road,
London EC1R 3GA

'Into the Mystic' includes readings of many of Yeats's finest poems along with a colourful account of his life, much of it drawn from contemporary sources. Drugs, love, politics and the occult all play a part, and there are notable, sometimes riotous encounters with Dublin wits, fellow literary giants – Joyce, Pound, George Bernard Shaw – and the women who changed his life: Augusta Gregory, George Yeats and Maud Gonne. The readers are Oengus Macnamara and Teresa Jennings. Music: Rick Sanders (vocals and guitar).

Friday December 10, 7pm-8.30pm.
Admission: £7.50
Nearest Tube station: Farringdon

To book tickets, contact the Free Word Centre:

Tel: 020 7324 2570

He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread upon my dreams.

And talking of great poets, tomorrow I'm delighted to have been invited to William Blake's birthday party at the Tate, 25th birthday also of the William Blake Society itself. 

Friday, 26 November 2010


Hachette History of the Book -  very helegant - hand hAndrea's hin it.

undoubted success

Infographicized instantly by Tim Cresswell, cartoonist in residence at the South Bank; illuminated by if:book's own artist in residence Ruth Franklin; with fascinating workshops on transmedia and ARGs, social networking, print on demand, video, digital art, book making and collaborative writing; a debate on the Power of Local with Shreela Ghosh, Wes Brown of NAWE and, George Palmer of Apples & Snakes and the Transition Town movement, and featuring the brilliant Andrea Levy on the library she has written all the first drafts of her novels in,  THE AMPLIFIED AUTHOR IN THE LOCAL UNLIBRARY was a thoroughly stimulating event.  We'll be posting more from it here


On Monday at the Free Word Centre I met up with Sue Davis, the digital storyteller I first met on the Sunshine Coast of Australia this May when I was invited to advise on the NeoGeography project there.  Performance poet Francesca Beard and Sarah Ellis of Apples & Snakes were two of those who came to meet her for what turned out to be an inspiring meeting for all involved.

Sue's collaborators include Leah Barclay, composer, and Judy Barrass, maker of artists books, some made in her studio, some made in Second Life (where she was neighbour of journalist Vic Keegan, another participant in Tuesday's event).

The NeoGeo project is focused on Cooroy Library, newly built with high-speed broadband and pods for creative teams to work in. It's a remarkable collaboration between a diverse group of makers, all highly experienced in their fields, and an inspiring example of collaborative creativity built on a digital framework.

Take a look at some of the results BY CLICKING HERE.

Friday, 19 November 2010

press release: Gulbenkian award to if:book and Winged Chariot

London November 16th 2010.

WingedChariot Press, a pioneer in digital ‘stories to touch’, in conjunction with the charitable company if:book have just been awarded a grant by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

This grant is for the research and development of multi-lingual digital stories and readin in a project that will run in six London schools during 2011. The schools based in Lewisham, Enfield and Bexley will be at the core of digital reading and story development with WingedChariot. Research into the project outcomes and opportunities will be led by the innovative think and do tank if:book.

Andrew Barnett, Director of Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK) says:"One of the strategic aims of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation's UK Branch is to help improve people's perception of each other by providing opportunities for interaction through culture and between cultures. In this context, one of our current objectives is to develop programmes that promote multilingualism and literature in translation for adults and children. We are, therefore, delighted to support the development of this innovative platform to stimulate language acquisition and new forms of creative writing, which we believe will lead to increased cross-cultural communication and better understanding between cultures."

eal Hoskins,Director of WingedChariot says :”I am delighted that the Gulbenkian Foundation has awarded us this grant for our pioneering work in multi-lingual digital stories to continue. As stories and books make the transition into digital it is vital that we study and develop these new forms that may inspire and delight children to read more and appreciate great art. Our experience and knowledge in this field can now be taken to a new level as we combine with the research skills of if:book to form a new and unique partnership in the digital world.”

Chris Meade, Director of if:book, the think and do tank exploring the future of the book in the digital age, says:"We're looking forward to working with the wonderful WingedChariot on this fantastic opportunity to look at how children and teachers can use new media to develop creative reading skills and digital imagination.”

Scruffy Kitty is very happy! 

Thursday, 18 November 2010


Here's the presentation I gave at the Digital Natives conference for School Librarians at Berkhamsted School yesterday. It's the latest iteration of the talk I've been giving for ages, but it does evolve and change as it goes along.

At the conference Nicola McNee, a librarian hugely passionate about social networking and all kinds of digital tools for teaching and school libraries, said that none of her Year 10 class knew about RSS feeds.  This is important.
The older generation like to say that young digital natives understand the web and oldies never will. This is nothing but a cop out.
Actually being used to a technology doesn't amount to understanding it. I grew up taking TV for granted but still don't understand how the box works, or instinctively know how to structure a programme.
Young people hang out on Facebook and know how to click their way around websites, but of course  they need professional guidance on how best to use digital means to research and inform themselves in an educational context.
RSS feeds, Twitter, Delicious, Readers etc are information tools which those who work with information should be able to explain and promote, whether or not they personally feel comfy using the web.
It's no different from a librarian helping students access books they don't like or understand the content of.

At if:book's AGM last night, trustee Fiona O'Brien showed us round the library at Westminster University where they've created a range of spaces for solo and group learning, silent reading and thoughtful chatter - all very relevant to Unlibrary thinking.

I'm delighted to announce that if:book is developing a collaborative relationship with the Centre for Democracy at Westminster University whose Director, Ricardo Blaug, is the author of How Power Corrupts. 

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

rare chance to meet a NeoGeographer

On Monday 22nd Nov at 12.00 I'll be at the Free Word Centre Farringdon with Dr Sue Davis who I met when I visited Noosa on the Sunshine Coast for the launch of if:book Australia. If any colleagues would be interested to meet Sue, please join us at 12.30 in the big room. Bring a sandwich/lunchbox and she can tell you more about her fascinating work and the NeoGeography project she's been engaged in.  

Dr Sue Davis is a lecturer and professional learning consultant at CQ University (Noosa Hub).  For the NeoGeography project Sue ran a series of community based workshops in digital storytelling and photostories. Participants used photos, text, music and sound to create photostories uploaded to the PlaceStories website – a web 2.0 application created by Feral Arts for communities across Australia to share their location-specific stories.  She also ran a series of workshops with children where they created fictional creatures and results included digital stories and a blurb self-published bookSue also explored a significant story of the region – that of the shipwreck of the Stirling Castle and the tale of what happened to Eliza Fraser – through blogging in role and creating a multi-media performance . 

 Sue has extensive experience as a drama practitioner running projects and workshops in schools and community contexts. Her recent research and creative practice has focussed on exploring the ways that new media and drama can be combined through forms such as cyberdrama and digital storytelling . Sue has initiated processes to engage children and young people in community and cultural events including the ‘Noosa Longweekend’ (Noosa Scrubs 2008), the ‘Great Noosa Campout’, ‘Floating Land’ (2009), ‘Treeline’ (2010) and Noosa Biosphere Day (2010). She has extensive experience in writing and directing performance work, predominantly with and for young people.
The NeoGeoGraphy project has involved five Sunshine Coast artists (Leah Barclay, Judy Barrass, Lyndon DavisSue Davis & Steven Lang) using arts practice and digital media to explore stories about place.  The project also had a focus on using the spaces and facilities at the new Cooroy library and cultural precinct.
This project was supported by the Sunshine Coast Council and the Queensland Writers Centre, and arose from the 3Cs project developed by Jock McQuinnie in collaboration with Arts Queensland and the Australia Council for the Arts.

If you're planning to come along, please leave a comment here.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

heaven is a place

Last week I went to the University Campus Folkestone to talk about potential collaborations.
There's been some impressive development there of a cultural quarter all brightly coloured and eager for activity. The words of the great David Byrne look out over the town.

animated ken

We've had very exciting news, more of which soon, re. a project we're undertaking with and generally thinking hard about how best to develop our work with schools under the new regime. This beautifully illustrated RSA talk by TED talkgod Sir Ken Robinson has been recommended to help us refocus our minds

Wednesday, 10 November 2010


We've extended the space we're using for our conference THE AMPLIFIED AUTHOR IN THE LOCAL UNLIBRARY so there's still places available for the amazing FREE event featuring ANDREA LEVY and many more.  Book now at

And here's how the Unlibrary looks today, with a beta version of the collaboration wall and user profiles.

Monday, 8 November 2010


Last weekend I went to Poole to chair a panel at the new literature festival there. The panel discussion was the opening act leading up to the announcement of the winner of the first New Media Writing prize, set up by festival Director Sue Luminati (whose surname I covet).  The panel involved Neal Hoskins of Winged Chariot, Chris Stevens, maker of the astounding Alice for the iPad and Maureen Scott of Ether books, purveyors of short stories for the iPhone. It was a fruitful session I thought and hope audience members agree. Here were three practitioners who have come from very different starting points to make books for i-Gizmos. Chris was a journalist, Neal a 'conventional' publisher, Maureen "occupied the mobile content space", and their work is all high on my list of favourite book apps. The conversation was about how to make brilliant digital literary works and why, and it took place in relation to the work of new media writers many of whom have been using the internet as a creative publishing tool for years, without reference to the book world at all. There are challenges for all as these worlds draw closer. The quality of writing online comes under scrutiny as the literati pile in, and

Judges included moongolfer and bookmapper Tim Wright and Andy Campbell of Dreaming Methods, both highly experienced digital writers and artists, plus Michael Bhaskar, head of digital at Profile Books.

And the winner was... Christine Wilks for her moving narrative about a woman sculptor and the ghosts of the colliery she carves above. Chris is someone who has worked hard in this field for a long time, perfecting her flash and narrative skills both as part of the trAce community developed by Sue Thomas and, more recently, as a fellow student with me on the first two years of the now defunct Creative Writing and New Media MA at De Montfort. She's a regular contributor to and one of a small group of digital artists who remix each others' work at  

It's a bigger step than one might imagine to bring together these tribes. Web writers have avoided mainstream publishing on purpose and tend to resent the traditional literary types getting in on the act.
Book publishers arrive online determined to recreate a familiar world of tomes for sale on albeit digital shelves. But the mingling has begun, and it's what really interests me about the future of the book.

MEANWHILE I've been sent this photo of Jose Furtado and I at the Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon recently, Jose looking far better dressed and more eminent than I - but then he is.

transcript of an interview with Wes Brown

from NAWE Young Writers' Hub

Your Questions Answered:

What's your work with the Institute for the Future of the Book about? How did you get involved?
Question By: Wes Brown
I met Bob Stein in 2007 when I was half way through my M.A. at De Montfort in Creative Writing & New Media and had already decided it was time to move on from Booktrust and do something bookfuturish. We sat in Starbucks Kings X and Bob invited me on the spot to visit him in New York, then to become co-Director of his Institute for the Future of the Book. That was a life changing latte.

With Bob and his team I worked on the Really Modern Library project, holding discussions which included Laurie Anderson, Momus, Cory Doctorow and other fascinating people. We raised funds for Bob's idea to put The Golden Notebook online ( with a team of readers commenting on it in realtime, and my homage to Blake, which explored how text could be illuminated via digital means.

The Institute and if:book london are separate entities now, but both define themselves as 'think and do tanks exploring the shift in our culture as it moves from printed page to networked screen'. I owe Bob a lot - he's an extraordinary man.
The Golden Notebook and Songs of Imagination and Digitisation are both innovative projects and enhance what we what like about books in new ways. Do you think this is the way forward for the book as a format? That the first generation of eBooks could be a bit 2D? Similar to the difference between web 1.0 and web 2.0?
Question By: Wes Brown
First conventional publishers plonk conventional novels unchanged onto eReaders, then they begin to 'enhance' them with bits and bobs of video, then writers get the hang of it and start thinking of multimedia and reader interaction as keys on their typewriters, to use as and when they wish.

The most important thing for me about books as in works of imaginative literature is the freedom authors (should) have to shape their work exactly as they wish, in contrast to the makers of most movies, computer games, tv and radio programmes - and websites other than blogs, who must work to formulae and for vested interests. As literature migrates to digital platforms, it must retain that freedom, so authors will be as traditional and or as innovative as they want to be, looking back as well as forwards for inspiration.
Is there a danger that the likes of Amazon and Apple could gain too great a stranglehold over distribution? And have a disproportionate influence over pricing and the shape of the eBook?
Question By: Wes Brown
Yes - a danger to big league publishers, but not for authors and makers who can now put their work on the web for free, can put books directly for sale onto global bookshelves provided by the big guns. For the time being I'm not so worried about the battles raging between the digital Titans, because there are so many new ways to circumvent them and do our own things.

The app and the ebook are the latest attempts to create saleable chunks of digital material, but its still possible to make work in any shape you wish for a browser. Let's face it, on the one hand we want free access to things and on the other we want to be able to sell our stuff for profit... so every writer has a foot in both camps on the debates about copyright and freedom of information.
In the traditional model there's the author, the agent, the editor, the publisher, the distributor, the bookseller, the printer and the cover artist. With say mixed media eBooks - might we see an author working with a designer and web guys etc all at the same time? A sort of Warhol like factory? You've also mentioned authors employing people to do the digital marketing for them. Whatever new roles do you think could crop up?
Question By: Wes Brown
Yes absolutely, I see much more collaboration happening between artists, authors, editers, designers, digital 'illuminators' etc. The question is how these are paid for.

I like the idea that authors can either buy the services of those who help them publish or produce their work, or go into some kind of profit sharing agreement.

Some authors will be delighted to collaborate in this way, others will absolutely not want to - which is fine, that's the whole point: that writers have choices they've never had before- but these are genuine choices, authors can decide what works best for them.
What is an Amplified Author? How do they relate to the Unilibrary?
Question By: Wes Brown
The Amplified Author writes on a networked device that allows them to build a readership through social networking, blogs and the web in general. They're not defined by a publisher but drive their own writing life. From wherever they live and work they can reach out to readers and fellow writers. The Unlibrary is a local hub and co-working space for writers, readers and all kinds of businesses. It's a nearby place for us to bring our laptops - through which we can access a library of information - to focus on what we want to create and learn about, and to find the people and resources we need to do it better.

But we're still feeling our way with deciding what the Unlibrary could be - all suggestions welcomed.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


Visitors to the Unlibrary meet up today begin to make their personal profiles. Each user will be given a space on the shelves to put up their twitter name, website or email address and create a 3D picture of their interests and activities. There's still no wi-fi in this part of the building and we don't yet have a budget to redecorate and revamp the space, but it's open now as a good place to work, use mobiles, meet and mingle.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

books for sale

Nick Dalziel runs a secondhand bookshop in Blaenavon, Wales, but to be honest, in true Black Books tradition, Nick has been somewhat resistant to parting with tomes from his excellent stock up until now. For some time, if:book has been pleading with Mr Dalziel to allow us to offer volumes from his shop for sale to our readers, what with there being nothing quite like the look and feel of a paper and cardboard book and all, and we think he may be caving in under pressure. Look forward to offers over coming weeks. Meanwhile if you happen to be passing his shop, see if you can convince him to let you in. Dalziels is at  32 a Broad Street,
Blaenavon, Tofaen, Wales, NP4 
9NF. And if he won't open the door, try phoning him on
079051344 for more information on his books about....
Music > Counter Culture > Science Fiction> Poetry > Local History > Politics > Modern Signed First Editions > also Contemporary Art with an emphasis on Urban.
Here's Nick with Sincerely L. Cohen.

Meanwhile we can now confirm that Simon from the legendary Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, London, will not only be selling (new) books at our forthcoming conference on THE AMPLIFIED AUTHOR IN THE LOCAL UNLIBRARY, but will also be appearing on the panel with Shreela Ghosh, George Palmer and others. To book your FREE place for the 23rd November, HURRY to

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

diet on the internet

Postcard 002 from Literature Development on Vimeo.

Wes Brown introduces the NAWE Young Writers' Hub.
We'll be liaising closely with Wes as we develop a network for groups of young poets with the Poetry Society. The two sites will complement each other nicely I reckon.

Monday, 25 October 2010

university of web

Information evolution, self publishing etcetera with Alex Krotoski  
and here's Brewster Kahle talking at Books In Browsers conference.
Settle down, enjoy, learn.

Oh and...
Here's Rachel Botsman's excellent talk on Collaborative Consumption at NESTA this week.

discuss is your link to Bob Stein's Taxonomy of Social Reading
which was unveiled at the Books in Browsers conference and has since led to some serious discussion on the Read 2.0 list. It's presented in CommentPress form, so you can comment in its margins.

Here's Bob's Introduction

Permalink for this paragraph2When I grew up in the 50s, reading and writing were activities conducted alone and in silence. Twenty years from now, as my grandchildren come of age, I expect these formerly solitary behaviors will be perceived as highly social — something we do, more often than not, with others. This insight comes in large part from a series of experiments conducted over the past five years with my colleagues at The Institute for the Future of the Book. They strongly suggest that when we move texts from the printed page to a networked screen, the social aspect of reading and writing moves to the foreground.
Permalink for this paragraph0In recent months the phrase “social reading” has been showing up in conversation and seems well on its way to being a both a useful and increasingly used meme. While I find this very exciting, as with any newly minted phrase, it’s often used to express quite different things. For example, the Kindle reader keeps a record of your highlighted passages and aggregates them with those of anonymous others so that you can see which passages have generated the most interest. This is considered a social function. Or when RIM announced their entry in the tablet sweepstakes, Kobo posted a video touting the idea that their dedicated ebook reader for the Blackberry Playbook “makes reading social.” In making it possible to recommend books, send passages or chat in real time with friends “about a book,” the Kobo reader goes considerably further than the Kindle. But neither approaches the immersive group–based close reading central to our “networked book” experiments. In order to advance our understanding of how reading (and writing) are changing as they begin to shift decisively into the digital era, it occurred to me that we need a taxonomy to make sense of a range of behaviors all of which fit within the current “social reading” rubric.
Permalink for this paragraph1With a landscape that extends from face–to–face conversations around the proverbial water cooler to a dizzying array of web–based sites and tools, I’ve limited this proposal to books and (text–based) documents. There’s no conceptual obstacle however, to applying the same taxonomy of social reading to audio, video, even games. For example, video sites, like YouTube already allow users to leave a comment or create an annotation timed to appear at a specific moment in the video. Much of the gameplay in World of Warcraft consists of social interaction between players who effectively construct the details of the narrative as the game progresses.
Permalink for this paragraph0The boundaries drawn by taxonomies are by necessity arbitrary. If I considered all the possible variations for each category, we would end up with a matrix with virtually duplicate descriptors in each vertical cell; rending the exercise close to useless. I’ve opted instead not to address subtle nuances in the hope that drawing sharper lines will encourage a more vigorous discussion. In the same vein, I chose to number the categories to make them easier to refer to. In no way, however do I mean to imply a “progression” of value from one to the next. Meaningful, possibly even life–changing interactions can take place at any point on the spectrum.
Permalink for this paragraph0I am hoping that this proposed taxonomy will jumpstart a much needed discussion that encourages us to question all our relevant assumptions. As with a Wikipedia article, the truth isn’t on the surface as much as in the interstices where people collectively explore the fuzzy spaces between assumptions and arbitrarily drawn boundaries. The better our understanding of the affordances of different behaviors, the better our chance of designing a robust social reading environment which serves society well.
Permalink for this paragraph0The nature of social reading will evolve in response to ever–changing hardware and software platforms and the new forms of expression and interaction they will inevitably give rise to. Not the least of these changes is likely to be a blurring of the boundary between reading and writing. This will occur as authors take on the added role of moderators of communities of inquiry (non–fiction) and of designers of complex worlds for readers to explore (fiction). In addition, readers will embrace a much more active role in the production of knowledge and the telling of stories. Over time, as these new behaviors become more sharply defined and grow in importance, the categories themselves will change as well.

Friday, 22 October 2010

October 21, 2010
Institute of Contemporary Arts

Words & Money: Paywalls, E-books and the Death of Print

André Schiffrin leads a debate on the future of publishing in the digital age at the ICA
Are publishing and print media obsolete in the age of the Internet and the iPad? And if not, how should newspapers, books and magazines reinvent themselves to stay alive?
Join leading publisher and author of Words and Money Andre Schiffrin, Media Guardian columnist Roy Greenslade, David Roth-Ey Harper Collins' Digital Director and Kit Hammonds, co-founder of the Publish and Be Damned self-publishing fair in the debate.
Tickets £12 (£11 concessions, £10 ICA members)

for more information. (Nice photo).

Tuesday, 19 October 2010


One bit of video that has been much discussed lately.
Nicholas Negroponte sounds the death knell for the paper book within five years. I think he's right that the tipping point approacheth, though of course some books will be published in paper form, like vinyl still exists today, but I'm hooked on iPad reading already and people seem to be pretty swiftly won over once they've invested in the (ever cheaper) gizmos. Far more important is his point about the potential of digital for the developing world.

Meanwhile at the debate in Frankfurt we were asked about the issue of how easy it is to waste time on line. The question made me think that it's often hard to decide for oneself when time spent on line is wasted or productive. A morning spent pottering at the laptop can involve reading around topics, networking, blogging and pondering; meanwhile it can take an absurdly short time to do some of the to-do tasks which once involved photocopiers, stamps, walks to post offices and hours of time.
I'm keen to help writers think about their patterns and practices, on and off line, how to respect their need for distractions and down time, walks in the park and surfs on the web all part of the complex creative process.

I'd love to hear comments on this issue from the readers that Google Analytics tell me I have.

Monday, 18 October 2010

letter from David

Birmingham-based poet, friend and source of inspiration David Hart e-mailed me in response to the BBC Nightwaves debate on the future of the book, broadcast on 14th October and for the time being still accessible on iPlayer HERE . I said I'd like to quote his words on the blog and he sent me this revised version. 

Oct.15th (and revised 17th) 2010      Dear Chris

When I switched on to Nightwaves I didn't know you'd be there, as it were, it was a pleasure, good to hear you. [And then discovered it was pre-recorded, so you weren't really there then].

    I couldn't simply sit and listen, so I continued with moving my books around, which I've been doing lately, rearranging shelf space, pulling some out to take to the local Oxfam Bookshop. Which reminds me there is now no secondhand bookshop in Birmingham apart from a corridor and small back room of one in Digbeth and 3 Oxfam. The last of the traditionals, one I've been going to for at least 20 years, closed a few weeks ago. The even much older one in Lichfield closed a few weeks before that.

    My house is a small library. My son will inherit it, and it has become curious to me how different that inheritance seems year by year. When he's here from time to time he borrows books, it still works that way, but of the future I wonder.

    A few things occur to me after your discussion. I am reviewing the John Ashbury Collected Poems 1956-1987 for the Stride web site; and such individual books of his I have already from those years and more recently, are so much more variously engaging and good to handle as objects. And there's - more than an aside - the fact (I think a fact) that a poem in one format is not the poem it is in another; subtle or very obvious, there's tangible difference.

      It is of cultural interest and, one might say, measures one's life, the changing style and feel of, for example, Penguins during the past 50 and more years. I have been collecting some Virginia Woolf from their own Hogarth Press editions through to new Penguins, and I think I really do sense time passing. I have one dust cover of her sister Vanessa Bell's design, it has a presence.

    Something else that matters to me is that I can pick up a book, or even notice it on the shelves, and as it were it remembers me and I it. Here's the one book (Housman) my father gave me, here's Sylvia Plath's Ariel hb, new then when I bought it after my finals, this DADA book dated by me then (1967) tells me how early in my life it mattered to me, books signed by poets at readings, books given to me at significant moments, and there are Bibles, hymn books, books for private as well as shared occasions, here's Christopher Meade's Betty Spital, -

      I have just been told of a young poet at a book festival reading from her new pamphlet to three people and her family. I reply, 'Chris Meade would say....'

     And then I think, how does a poem via the web or an ipod connect us the way reading a poem face to face does? If the human voice, its sound, mode, mood, goes missing, hasn't something essential gone? It seems the next step or two will be - as now one way via You Tube - to connect voice and eyes electronically, reader and listener/watcher, while the speaker is at home and the reader is on a bus and can respond. Maybe it's happening already. Still, flesh goes missing, we become bodyless.

        My feeling about some books is that their physical presence provokes memories, so that even smells and particular moments 'come back' to me, and that few books are wholly neutral in this way. Some sets of books relate to poetry projects, a whole shelf, say, to an aspect of my life, many I've only dipped into but there may come a time..., some hardly opened but then I am surprised by them, and often there's a handling effect - physical contact with more than I think I remember. And there have been poetry readings, well attended or not: ah, signed books!

      There is a contrary aspect, which is when I wish I had a room with nothing in it at all except a comfortable carpet, and that my house could breathe more openly without books. 

      My daughter phones me from London walking to the tube, my son as he walks to a supermarket half way around the world. I have walked about Bloomsbury with my daughter looking for Virginia Woolf-related places. I said, when she got out her phone, Ah satnap. Satnav, she said, and it told us: up this street, cross over to that square,... It's a wonder; I'm not sure it's better, lost often though I've been.

What you said, in the broadcast, about this new generation of young people, is out of my ken really. I won't be doing this, but the fluency is there in them to be in the world quite differently, I do see that.

     I do want to say as well, though, that whereas I used to so enjoy bus and train travel, and for many years now have had no car, now this travel is a misery. And there does seem a self-consciousness about the selfishness of it, people never allow eye contact when their phone rings or they ring it, or while they are speaking. This noise (usually much louder than conversation) along with the noise of 'music' (horrible beat usually) from whatever little technos, has been a desecration of communal life. In shops, too, of course, and in the street, even along river walks and on park benches. There are little cafes where I used to sit with a pot of tea and a notebook that I would never enter now; experience has told me there is no quiet there any more.

    I've known no-one more community friendly than you, more delighting in what can happen when people come together. Even on the radio you were smiling.

Thanks all the best,