Tagged: books

New technology boosts the old

ZZ2564D376

As cheerleaders for incumbent media often point out, the old is rarely replaced by the new. Newspapers weren’t killed by radio, radio wasn’t killed by TV, TV wasn’t killed by online video – etc., etc.

Sometimes new technology boosts the old.

Dipping in again to the excellent Writing on the Wall: Social Media, the First 2,000 Years, I read:

Printing pushed up demand for paper throughout Europe, encouraging production and making it cheaper (its price fell by 40 percent during the fifteenth century) and more widely available. Printed books promoted literacy and writing manuals could be produced in quantity.

We can see a similar effect today with writing and books. Earlier in Writing on the Wall, Tom Standage notes that book writing was a serious undertaking in Roman times. You had to be literate, rich enough to have a dedicated cohort of slaves for scribing and couriering purposes during the research, notable enough to throw a top-notch launch party and – by some advice of the time – spend about nine years perfecting your manuscript before releasing it into the network of copyists (all reproduction was by hand, of course).

Now writing – and publishing – books is within the grasp of anyone. A cynic would say that you don’t even need that high a degree of literacy.

In the US, 391,000 books were self-published, only about a third of these were e-book only titles. In fact, an article in the Guardian notes, this figure is conservative:

The exclusion of hundreds of thousands of titles published without an ISBN, including many titles on Amazon’s Kindle store, means that the increase of 422% since 2007 this represents is likely to be an underestimate of the size of the self-publishing sector.

Rather than reach for the pessimist’s fall-back of the monkey-typewriter paradigm, recognise this for what it is – a golden age of reading and – even more – writing. New forms of media are making old forms easier for everyone to access and work with, once again.

Datafication

“Big data” as a term reminds me of “social media” a few years ago. It is in danger – through mis-use and over-use – of losing its currency before many people fully understand its significance. And it is very, very significant indeed.

One of the books I’m reading – at a rapid pace which is testament to its usefulness – is Big Data: A Revolution that will transform how we live, work and think, by The Economist’s data editor, Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, of the Oxford Internet Institute.

One of the problems with the term “big data” is that it is doing too many jobs. Cukier and Mayer-Schonberger offer us a provisional term for the revolution in data that we are living through:

There’s no good term to describe what’s taking place now, but one that helps frame the changes is datafication, a concept that we introduce in Chapter Five. It refers to taking information about all things under the sun—including ones we never used to think of as information at all, such as a person’s location, the vibrations of an engine, or the stress on a bridge—and transforming it into a data format to make it quantified.

Awkward as it is, “datafication” works for me as a description (possibly simply because it isn’t “big data”).

And the definition of big data? Try these:

There is no rigorous definition of big data. Initially the idea was that the volume of information had grown so large that the quantity being examined no longer fit into the memory that computers use for processing, so engineers needed to revamp the tools they used for analyzing it all. That is the origin of new processing technologies like Google’s MapReduce and its open-source equivalent, Hadoop, which came out of Yahoo. These let one manage far larger quantities of data than before, and the data—importantly—need not be placed in tidy rows or classic database tables. Other data-crunching technologies that dispense with the rigid hierarchies and homogeneity of yore are also on the horizon.

Or

big data refers to things one can do at a large scale that cannot be done at a smaller one, to extract new insights or create new forms of value, in ways that change markets, organizations, the relationship between citizens and governments, and more.

Before you get too cynical, before your cortex starts rejecting any conversation, content or plan that includes “big data”, I urge you to read this book. It’s a great primer on the issues and opportunities that the era of big data presents us with.

It also quickly introduces some key concepts that are incredibly powerful – about the messiness of data, the switch from causes to correlation and other ideas. It has my brain fizzing in the same way that The Origin of Wealth and Linked did a few years ago about networks and complexity.

Why I finish books

ZZ024E05D5

Living with ebooks, as I have been since I bought my first iPad a few years back, has changed my reading. It’s also given me more ways of understanding how I read and how I want to read.

Let’s get the nostalgia out of the way first. I miss paper books. I still read paper books, occasionally, but usually for specific, diminishing reasons. The first reason is that I can’t get a Kindle version of a book, or I already own the paper version. Both of these reasons are diminishing: the former because more and more books, even ones that were out of print are becoming available electronically; the latter is less of an issue as time passes because, due to the convenience of ebooks for note-taking, portability etc., I will sometimes buy ebook versions of the paper ones I own – if I’m using them for reference on a project, for instance, or in a couple of cases of fiction, because I love them so much and I want to have them with me when I’m travelling or just not at home.

At least that’s the case for non-fiction – sometimes, I love to read on paper. I think of it as hi-fidelity reading though – it’s a luxury, a treat – about time and place as much of the medium.

I’ve always read several books at the same time. Different books for different reasons and different times of day – some for projects, some for things I’m studying, some instructional, some fiction. With ebooks this habit has continued but with the number of books expanding even further. I’ll read some in bursts and then put them aside for a few days, weeks or months, and then pick them up again.

The other habit that has continued from reading paper books to ebooks – and been similarly exaggerated in the transition – is not finishing them.

Business or popular science books that lose their hold on my attention halfway through, get left behind, put on the virtual shelf.

I used to feel bad about not finishing books, but this was some kind of a vestigial puritan instinct, something about not letting things go to waste, finishing what you’ve started. Really, it’s a healthy habit – not all books deserve to be finished, not all need to be finished. There are other things you could be doing.

Rather than asking myself “why don’t I finish books?”, as if I had some kind of reading disorder, or lacked moral fibre, it is much more interesting to ask: “why do I finish books?” and then to wonder what that tells me about good writing.

Not finishing books is mostly a non-fiction phenomenon. Fiction books pull me through to the end with plot, with their beginnings, middles and ends. Non-fiction books rarely pull that trick off and very often fail to cohere past the first third.

A good many non-fiction books would benefit from being either shorter or serialised – Kindle singles hold some promise in this area, thought I’m not sure how well that format is doing. Not every non-fiction work needs to be 60,000 words plus (the minimum length for most paperbacks). A great example of an author showing restraint is Paul Adams’s Grouped, which is exactly the right length for what he has to say about social networks – about 45,000 words/170 pages.

To hold our attention and to be useful, books should be useful in every chapter – I’m not sure that this is the case. I think they get padded – stretched to fit the format. Chunking things up in to 10,000 word segments would suit readers and save authors a lot of time too.

Whether new lengths and formats catch on for ebooks is something I’m watching closely. Especially as I definitely have another book in me right now – I just need to decide how it should come out, as it were.

Hi-fidelity reading

The paperback book I am reading right now is The Big Sleep and Other Novels, by Raymond Chandler.  It’s a lovely Penguin Classics imprint, thick and light and good to hold.

ZZ25AA929A

I bought it a month ago in paper version because I want to read it slowly, closely (as Francine Prose recommends). I first read Chandler when I was thirteen and fell in love – deeply – with his style. Coming back to it now is thrilling, especially taking time to read it word by word, feeling the shape of the sentences and paragraphs, letting the bright, colourful imagery hang in my mind for a few moments.

ZZ135DFAAE

Chandler writes in high definition. It’s prose that you want to play out on the best possible system: a relaxed mind, a calm room, off an analogue page that has texture, where the text has been imprinted.

I’m a reader and sometimes a writer, much more than I am a muso or a musician. So a paper page, read in a softly lit bedroom or attic study, with a warm drink next to me and near silence in the house – that’s the equivalent of an audiophile putting a vinyl disc onto a high-end turntable, connected to some valve-driven amp and played out through some speakers that cost as much as your car.

Book review: Culture Shock, by Will McInnnes

 

ZZ2888E754

Disclaimer: I know Will. We work in the same town, in the same line of business and have evolved our approaches in parallel, you might say. We’re different in our views – but it is fair to say we share many values and models for understanding the world.

That said, he wouldn’t want me to be anything but honest…

So, who should read Culture Shock? Continue reading

Long term trends: The Ngrams Viewer

“A database of intentions” is how John Battelle described Google. It is a thrilling concept, at times unsettling, that you can see into the searching soul of the connected populace by seeing the words they use t find things.

Google Trends is one of those miraculous tools of the web that has quickly become commonplace. With a prophylactic time-lapse to keep its powerful advantage of insight, Google lets us see what people were search for by year and by region.

The other day I came across the Google Ngrams Viewer for the first time. This gives a slightly longer trends view in language, taking all the books since 1800 as its data set (actually up to 2008, I think).

Continue reading

Holiday reading

In case you are looking for some ideas about what to read in the remainder of the summer, here are the books that have tickled my fancy over the summer months.

How I Escaped My Certain Fate, by Stewart Lee

Autobiographical story – interspersed with transcripts of some his shows – by my favourite stand-up comedian/ The book recounts his seeming career collapse, re-invention and return to stand-up comedy.

Take that it is utterly hilarious throughout as a given. Beyond that, what it gives a really interesting insight into the business of comedy and Lee’s creative/artistic methods. It doesn’t set out to be be or ever really use the tone of a profound book, but it is – there’s rich inspiration and example here for anyone thinking about being true to their own ideals or trying to remember, re-work what they do for a living.

NB: I read this on the Kindle app, even though Lee says he wrote it hoping it would only work on paper. It worked fine for me, although maybe I missed the point… ;)

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, by Lawrence Block

NewImage

A book about writing fiction by one of my favourite crime authors (Lawrence Block wrote the amazing Matt Scudder series, set in late-70s, early-80s New York – well worth tracking down). Like How I Escaped My Certain Fate, it sets itself against the conventions of its genre, for instance stressingjust how hard writing is, what a work of hackery pulling together thousands of words is, truths I can attest to after my own non-fiction effort.

This is one of a number of books I’d read, or at leat read in part, before. Again, a joy of the Kindle is that I re-visited it on a whim, re-downloading it from my archive while away on holiday.

Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

NewImage

This is a multi-layered, cerebral sci-fi joy. But don’t let that put you off…

It’s a lovely book of ideas, but I’ll freely admit, it’s a bit geeky and if you’re not prepared to roll with the conceptual stuff and pages of people explaining scientific or metaphysical theory to each other you might not like it. Worked for me though…

The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson

An account by Jon Ronson of his research into the tickbox method of diagnosing psychopathy as a condition. Along the way he prods at fascinating subjects like the way that all mental illnesses are categorised (by some shouty psychaitrists in a small meeting room was the original approach a couple of decades ago – loudest theories win) and how madness exists at the edges of many people’s lives.

I ripped through this in a couple of days. It’s part gripping yarn – scientologists, war criminals and psychopaths-next-door rub shoulders in Ronson’s story – and part essay on what mental illness really means to us all. Highly recommend this…

The Power of Pull, by John Hagel and John Seely Brown

This is another book I pulled back out of my archive, partly because it speaks to a strategy project I’ve been working on and partly because it felt like it was time to revisit the source material for some ideas that have been exerting a strong pull on a lot of my work. It’s a business book, pure and simple, about how innovation and markets are speeding up as a consequence of the social web, and what strategies organsiations can put in place to thrive in this environment.

Business books I read all the way through are a minority. This is one of an even rarer breed: books I re-read… Probably as important to me now as The Origin of Wealth has been for the past half decade or so.

Change by Design, by Tim Brown

NewImage

Design thinking has come in for a bit of flack lately, but it still stands as an amazingly useful way to approach any challenge, from designing a physical object to planning a marketing campaign. I’ve put the ideas to work in refining my Networks Thinking perspective and in designing the next phase of my business.

What’s interesting as well, to connect it with The Power of Pull’s themes, is how quickly some of the case studies have aged. This book was written in 2009, but already since then some markets and companies have moved on a great deal – not least the mobile industry which has been turned on its head in the past three years. Is design thinking is optimal as an approach for tactical, practical issues but doesn’t address strategic issues, despite its ambitions? I’m not sure about the answer to that, but its something I’m mulling at the moment…

 

 

 

 

Storytelling with sound, Paul Bennun and Nick Ryan – Notes from The Story Part 4

Another perspective on storytelling came from game designer Paul Bennun and sound designer and composer Nick Ryan, who collaborated most recently on the intriguing iPhone game, Papa Sangre. They set out to discuss the “special relationship between sound and storytelling”.

201102220653.jpg

Papa Sangre, if you haven’t seen is set in a pitch black underworld and you have to rely on navigating by sound – apparently about one in ten people just can’t get their head around it, but those who love it.

Entering the Palace of Bones from Papa Sangre on Vimeo.

For the technical-minded, Nick’s passion is for binaural recording, creating soundtracks which when listened to in headphones mimic how sound works in the real world (which is different to stereo – see Wikipedia for an explanation).

There were some really interesting discussions during the session, including ideas about creative an “navigational language of sound” for storytelling, which I’d like to hear more about.

One point which really struck me was when Nick reminded us just how hi-tech recorded sound was, how new it was – just a hundred years ago, as he put it, if you heard a sound you could be sure it was something happening nearby. Recorded sound allows us to separate time and location from the listening experience and

Nick also described a project for Macmillan publishers where he created an “audio enhanced” edition of a Ken Follett novel called Fall of Giants, which looks (sounds) really interesting – in the demo you hear sounds of the battlefield as the text is being read – I’d like to try that out.

Three beautiful storytelling approaches from the web

This is a post about three lovely things that are all about using technology to help tell stories in new ways.

Storify

In private alpha development at the moment, Storify looks like a wonderful way of tying together different bits of your and other people’s content on the web (photos, Tweets, videos) to tell a story, and package it up. Its classic curating behaviour, but in a really simple package – I really hope i get to try it out soon.

The example they use in the video is telling the story of a conference, which it would seem to be a perfect solution for, but I imagine using it also to tell the story of big projects. For instance, at last year’s The Story conference, Aleks Krotoski told the story of the making of The Virtual Revolution BBC TV series, by stitching together Tweets, photos and videos that she had made during the process.

I always fancied doing that for the story of writing Me and My Web Shadow, but I’ve not got round to it. I guess Storify is the sort of tool that would make a similar process even easier.

Keeping stories about projects and experiences would be a lot better for organisations than dull, dry reports. They would get read and remembered more than traditional documents, I reckon.

Storify demo from Burt Herman on Vimeo.

via Adam Tinworth (who also has a video interview with the Storify guys on his blog).

Facebook hardback book by Bouygues Télécom/DDB Paris

A French Telecom’s agency, DDB Paris, created hardback Facebook books for a small number of people, taking content (I think with their permission) from specific instances and connections and curating them.

It’s a lovely idea, and one which maybe Facebook or a partner should automate. Imagine creating a book about your online conversations during a wedding, or just a yearbook about you and your closest friends. Echoes of the lifestreaming sell that new social network Path is trying to push, perhaps…

These kinds of ideas and applications all indicate a growing sophistication in the way people are thinking about their personal social networks and the data they are creating about them online. It is about more than communication in the now, it is about creating a record of parts of our lives and thinking about how to make the best of that…

201011271449.jpg

When Facebook becomes a book from Siavosh Zabeti on Vimeo.

Via Creative Review.

Cinemek storyboard composer for the iPhone

201011271724.jpg

Last of the three is Cinemek, which is an iPhone app for creating storyboards. You add your pictures, and can then start turning them into a storyboard, to plan a film, animation or any interactive media experience.

There are some demoes on Cinemek’s Vimeo page, but this one brings it to life for me, as someone storyboards a movie sequence for a suspense thriller on the fly, using a model and inserting cutouts to represent other characters – really cool…
Pricier than many apps at £11.99 on the apps store it still seems incredible value for this kind of tool…

Hitchcock in action! from cinemek / Hitchcock on Vimeo.

Via Ewan McIntosh

Facebook vs. websites: sometimes Facebook is better

There’s a kind of web media theologians’ debate that goes on at the moment over whether brands should ditch their websites and move their web presence to Facebook wholesale.

So far, I have mostly been an advocate of the teeth-sucking “Ooh, you don’t want to do that…” side of the argument. Reasons being control, wider network presence, not wasting attention, lock-in to Facebook as a platform and the openness/future of the web

Now, I’m not throwing those arguments away, I stand by them in fact. But…

…as well as advising brands on their digital strategy, I am also an author. A time-poor author without his own marketing team, who wants the best for his published book and future books.

So Guy Kawasaki makes a really compelling case for why he has opted for a Facebook-only web presence for his new book, Enchantment. He goes into some detail about his reasoning, and it is worth a read. For instance…

I’m busy. Designing a website is a big deal. I can’t create one by myself so this means I’d have to find a company to do it or impose on my friends. A template or canned package would never make me happy, so I’d end up spending mucho time interacting with whoever is building website for me.

For my new book, I am considering going down the same route. I created a website, centred around a blog, for Me and My Web Shadow, but keeping a blog going is hard enough work without creating a second.

A better strategy for me will be to use Facebook for the web presence and continue to focus on posts and pages on my main domain antonymayfield.com.

201011210653.jpg