Living in a Blended World. Reading and Technology.

What do you use your screen(s) for?

It is highly unlikely that you will be reading a printed copy of these words. We live in a world of blended media today and that brings with it a few new features. The chances are that you have several screens and devices to choose from every day.

I have just come back from a Connected TV conference organised by my employers (MediaTel) which was all about the implications, and current state, of the technology. A lot of time was spent discussing advertising (indeed the event was sponsored by Rovi) and the whys and wherefores of the new advertising models being created. Fascinating stuff but what I’ll be discussing here is the nature of the technology we are now using every day and how we can use it.

Technology. Books. Television. What’s the link?

Actually it is wider and deeper than you might first think. Let’s get a few bullet points down…

  • printing. Since the Gutenberg press with its solid type we have seen printing develop to the point where we can print a book in a few minutes on a laser printer. But this is old hat now..
  • consumption. You can now read the book or listen to it being read by Stephen Fry, for example. If you want a difficult time you can get the text-to-speech program to do it for you instead of listening to Mr Fry’s mellifluous tones
  • more consumption.. this is where I give up on bullet points

One of the technology points that kept recurring at MediaTel’s Connected TV Experience was that there is an increasing emphasis on multiple or companion screen usage whilst watching TV. For example; say you are watching a movie and need to know more it is very simple to pick up your smart device (Android, Apple etc) and check the details on IMDB for starters.

So the companion screen is clearly going to be of major importance, the next 3 to 5 years will bring some maturity as well as new developments; I’d suggest that gesture based controls will be come more prevalent, this much is clear from the advent of the XBox Kinect device.

Back to books. One of my recent obsessions has been to think about and look at the different ways we now consume our literature. The list is here:

  • Paper
  • Computer screen at work or home
  •  Ebook (kindle, sony, vook..
  • Tablet
  • Smartphone

But hang on.. it isn’t even that simple. This is the blended bit.

I love the feeling of holding a book, turning the pages, all those sensual associations we develop with objects. However it isn’t always possible to lug around that massive copy of Lord of the Rings – which is where Blended Reading comes in.

Blended Reading is my name for the act of moving across different media to continue our reading experience: this implies continuity of reading the text or enhancing the reading experience by discovering additional information and content for ourselves; this in turn may include Social Media conversations and recommendations which lead to more reading matter or video/images/advertising.

Lord of the Rings is an interesting example because Peter Jackson very deliberately tried to retain the storytelling style and the events of the original book when making his films. When reading the book, or watching the film, it is easy to blend the two because of the effort put in to remain faithful to the book. You won’t necessarily learn a great deal from this particular blend but it serves as a starting point.

Implications and Analysis

Of course Blended Reading is much more than switching media. Book in hand I look up the extended bio of the author on my smartphone, I check out their other books. I download the next in series to my smartphone and read it anywhere I can.

This is exactly what I did recently when reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I have the thick volume which is impossible to carry, reassuringly dense on one’s lap but impossible on the tube. Motivated by the need to keep reading I got the eBook on my Android phone and carried on from where I left off. When time allowed in the evening I continued with the paper tome.

There was more to discover so I used my smartphone to find out for myself if there was any more of Pullman’s work related to this series. And this way I deepened my appreciation of his work and the characters he has created for us.

Similar scenarios happen when watching the television or a movie. We want to know more. The ad-breaks provide a chance for us to pursue questions raised whilst watching the main programme. Waiting for the kettle to boil or the toast to pop is another quiet moment to pursue the quest for information.

The implication of this style of interaction, for me, is that I get the satisfaction of enriching my experience. For the author, it means that I can discover more of their work or home in on a specific aspect of it. For the publisher, it means an opportunity to sell more books.

For Publishers, rather like Broadcasters, there are a number of issues to consider around how they can get the most benefits from multiple devices and indeed the social relationships that go hand in hand with them. Selling multiple copies of a book, say, is it right to sell an individual bot electronic and paper copies of a work? I’m sure that many publishers would say ‘Yes!’. This doesn’t encourage the Blended Reading I’m talking about though and creates a disjoint between what is available and what is possible.

Conclusion

Whether you are reading this article on the computer at home or work, on your Kindle or smartphone it is now clear that reading has changed. This isn’t news anymore, just bald fact.

The technology we carry around with us provides so many opportunities for us to experience more outside the main focus of our attention that making use of the facility becomes compelling, habit forming possibly. Does this improve our experience of what we read or watch?

I think that it does. What do you think?

#FridayReads beginnings and endings…

There has been much written about the origins of FridayReads and how it became so popular. More recently there has been a great deal about the fact that Bethanne Patrick and her crew have been making a pretty penny out of the publishers. So here’s a bit of analysis, and information, for you from my perspective. Thus far I’ve kept quiet as I consider the implications of it all but I think it’s time to put my head above the parapet, not least because there is a chunk of the story missing.

Way back, it seems, in the last quarter of 2010 I read a book called Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath it’s all about how we get drawn to ideas and how they stay with us. It really is an excellent read. About the same time I was also looking into getting some new knowledge and skills under my belt, autodidact that I am, and so the idea of learning about Social Media and particularly @Twitter came about.

Mix in a love of books and we’re nearly there.

Digging around in Twitter eventually turned up this idea of weekly sharing of what people are reading, called #FridayReads – conceived by Bethanne Patrick when she was with Book Studio, now defunct I believe. Ping! The lightbulb moment arrived when I discovered that this brilliant idea called FridayReads was dragging along with between 300 and 500 participants weekly. This was in about September/October 2010.

So, as a personal experiment initially, I decided to follow the rules set out by the estimable Heath brothers in their book. My aim was to see if I could get #FridayReads to grow.

And you know what, I was right and the techniques of engagement and publicising of the idea really worked. FridayReads started to grow, and grow. I didn’t stay on my own for long though as certain other great people joined in with me to form a core: @erinfaye, @adamslisa, @littlefluffycat and @shelfmagazine. Naturally this caught Bethanne’s attention as the buzz around FridayReads began to increase. It is undeniably a brilliant idea and perfect for the Social Media (though more Twitter and Facebook than the oddness that is Tumblr).

The participation in FridayReads on Twitter has lately stuck at around 5000-6000 weekly (which is great) though the Facebook page has a little under 10,000 ‘likes’. It’s rather a shame that Bethanne went in to Book Riot as it is a shadow of the potential that FridayReads had and nowhere near as good an idea, ah well, she didn’t ask what I thought and they do seem to be rather well funded.

But where next. Well, data. I quickly saw that there was potential for a Best Read List, a regular listing of the top books mentioned by the participants. To this end I devised some algorithms and wrote some computer programs to analyse the data from the Twitter #FridayReads stream. @erinfaye maintained the list on her blog of FridayReads (initially on blogspot), later this moved to the fridayreads.com website and was still maintained by @erinfaye and myself.

My third child was born in March and as a result I was somewhat distracted from the goings on in FridayReads and apparently this was also around when the monetization started.  I only became aware of the fact that money was being made much later on. This would be totally fine had there been an air of openness around the subject and a clear willingness to share. As it was I had invested a considerable amount of time, ingenuity and some of my own earnings in producing the Best Read Lists and resented the move to own/take over the work I had done.

Negotiations were entered into but I decided that as the relationship had been soured through a loss of trust that I would no longer publish the Best Read Lists on fridayreads.com, they now live at BestReadList.com which is a new site I run with @erinfaye. The Best Read strand was the single most popular item on the FridayReads website so it would be a shame to flush it all away.

So there we are. FridayReads is still a great idea but rather marred  of late by the controversy. I still take part as I believe that the sharing of the knowledge of what we are reading is vital. I also love watching and mapping trends and where better than Twitter.

Other sites:

Bethanne Patrick on FridayReads

Jennifer Weiner Post about FridayReads

 

 

So what is the “30 Day Book Meme”?

I Love Reading

I Love Reading

To many people there is this thing called the ’30 day book meme’ which is a kind of survey where you write a blog entry in answer to each of the questions.
An example of one is here http://ohemgillie.wordpress.com/2011/04/30/30-day-book-meme-day-30/ and you can see each of the days has been filled out by @OhEmGillie. There are many, many examples of this over the web and it’s rather popular.

I can see the appeal as it is a great way of talking about what you love; Books, reading and literature.

The concept of a Meme first appeared in Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene. Quoting from WikiPedia:

The book also coins the term meme for a unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene, suggesting that such “selfish” replication may also model human culture, in a different sense. Memetics has become the subject of many studies since the publication of the book.

There are other book and literature related memes around, here are some I found:

I notice a feature of these memes is that some of them involve ‘tagging’ which seems an ideal thing for Twitter. Not used much in that way though.

Do you do or have you ever joined in a ‘book meme’? If so tell us about your favourite one here, make sure you include a link in the comment so it can be found.

How do you choose your next book?

I’m sure we all choose our next books in different ways.

My favoured method for a long time has been to just start reading the book, sometimes after I’ve read the blurb but not always. This works really well particularly when browsing in bookshops or someone’s bookshelves. If I find that I’ve got to the third page of the book without any effort then I’ll probably read the whole thing.

Familiarity with an author is a great way to choose as well. It doesn’t always work out so well though when you find you prefer their earlier work to their later output. Short stories are a potent way of discovering whether you like an author’s style, I’ve sometimes found that the short stories are better than the full length ones or vice versa. What is interesting about that is that the short stories are often about the author finding their ‘writing self’ so you can see development and experimentation going on.

Recommendations are another useful way of finding out what to read. There are the algorithmic, computerised, methods used by Amazon, Goodreads and LibraryThing on the one hand and personal suggestions on the other. Personal recommendations might come from friends, colleagues or family or via FridayReads or forums/discussion groups on places like Goodreads and LibraryThing. It’s interesting how people will ‘sell’ you the book that they really enjoyed, they might not even realise you hate romantic fiction – but there’s a first time for everything.

I’d love to know how you discover what you want to read next. Join the conversation using the comments below.

Stoke Newington Literary Festival 2011

The dates for the local literary festival in Stoke Newington have been announced. Clear your diaries for 3rd to 5th June 2011 and look forward to some great events including an enhanced children’s strand.

I’ll be doing my best to get down there and join in the buzz.

Follow on Twitter: @StokeyLitFest

Event Homepage: Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Facebook: StokeyLitFest

 

Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

When I was a teenager there was a brilliant television adaptation of John Wyndham’s post-apocalyptic novel, Day of the Triffids. Thanks to the wonders of the Web and the BBC I was able to sit down and watch the 1981 series in one afternoon. It stars John Duttine as Bill Masen who is the main protagonist and narrator of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The novel was written in 1951, only a few years after the end of the Second World War and before the end of the period of austerity imposed during the war. In this context some of the themes of the novel become clearer: The idea of the destruction of humanity, by weapons or a terrible accident; Dealing with shortages of food and other related themes.

The production values don’t match up to the amount spent on today’s drama but the story telling is very faithful to the original story. Quite a relief when you see how badly some movies get chopped about in the name of entertainment. Overall it is rather a bleak story and the fact that it is possible to have produced it without fabricating a happy ending is a good thing.

I thoroughly recommend the book and if you feel inspired then watch the drama unfold 1981 style.

Day of the Triffids – SeeSaw

Buy from Amazon UK

Buy from Amazon.com

What makes libraries so important?

There is a growing #savelibraries campaign on Twitter. Why?
Recent political decisions in both the USA and the UK have put libraries under threat of closure through withdrawal of public funds. From a fundamental view of knowledge sharing and education this seems entirely wrong.

The obvious reason is that the accountants and politicians in their wisdom have decided that the cost of staffing libraries and maintaining the buildings does not produce a sufficient ‘return’. 

The world is going through an economic slump at present and it seems short sighted to reduce the level of education of the population. Libraries are a social centre where people go to explore new knowledge and deepen their existing understanding of subjects.

The issue of saving libraries is about far more than buildings full of books, it is affects society as a whole. Losing a single library devalues a community, to lose them more widely affects a whole nation.

FridayReads bullet points

Why should I take part?
We take reading and literacy for granted. But the reason we can do so is that over the past two centuries or more there have been some hard fought campaigns to make reading an essential part of our education. [1] [2] The ability to read allows the uneducated to teach themselves, it allows us to learn about and appreciate other cultures and ways of life. We can visit alternate realities and discover some of the secrets of life. Emancipation is the key word, this is why reading needs to be taught and encouraged.

Taking part in FridayReads is, in part, an acknowledgement of the fact that reading is such an important part of life and has been recognised as such for some considerable time. However, it is not only essential but it is often fun and that is a huge part of FridayReads too.

FridayReads LogoWhere does it happen?
You can find FridayReads on Twitter, just got to Twitter search and search for #FridayReads. You will need a Twitter account to join in. If you don’t want or have a Twitter account but are on Facebook you can go the the FridayReads Page and join in there.

What’s my incentive?
You need an incentive?  Well, if you really need it then you should know that taking part in FridayReads makes you eligible for some amazing, book related, prizes and giveaways. This can include signed copies of books and it has been known for people to win chocolate, which is often vital when reading Romance novels.

What counts?
Anything that you read but most people submit the books they are reading. Your children’s bedtime stories count too and it is great to see children’s titles appearing on the list. There are always classics on the list and the range of titles and genres is enormous. Magazines, manuscripts, ebooks. In fact anything that is written down. If you’re listening then yo can use the #FridayListens tag on Twitter instead. The Book at Bedtime slot on BBC Radio4  would count for this for example.

You can keep up to date with #FridayReads on Twitter or Facebook by asking us questions and generally joining in the fun. Look forward to seeing you there and maybe congratulating you in winning a prize!

Two facts for the price of one:
Dick Whittington was a real person, he lived from 1354-1423 and was a rich merchant and politician.

In his will Whittington set aside money for the creation of a library.  Another fine example of seeing the value of the collected knowledge that is accessible through reading. I only mention this because at the time of writing there is huge pressure to close or reduce funding to libraries in both the UK and US.

The Whittington Charity still exists today. Nearly 600 years after his death.

OK, it was three facts.

FridayReads was created by Bethanne Patrick @thebookmaven