An inspiring week with the teams

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I get a real kick out of the sense of community which has developed in and around our Books & Print Sandbox projects. This was brought home to me again yesterday as I left work and caught sight of a group of projects drinking together in Watershed's bar. Collegiality isn't a frivolous 'add on' to what we are trying to achieve, its at the very core of Sandbox. Sitting down with each of the projects last week, a sense of common endeavour was again evident in the excitement building around our final (sniff) workshop on Wednesday when they will show each other what they have made for the first time. There is probably a little bit of healthy competition pushing them on, but also a genuine respect for each others' opinion and a desire to share their achievements. As well as demoing their creations, this workshop will ask the teams to consider their next steps in terms of both business development (with sessions led by our wonderful business mentor Mark Leaver) and press (with the fabulous Ladbury PR). It feels like the right time for this as both areas resonate with the meetings and blogs this week, where discussion of life post-Sandbox and how the work might be packaged ready for it dominated.

The Book Kernel team have been propelled forward following their successful test at our last get together. They have been testing away with their biggest challenge to come this Monday at the Dylan Thomas live translation event in Swansea. Beyond this however they have been cleaning up the user-interface and developing relationships for on-going business, with interest from both The Guardian and the BBC, and getting to grips with the essential task of being able to explain what Book Kernel actually is! The shift from a focus on content management to getting the interface right is also key for The Next Time(line) team and it is no easy task. Representing relational complexity in an attractive, meaningful and intuitive way is fundamental to their success and requires a great deal of work (I also really like this post for Alex’s lovely first sentence about Sandbox).

Elsewhere, Dave has also been concentrating on visuals as he designs the Writer on the Train app. In a great post he describes the process of identifying the font (the main one pleasingly being Raleway), style and layout for James’ writing. Aided by Amy’s week spent coding on the train (thanks FGW for another free pass!), the team has also come a long way in building the structure for its context specific delivery. We spent a lot of time talking about how the app could be sold, direct to commuters or through some clever sponsorship with the right brand. It was great to see James’ delight at the idea of the app being scanned from a cornflakes packet while the others worried about it compromising his style. This surprising role reversal is also being played out in the Jekyll 2.0 team, with Anthony threatening to play fast and loose with the text and Simon anxious about their fidelity to it. This brings great creative tension and is in no way a sign of weakening academic rigour – Anthony is very clear that their narrative structure and staging will be a true embodiment of the novel and this confidence seems to allow him to play around the edges with contextual material. The team have been frustrated by delays in the technical development but the time spent instead on producing a very robust and thoughtful plot have been time well spent.

Laura and Tom have also had to work around some tech and data set backs for The Secret Lives of Books. Like the Jekyll team however they have adjusted the development process and forged ahead. Actually, I think that the resulting design may prove to be more adaptable than might otherwise have been the case. They now have a very clear solution for how people will be invited to participate, how they will move with the books and how they will discover something magic as a result. With interest in the system from a number of surprising directions, they just need to nail down their pitch. As with other teams, we talked about the importance of knowing the true cost of production (easily obscured with an R&D grant) and being able to measure this against what you could reasonably charge your customer. This is a very current question for Tom and Duncan who are planning to run ‘these pages fall like ash’ in a few weeks time as a ticketed event. How much people will pay for such a novel form of reading experience however is very hard to predict and they are currently soliciting people’s thoughts, it would be tremendously helpful if you could contribute. The team are also considering the most effective (and least annoying) methods for gathering other important indicators of how a project like this relates to traditional publishing models – a key question for their R&D.

The question of cost versus price continues for the Digitising the Dollar Princess team too. Last week they were up at Keddleston Hall in Derbyshire with SpinMe, photographing one of Mary’s dresses. This 360°, high definition image will be part of the app and exemplifies the rich material through which readers will be able to explore her biography. Such special content comes at a price however and there is much more of the story still to tell. The team are also exploring a number of novel ways of enticing people into downloading the app by giving it a very physical presence in sites of interest. For Little j, the means of encouraging engagement are perhaps even tougher. Their system is being built on top on the Ushahidi platform which is great at displaying information. However, the success of Little j relies on people being motivated not just to consume but to contribute content, a famously tricky ratio to beat. If they can crack it though – and I think they are very well placed to do so – the value they create will be huge.

The teams have clearly worked incredibly hard and achieved a huge amount over recent weeks. I find them very inspiring to be around. So onwards to our last workshop. I can’t wait to get my hands on this stuff and then, with a little business development and PR magic, for you to as well.

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