From thinking to making...

Sitting down to write my (almost) weekly round up of the project blogs I can't help but notice something. There aren't as many. If I didn't know the teams better, this might worry me a little but luckily Mark and I have been doing our second round of meetings with them over the last few days and so I know that this is less to do with a slow down in the pace of work than their transition from thinking to doing. This week, after a month of exploding with all the possibilities, the teams seem more focussed, more practical and more scared. There may be less to think about, but there is suddenly a lot to do.


I like to think that some of this at least has been inspired by our last workshop on audiences. The Writer on the Train team have made the brave decision to narrow their audience to commuters specifically. While this cuts out some train passengers, tailoring the app to this (fairly predictable) group brings great opportunities to engage them over a longer period of time, deliver a slower more magical process of discovery and allows the team to fully experiment with matching the content to context. They now need to decide whether to include any audio in the experience. The Book Kernel team are strong on the conceptual underpinning for their idea and on how the trend towards a time based web (see last week’s David Gelernter article referenced in their blog) might be applied to book publishing. However, how the affordances of the online world, which is great at ever changing collaborative content, can be gracefully linked to a book in the hand raises many logistical questions. The Book Kernel team are moving quickly towards testing these by adapting existing platforms, linking them to mobile and building partnerships with printers to define four separate but linked BK outputs This will be a major issue also for ‘Little j’: Hyper Local News in their mission to turn online gossip into reliable news.

As Charlotte and Nicola are busy building the framework for their digital content they are also thinking about whether Digitising the Dollar Princess might have a physical manifestation. What if you could buy a digital book in a shop, give it as a gift or put it on your mantelpiece? Given the gap between producing rich original content with limited images and the average price paid for an app, might a beautifully designed bookmark (linked to the online book) comfort newcomers and change customer expectations about price in the process? I guess they will have to make one and find out. The Next Time(line) team have questions of their own and, while their build is well underway, are doing some paper testing to get some early feed back. They have an interesting approach to this, working first with possibly their most expert audience – PhD students. Although this sounds counter intuitive, it should help them to refine the relationships between the data to ensure that the timeline can cope with the kind of critical analysis they hope it will be used for.  They will then test the design with A level students to make sure that it is accessible and intuitive enough for those less familiar with the featured texts.  

Tom and Laura have been talking to the experts too, researching how book shops place books, design their in store layout and write recommendations. They have come up with some clever ideas about how The Secret Lives of Books might strike a balance between search and serendipity so that users are led to take home books that they otherwise would not have discovered. To begin to experiment with people’s movements, which will trigger the navigation through this world, they have built a simple virtual landscape that is explored by holding and moving a book. Which is pretty bloody exciting! This will be developed around their data sets and tested at Blackwells book shop in mid March before being adapted for the library. Anthony and Simon’s move from thinking to making has been hampered by problems with the bio kit so in the meantime they have been working on the content and structure of Jekyll 2.0. Anthony has created a 12 page break down of the novel according to its sound and visual landscape with accompanying pieces of text. This analysis reveals information about location and audio which they have used to build a simple geo-located app for Bristol. This may not be included in the final experience but has allowed the team to move forward in understanding how the novel can be rendered for a live environment.

A question for all of the projects will be how to get the attention of future commissioners, investors and clients. It is too early to be worrying about this yet but we have been encouraging the teams to think about how you build in the tools at this stage to ensure that you are able to answer their questions down the line. There is an immediate audience for ‘these pages fall like ash’ for example, who Tom and Duncan are busy writing an experience for but they also want to speak to the industry more widely. How might we make sure that they listen? Working with established authors like Nick and Neil helps but they are also thinking about how analytic tools can be built into the process to demonstrate the wider impact of the work in ways that will resonate with traditional publishers.

So onwards! Its all getting very real.