Daily Thoughts 133: Flowing Fiction

The Inevitable cover artI’ve been listening to The Inevitable over the last few days. I still have about half the book remaining. I’m curious if he addresses the unevenness of the sorts of changes being discussed. Change is never even, never smooth, never uniform across any society. The other day we ran into an issue in one of our libraries due to limited bandwidth at that location. I expect that will change, but it takes time. Everyone doesn’t reach the same point at the same time even if they’d like to change. Everything ends up lumpy.

Cars, for example. Go out on any road or highway and you’re bound to see all sorts of makes and models, some decades old and some brand new. As autonomous cars begin populating the roads we’ll see them alongside someone’s mud-splattered, battered old Ford pickup, coughing and spewing out dark smoke from the tailpipe while it drives alongside these new sleek, silent, electric vehicles.

Fluidity

I find (given both my work in libraries and as a writer) the views on the changing nature of books fascinating. I have many ideas that I’d like to explore in this area that I’ve already been working on. The notion of interconnected texts, the flowing and changing of digital works, and the augmentation of physical objects makes perfect sense to me. I see print books as a potential interface to other digital content. Nothing so cumbersome as a QR code. The printed text itself will become interactive without needing to change a thing through augmented and aware devices like glasses.

Take the simple matter of looking up a word. On a Kindle, I can press a word and get a definition. Soon, with my glasses, if I touched a word on a printed page, it will show the same sort of popup overlay. The overlay will look perfectly like part of the book ‘display,’ regardless of my head motion. Other augmentations will show annotations, comments, and other information from the book. In a series, touching a character’s name might pop up a character timeline that I can scroll through, even back through other books in the series. The entire print book becomes the code with which the glasses can interact.

Fiction as a Service

Cover art for Discount ArmageddonI’m also interested in other approaches. Some authors have found success on Patreon—Seanan McGuire is currently set to receive $8,673 per short story, more than many authors receive as an advance from traditional publishers on a novel. All from 1,379 patrons. As Kelly talks about in his book, it isn’t so much that they are paying for the stories (which cost as little as $1 per story), but for the interaction with the author. Those who pay more have access to more interaction (and stuff), increasing as the amount goes up. McGuire planned to only do the “toaster project” for a year, with a goal of improving her house. It’s an interesting project, well supported by her fans. She almost seems embarrassed to receive the support. At one story per month, that’s a pretty good living!

One of the things that I find interesting, is what Kelly talked about in the book. That you’re paying for the interaction. I doubt the fans will want to give that up when the “toaster project” concludes. (Actually, checking the recent posts, she is extending it another six months with an option to extend for another year).

Fiction as Flows

One of my post-MLIS projects will focus on a toolkit for writers. I’m interested in something that allows a deeper exploration of the text, an easier fluidity of the form of the text, and ways to reform and analyze it. That may end up being some form of XML/XSLT or some other approach. I still have a lot of studying to do before I get too much into the project.

I do know a few things about it:

  • Text independent of display and format. The basic format is plain text that can morph and display in different ways and be easily transformed into different formats, from e-books to print to whatever.
  • Data-rich. I want the text to be rich in data. That includes stats at various levels from how quickly words are written, a timeline of every character stroke, to layers of interlinked data and metadata about the text. Selecting a portion of text can pull up rich metadata about the selected text, changes, notes, etc.
  • Social. I want it easy to share and involve readers with the text. And make it easy for readers to network and support the creation of the text. That could be monetarily, or through providing comments and feedback.

It’ll be something interesting to dig deeper into as I complete the MLIS and move on to my other projects.