What would books look like if we were to invent them today?
“Modern” books, in the form we know them, are relics of the 15th Century. It doesn’t make sense to publish static, paper, typeset documents that are revised, at best, every few years — any more than it made sense to publish hand-scribed or wood-cut books once Gutenberg invented the printing press around 1450.
After thinking about improvisation (see previous post) and the risks of putting things out in the world that are spontaneous and unfinished, I’ve decided that I want to do more of it. So, I’m going to try something new:
Instead of writing books one chapter at a time, sequentially, I’m going to try writing the whole thing first as a summary, then an article, then, guided by reader reaction, I’ll expand those that people find most valuable, gradually providing more detail for those who are interested in a more comprehensive version.
I’ll publish those that reach the size of a “book” and charge for them in e-book or other electronic form,,while continuing to make the shorter article available as a sample.
This is the tried and true software model: a beta test version, followed by a free Lite version followed by a Pro version, each with updates as warranted.
This wasn’t possible a few years ago. But now the tools for continual, live documents are emerging. The old book model is dead, even the old e-book model, as we know it. To get an idea of where things are going, take a look at Google Wave:
Google Wave: What Might Email Look Like If It Were Invented Today? - O'Reilly Radar - an excellent third-party article.
Google Wave Preview - Extraordinary presentation from the developers. They are unpolished presenters, but their enthusiasm and knowledge more than trumps any lack of presentation skills. They are the real deal, totally charming in their enthusiasm and completely trustworthy.
Google says, "We set out to answer the question: What would email look like if we set out to invent it today?"
I’m asking, “What would books look like if were to invent them today?”
I think they would be some sort of live documents, continually revised and automatically updated, with almost real time input from readers: questions, reader examples, experiences from implementing the ideas in the document. In other word — as Google say — a cross between a conversation and a document.
With or without Google’s Wave, I have long thought that the time has come for living documents. I certainly plan to implement them in some form starting right now, even if they are a crude improvisation of their eventual evolution.
What I’m looking for now is a publishing platform to host “live” documents, plus a way to indicate in a very simple, convenient way, the changes that have been made since the last revision. “Tracking Changes” of the sort in word processor documents doesn’t even begin to do it.
There is an explosion of group collaboration software, but nothing that I’ve seen fills the bill. I think it could be the NEXT BIG THING.
I hope that Google Wave will soon provide that platform. Does anyone know an interim solution?