There has been a lot of talk in a lot of different circles about what the future holds for the humble old book, and it is a subject that seriously intrigues me. I have for some time now been contemplating and experimenting with ways to bring books into more of an online format and create more chances for readers to interact with content and each other.
This article was written by Bob Stein, a media expert who has been watching and speculating on the development of books for more than 30 years. The main thrust of the article is that books, authors and readers appear to be evolving in a way that allows a book to be considered a sort of "place" (rather than a "thing"), where the writer can meet and interact with readers, and readers can interact with each other - alongside or as part of the content of the book. Of particular importance is Stein's notion that this meeting and interaction should take place alongside the actual text, on something akin to equal footing - not just as footnoted comments following below the text.
It really is mind boggling and exciting at the same time! Aside from the actual implications for reading and writing, this has spectacular potential for education, and Stein mentions this along with some actual examples of successful trials in educational settings.
Stein is one of the founders of the Institute for the Future of the Book, and helped create something called CommentPress - a specialised plugin for the WordPress blogging engine that "allows readers to comment paragraph by paragraph in the margins of a text."
Take a look at what they've come up with:
This example is of a speech by President Bush (The President's Address to the Nation), and as you can see, the text can be scrolled through while a comment box stays put just to the right - alongside the main text. This is where readers can reference paragraphs and leave thoughts and questions. Basically, it's a mini discussion thread that connects to the reading text by paragraph, but is accessible right next to the main text (rather than as a following or separate application) and positions reader input as being equally important as the original text itself.
In essence, it makes this text a place - for meeting and discussing, where writer and reader are both considered fundamental, but not in the stereotypical fashion we have become accustomed to.
A book is a place is a cracking read - make sure you read the whole article! It might change your perception of what books are (or can be). It has certainly got my brain ticking over...