E-books: From Social Action to . . . Social Media?

I recently stumbled upon an article by in WIRED called This is Why We’ll Never Have Innovative E-Books. (With a title like that, of course I had to read it.)  It’s author, Tim Carmody reflects on one of the challenges that makes e-book publishing so difficult–the technologies and ideas of e-book creators are often funneled into other projects.  Carmody uses Push Prop Press, the press that published Al Gore’s interactive e-book, Our Choice, as his example.  Push Pop Press was just recently acquired by Facebook–and its publishing team no longer intends to publish books. Carmody sums up the problem of e-book publication very plainly in the closing statement of his article:

The ideas are there; the talent is there; the readers are there. But when the three come together, inevitably someone else can figure out a way to use the technology for a different end. The better and more experimental it is, the more likely this is true.

After reading Push Pop Press’s statement on their website about the team’s move to Facebook, I was struck by a mix of feelings. While a part of me, like Carmody, is happy that the Push Pop team has such a great (I think?) opportunity–a very large part of me can’t help but be disappointed.

In the statement, Push Pop notes that although the press will no longer be publishing books, they are looking forward to using their skills on a new project: “designing the world’s largest book.” Their goal, they say, is to “[give] people even richer ways to share their stories” on Facebook.

What does this mean? Enhanced “wall post” features?” What kinds of stories? Does “rich” refer to the robustness of the technology? Or is the former Push Pop team hoping to develop a new facet of Facebook that encourages uses to develop content that extends beyond status updates? Something akin to a blogging platform?

For avid users, Facebook has already become a “time capsule” of sorts–one collects and archives the personal narratives of their day-to-day lives through updates, comments, replies, links, tags and media uploads. Will this “richer way” of sharing collect and synthesize all this data together to construct a digital scrapbook that “tells” users’ stories?  I’m curious to see what the Push Pop team has in mind.

If I’m being honest, though, I have to admit that my disappointment outweighs my curiosity. Aside from the fact that I’m a little annoyed over how pervasive and intrusive Facebook has become, I’d love to see richer, more interactive, and engaging books. Although e-books can certainly enhance the experience of “leisure” reading, I can’t help but think about the ways it could drastically change the way courses are developed and taught–particularly in the area of course content management.

But. . . more on that later.

(Note to self: Tim Carmody’s regularly writes for WIRED magazine on topics related of e-readers, media theory, higher education, and print culture (among others).  See an archive of his articles here.)

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