By Chris Kubica
Thursday, in Your Book as a Database: A Primer, we laid the foundation for thinking of books as relational databases. Yesterday in Part 2 I demonstrated how you can rate a single book to the larger ecosystem of books and reading. Today, I explain how to put this all together and make it work for you.
Taking it One Step Further
So far in this article I’ve outlined a digital book-as-database and made the case for how much easier it would be to use, share, query, update and navigate electronic books for writers and readers. But the model I’ve portrayed is still quite traditional: an author creates, an author releases that creation to the world, a reader finds the creation, a reader consumes the creation, a reader possibly blogs about or comments on the creation if given the option to do so like you have using amazon.com book reviews. And maybe at the end of that linear progression an author even reads a reader’s blog and comments on it.
We know that when people — especially students — read a book, they mark it all up with their own “tags”, notes, highlights, and ideas (known as “metadata” to computer geeks like me) and then want to share all of their metadata with everyone they know.
So lets add another layer of information to our book-reader-writer-ecosystem to deal with the social needs and interests or writers and readers:
“Wow! Now you’ve lost me, Chris. I’m off to get a nice, thick stout.”
Patience, reader; don’t go yet!
The new red boxes in this diagram indicate spots/opportunities/areas where readers can (and will want to) contribute directly to you and your book and/or interact with the book, the book’s author and with other readers of the book.
So a reader might actually pull up a chat window with an author and discuss something in real time — right on the page of the book — with you? Yes, like:
“What do you mean, exactly, by saying ‘He sipped his ginger ale gingerly?’”
Or an author and a bunch of readers might attend a real, live event with one another like an author reading or a fiction writing class or a lecture. Or discuss a book together on Twitter under a hashtag like #English101.
And think again of students: they add all kinds of highlights, underlines, notes and attachments to their books. So a book-as-database requires places for readers to add all of this information, too.
Readers might also help add useful tags to your whole book, or to individual chapters. Or to individual paragraphs. Readers might even like to help crowd-source-translate your book into other human languages. They might even do this real-time, sentence by sentence, as you write the original work (if you’re cool with that, that is. Otherwise, maybe there’d be a way to turn that off so a writer doesn’t feel stalked by an eager translator!).
Readers like to make lists, too. I know I do. So they might create their own collections of books and put your book into some of those collections (“My Top Ten Winter Reads”).
As a reader or author, the ways in which you can read and use your books grows a great deal under this more three-dimensional model. You can do things with your library you’ve never been able to do before with paper or e-books:
- List the chapters in this book, but by popularity. Or by usefulness. Or by rating.
- Show my only the sentences in my books that I’ve highlighted.
- Show me the most highlighted sentences in this book by everyone in my class. Or by everyone who has ever come to this page before I have.
- Share my notes with my class. Or with the world.
- Show me the notes for this page written by my professor, or my friend Freddy. Or both together.
- Show me only the notes added to this page that other readers have flagged as useful.
- Show me just all my notes and annotations out of context of the page they were written on.
- Show me this sentence along side every reader-contributed Italian translation of that sentence.
- Show me the chapters or paragraphs that readers give the lowest ratings to.
And you can socialize in and with your books, too, by:
- Hanging out on page 200 while you discuss that very page with your classmates together in real-time.
- Sharing parts of a book with your friends and relations on other social networks.
Your book is no longer a trophy, behind glass, on a shelf. It is a living, breathing organism that grows when you add to or modify it and grows even when you are asleep or on vacation with the help of the community that looks out for it, has made it a part of their daily life, has pitched a tent in it.
Getting Something Out of It
Some might think that building a book entirely electronically and as a database from the get-go limits the types of readers an author will have to only tech-savvy ones. But it doesn’t have to. Once all the content is in a book-as-database it isn’t a big deal to create what are called stylesheets to transform the book’s content into different forms for different uses. There might be stylesheets for:
- Print on demand paperbacks or hardcovers
- A la carte, standalone chapter purchases
- Static e-book versions compatible with whatever e-book reader(s) you already have
Indeed, the ways to distribute the content of your book gets bigger, not smaller. The platform is the input for a book. The outputs can be infinite: If your book has video or audio in it, there could be stylesheets to turn that media into DVDs or CDs or downloadable movies or podcasts. If your book contains images or charts or graphs, there could be a stylesheet to turn that content into photobooks or slideshows or Flickr photo sets. There could be a stylesheet for randomly turning snips of your book into tweets or Facebook updates. There could be a stylesheet to serially blog your book sentence by sentence. To make your book a slide show. To make your book a digital billboard. What can you dream up?
In other words, once all of your content is digital and organized in a central book-as-database, there are endless ways you can use it, mash it up, and reuse it — over and over.
Which platform should you choose?
If you’re on board and think it’s a good idea to write your works-to-come as books-as-databases, you are probably wondering where to start, what platform to choose, what tools to use.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer or this . . . no platform like this yet exists, at least not completely. There are bits and pieces of what I describe all over the place. Here are a few sites that I know about that allow some of the book-as-database features I’ve discussed in this article. I encourage comments and suggestions for more (I will update this list as I hear of new sites):
In fact, I’m building a platform, too, that will include everything described in this article: Check out neverend media/neverend books at http://www.neverendmedia.com.
Others, like Richard Nash, are building a reader-writer community platform as well (http://www.thinkcursor.com). And there are still others.
The point is that, authors — at the earliest opportunity — you must must take your works out of your word processors, off your legal pads and out of your typewriters and let them sprout and grow and mature and live online, not off. Successful authors of the future will be the ones who:
- Explore all of the above-listed emerging writer tools and more as soon as they come out. Sign up for them, try them, suggest changes to them, become active users.
- Read blogs like this one to keep abreast of the bleeding edge in book-as-database-type publishing platforms.
- Write every day and share their new work with readers every day.
- Tend to the growing, changing fields of their writing and their readers like a loving farmer.
- Socialize with readers — find out what they like, what they don’t, what they want and get to know them.
- Cater to readers of all kinds from the silent readers to the take-you-out-to-lunch-ers.
- Enlist the help of readers to add tags, highlights, translations, book selections, reviews, notes and other metadata to their books.
- Enhance their books with content besides just text to engage the many different types of media consumers.
- Understand that the content-consumer of the future will have an extremely limited attention span coupled with the ever-growing variety of media to consume and thus the author must be willing and able to add to mash up and draw attention to different aspects of their work on a daily basis to keep consumers coming back for more each day.
- Mine the data of their own books, gain intelligence from such excavations and use that intelligence to inform future creative work.
Authors: I can’t stress this enough. You will need a way to touch your readers in a new way every single day. A book-as-database is the way to do it.
So get your works online and get them into book-as-database format as soon as this becomes possible. It might be quaint to type up your magnum opus, print it on archival paper, put it in a box, tie the box with ribbon and stick it in a drawer, but no one will ever find it there. No one will even go looking for it or know it’s there.