Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Our Choice: a new way to showcase nonfiction

I heard about Al Gore’s new ebook app* Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis a day or two after it was released, and as a newbie iPad 2 owner could download it right then and there. No trip to the book store, no waiting days or weeks for a shipment. The amount of info packed into it is amazing and a pleasure to explore. The video below shows one of the co-founders of Push Pop Press, Mike Matas, giving a demo during a TED talk. Whatever you do, don’t miss the windmill at around 2 minutes and 40 seconds. (Thanks to April Pulley Sayre for this link):

As one or two of my recent posts reveal, I’m very interested in the creative possibilities of digital books and along with a group of authors have been investigating ways to make them myself. Book apps are intriguing because they can take advantage of the touch interface available on tablets and smart phones. While most of the book apps available so far appear to have been made by a separate-from-the-author team of developers, that doesn't especially grab me. Personally, I’d rather be hands-on, figuring out the content and interactivity on the fly. Having a developer create an app from my ideas feels like having an artist ghost-illustrate my books. Or like trying drawing with a pencil on a broomstick. It can be done, but I’d rather not.

Which is not to say that I’m in a hurry to learn how to do this:

From the Complete Idiot’s Guide to iPad and iPhone App Development
No, no, wrangling code is not going to be my thing in this lifetime. I want the GarageBand of book publishing, and I want it right now. (Speaking of GarageBand, have you played with it on the iPad yet? You can strum guitar strings, play piano chords, sample yourself doing a Tarzan yell, and much more.)

Fortunately, several developer groups are working on the digital
book-making software that I hope to soon add to my regulars...Photoshop, InDesign, Scrivener (an awesome word processor/novel-writing/research organizing program), Illustrator, et al. Check out this quote about Push Pop Press from a Wired article:

Gore’s book is just the first of what Matas and Tsinteris hope will be a series of similarly interactive e-books. The pair are planning to release Push Pop Press as a piece of Mac software for anyone to create a book app in the future.

The programmers did not disclose an estimated ship date or price for the Push Pop Press publishing software, but they said the goal was to make it “very affordable.”

That certainly sounds promising. I am already looking at software still in development from a couple of other sources... it’s too soon to say which system(s) will work for me. What I am sure of is that fairly soon it will be possible for non-developers to make interactive books with not just words and images but also motion, audio, video, animation, and who knows what else...

I can hardly wait!

@Loreen Leedy (on Twitter)
my web site

*There are print and audio editions of Our Choice, more info is here.


Gretchen Woelfle said...

OMG! I'm in love with that "book!" I see they have a paper version for adults and for kids too. Get to work, guys!

Linda Zajac said...

I think a very interesting test would be to have a bunch of students read the book version and another bunch of students read the ebook app version then test them to see which group retained more of the information. The app has some features that kids would love--the technology, pulling at the pictures and the audio--but I wonder if that disrupts the flow of the story and causes a reader to lose focus. Hm.

Lionel Bender said...

Like most apps of nonfiction I have seen, the presentation is excellent and gimmicks great .... but this is a game not a learning package. The windmill turning is great .... but it's a gimmick. Kids know a windmill turns. As I have said elsewhere, if one wants to create such projects, why start with a book? A book presents information one way, an app a completely different way. My guess is a documentary film maker would make far more of Al Gore's book, or any nonfiction book, and people (not just kids) would learn a lot more from them. Remember the CDRom fiasco: The same is in danger of happening again. Digital developers playing with information will create games not structured learning experiences (unless they are greatly restrained and directed) 'cos that's what ipads, tablets and smartphones do best. Sure, they have great capabilities and make everything look zappy, but I don't believe they can give the same learning experience as books. So let's have books and apps, but keep them separate.

Lionel Bender said...

I really don't think these products help learning and understanding. Sure, they are fun, appealing and make good use of ipad, tablet and smartphone features. But I really don't think a book is the best starting point to produce what are, in effect, games. Yes, these electronic products are attractive to kids, and might make "boring, difficult" subjects fun, but I too feel kids will get only superficial understanding from them. The "wow" features are included only to show off the digital devices' features. Remember the CD Rom fiasco: lots of products that made the most of computers' abilities, but did little to help understanding and fizzled out. A good book is a learning experience, a good app is a glorified game.

Loreen Leedy said...

Thanks for the comments! Like print books, there will be bad or mediocre book apps, but good ones, too, and even great ones. I expect some readers will relate very well to book apps, but not all readers will. We have only seen the tiniest indication so far of what book apps will turn out to be, methinks.

CDs were different because there were the same warehousing, shipping, distribution, etcetera issues as with print books, which doesn't apply to 100% digital books/apps.

Linda Zajac said...

I read in a book, I think it was Daniel Pink's book A Whole New Mind, that gaming is here to stay and that it will increasingly be used to educate. You are right though, this is neither a game nor a book. It's a morph of the two. Bring on the identical twins and divide them up, with one reading the book and the other reading the app. Gosh, if my twins were identical the poor things would be in dear trouble with me for a mommy.