One of the most exciting things about Sophie, the open-source software the institute is currently developing, is that it will enable readers and writers to have conversations inside of books — both live chats and asynchronous exchanges through comments and social annotation. I touched on this idea of books as social software in my most recent “The Book is Reading You” post, and we’re exploring it right now through our networked book experiments with authors Mitch Stephens, and soon, McKenzie Wark, both of whom are writing books and opening up the process (with a little help from us) to readers. It’s a big part of our thinking here at the institute.
Catching up with some backlogged blog reading, I came across a little something from David Weinberger that suggests he shares our enthusiasm:
I can’t wait until we’re all reading on e-books. Because they’ll be networked, reading will become social. Book clubs will be continuous, global, ubiquitous, and as diverse as the Web.
And just think of being an author who gets to see which sections readers are underlining and scribbling next to. Just think of being an author given permission to reply.
I can’t wait.
Of course, ebooks as currently envisioned by Google and Amazon, bolted into restrictive IP enclosures, won’t allow for this kind of exchange. That’s why we need to be thinking hard right now about an alternative electronic publishing system. It may seem premature to say this — now, when electronic books are a marginal form — but before we know it, these companies will be the main purveyors of all media, including books, and we’ll wonder what the hell happened.