Digital Storytelling: The Evolution of Publishing Fiction on a Mobile Device (TOCCON 2010)

O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2010At O’Reilly Publishing Tools of Change (TOC) conference in New York was the session Digital Storytelling: The Evolution of Publishing Fiction on a Mobile Device by Geoffrey Young (StopWatch Media).

Mobile phones know where you are, what time it is, are communications devices and are fully programmable.
Starting question: Given these features, what story can you tell?

The Carrier is the first transmedia graphic novel as an iPhone app. In it’s “print” form, the novel would consist of 680 panels, 35 chapters — about 120 pages if printed out. Really it’s just images on a screen. But given the transmedia way it is told — in real time over 10 days — the story is a lot more.

Landscape mode of The Carrier iPhone appBecause mobile phones know what time it is, stories can be revealed over time. Depending on the time of day that reading begins, readers begin the story in a different way. This puts the storyteller in control. In real time the story pushes out messages.

The authors have created a lot of fictional sites — alternate reality game-like. They also created merchandise in Cafe Press that they linked to, which readers could buy. Messages were pushed to iPhone readers using Urban Airship (first 250,000 messages sent a free!) Geoff considered using SMS for messaging, but that option was too expensive (the author pays for the messages, not the reader).

This was an interesting presentation, given the transmedia features and story extras we built into Kontax.

A Conversation with Ray Kurzweil and Tim O'Reilly (TOCCON)

O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2010The last session last night at O’Reilly Publishing Tools of Change (TOC) conference in New York was A Conversation with Ray Kurzweil and Tim O’Reilly — an extremely interesting conversation between two very bright minds. “Ray Kurzweil invented the first CCD flat-bed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition. Ray’s latest book, The Singularity is Near, was a New York Times best seller.”

Ray’s latest product is Blio — a free ereader. It has 1m free books + some paid for books in its catalogue. Blio is very interactive: audio, video, quizzes, annotations, various views, very impressive text-to-speech. For audiobooks, can sync audio with text (as word gets read it is highlighted — karaole style). Very cool! Blio books are actually online (web-based) so they can be updated by authors at any time.

I know that a major publisher in South Africa will be using the Blio to distribute its content (when the Blio becomes available).

Consumers in the Cloud: Google and Digital Books (TOCCON 2010)

O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2010At O’Reilly Publishing Tools of Change (TOC) conference: Consumers in the Cloud: Google and Digital Books presented by Abe Murray, Product Manager at Google Books.

There are millions (billions?) more browsers than ebook readers, so why not use the browser as an ereader? (This is the approach we took with our m-novel Kontax.) You can walk into a bookstore and buy any book. Not so with ebooks, e.g. Kindle locks you into ebooks from Amazon. Google no like … Google Books mantra: buy anywhere, read anywhere. So Google moves into the ereader market with Google Editions — it’s browser-based and in the cloud (of course)!

How it works: Users preview book on They can buy the book directly from or through retailer site. User then owns a Google Edition ebook. All users books will then be online and accessible anywhere, anytime in the cloud in their Google Books library. Further:

  • eBooks will be full colour (they were scanned in colour)
  • Social features / sharing margin notes
  • Seamless reading between devices
  • Using HTML5, users can also read offline
  • Simple ereader interface in the browser
  • Will support DRM and DRM-free content (depending on publisher requirements)
  • Will allow copy/paste/print or not (depending on publisher requirements)
  • Revenue split when buying directly from Google Books: 37% to Google, 63% to publisher
  • Territory rights of the publishers will be respected (not sure how they’re going to do this)
  • You’re not locked into Google if you buy their books.You can take the files with you if you leave. And devices should be able to access the open-standards data. Google Books is part of the Data Liberation Front at Google
  • Ideas: bundling ebook with print book
  • The Google eReader will launch in 2010, mostly likely in the early part of second half of the year

Abe: “This is a great year for ebooks and Google’s gonna be part of that.”

OK, so this is all very interesting. Yes, Google will still be a controlling party in the value chain (let’s not forget that they make money … they don’t just love freeing information for the love of it). But their control will be less restrictive than current publishers. Definitely a space to watch.

Twitter scorecard for publishers (TOCCON 2010)

The next workshop that O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2010I attended at the O’Reilly’s Publishing Tools of Change (TOC) conference in New York was Twitter Scorecard for Publishers by Mike Hendrickson. It was an in-depth and quite technical look at using Twitter for amplification, engagement and other purposes. A few useful points:

Are there multiple twitterers in your organisation? Should they be rolled into one account? Do they say the same thing all the time? Or, ideally, do they NOT share the same followers/following, in which case they reach distinct audiences and so should be kept as separate, independent accounts? Use InterTwitter to find out.

What kind of a Tweeter are you: casual, connector, climber or persona? Who influences you? How much Twitter clout do you have? will tell you.

See who you’re following but who aren’t following you back with Friend of Follow.

Selling in mobile markets (TOCCON 2010)

O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2010I’m at the O’Reilly’s Publishing Tools of Change (TOC) conference in New York. Twitter hashtag is #toccon. Everything I learn here I’ll be applying to the m4Lit (mobile phones for literacy) project that I head up in South Africa.

Day one is workshops day, and first up is Selling in Mobile Markets, presented by Rana Sobhany, author of Marketing iPhone Apps.

The big question: How can publishers stay relevant in a digital world?
Great content. Curation. Quality. Subscription?

What’s special about mobile content:

  • Mobile phone is readily available
  • Engagement on the user’s terms
  • Short bursts of usage

Questions we need to ask ourselves:

  • How do you make your content most appealing?
  • How much is your content worth?
  • Apps? Mobile Web?


  • Small screen
  • Short attention span
  • So, very high demand for quality
  • Development costs ($20K-$100K dev costs for an app on any platform)
  • Gatekeepers (e.g. Apple for their App Store)


  • Immediate
  • Personal
  • Custom (e.g. you can publish a whole book, or chapter by chapter)
  • Measurable
  • Fast

PLATFORMS for mobile apps …
iPhone/iPad platform:

  • Coexists with Apple’s iTunes Music Store
  • Divided by category
  • >2bn downloads to date
  • Approx 200,000 apps available
  • Dev language is Objective-C (must be developed on a Mac)

Android platform:

  • Android is an open source operating system for mobile
  • Dev language is Java
  • Android market:
  • Payment is a recent addition to Android Market
  • Self-service model for developers to publish their apps; no iTunes gatekeeper scenario
  • No friction, but no quality control either

BlackBerry platform:

  • Dev language is Java
  • BlackBerry App World:
  • Expensive apps (=>$2.99)
  • Limited functionality
  • Multiple handsets
  • No centralised payment system (need to use PayPal)

Palm platform:

  • Market stronghold has dropped off
  • Dev language is C, C++, webOS for newer Palm devices
  • About 1m webOS devices out there, more women than men own one

Windows Mobile platform:

  • Dev languages Visual C++, .NET, Java
  • Windows Mobile 7 recently launched to much fanfare
  • If wanting to reach business users, seriously consider Windows Mobile 7

Symbian platform:

  • Very popular abroad; Nokia+Symbian relationship makes it more compelling for the global market
  • Nokia is Symbian’s biggest customer
  • Dev lang mostly in C++
  • Traditionally it’s the most expensive to develop for

STRATEGY: Pitfalls of each platform …
In her opinion, there are 4 primary mobile development platform.


  • Most attention from users and media, but very crowded space
  • Apple is a gatekeeper and it’s very difficult to plan launches
  • Hardware is expensive and there is a “application etiquette” to adhere to on App Store


  • Open platform, pros and cons associated with this
  • Not very high adoption rates
  • Hardware fragmentation

Windows Mobile:

  • OEM relationships make it harder for developers


  • Don’t dilute your app too much — choose the platform that your target audience is using
  • Also, committing to one platform can give you leverage/support from them
  • Pricing is key; $4.99 on App Store is the sweet spot
  • Adhere to the pricing guidelines of the platform you choose
  • Launch day: Speak to press 1-2 weeks before launch. Provide them with screenshots and value prop to users.

MEASURING success …

  • 1:1 mapping of mobile phone to user (this very unusual (think of TV and radio) (My note: Maybe in the USA, but not in developing countries)
  • Have someone on the team be responsible for analytics. Not necessarily the developer.