This quote is from a note I wrote some time ago – KC is Knowledge Central, an “electronic central repository” for digital copies of books:
With a hand-held communicator connected to KC over a 14,000 baud internal radio modem anyone anywhere in the world, from the hottest desert to the deepest jungle to the highest mountain will be able to access and search the combined knowledge base of the entire American publishing industry output and, later, the world. By implication this is the storehouse of all of mankind’s knowledge.
I went on to describe the type of search engine that would be used with it. The full text of the note from which this quote is taken can be found in the October 1993 issue of Grist.
We’re on a good track for an accessible Knowledge Central now. It’s the Kindle store plus other ebook collections plus Google Book Search plus the Kindle and other wirelessly connected ebook readers. So one future for digital sharing of knowledge is a collection of discrete units, accessible from anywhere, fully searchable and priced … according to the current print publishing model. Call it Future A.
I’m not going to discuss that. It’s being discussed a lot and by people a lot more clever than I. I want to outline what I think is an alternative future for digital “publishing”. (I’ve initiated a map at debategraph.org (with whom I’ve been in contact for a while now to discuss this and other issues) to discuss it. Please join in the discussion. The map cannot be embedded here at the moment because of a (perfectly reasonable) technical restriction on the wordpress.com platform so I’m going to outline it below.) Call it Future B.
[ ... ]
In Future B continuously updated digital maps are created (using software like that used at debategraph.org) which not dependent on time’s arrow, which present fast navigation and different levels of access and, and this is the point, interconnect. That is, there are links between the maps or individual map elements on different maps. Something which cannot happen in Future A.
So in this future the “publisher” is now the company offering the map creation/display software service [becomes the "production" company]. The people who create the content for the map – which can include plain text, video, sound and pictures and any other media that can fit – are the “contributors” (today’s authors) and the person who controls the map layout is the [ ... ] “map curator” (today’s editor). Some publishers will offer all services – contributors and [ ... ] curators and the map display service – and the job labels may overlap – but in this alternative future for digital “publishing” all components of the industry can be parceled out to individuals and, in fact, a single person can fill all positions.
More than the interconnection between maps or map elements at a single publisher, maps will be connected across publishers, that is, maps produced at the site of publisher A will connect across to maps at publisher B. And, importantly, maps will be allow for as much social connectivity and sharing and Semantic Web compatibility as can be built in.
But where will the money come from to support quality work? Individual contributors will be paid to produce their contributions. Mappers will be paid to put the maps together in a compelling way. The publisher will be paid with an access fee to the map, when “readers” cross from one map to another or from one map element to another or from a map at one site to a map at another site and by other means which I can only guess at. Will this be enough money? I don’t know that either, but there’s no reason Future A and Future B cannot run side by side. And who’s to know Future C, D and E? Some maps will be public-domain and allow all to contribute continuously and some will be closed to public update.
So that’s alternative Future B. As I said, please hop over to the map and join in the discussion (just register at debategraph.org and start to add your own ideas or edit the ideas of others).
p.s. Here’s a link to the Nuclear Politics map at debategraph. In this context think of the software as just the first step down the road to a Future B.
revised 5/30/10 added note about debategraph and took out confusing couple of paragraphs. 6/2/10 added link to Nuclear Politics map.
6/3/10 On 6/1/10 Razorfish released “Nimble: A Razorfish report on publishing in the digital age” written by Rachel Lovinger “with support from research partner Semantic Universe.” Here’s the link to the announcement.
update 6/15/10 – see also my next post: everything everywhere everybody.
update 6/18/10 – made a few updates.