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Three New "Editions At Play" Websites Now Online – FREE

For a little under two years now Google has been working with print design firm Visual Editions to develop new ways to tell stories with websites, and then mislabel them as ebooks.

Edit: As longtime readers will know, I am not a fan of Editions at Play. I will explain why in the comment section.

The latest three installments were released this month, and they are all free to read (at the moment).

  • The Shape of Clouds by Gianrico Carofiglio is an adventure-laden, surprising road trip story that puts readers in the dynamic driving seat. As the story’s environment literally adapts to the reader’s surroundings, time and place, we follow the narrator on his unexpected life journey that magically changes no matter where the reader is.
  • A Universe Explodes by Tea Uglow, published by Visual Editions, is a book about a parent whose world gradually falls apart. The book is owned by a collective of people who, through blockchain, progressively reduce the book to only one word per page.
  • Seed is a digital story that grows and decays, written by award-winning British author Joanna Walsh. The book uses a sprawling digitally-native canvas to steer the reader through their own unique reading of the book.

I am still reading about the works, and what Visual Editions is trying to say with each title, but I do have some pithy commentary to share with you tonight.

One title, The Shape of Clouds, appears to recycle old user-tracking ideas which have already been tried several times in recent memory (Liza Daly was showing off this kind of thing five years ago), but not all of the works are quite so derivative.

A Universe Explodes is less a book than an artistic statement about ownership and possession. I have read the author’s post about the work and seen the following video, but I don’t understand it yet:



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Nate Hoffelder April 13, 2017 um 8:38 pm

My problem with Editions at Play is that I see it as the literary equivalent of expanding the boundaries of dog ownership by taking a parrot, calling it a dog, ateaching it to talk and sing, and then getting excited that we now have "dogs" that can fly, sing, and talk.

Sorry, but parrots were already doing all that before they were labeled as "dogs", and no matter what label you stick on them they are still parrots.

When it comes to Editions at Play, many of the titles in this program exhibit features websites have had for years if not decades. To be amazed that these features are now found in "ebooks" requires that we ignore the fact that many of the "new" features had already been tried back before Visual Editions started labeling websites as "ebooks".

This is an unpopular opinion, though, so don’t mind me; I’ll just be over here pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

blendenzo April 14, 2017 um 1:07 am

I think I see where you are coming from. An ebook is, by nature, a digital method of delivering a pre-existing species of media known as a "book". While formats like EPUB do use web technologies (HTML/CSS, &c.), saying "ebooks are just websites" is thinking backward. Web technologies are simply one convenient way of presenting books digitally, but ebooks don’t have to use web technologies. PDF and DJVU are both methods of presenting books digitally which are not websites. So ultimately, if the content you are delivering digitally using web technologies is not a "book" (which is a well-defined term), then the thing which you are presenting is not an "ebook". So in general, I agree with you.

That said, I don’t know where the line is. If you include a video in an EPUB where a print book would have just included a URL, is it still a book? If you introduce random events into a choose-your-own-adventure ebook, what should it be called?

MKS April 14, 2017 um 10:17 am

"? If you introduce random events into a choose-your-own-adventure ebook, what should it be called?"

We used to call those "text adventure video games" in the 1980’s.

I’m with Nate on this one — an "ebook" with hyperlinks and active content (video, audio, animation) is a web page as far as user experience of novelty goes.

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