Books Not Dead

Headed to SXSW Interactive? Concerned about the future of books, magazines, and websites? Attend “New Publishing and Web Content,” a panel I’m hosting on the creative, strategic, and marketing challenges of traditional and new (internet hybrid) book publishing and online magazine publishing, and how these fields intersect with content strategy and client services.

Joining me in a thoughtful exploration of new and old business models and creative challenges will be people who’ve spent a decade or two butting up against and reinventing these boundaries:

As moderator, my job will be to let these geniuses speak, to occasionally lob the right question to the right genius, and to help field your questions from the audience.

If you work in web or print publishing, or just care about the written word, please join us at 5:00 PM Central Time in Ballroom A.

(What else am I doing at SXSW Interactive? Here’s my schedule so far. I also hope to see some of you at OK Cog’aoke II, SXSW Interactive’s premiere karaoke event and best party, hosted by your friends at Happy Cog.)

The Amanda Project

Designed by Happy Cog and launched today, The Amanda Project is a social media network, creative writing project, interactive game, and book series combined:

The Amanda Project is the story of Amanda Valentino, told through an interactive website and book series for readers aged 13 & up. On the website, readers are invited to become a part of the story as they help the main characters search for Amanda.

The writing-focused social media network is designed and written as if by characters from the Amanda novels, and encourages readers to enter the novel’s world by joining the search for Amanda, following clues and reading passages that exist only online, and ultimately helping to shape the course of the Amanda narrative across eight novels. (The first Amanda novel—Invisible I, written by Melissa Kantor—comes out 22 September.)

The site developed over a year of intense creative collaboration between Happy Cog and Fourth Story Media, a book publisher and new media company spearheaded by publishing whiz Lisa Holton. Prior to starting Fourth Story, Lisa was was President, Scholastic Trade Publishing and Book Fairs; managed the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; and oversaw development of The 39 Clues. Before that she spent nearly a decade developing numerous bestselling, franchise-launching series at Disney.

Happy Cog‘s New York office developed this project. The team:

Equally vital to the project’s success were Fourth Story’s leaders and partners, including:

  • Lorraine Shanley, Principal Advisor
  • Ariel Aberg-Riger (website, Twitter), Creative Development & Marketing Manager
  • JillEllyn Riley, Editorial Director
  • Dale Robbins, Creative Director
  • David Stack, Director, Digital Partnerships
  • Melissa Kantor, Writer
  • Peter Silsbee, Writer
  • Polly Kanevsky, Art Director
  • Sam Gerstenzang, Technology Consultant

Today’s launch is not the end of our relationship with Fourth Story Media. The Amanda Project will continue to evolve, and Happy Cog will remain an active partner in its direction and growth. We thank our brilliant collaborators and congratulate them on today’s milestone.

Read more

[tags]amanda, amandaproject, theamandaproject, TAP, happycog, design, webdesign, contentstrategy, userexperience, publishing, books, aarongustafson, lizdanzico, erinkissane, whitneyhess, mattgoldenberg, kellymccarthy, jasonsantamaria, jeffreyzeldman, lisaholton, dalerobbins, davidstack, JillEllynRiley, ArielAberg-Riger[/tags]

Get The Pains

Almost everyone I know who is serious about the internet and has spent more than a few years working on web stuff has read John R. Sundman’s novel, Acts of the Apostles, your everyday story of bioengineering, Gulf War Syndrome, Trojan Horses, and millennium cultists. (If you haven’t yet read this classic underground thriller cum paranoid fantasy, do yourself a favor; it’s pretty great.)

Now Sundman has come out with a new book, The Pains, with illustrations by Cheeseburger Brown. Sundman’s third novel owes its genesis to a single sentence written in his online diary: “I woke up this morning with a pain in my body that felt like it might be a soul gone bad.” Through a process that makes sense to writers, that sentence turned into this book:

The Pains is a story of faith in a world that appears to be falling apart. It tells the story of Norman Lux, a 24-year-old novitiate in a religious order, who becomes afflicted with something akin to stigmata.

The complete text and illustrations are on wetmachine.com, freely available for download under a creative commons license. Sundman is now taking orders for the soon-to-be-printed book. You can order by PayPal/credit card or by check.

[tags]sundman, johnsundman, thepains, actsoftheapostles, cheapcomplexdevices, publishing, writing[/tags]

A List Apart No. 269: understanding progressive enhancement; 10 years of ALA

In Issue No. 269, master the basics of progressive enhancement and look back in orange at the first ten years of A List Apart.

Understanding Progressive Enhancement

by AARON GUSTAFSON

Steven Champeon turned web development upside down, and created an instant best practice of standards-based design, when he introduced the notion of designing for content and experience instead of browsers. In part one of a series, ALA’s Gustafson refreshes us on the principles of progressive enhancement. Upcoming installments will translate the philosophy into sophisticated, future-focused design and code.

Ten Years

by JEFFREY ZELDMAN

When Google was little more than a napkin sketch and the first dot-com boom was not even a blip, we started a magazine for people who make websites. Celebrate A List Apart’s first decade. Join me for a look back at the way we were—and why we were that way. Find out what we’ve done and who did it with us, peek into our process, and get a clue about what’s next.

[tags]alistapart, tenyears, webdesign, magazine, publishing, progressive enhancement, aarongustafson, zeldman[/tags]

A List Apart is changing

A List Apart, for people who make websites, is slowly changing course.

For most of its decade of publication, ALA has been the leading journal of standards-based web design. Initially a lonely voice in the desert, we taught CSS layout before browsers correctly supported it, and helped The WaSP persuade browser makers to do the right thing. Once browsers’ standards support was up to snuff, we educated and excited designers and developers about standards-based design, preaching accessibility, teaching semantic markup, and helping you strategize how to sell this new way of designing websites to your clients, coworkers, and boss.

Most famously, over the years, writers for ALA have presented the design community with one amazing and powerfully useful new CSS technique after another. Initially radically new techniques that are now part of the vocabulary of all web designers include Paul Sowden’s “Alternative Styles,” Mark Newhouse’s list-based navigation, Eric Meyer’s intro to print styles, Douglas Bowman’s “Sliding Doors,” Dave Shea’s “CSS Sprites,” Dan Cederholm’s “Faux Columns,” Patrick Griffiths and Dan Webb’s “Suckerfish Dropdowns,” Drew McLellan’s “Flash Satay,” and so on and so on. There are literally too many great ones to name here. (Newcomers to standards-based design, check Erin Lynch’s “The ALA Primer Part Two: Resources For Beginners“.)

Web standards are in our DNA and will always be a core part of our editorial focus. Standards fans, never fear. We will not abandon our post. But since late 2005, we have consciously begun steering ALA back to its earliest roots as a magazine for all people who make websites—writers, architects, strategists, researchers, and yes, even marketers and clients as well as designers and developers. This means that, along with issues that focus on new methods and subtleties of markup and layout, we will also publish issues that discuss practical and sometimes theoretical aspects of user experience design, from the implications of ubiquitous computing to keeping communities civil.

The trick is to bring our huge group of highly passionate readers along for the ride. My wife likens it to piloting the Queen Mary. (Q. How do you make the Queen Mary turn left? A. Very, very slowly.)

The slow, deliberate, gradual introduction of articles on business and theory has not pleased all of ALA’s readers, some of whom may unrealistically wish that every issue would present them with the equivalent of a new “Sliding Doors.” It is possible, of course, to publish one CSS (or JavaScript or Jquery) article after another, and to do so on an almost daily basis. We could do that. Certainly we get enough submissions. The trouble is that most articles of this kind are either edge cases of limited utility, or derivatives that do not break significant new ground. (Either that, or they are flawed in our estimation, e.g. relying on dozens of non-semantic divs to create a moderately pleasing, minor visual effect.)

We review hundreds of articles and publish dozens. Some web magazines seem to have those proportions reversed, and some readers don’t seem to mind, and that’s fine. But any content you see in ALA has been vetted and deeply massaged by the toughest editorial team in the business. And when you see a new “design tech” article in our pages, you can be sure it has passed muster with our hard-ass technical editors.

Moreover, the fields of meaningful new CSS tricks have mostly yielded their fuels. We’ve done that. We’ve done it together with you. While a few new lodes of value undoubtedly remain to be tapped, we as a community, and as individuals who wish to grow as designers, need to absorb new knowledge. ALA will continue to be a place where you can do that.

When we began focusing on web standards in 1998, we were told we were wasting readers’ time on impractical crap of little value to working designers and developers. But we kept on anyway, and the things we learned and taught are now mainstream and workaday. While we apologize to readers who are again being made irritable by our insistence on occasionally presenting material that does not fall directly within their comfort zone, we hope that this experiment will prove to be of value in the end.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, magazine, editorial, content, focus, change, publishing, standards, webstandards, css, design, layout, userexperience[/tags]

Fish tacos FTW nom nom nom

You can look at Twitter as text messaging or as micro-blogging.

If it’s text-messaging, of concern only to your closest friends, then content such as “Dude, where are you? We’re in the mezzanine” is perfectly appropriate, and “Fish tacos FTW nom nom nom” is practically overachievement.

If it’s micro-blogging, then you may be obliged, like any writer, to consider your reader’s need for value.

Writers inform and enlighten. They create worlds, ideologies, and brochure copy.

In 140 characters, a good writer can make you laugh and a great one can make you march.

You thought I was going to say “cry.” That, too.

Not everyone who blogs is Dostoevsky, and with ten Twitterers for every blogger, the literary riches are spread thin.

Fine writers are using Twitter—they’re using it even more than they’re using their personal sites, because it’s an even faster means of distributing what they have to offer, which is jokes, poems, and ideas.

The good writers are easier to discover thanks to tools like Favrd. (The best thing about Twitter is its unfulfilled potential. Some developers reach their highest level of attainment creating some of the many features Twitter didn’t come with.) Tools like Favrd also change the discourse: writers write differently when they think someone is reading, and self-consciously clever Twitterers have responded to Favrd by posting stuff that’s more likely to get favored—like directors playing to critics.

But nobody just follows on Twitter. Sure, you follow, but you also create. And you might consider that an obligation to occasionally create meaning, color, and richness.

I don’t view http as a medium for phone chatter. I don’t mean you can’t place phone calls over the internet—of course you can. I mean I’m old-fashioned enough (or have been doing this long enough) to view the web mostly as a publishing medium, with all the obligations that implies. So while I sometimes use Twitter as a homing device, I mainly try to think of it as the world’s smallest magazine, published by me.

In my ceaseless effort to impose my views on others, I recently declared a moratorium on banal tweets about food and drink.

The public was overwhelmingly supportive.

Whether it’s good for your readers or not, approaching Twitter as a writer’s tool (or the world’s smallest magazine, published by you) can be good for you. Getting off a nice Tweet can be like popping a breath mint or finishing a work-out at the gym. It refocuses the day, relieves tension, empowers constructive criticism, and generally helps clarify the muddle of your thoughts.

Conscious Twittering FTW.

[tags]writing, twitter, publishing, the web[/tags]

A List Apart saved from the deep

Due to an almost magical series of administrative, record-keeping, and usability errors, the domain registration for A List Apart momentarily lapsed this morning.

It was like a disturbance in the Force, or a warp in the Matrix.

While the site continued to display correctly here in New York City (and in many other places), it was replaced in some locations by a come-on page encouraging viewers to register the domain for themselves. Mystically, no spammer or squatter did.

It was all the more miraculous considering how many people had twittered about the site’s sudden availability. It was like thousands of people shouting the exact location of a lost purse bursting with cash. And no crook scooping it up.

On renewing the domain by phone (as I couldn’t use the website, due to those administrative, record-keeping, and usability errors), I learned that someone had spotted the problem before I did … and renewed the domain on my behalf. Thanks, Shashi.

And thanks to all who called, e-mailed, texted, and messaged me.

P.S. Depending on location and DNS vagaries, some of you may see the come-on page for a while longer, but A List Apart is okay, really.

[tags]alistapart, webdesign, magazine, publishing[/tags]

ALA 258: art of community, science of design

What does it take to build an online community like Flickr’s? And how can we tell if interface design conventions we take for granted actually help or hurt users? In Issue No. 258 of A List Apart, for people who make websites, George Oates, a key member of the core team that shaped the Flickr community, tells what it will take to build the next Flickr (hint: the answer isn’t Ajax). And Jessica Enders drops some science on the widespread belief that zebra stripes aid the reader by guiding the eye along a table row.

[tags]alistapart, publishing, publications, happycog, zebrastripes, zebrastriping, usability, design, community, flickr, georgeoates, jessicaenders[/tags]

Self-publishing is the new blogging

Everyone a writer, everyone a publisher, everyone a citizen journalist.

Everything that could be digital would be. Content wanted to be free. Then we had to get paid. But animated smack-the-monkey ads were so declassé. Ch-ching, Google AdSense, ch-ching, The Deck advertising network, ch-ching your ad network here.

Everyone a writer, everyone a publisher, everyone a citizen journalist, ch-ching.

First the writers and designers did the writing. Then the non-writers who had something to say did it. Then the people with nothing to say got a MySpace page and the classy ones switched to Facebook.

And ch-ching was heard in the land. And the (not citizen) journalists heard it, and it got them pecking into their Blackberries and laptops.

And then the writers and designers, ashamed at rubbing shoulders with common humanity, discovered the 140-character Tweet and the Tumblr post. No stink of commerce, no business model, nothing that could even charitably be called content, and best of all, no effort. Peck, peck, send.

When you’ve flown that far from Gutenberg, the only place to travel is back.

Enter Lulu, all slinky hips and clodhoppers. Self-publishing is the new blogging. No more compromises. No more external deadlines. No more heavy-handed editors and ham-fisted copyeditors. No more teachers, lots more books.

You don’t need distribution, you’ve got PayPal. You don’t need stores: there’s only two left, and nobody buys books there, anyway. You don’t need traditional marketing. Didn’t we already prove that?

Got book?

[tags]blogging, editing, publishing, self-publishing, writing, writers[/tags]