The future of what, exactly?

January 3, 2007

 Future of Web Apps

A very Happy New Year to all Book Two readers. I hope you had a good one and are all ready to look to the future once again. Christmas was not a good time for the UK book trade and I’ll be talking some more about this later, but in the meantime I’m flagging up an upcoming conference I’ll be attending, which isn’t all about books, but perhaps it should be.

Carson Workshop’s Future of Web Apps is in London in February. Now in its second year (details of past events here), FOWA brings together the people behind such Web 2.0 goodness as Flickr, Digg, Techcrunch, Amazon Web Services, and many more – essentially, all the parts of the web that a lot of people seem to think are “the future”. I think there will be some good people to talk to… I’ve been particularly inspired by Tom Coates’ reports on past events.

It’s profoundly interesting to me that while reading must be one of the most pervasive activities on the planet – more so than photography, or even listening to music, which are where the most successful – and hyped – Web 2.0 apps have come from so far, there’s no truly dynamic, creative stuff out there for readers and writers. This is even more bizarre considering one of the biggest players in the game started out as a bookseller.

The Front List is a half-move in this direction: a place where writers read, rate and comment on each others work, and the best manuscripts rise to the top to be perused by agents and publishers – except in this case it’s a closed system, and not a terribly welcoming one for those not participating directly – unlike Flickr, which anyone can browse and enjoy. This interactivity is the key component of Web 2.0, the social web, whatever you want to call it.

Writing is a historically, and sometimes necessarily, solitary practice, but it doesn’t need to be. Communities such as WriteWords have existed for ages, proving that writers like – in fact, frequently crave – feedback on their work. An interactive environment such as Flickr or even YouTube is ideal for moving this beyond the circle of other writers to a wider audience.

The most obvious reason for this omission is that while people happily watch movies, look at photos, or listen to music on their computers, few of them read there – at least not for extended periods of time, the kinds of time required to read a long story or even a novel. But this is changing, with ereaders and non-glare screens and web-accessibility on everything from mobile phones to fridges (really). The book is dead. Where’s Book 2.0?

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