Curating your reader

Okay, time to move on to something else, but before we go, a few thoughts.

What we’ve tried our best to demonstrate is that digital can be something different, that writing for digital asks new questions of you—as an author, a designer, an artist of any kind—and that taming the mutability of digital technology is key to all of this. For a medium that’s ostensibly all about play; control and scaffolds are paramount.

What about the thing you really cannot control. We began this book with the following admission:

We, the authors of this text, have no substantive idea how you are reading it.

We could have extended that to add that we have no idea who you are, either. We think you’re creative. Interested in books, or experience design. We hope you have ambition, that you want to do interesting stuff with digital technology and books. We’d like it if some of you were writers. Publishers, editors. People involved in making stuff.

But we don’t know.

We can control certain things though. If we have this book printed, bound and distributed in bookshops, and you’re reading this, then we know you have access to those. That you live in a town, a city, or somewhere that still has a high street. If we only make the same product available by mail order, to a specialist audience, then we can make other assumptions about you. If we chose a digital-only distribution system, then we can extend and change some of those affordances, of the book itself, and our readers. Craig Mod wrote one of the most insightful commentaries on this in 2011—Post-Artifact Books and Publishing 1—and it’s fair to say that we’ve taken Mod’s writing as a starting point any number of times in this book. Central to the argument in Post-Artifact Books is that the digital artifact is a scaffold between two states- a pre-artifact system in which texts are created in realtime, updated and modified in public; shared and commented upon; played even, and a post-artifact model in which that ‘finished’ text is shared and owned and updated; iterated after the fact in just as real a time. The essay goes on to make a case for a robust platform, or set of frameworks, for annotating and extending the moment of reading a text, but for our purposes, let’s come back to the idea that a digital artefact is a scaffold between those two states. Before it is complete, a digital experience (to classify in broader terms) is intention and form, content fighting for space and all, all potential. It embodies a state, as this chapter suggested earlier, of pre-reification, of promise without sure knowledge. After it is live, after it becomes a minumum viable product, then it lives, it is experienced and all of that promise becomes realised. It becomes a sequence of moments in time, each mediated by their reader in a personal manner.

While making those moments is the primary concern of this book, this note wants to address what they do to readers.

If you think of the artefact, the experience, as a scaffold; something inherently temporary, then the task of curating readers might be (I have no idea what I’m going to write next and so I’m going to write something else and see if that helps)…

  1. The essay is also available on Kindle. It’s a couple of quid. Go and buy it and support good writing.

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