Beyond text

Do you know Robin Sloan? Probably not. He's a Californian writer and media-inventor whose story Mr. Penumbra and the Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store I stumbled across a while ago, and I was hooked. His stories are smart, fast and full of surprises in a way that I've never seen before. The latest story (The Truth about the East Wind) is based on classical Greek mythology whereas the sci-fi crime novel Annabel Scheme is set in the future San Francisco dominated by quantum computers and Grail, the second best name for a search engine that I can think of. Very smart indeed, and just a little nerdy.

The creative way in which Sloan plays with formats gave me pause to think about how un-creatively today's media work with their formats on the web. For incumbent producers of print, the acme of production is text, while TV people produce video. To the man with the hammer, everything looks like a nail, I guess.

But in this day and age of cross-media, things have to change. Content needs to be optimised for effect and for convenience. Convenience means that content should always be available in all possible formats so that I can hear a text when I'm on the move, for instance. Effect is the best possible way in which content can be presented. A picture may say more than a thousand words, but often times, complexity is not open to imagery, but only to text. But - text is difficult to digest and demands a concentrated effort. So there's a number of dimensions across which to choose the most effective mode of communicating something.

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