Guest Post: The Impact of Interactivity On Children's Books

This guest post is written by Annie Bacon, a freelance game designer (www.anniebacon.com) living in Montreal. She’s also the author of the youth novel series Terra Incognita and akidstory.com personalized books.

It all started with this link to a blog post with a YouTube video in which someone puts an iPhone into an actual physical book to make it interactive. My first feeling upon looking at the video is a simple and complete “wow”, isn’t that remarkable! Considering that I’m both a youth novel writer and game designer, it looked like the best of both worlds merging book and videogame together. But then, I started to wonder why is the physical book frame needed? The interesting part is how the touch screen of the iPhone allows for the story to come alive; the rest is just a pretty shell… or is it?

After years of laissé-faire (70s and 80s), parents have started putting their foot down on the amount of time their kids spend in front of the TV. “Obesity” and “passivity” were the two words most currently used to demonize the entire medium. By association, videogames and computer games are also considered “time wasters” even though they actively engage the child with their interactivity. “Less TV” has quickly become “Less time in front of a screen”, even in my own home, I must admit!

Interactive stories have been on the market as CD-ROMs and websites for years, and yet none of them ever got the reaction that the aforementioned YouTube video got. Why? Because they were not cleverly disguised as the sacred object that is a book! Books are wholesome! They make kids smarter! They prevent school drop-out! Not actual reading, just the books itself!

Books vs. Screen

This brings me to the electronic book. I follow a lot of writers and editors on both Twitter and Facebook, and the “what do you think of the Kindle” conversations are multiplying. A lot of purists are strongly against them, as if the smell of the paper was more important to the experience than the story contained within. Again, it’s the screen that causes a problem. If e-readers were made of paper with magical ink instead of plastic and pixels, they might be more widely accepted, and yet, the experience would be exactly the same. Some wonder if they’re here to stay. Of course they are! But they’ll also transform. They’ll add colors to accommodate illustrations, then sound, then interactivity, and suddenly the line between books and web-like content will blur.

What it means: It’s the habit of this blog to have a thought-provoking analysis at the end of a post. I would have liked to do the same but I find I have more questions than answers. Once children books are on interactive e-readers, will parents see them as acceptable reading material, or will they just be thrown in the “more screens” category? Will authors need to adjust to the new philosophy and add bells and whistles (read interactivity) to their books if they want to go mainstream? Will books, interactive content, videogames and movies stay in separate categories or are we looking at a merger of media? Will the next generation really care about those categories or just think of it as Entertainment with a capital E? Two things are certain: first, the paper book is not going to disappear any time soon. After all, in this “MP3” world, my daughter still listens to good old vinyl records once in a while! Secondly, creators and consumers should rejoice: in whatever form it takes, the future of entertainment is going to be exciting! Like in a good book, I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Guest Post: The Impact of Interactivity On Children's Books

This guest post is written by Annie Bacon, a freelance game designer (www.anniebacon.com) living in Montreal. She’s also the author of the youth novel series Terra Incognita and akidstory.com personalized books.

It all started with this link to a blog post with a YouTube video in which someone puts an iPhone into an actual physical book to make it interactive. My first feeling upon looking at the video is a simple and complete “wow”, isn’t that remarkable! Considering that I’m both a youth novel writer and game designer, it looked like the best of both worlds merging book and videogame together. But then, I started to wonder why is the physical book frame needed? The interesting part is how the touch screen of the iPhone allows for the story to come alive; the rest is just a pretty shell… or is it?

After years of laissé-faire (70s and 80s), parents have started putting their foot down on the amount of time their kids spend in front of the TV. “Obesity” and “passivity” were the two words most currently used to demonize the entire medium. By association, videogames and computer games are also considered “time wasters” even though they actively engage the child with their interactivity. “Less TV” has quickly become “Less time in front of a screen”, even in my own home, I must admit!

Interactive stories have been on the market as CD-ROMs and websites for years, and yet none of them ever got the reaction that the aforementioned YouTube video got. Why? Because they were not cleverly disguised as the sacred object that is a book! Books are wholesome! They make kids smarter! They prevent school drop-out! Not actual reading, just the books itself!

Books vs. Screen

This brings me to the electronic book. I follow a lot of writers and editors on both Twitter and Facebook, and the “what do you think of the Kindle” conversations are multiplying. A lot of purists are strongly against them, as if the smell of the paper was more important to the experience than the story contained within. Again, it’s the screen that causes a problem. If e-readers were made of paper with magical ink instead of plastic and pixels, they might be more widely accepted, and yet, the experience would be exactly the same. Some wonder if they’re here to stay. Of course they are! But they’ll also transform. They’ll add colors to accommodate illustrations, then sound, then interactivity, and suddenly the line between books and web-like content will blur.

What it means: It’s the habit of this blog to have a thought-provoking analysis at the end of a post. I would have liked to do the same but I find I have more questions than answers. Once children books are on interactive e-readers, will parents see them as acceptable reading material, or will they just be thrown in the “more screens” category? Will authors need to adjust to the new philosophy and add bells and whistles (read interactivity) to their books if they want to go mainstream? Will books, interactive content, videogames and movies stay in separate categories or are we looking at a merger of media? Will the next generation really care about those categories or just think of it as Entertainment with a capital E? Two things are certain: first, the paper book is not going to disappear any time soon. After all, in this “MP3” world, my daughter still listens to good old vinyl records once in a while! Secondly, creators and consumers should rejoice: in whatever form it takes, the future of entertainment is going to be exciting! Like in a good book, I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Introducing iPraized, the Praized-Powered iPhone Application

I’m very happy to announce today the launch of iPraized, the iPhone application built on the Praized platform. The idea of this simple mobile application is to show that anyone can use the Praized platform API to build their own Local / Social mobile applications for any mobile platform. Our customers can work with any internal or external developers to leverage the whole Praized technology stack in a mobile environment. We can also work on turnkey projects with world-class mobile developers in our network.

Here’s how the iPraized iPhone app works:

1) The application will try to determine your physical location using the built-in iPhone geo-location functionality.

2) You can then find places around you based on keyword/category/business name search.

ipraized-screenshot-001

3) Following your search, the application returns relevant local results near you.

ipraized-screenshot-002

4) Users can then select the place they were looking for.

ipraized-screenshot-003

5) and visit the profile page showing the basic information about the place (name, address, phone number, number of people who have “praized” the place, the tags and the map). Users can then “vote up” (to show their appreciation) or “vote down” (if they didn’t have a good experience). You can also leave a comment and share the place with your friends.

ipraized-screenshot-004

6) Users can also find more information about the merchant by visiting our partners YellowPages.ca in Canada and Yellowbook.com in the US.

ipraized-screenshot-005

7) Each user has a profile page showing their activity stream.

This is just one example of what can be done  with our application stack. Source code will be made available soon. We’d like to thank Mirego who worked with us to develop the application.

Download it here!

Are Major VC Investments in Mobile Still Too Early?

“The mobile and wireless world is exploding,” said Chip Hazard, a general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm. Apple just soared past a billion downloads, handsets are becoming more powerful and cellular networks and bandwidth is steadily improving, he said.

But from a venture capitalist’s perspective, Mr. Hazard wondered, is there a $100 million mobile application company out there or just lots of hobbyists?

via The $100 Million Mobile App Question – Bits Blog – NYTimes.com.

What it means: there’s no question that money can be made with mobile apps (especially with the iPhone store) but, given their expectations in terms of return on investment, are major VC investments in mobile still too early? Does mobile scale without an offline or online presence? All good questions with no clear answers.

Analysis: "The UK iPhone Mania"

“The UK iPhone Mania” via eMarketer.

According to the first data to describe iPhone usage in the UK, from comScore, 93% of iPhone owners in the UK accessed mobile media in January 2009.

Nearly 80% of iPhone users accessed news on their phones, compared with 48% and 20% of smartphone and mobile phone users, respectively.

In addition the article mentions that nearly 55% of UK iPhone users accessed a social network site vs. 12.7% for mobile phone users.

Mini what it means: if anyone needed more proof that new smart phones are game changers from a content consumption / web usage point of view, you have the numbers now.

RHD Releases DexKnows iPhone App

I’m a bit late writing about this news (Greg Sterling wrote about it here and the Kelsey Group guys here) but RHD has just released a series of DexKnows mobile apps & services.  I recently had the opportunity to connect with Deborah Eldred, Director of Mobile at RHD, to discuss the new offer.

dexknows-mobile-apps

Highlights:

  • Developed by MobilePeople
  • Covers the whole mobile “value chain”: text messages, mobile browser version, downloadable client applications, iPhone application
  • They looked at ComScore data to focus development on the most important phone models/carriers
  • They developed a specific search “taxonomy” by looking at top categories in a mobile context. They also regrouped categories in three most-used metacategories called Gettin’ Grub (food & restaurants), Havin’ Fun (entertainment), Goin’ Places (travel)
  • Search results are ranked by centroid, currently the center of the city, but eventually the user geo-location

I asked Deborah how the Dexknows offer was differentiated from other offers out there. She mentioned the following:

  • Focused on relevant experience for mobile users (as opposed to advertiser-focused)
  • Most important mobile categories have been grouped and surfaced on the home page
  • People search (data provided by Whitepages.com)
  • RHD covers the whole mobile value chain, from text messages to iPhone app
  • They have great content in their in-region territory.

You can go to m.dexknows.com to use/download the various versions and a short video shows the various features.

Update: Yellow Pages Group in Canada has also released applications for the iPhone and Blackberry. Canpages had released an iPhone app about two weeks ago.

What it means: happy to see that directory publishers are releasing new mobile apps. Obviously, in the medium/long term, it is a critical component of the distribution mix. But I think, in the short term, it plays an important perceptual role with the sales team and advertisers.

A Look Back At 2008's Most Important News and Trends in Local Search and Social Media

As the year ends, here are, in my humble opinion, the most important news and trends of the year in local search and social media (in no specific order):

  • The major challenges of the newspaper industry. Declining print readership, challenges with monetizing the Web, user fragmentation, lay-offs, stock value decline, etc. 2008 was a very difficult year for the newspaper industry and I don’t think 2009 will be easier with the slowdown in ad spending.
  • Mobile, iPhone & the app store. The launch of the iPhone 3G and the arrival of new “iPhone-killers” devices signaled the beginning of a real tipping point in mobile local search and social media usage. The launch of the iPhone app store also created a new ecosystem leveraging the iPhone’s installed base. At the end of 2008, building an iPhone application is as “hot” as building a Facebook app was a year ago.
  • Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, LinkedIn). Continued usage/buzz growth in social media especially around these four Web properties. Social and user-centric functionalities are a must-have today. Some difficulties around monetization of social media inventory though.
  • Identity (Facebook Connect, OpenID, Google Friend Connect). With the rise of social media come major challenges around personal identity on the Web. Large social properties want to become that official provider of identity. Will explode in 2009.
  • Local video. This was the hottest new ad product at directory publishers everywhere. I’m convinced that the technology is now a commodity but I’m wondering if the product itself will also become a commodity in the near future (i.e. you need videos in your local search site like you need maps, URLs and click-to-talk buttons)
  • Sobering presentations from directory publisher executives at each Kelsey conference in 2008. More realistic, a clearer view of opportunities and challenges in the industry (great assets, local search industry is booming but erosion in major metro areas, etc.). What used to be said behind closed doors is now mentioned openly.
  • Drastic drop in directory publishers stock prices. Deadly combo of credit crunch, slowdown of the economy, too much debt and market perception. Idearc is delisted after losing 99% of its value. RHD also loses 99% of its value. Similar (although less drastic) situations in Europe and Canada.
  • Microsoft’s failed Yahoo takeover (a proposed buy-out at $31 a share) occupied a good portion of tech news early in the year. This would have a created a very interesting company to compete against Google (desktop technology + social media + search). Jerry Yang, Yahoo!’s co-founder, made sure the deal wouldn’t go through. Yahoo!’s share is now hovering around $12.00.
  • AOL buys into the social-networking game with Bebo. A cool $850 million…
  • Geolocation in browser (geode, loki, Google Gears). We’ve seen the first elements of this in 2008 but this is a potential game changer, transforming every web site into a local destionation
  • Facebook replaces their own classifieds with the Oodle platform. In a move I found very surprising, Facebook outsourced local classifieds clearly showing that they don’t realize they’re in the local search space.