IfBookThen in Milan: Soaring past 'book' to 'then'


Image by @Udieci at IfBookThen, Milan
Image by @Udieci at IfBookThen, Milan

“It was easy to wonder where was the book in IfBookThen,” as Lucio Braganolo writes at ApogeOnline.

And that was precisely the point, the purpose, and the pride of this “post-publishing” conference in springtime Milan.

Unique in an already-busy season of international conferences, BookRepublic’s IfBookThen 2015 was devised by c.e.o. Marco Ferrario to get right past what we know, and determinedly on to what we don’t know.

Marco Ferrario at IBT15 ready
BookRepublic’s Marco Ferrario opens IfBookThen 2015 in Milano

Declaring his company to be a bookstore, he promptly called everything we understand about bookstores today into question:

Our vision starts from an observation that the Web is a non-linear construct. Not just a window as in a bookstore. We are rethinking the idea of a bookstore by plunging into the idea of network. Through the network, you have immediate access to the content…which opens up native ways of placing content in context.

Seated in the comfortable intimacy of Intesa SanPaolo’s sala convegni at Piazza Belgioioso, Friday’s conference (27th March) was cleverly sorted by Ferrario and his associate Annalisa Angelini into three divisions — Experience, Stories, and Technology. As simple as that breakdown might sound, it would reveal more than we might have expected.

“We sell stories to the world of companies, businesses, organisations,” Ferrario told the gathering. “But, as we keep hearing, thanks to the Internet, anyone can be a publisher.”

And with that, he declared a transition in the thrust and stance of his conference’s inquiry going forward:

IfBookThen is now reconceived as an open line, a network of speakers.

It was a bold invocation, to be sure. And we would spot both concerns and quickening potentials as nine of us took our turns speaking.

But, best of all, when our colleague Sebastian Posth from Berlin asked me at lunch, “But how do you wrap this all together?” it was easy to agree that the message was: You don’t wrap it all together; you let it come apart, you watch it expand, and you learn from what happens.

Experience among the repositories

Peter Brantley
Peter Brantley

The opening sequence, “Experience,” was vested in two major New York institutions, both designed as showcases, protectors and disseminators of culture, the New York Public Library (NYPL) and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

A great champion of “the networked book” through his own annual conference, Books in Browsers in San Francisco, Peter Brantley — in his capacity as digital director at NYPL — led off with a talk on “Machine age readers: The network shapes storytelling”:

Talking of participatory, interactive story-building “at a time when the Internet is ubiquitous,” Brantley said:

You see an attempt to understand [this ubiquity] through art, the trace of our lives on the network is becoming more profound and more intimate.

An example? JawBone’s ability to track its users’ reaction to a small nighttime earthquake in California by the patterns of sleep disruption registered by customers’ wrist-bracelet devices. JawBone, like FitBit and other wearable tracking devices, of course, is part of the “quantified self” movement, the phrase, Brantley noting, having arrived in 2009 to foretell “a world of sensors around and on us.”

The traditional CRM (customer relationship management) system is becoming a registry of interest and expertise” in the universe of library users, Brantley said. And one potential result of having such registries rising is that “in the future, content, products and services, will find you rather than you finding them.” Who owns the sensors that can detect “moods, fatigue, hunger and even sexual interest?” Brantley asked. And if books, stories, eventually are designed to be altered by the reader to suit his or her preferences in real time, we have to ask ourselves, “Who has control of that scenario? Who is shaping that story, controlling that narrative?”

And who owns the data? — “Apple? Google? Amazon? Or us, the readers?”

In follow-up commentary with Ferrario, Brantley noted that the use of data is a concern for him and his colleagues at New York’s flagship library: “We’re very concerned to not make assumptions for the reader, not just about privacy but also because [the reader] may not want a fully tailored experience…We must be careful to ask about the data… particularly as we start using sensors.”

Seb Chan
Seb Chan

And in an interesting parallel, Seb Chan, director of digital and emerging media at the Smithsonian’s recently revitalised Cooper-Hewitt design museum in Manhattan, had a lot to say about the use of data that — if the museum-goer gives his or her permission — recalls that user, creates an identifier, so that in returns to the museum, regular visitors can access the creative work they did on-site and carry on with it.

Beginning with “a decision to make all available at the museum live also online on the Web.” And then, in working with his five-person division to develop “permission to play” for visitors, the idea of a writing instrument, a pen, became the focus:

What if you gave each visitor a pen as [his or her] identity? This started us on a journey of turning museum visitors into storytellers. The museum’s pen is an NFC reader [near field communication]…your ticket is an ID that recalls what you’ve created. One end of the pen lets you create models that are saved, then taken away.

And part of what is developed from the use of this interactivity by visitors is a growing new collection of their creativity: “190,000 objects collected in the last two weeks,” Chan told us. There’s a feature soon to be launched, he added, that will let visitors download their work, even delete it. And this, he described as a component of trust, echoing the kinds of qualms Brantley had posed. Ahead for his team:

  • new visitor-facing interfaces
  • interest and “dwell times” for visitors
  • time/space maps and pathways
  • more privacy and anonymity

That last echo — how many times in just an hour had we heard it — would mean something next: The concern for privacy might shift as the corporate and commercial came forward with “stories”

Read More

By Porter Ander­son

The FutureBook:  IfBookThen in Milan: Soaring past ‘book’ to ‘then’

Read the full post at: TheBookseller.com/futurebook



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