Tuesday, April 7, 2009
The Twitterization of Santos Dumont Número 8
Claudio Soares, a Brazilian author and literary blogger, has launched an intriguing multimedia online publishing experiment involving Twitter, CommentPress, videos, music and ultimately, Smashwords.
A couple years back, Soares published his novel, Santos Dumont Número 8. The story revolves around an aircraft inventor who numbers each of his inventions with "Santos-Dumont número 1" through "Santos-Dumont número 22." Mysteriously, for some superstitious reason, the inventor refuses to use the number 8.
The book follows eight main characters, seven of whom are intent upon unlocking the truth behind the mystery, and one of whom, I assume, is intent on keeping the reason a secret.
Soares has broken the novel into pieces, and is serializing it from the unique perspectives of each of the characters, each of whom has their own Twitter account. In an interesting twist, the characters will interact with their Twitter followers. This has the potential to create an immersive experience, not just for the community of readers that congregates around the book and its characters as the story unfolds, but for the author as well.
At the same time, Soares is serializing the the novel in its entirety from http://www.twiter.com/sd8. Readers can view the twitterstreams of all characters simultaneously at Crowdstatus, an online app that allows you to aggregate the Twitterstreams of multiple people.
There's a bookish twist to the novel, because it's also a book about books and readers. The narrator of the story is reading from a book. As Soares explained to me, "The main character, Abayomi, reads and it seems as if the story he reads is really happening." Soares says in writing the book, he found inspiration from by some ideas of the Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, who once said words to the effect that, "the reading of a book makes us experience parallel worlds, which often, superstitiously, invade our reality."
Does Soares believe his experiment presages the future of reading? Not at all. He recognizes Twitter has numerous flaws in terms of its ability to convey a story. Twitterstreams, for example, are like ongoing conversations, and the participants pop in and out of them as if pedestrians passing in the street, so it's difficult to follow a narrative. People also tend to read Twitterstreams in reverse chronological order, which is also not terribly conducive to an immersive reading experience. And finally, for those who want to follow a story from start to beginning, Twitter doesn't make it easy to locate the start of a stream, or follow complex conversations that occur within the stream.
According to Soares, discovering the inherent limitations of these social reading tools is part of his experiment. He plans to document his experiences on his blog, and he'll publish the complete Twitterized version of the novel on Smashwords after the completion of the experiment.
The book is written in Brazilian Portuguese, though you don't need to understand the language to appreciate the experiment. For additional details on the experiment, check out this imprecise English translation of the project description, visit his blog at http://www.pontolit.com/br, view an online presentation of the project at http://prezi.com/25890/view/#104, or follow his personal Twitterstream at twitter.com/pontolit
No matter how you look at it, we've come a long way since papyrus scrolls, stone tablets and Gutenberg.