Papyrus seems like it will allow any author to create an interactive ebook along the lines of Our Choice, the Al Gore ebook/app created by Push Pop Press that gained a lot of attention on its release. The demonstration video certainly looks cool, and advances in more interactive and social reading experiences are exciting.
It’s interesting that the category options on the beta sign-up page are focused on nonfiction ebooks, particularly given all the Pottermore buzz. Fiction also has the potential for this kind of extra-narrative information and interactivity, and certainly for social reading options, though I do agree with their assertion that non-linear text usually lends itself to this more readily.
Papyrus suggests on the sign-up page that the products created with their technology will be available to multiple devices, which is good, but I couldn’t find any indication of how the social interaction would be handled across devices.
However, my real concern about advances like this in ebook technology, particularly on the social-reading front, is that they won’t provide open, cross-platform access (see my thoughts on Subtext, for example). Also–and I don’t mean to be flippant here, but–don’t we already have an open, cross-platform, interactive, social-reading-experience machine … called the internet? And for people who want to make that experience more “book-like,” isn’t that what tablets do?
Of course, open, cross-platform access isn’t an ideal solution from a money-making perspective, and the “appification” of the web seems to be the trend, but not everyone welcomes it. In a recent article in The Toronto Standard, Navneet Alang explains the concern:
The trouble is, much of what’s great about apps … is largely of benefit to the people trying to make money from content. And hey, bully for them. But when media is locked into objects that people pay for—in this case apps, and in the past newspapers, DVDs etc.—then the democratizing effect of the web on news and media is undercut. The economics of app development mean companies will focus on the most popular devices, meaning that you’ll need to buy specific devices to get specific experiences, or worse, that you need to have an iDevice or the latest toy to get access to all of the news.
The emphasis here is on news media, but the same general concerns can apply to any kind of text or information.
So, Papyrus as a technology for publishers looks cool. As one example among many of the move to “appify” the web, it’s troubling.