The Pickle: A Conversation About Making Digital Books
2: Blank Slates!
Oh, brother, can I just take a second to declare: despite hints to the contrary in my Aeon piece, I am enthralled by so much of the digital storytelling experiments happening out there in the world. As in — it is the best of times to be creative with text. I believe this with all my heart.
That four thousand word screed outlining my ebook ennui was less about digital vs physical and more about open vs closed. All about the great, crazy, weird, wild, nonsensical, whimsical, frightening, enthralling stuff that comes out of open platforms — blank slates with well defined edges but lots of freedom in between. That stuff lights me up. I was trying to outline, in no uncertain terms, why a closed or hobbled system can rankle our trust ever so. And how books are special objects. And how software is an especially special kind of slate. And in the context of how rapidly our devices are evolving, that software needs to feel equally updated and aligned. It’s gotta bring the value prop or go home.
Which is probably a good slide into the Pickle.
I have indeed pickled. And yes: If you’re going to build something from scratch, it has to be extra delightful. Has to bring heaps of value prop to the potluck or else — because they’re so hard to make — it’s not worth it. But Pickle brings it. This is what makes the Russell Quinn & Eli Horowitz combo so rare. Like a weird little digital miracle.
Here’s the thing: Telling a great story is really tough. Making a great app is really tough. It’s one of the reasons we have so few that do both. But the Quinn Horowitz combo pulls it off. Like you said: It’s a great app. And it’s a great story. And there are maybe half a dozen folks in the world who could execute in tandem on this level right now.
As for digital books: You say mere eight years. I say peering into the gaping maw of eight years in digital is huge. Especially these past eight. The amount of change that’s happened in energy, transportation, cellular connectivity, technological access in the last eight years — mind boggling. And cameras. Good lord, the potential for creative capture and output and “book making” has never been more accessible — especially to the masses who never saw a computer until they bought a surprisingly adept $40 smartphone two years ago. And yet our (classic?) digital books are kinda stuck where they were when the Kindle was first announced. I know that’s not being entirely fair but… I believe there is the potential for a “master format” in the same way that the WWW gave us a master blank slate on which to create all of the wildness we touch every day. I think in the best of worlds, in the most optimistic of worlds, Amazon or Apple or Google produces and gives away that master format. Or at the very least, it’s stewarded forward with greater intention and momentum.
Here’s a question to you: Is The Pickle Index app a book? What makes it more bookish than gameish? Where do we draw the lines? Is it a book because it’s also being printed out?
 It’s exactly what made me go — when I first saw the WWW back in 1995 — Yep, this is it. That feral yawning openness. Let’s tell stories.
Note to readers: This is (going to be) a long, loopy conversation. The Pickle Index is crisp and oblong. Consider steeping in its sour delights.
The Indexed Pickle
- Opening Salvo [Robin Sloan]
- ➡︎ Blank Slates! [Craig Mod]
- Opportunity Cost [Robin Sloan]
- The Struggle (Sorry) [Russell Quinn]
- Self Selection & The Jaws of Venture Valley [Craig Mod]
- The Many Futures of Storytelling [Eli Horowitz]
- Recruitment [Robin Sloan]
- Blarp [Eli Horowitz]
- That Oracular Feeling [Robin Sloan]
- Benevolent Leaders of the Frothy Kingdom [Craig Mod]
- The Left-on-the-Floor Weirdness [Russell Quinn]
- Territory of the Book [Eli Horowitz]
- At This Moment [Robin Sloan]
- Make a Book, Even Just One [Craig Mod]