One of the things I appreciate about my workplace is the "leave one; take one" bookshelf, where recently I discovered a copy of an old Steve Jackson game book called "The Crown of Kings" - sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, except you roll dice a lot, and you keep track of your Stamina and Skill statistics; you fight monsters as you explore. I believe there were four or five books in the series, and you could carry your "character" over from one to the next. The sort of thing you couldn't publish as a book in this day and age, because this sort of technogy has been subsumed by FaceBook and iPhone applications.
But this book does something that completely blew me away, that I have never really seen in a web application: it relied on memory. See, when you start the game, you consult an appendix which contains all of the various spells you can learn, indexed by a three letter code, along with Stamina cost and effect. At various points in the story, you are given a choice of several three-letter spell codes you can cast. You select a spell by its code, and go to the appropriate page, where you pay the cost and the resulting effect takes place.
But the trick is this - you can only look at the appendix one time, at the beginning of your adventure. And if you forget what all the spells do, you can injure yourself, or do something foolish. The game does not actually test your ability to be a warrior in real life, but it does test your problem-solving ability, and it tests your real life ability to remember important details.
Well, any book can be like this. If a book forces me to flip around, I need to remember what page I was on, in order to return to it. This is a disadvantage of a print book, of course. Book applications remember things for us. Browsers bookmark for us. We do not need to remember as much. I honestly do not think this makes either medium beter, just different.
But this got me thinking about how different forms of memory work. Imagine I can add annotations to a book I am reading. I get a pencil and I scribble notes in a margin. Over the years, these fade, or I lend the book to someone else, lose it on the bus and buy a different edition, which has been annotated by someone else.
Now imagine I can add annotations to an online book. I can add semantic tags to deepen the meaning and store the details of these tags in a data store for my next reading. I can share this information with other people, adding to the meaning of the book as a whole, without actually changing the book's narrative. If I am an author of the book, I can even retag the book to change the book's narrative.
But what if I add semantic data to the book that is purely transient... it evaporates as soon as I close the book, but it persists as long as I have the book open, as I flip through the chapters. How would that be?
I imagine something slightly more interactive than your average book, but less interactive than the simplest of video games. Perhaps a detective story, where you are the detective, and as you add semantic data to the narrative, the narrative reveals itself in more depth. And then, what if two people could arrange to read the same book, at the same time, so that the narrative evolved along two separate axes?
This would be a book as a single page application.