Hello, lovely people!

Here's an interesting thought: Evernote and Moleskine are creating a spime. Sort of.

All right, that was a bit opaque, so let's gloss it:

Evernote is a cloud-based bit of software for taking notes and gathering and assembling information. I used it a lot for The Blind Giant - read a website, shove it into Evernote so that you can come back to it when necessary; read a book, shove a quote into Evernote so you don't have to go looking again; see something out in the world, photograph it and send the picture to Evernote; make an audio note, send it to Evernote. It's your external, searchable memory. Handy little thing, and it has one particularly clever doodad: if you photograph text, the system will recognise it and parse it for you so that the text is searchable too. I photographed a couple of pages from old musty tomes, for example, and found them showing up nicely in my searches later. Just a great bit of stuff.

Moleskine, I suspect, you will already be familiar with: a clever reinvention of an old shape popularised by reference to literature and art. A traditional product with a sense of the bespoke and a sense of history. They make notebooks which echo the notebooks of Wilde and Picasso. As it happens, I've always been a bit sceptical about them, but recently for reasons I don't really understand they've started to fit into my life and now I'm a fan.

And spime...

A spime is a physical object which interacts with the digital environment, a building block in the much-touted but still (to most people) somewhat nebulous Internet of Things. Look at it this way: the digital environment is not a separate place behind a screen. It is, increasingly, a layer of meaning and semiotics which sits on the real world, invisible without a smartphone or a laptop but present all the same. Like infrared light or sonar, digital is simply a sense to which we don't have natural unassisted access.There are now objects which exist in this layer, which will discuss their situation with you through a device, report to you via the Internet or over Bluetooth.

So here's what Moleskine and Evernote are doing: they are making a notebook which is specially designed to work with Evernote, to facilitate handwriting recognition and various other things. A paper book which blends with Evernote's service. They're blurring the line between on and offline - which is entirely appropriate, because that line is increasingly porus. (Oh, and this being Moleskine, the styling is luscious. Hugely important.)

I've been pretty forthright about how I think the present implementation of the ebook concept sucks and we should demand [genetically modified tortoise libraries which roam the Earth] better design. This is, potentially, the beginning of that. Imagine a novel prepared with similar tricks: a grid to allow marginalia to be shared digitally; a smartphone app which knew what page of the paper edition you were on - and could take you to the relevant place in the audiobook or the movie; graded access to group discussions which automatically weeded out spoilers; links to author commentary, references and music; connections to physical places. Or consider it with textbooks and non-fiction and the possible perks there. What Evernote and Moleskine are doing is technologically unremarkable on the face of it (though actually making it work is probably pretty nifty coding) but it feels like the start of something exciting.

The Holy Grail of ebooks is the gorgeously tactile physical object which can be any book on Earth, or a notebook; which fits in your pocket and unfolds into a laptop; which is both beautiful and supremely functional. Maybe it will never actually happen. But in between that digital jewel-encrusted tome and the stuff we have now is a world of hybridised books and services which seek to make the reading experience more convenient, more seamlessly ubiquitous, more itself. Not to modify it or improve it, but to facilitate it and make the precise edition in which you chose to read at any given moment irrelevant.

And it seems to me this is a step in that direction. I'm looking forward to the arrival of my new Moleskine next month.


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