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Ashton Kutcher: Twitter King

posted July 30, 2009

Posted by Erin Brown in technology trends uncategorized

Who maintains the most popular Twitter feed on earth? Guess again, it’s Ashton Kutcher.

The Iowa-born actor came to fame playing Michael Kelso on the FOX sitcom That 70s Show. In 2003 he created a minor media sensation by hooking up with Demi Moore, who had launched her career on the ABC soap General Hospital when Kutcher was only 4. Also in 2003 he became the creator, executive producer, and host of the MTV series, Punk’d, in which hidden cameras catch celebrities at the receiving end of practical jokes.

Now Kutcher, whose Twitter handle is @aplusk, is becoming a star in the tech sector, too. In April of this year (just as Oprah was sending out her first Tweet), Kutcher won a much-publicized race with CNN to become the the first Twitterer with 1 million followers.  For a recap of the whole “feud,” see Kutcher’s 4/17 victory appearance on Larry King Live:


Some criticized Kutcher’s achievement as a little more than a PR stunt and questioned the means by which he’d amassed a million followers. Still, Kutcher seemed earnest about the democratic power of microblogging, telling King,

“We now live in an age in media that a single voice can have as much power and relevance on the Web, that is, as an entire media network.”

Kutcher also emphasized to King that the brilliance of Twitter is that it is not only a “send out” but also a “take in” medium, through which he is having a direct conversation with his fans.

Now approaching the 3 million followers mark, Kutcher highlighted the potential of Twitter’s “take in” feature recently when he sent out a Tweet asking followers to suggest a joke for a scene in his upcoming movie, The Killers. The jokes flooded in, and apparently one of them fit the bill. As reported by Fishbowl LA, Kutcher’s making no promises that the joke will survive the movie’s final cut. (Also, it remained to be seen whether the contributing fan would receive credit, or payment, for the joke.) Still, the incident must have made The Killers’s screenwriter(s), and perhaps writers everywhere, a little uneasy.

Alternatives to the Kindle and Sony Reader

posted July 28, 2009

Posted by Thomas Riggs in E-books books publishing technology trends

I’m in the market for an electronic reader, and I’ve been looking at the Kindle and Sony Reader. They’re both well-built, attractive readers with lots of books to download. But, alas, they’re not perfect.

But are there other options? Well, yes. Here are a few that will be coming out soon.

Bebook 2

With both a touch screen like the Sony and a wireless connection like the Kindle, the Bebook 2 is one of the most advanced of the upcoming new readers. It’s produced by Endless Ideas in The Netherlands.

Cybook Opus

The Cybook Opus, made by the French company Bookeen, is one of the most stylish e-readers on the horizon. It also has an accelerometer.

Plastic Logic

If you want a lightweight reader with an 8 1/2 x 11 screen, this is it. Plastic Logic, a company founded in Cambridge, England, recently teamed up with Barnes & Noble, so there will be hundreds of thousands of books to download. Plastic Logic also makes flexible screens. One day you might be able to buy a reader that rolls up.


Editis Ebook

Okay, this one is a fantasy by Editis, a French publisher. But watch this short French film until at least 1:04, when the woman pulls out her magic orange reader. Thanks to the HarperStudio blog, where I first saw the film.

Kindle Gaffe Poses Big Questions

posted July 27, 2009

Posted by Erin Brown in publishing technology trends


The controversial Kindle incident of 7/17, in which a few hundred U.S. Kindle owners discovered that Amazon had mysteriously removed copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from their e-book readers, was not just a thundering irony. Although Amazon has explained (it was a copyright infringement issue), apologized, and promised not to do it again, the episode (referred to by Thomas Claburn of Information Week and others as a “virtual book burning”) has generated heated debate about the nature of e-media, who really owns it, and the awesome—some might say scary—powers of its purveyors.

Writing for the Guardian Book Blog, Sam Jordison observed:

As this story has shown, if someone wants to stop you reading something and they have control of the device you read it from, it’s all too easy [ . . . ] It’s been tough to make books disappear in the past because they tend to be scattered so far afield. Now, it seems, words can vanish at the flick of a switch.

Jordison continued:

The question of whether it is safe or wise to blithely hand over so much of one of our most important industries and so many of our treasured freedoms to the gatekeepers of this revolutionary technology is an entirely modern one. The issue that underlies it, however, is one of the very oldest: who will guard the guards?

Slate columnist Farhad Manjoo posed similar questions about the implications of a company’s power, or a court’s mandate, to disable access to (or ban) art, literature, music, or other e-media at its discretion, noting:

Amazon deleted books that were already available in print, but in our paperless future—when all books exist as files on servers—courts would have the power to make works vanish completely [ . . . ] This may sound like an exaggeration; after all, we’ll surely always have file-sharing networks and other online repositories for works that have been decreed illegal. But it seems like small comfort to rely on BitTorrent to save banned art. The anonymous underground movements that have long sustained banned works will be a lot harder to keep up in the world of the Kindle and the iPhone.

Ultimatley, Manjoo said (citing cyber law expert Jonathan Zittrain), the danger lies with the fact that advances in “tethered technology” (e-readers, smart phones, and other devices that we buy and physically possess, but which are subject to remote control by the companies that sell them) are out-pacing the law.

It will be interesting to see how the law catches up. In the meantime, many readers are finding that the question of whether to embrace the Kindle (or any other e-reader) has gotten a lot more philosophical.

AIGA Best of New England 2009

posted July 24, 2009

Posted by Anne Healey in book design

Among the winners at the 2009 AIGA BoNe (Best of New England) Show Awards was this series of books published by Boston Review with the MIT Press. The designers are Alex Camin and George Restrepo.


Boston Review

The series was launched in 2006, and these six books are a representative selection.

George Restrepo is the art director of The Improper Bostonian, and Alex Camin is the creative director at Da Capo Press/Perseus Books Group. Here’s another of Camin’s cover designs: 




I really like another MIT Press book that also won a BoNe Award: Camps: A Guide to 21st-Century Space, by Charlie Hailey. According to the press’s website, Hailey examines “how camp spaces are informed by politics and transform the ways we think about and make built environments.” Leaving the bookboard and stitches exposed was a great idea!



Margaret Atwood Rocks New Technology

posted July 22, 2009

Posted by Mariko Fujinaka in Bookselling books technology trends virtual offices world literature


When you think of writer Margaret Atwood, do you imagine her to be embracing the latest technological innovations? Well, she is. The award-winning Canadian author of such novels as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin, Alias Grace, and Oryx and Crake will be plugging her new novel, The Year of the Flood, at book fairs across Canada … virtually. Atwood will appear in the flesh at Toronto’s Word on the Street festival in September 2009. At the same time, she will participate via video conference in two other book events in Vancouver and Halifax.

In addition to “meeting” festival participants and answering questions, Atwood will also be signing books with LongPen, a device Atwood helped invent (!) that enables her to sign books remotely and in real time. Atwood came up with the idea for the LongPen on one of her many long and grueling book tours. She explained to journalist Anthony Barnes in a February 19, 2006 article in The Independent, “As I was whizzing around the United States on yet another demented book tour, gettting up at four in the morning to catch planes, doing two cities a day, eating the Pringle food object out of the mini-bar at night as I crawled around on the hotel room floor, too tired even to phone room service, I thought, ‘There must be a better way of doing this.’” The LongPen made its public debut at the London Book Fair in 2006.

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