Growing old with the Net. Energized once more by apps

For the last twenty years apps have determined my world. Early 1993: sitting in front of a Sun workstation I read an intriguing e-mail announcement from an Illinois college student describing a GUI application for X Windows/Unix that combined Internet protocols (telnet, FTP) with the hypertext of the new World-Wide-Web system. I grabbed the code, compiled it, and was hooked on Mosaic. Within weeks I had started developing Web sites that created virtual exhibitions from text and images supplied by the Library of Congress.

Fast forward almost two decades: as a librarian, avid reader, and co-founder of a book design studio I had stayed very interested in the potential of digital content. E-book reading on Kindle or iPhone didn’t appeal to me initially (though now it certainly does). The iPad was a much more enticing format. But it wasn’t until I saw the History of Jazz app that I really grasped the game changing nature of the tablet. For some time I had wanted to break free of the browser. Apps on tablets are pioneering a path.

Yet, the majority in publishing is on a different path, figuring out how to fit complex multimedia layouts into some variation of ePub formatted ebooks. The reason is pure commerce. It’s more economical to standardize on a format that can work across platforms or be adapted easily to do so. That’s a well reasoned argument for publishers and authors interested in selling books. There remains, however, a call towards custom development of native apps as a type of specialty in which innovative narratives supported by graphic design override standardized approaches.These more artistic books as apps might find a following large or small.

The quest is whether there’s anything remarkable in apps. It’s easy to forget that Web browsers are apps as are e-book readers such as iBooks & the Kindle for iPad. Apps are software and all software are apps. We’re in a time when software development has never been so “easy”. So much of our lives are now lived through apps. Apps are forming the heritage of our culture. That’s too important to leave merely to commerce. We need to find the ways that apps bind to our experience of being human.

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