Digital Storytelling and the Future of the Book

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

In the past week, I’ve come across several examples of new products and services that illustrate the transformation that’s underway in how we read books and tell stories. Here’s a quick overview of what’s out there:


Just this past week, the Walt Disney Company launched, an online book service that gives its target audience of 3 to 12 year olds access to the electronic versions of over 500 of Disney’s books.

The books, which are organized by reading level, are read aloud by voice actors (complete with sound effects) for younger children in the ‘Look and Listen’ category of the site. Older children can click on any word while reading, and the word will be pronounced out loud, with an age-appropriate definition provided. For budding novelists and amateur mediamakers, there’s the ‘Story-Builder’, which allows children to construct their own stories using a drag-and-drop functionality to add character art and text.

I can’t help but be reminded of the postcyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age, in which a little girl acquires an interactive digital book intended for a child of a higher social class. It reads to her, reacts to her environment, and essentially raises her, teaching her all the skills needed to become an effective, productive member of society.

Has Disney taken the first step towards this?

Sophie 2.0

This application, available October 15th, 2009, is open source software for writing and reading media-rich documents in a networked environment. It will allow authors to combine text, images, video, and sound, without needing to have programming knowledge or experience with Flash.

It’s intended audience is academia, and if it’s as simple and intuitive to use as we hope, it may be a game changer in setting the expectations for a term paper, a book, or even a thesis.  Watch the video here .


Is it a video? Is it a book? No, it’s a vook! Available on the web or as a mobile application, this service sells e-books that are injected with snippets of video to “enhance the story”.

They only have 4 titles to choose from at the moment, one being a romance novel by Jude Deveraux. I personally wouldn’t read that type of book to begin with, but then to add video to it makes me think of a cheesy Lifetime movie. I’m clearly not the target market.

The fitness book that includes demonstrations of Lose Weight Exercises, and the beauty book covering recipes and techniques for a skin care regimen make a little more sense, as they drift over into instructional video territory.

I think this would be a great platform for books covering scientific topics, where a visualization for the inner workings of a cell or the principles of quantum mechanics would be quite insightful. At the same time, the ability to assemble that kind of information seem to be the goal of the Sophie 2.0 project, so there’s certainly overlap.

Possible ou Probable?

A concept video by the Institute for the Future of the Book. Though it’s in French, you’ll get the gist.

It seems that these applications could be amazing tools for learning and retention. I’d be curious to see a study done that compares students learning a topic/concept just from classroom instruction and a textbook, verse students given the supplemental media-rich interactive digital book. Which group will have a better sense of the big picture?

What are the pitfalls or risks involved in digitally enhanced learning?