I spent most of the weekend tinkering with the Google map companion to "Underworld," and I feel like I now have a better sense of the possibilities and limitations of the application for writers.
Possibilities: 1.) Google maps can be set up so that anyone can edit your map. I'm considering doing this with the "Underworld" map to see what locals and perhaps people who knew the murder victims might add. 2.) The Google Earth view of the map is mind blowing, especially on my iPad because the text from all of the map points floats like a word cloud over the city. The effect is that the city appears written on; that stories are embedded into the landscape. I like this idea and hope to riff on it more in future experiments. 3.) You can follow a map's RSS feed, so that any time the map is updated a new post is sent to your RSS reader. As my friend Wendy Sumner-Winter commented the other day, she liked the idea of a constantly evolving, constantly growing essay.
Limitations: 1.) The text boxes have limited space, so that rules out actually cutting and pasting the whole essay into the map point windows, which leads to 2.) What to write in these little boxes. Should I paste excerpts from the essay itself, or should this info be purely supplementary, bonus material?
One thing is for sure, the shareability of the medium helped make it very easy for my Facebook friends to recommend it to others. In fact, since the map and pdf of the essay went up on July 1st, the map has received 663 visits. 500 people have viewed the pdf of my essay, while 148 actually took time to read it.
Below are screenshots of the statistics windows on the Issuu site, which hosts your pdfs for free and connects you to a large network of artists, business people and publishers also sharing their work via Issuu.
The most interesting (and possibly concerning) stat is the second, which shows that only 28 people read the last two pages of the essay, compared to the high 80s for the first few pages. I'm hoping this has to do with people preferring not to read long documents on a computer screen and not that pages 6 and 7 suck.
But while knowing how many views you get is cool and all, I think this is just the beginning. The logical extension of this experiment is to embed the Google map info into the essay itself. Issuu gives you the html coding to do this sort of thing, but you have to use a program like InDesign or Quark, so I guess I'll be learning InDesign this week--or at least enough to be dangerous.
Tomorrow I'll be putting up the next essay from my book-in-progress. This one is titled "The Barber of Peru," and is still in draft form. The central feature will be the original handwritten manuscript of a short story my grandfather wrote.
Feel free to send comments, suggestions, complaints.