Madrid, the game


Back in the spring of 2000, a bunch of friends and I decided to experiment with mobile phones as a publishing tool. So we created Beaker.net, a sort of Yahoo/Geocities engine — it was a web-based tool that let anyone quickly create a little site that could be viewed over a mobile phone. We did it for free, just to see what, if anything, people would do it with it; even though we didn’t advertise it at all (hell, we didn’t spend a penny developing it, either) about 20,000 people somehow found it and started building tiny mobile sites.

Just for fun, we decided to publish the world’s first “m-novel” — a novel serialized on mobile phones. So we got Douglas Clegg, an insanely technologically forward-thinking novelist, to syndicate his psychological thriller Purity on our site. Wired News wrote about it on Nov. 21, 2000:

An m-novel, according to Greg Sewell, Beaker.net’s owner, is for those moments you are stuck in a ticket line or waiting for a friend at a bar.

“We’re trying to put culture on the wireless Web — not just stock quotes and sports scores,” said Sewell. “The real power of the Internet isn’t in e-commerce. It’s in culture — the really weird, thought-provoking stuff that people create, like Douglas Clegg.”

We eventually got busy with our day jobs and had to abandon Beaker.net. (It’s not online any more, though you can see screenshots via the Wayback Machine.)

But today I read a story in Trends in Japan reporting on a new trend in novels for mobile phones. Apparently some writer named Yoshi started publishing a novel The Story of Ayu as a phone site; with an investment of only $909 he 20 million hits in three years, generating so much buzz that his book was published in print and is now being made into a movie. (He also got feedback from readers as he wrote, and he incorporated some of their suggestions on the fly.) Now major publishers are jumping on board, distributing novels on phones at prices ranging from $.091 to $6.36. Interestingly, Japanese readers say phones have several unique advantages as e-book devices:

Readers of these novels enjoy the medium for a variety of reasons, most having to do with the convenience and possibilities that mobile phones offer, such as not having to go to a bookstore, being able to read anywhere without carrying a book around, and being able to read in the dark.

Of course, the secret reason I wrote this entry is so I could brag shamelessly about having pioneered this concept three and a half years ago, right around the time Yoshi started work on his novel. Heh.

(Thanks to Techdirt Wireless News for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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