Introduction to RWR

RWR, Read/Write Reality is a workshop on Ubiquitous Publishing and Augmented Reality.

Many definitions have been given at different times of both concepts. Yet we live in times of fast transformations and it is possibly more efficient to define methodological approaches to the concepts of Ubiquitous Publishing and Augmented Reality, without placing boundaries defined by choosing one or more specific technology or technique, and maintaining a wide perspective on what current technologies allow for, and what they suggest for the future.

In this perspective, we can describe the idea of “Ubiquitous Publication” as a publication whose content is disseminated (disseminat-able) across different types of media, places, objects, bodies, processes.

To give detail to this rather blurry definition we can imagine a couple of scenarios.

Imagine walking through a space (let’s say an architectural space in your city) and having with you a device which allows you to look through it (as an optical lens, as a transparency) and see the ordinary reality augmented with digital information: an information box placed over the signpost of a shop, informing you that there is a sale going on; a video about an historical event that took place near the statue in front of you; a poem created by a certain artist who was inspired by the beauty of the belvedere on which you are taking your relaxing stroll.

Another scenario: imagine wanting to create a story. A peculiar kind of story. A story which you can read in multiple ways. A story which is readable by walking through a certain space. You could imagine writing down the parts of the story onto post-it notes, and to attach them along the streets of your city. If you did this, something peculiar could happen: if you walked along different paths, you would read a different story. This would probably cause you to write your story differently, to make sure that each person wishing to read it could get out of it an interesting experience whichever path they followed, or to make sure that it was perfectly clear that a certain path should be followed to experience the story correctly.

Last scenario: a book is created on a certain topic which is of planetary interest. This book is a peculiar one, meaning that it is not created on paper, but on a digital system, and it is accessible using a series of different devices (let’s say a computer, a smartphone, a tablet computer, and a little gizmo which we’ll talk about in a bit). The first time you “open the book” it is empty, apart from the title “this is a book on topic X, of planetary importance”. Just below the sad, empty “page”, there is a button whose label reads “add content”. If you click it, an interface allows you to express yourself on “topic X”. The next time someone “opens the book” he/she sees your content and can add his/her contribution to it, connect it to the others using keywords and links, add videos and sounds, and even link it to specific places in the world, if that specific content is particularly relevant for them. Shortly the “book” becomes full of information and stories, it contains data, information and multimedia. If you open a specific part of that interface, you can also see if someone has added some information to it which is relevant for the place you’re walking through, using a map that shows your surroundings and on which different types of content are represented using icons and colors.

And the Gizmo? Imagine being specifically interested in a certain sub-theme of the book, something which might, for example, be expressed using a keyword or a short sentence. Imagine the gizmo in your pocket. Imagine it to start vibrating as soon as someone contributes to the book with content which is relevant to your specific sub-theme, or when, while walking through your city, you come close by a place which in which someone has added a contribution about your precious, interesting subject.

Ubiquitous publishing can be imagined as the possibility to enact novel forms of narrative which are disseminated through space, time, bodies, objects and which can be produced by a multitude of subjects, creating emergent, non-linear, multi-author, dynamic stories.

An Ubiquitous Publication is a substantial rearrangement of the idea of “book” (or of magazine, journal and the like), as it substantially restructures the basic concepts (such as author, content, narrative…) that are at the foundation of its definition.

Ubiquitous Publishing is not a technology. It is a methodology, and it can be designed and implemented by using the most advanced of technologies just as well as it can be done using scrap pieces of paper and scotch tape.

Ubiquitous Publishing can, thus, be designed and performed using multiple technologies and methodologies that we can use to publish information, stories and data across places, spaces, bodies and objects.

When Ubiquitous Publications are created, something peculiar happens: reality “augments”.