An OBS Cyberspace Extension of

Book Cover

by Nicholas Negroponte

The Cyberdock version of Nicholas Negroponte's bestselling "Being Digital" -- published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. -- goes beyond displaying and distributing the book's contents in another medium. A "Cyberdock" is what it sounds like: a "cyber dock" of sorts, featuring the book's text files as a stable casting off point, from which the reader is invited to explore the Internet Sea on one of the many "URL-Boats" tied to the Dock.

Additionally, the "Being Digital" Cyberdock frees Negroponte's ideas from the words they are couched in and the paper they are printed on, into the medium (media) they describe, enabling the ideas to realize themselves, not only through the dynamic links tied to this Cyberdock, but also, and more importantly, through future inclusions and mediations of the ideas and inspirations linked to by you and your fellow readers.

"But don't the URLs in this Cyberdock, the external links, just serve as illustrations of Negroponte's points?" one might ask. Not quite: the URLs enable rather than illustrate. Take for example the "intelligent agents" Negroponte talks about. In a traditional paper book, these agents might be illustrated as a string of code or as an abstract drawing of a cybercreature roaming the Net for its master. On a CD of the book, this same "'bot" might be illustrated in a finite and contained prototype form. But on the Net the "intelligent agent" idea described in the book can evolve into itself in real time, by virtue of linking to existing intelligent agent programs and resources on the Internet now and in the future. Delightfully, the idea of "intelligent agent" or "bookbot" may even take on an incarnation unanticipated by either the author or the readers, for example, by itself being linked to and perhaps manipulated by an intelligent agent.

Say some users of the "Being Digital" Cyberdock want to become part of the book and include their own creative ideas about how to program a knowbot or "bookbot" for the purposes of achieving one of the ends outlined in the book. When this happens, we know the Cyberdock is working! Such readers may also be companies such as other Internet publishers who want to link relevant portions of their publications to this book. For example, a publisher of advanced programming texts might supply a chapter on how to code a knowbot for the British Butler agent, and tie it to that section of the "Being Digital" Cyberdock. Throughout, then, the "Being Digital" Cyberdock maintains its original integrity as a printed document, while proving protean enough to allow for others to affect and even determine its meaning. This is a new kind of book, to be sure, if it is a book at all!

The links contained in this Cyberdock do more, then, than contextualize or illustrate the book by providing interesting Net complements to Negroponte's rich ideas. The "Being Digital" Cyberdock is meant to provide a structure from which the book can evolve digitally as the ideas it advances are explored, realized, altered, or discarded. To spur readers' thinking processes, we have included links to some resources not on the Internet before this publication, to current books whose authors advance diametrically opposed arguments to Negroponte's advocacy for things cyber. The reader will find peppered through these pages links or references to such "Web Backlash" titles as Sven Birkerts' recent "Gutenberg Elegies" and Clifford Stoll's "Silicon Snake Oil", for example.

And further to the point of advancing the ideas of the book, so too does this "Being Digital" Cyberdock aim at prompting development of its own medium of Internet publishing, with the introduction of the "Gumball Machine Model" of sponsored publishing. Published in an environment where the text is free and the reader rules, the author and publisher need an income stream in order to continue their work. To satisfy this need, up till this point, the preeminent form of for-pay publishing on the newly commercial Internet has been "sponsored" publishing, similar to TV or magazine advertising only "interactive" (if clicking on a sponsor's logo can be considered interactive ;-) ). Sponsors pay lump sums of money to site their hot logos at heavily trafficked sites, and hope that users click on them.

The Gumball Machine Model modifies that early sponsorship model into one which we hope is more suited to readers' and sponsors' needs by being more tightly integrated into the meaning of the individual text, by making the crucial delineation for the reader between editorial and commercial links, by allowing readers to remain free and anonymous if they choose, and by charging sponsors penny by penny only for the direct hits that come to their site from this book, rather than a lump sum beforehand.

When browsing the "Being Digital" Cyberdock, point to a link and you'll see an indicator in the text. When the "AD" appears you know that there is a sponsor behind this URL (and more sponsors are always welcome!), who will be paying pennies to the author and publisher of the Cyberdock each time their URL is hit on. The other URLs are there for editorial reasons alone, as cyberextensions of the text (and here too we welcome suggestions). Thus informed, the Cyberdock reader decides when to leave the Dock and where to venture out on the Net.

"Digital books never go out of print. They are always there" ("Being Digital", p. 13). Used and defined by readers worldwide as a starting point for online voyages, this new Cyberdock version of "Being Digital" will enable a "wholly new content [to] emerge..."(p. 18), which will begin to tell us about our binary selves and our collaborative project of charting the digital seas around us.


To encourage reader participation, above and beyond the HTML "bulletin board" features of the Dock itself, which are open to all, for a limited time, the Cyberdock editors will submit to Nicholas Negroponte on a monthly basis the three best links and/or comments offered by readers of "Being Digital" and will forward them to Mr. Negroponte for personal comment; his custom comments will be posted in the Cyberdock every month. This monthly "prize" underlines the assertion that what's really for sale in Internet publishing is not things or copies of things, but rather the rare and migratory bird called "attention"--and that means the author's attention to his readers as well as the readers' attention to the author's prose. Enjoy the Cyberdock version of "Being Digital".

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Copyright Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1995. All rights reserved.
Copyright Online Edition, OBS. All rights reserved.
Updated on April 15, 1996 nn@obs-us.com