Fifty (thousand) shades of porn

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At a dinner in Boston yesterday, we were talking about those wonderful Choose Your Own Adventure books we all read as children. If you haven’t read these, they’re the original interactive publication: each page offers you a choice, and based on your choice you move to the page that’s listed.

There were plenty of wacky titles to choose from, but the story couldn’t get very profound. You can only do so much character development one page at a time. On the other hand, they offered tons of possibilities (if you could resist reading ahead.) Eben Hewitt pointed me at a great post from Christian Swinehart at Samizdat on the CYOA genre that looks at the structure of these books.

The deal with digital isn’t simply that we’ve replaced atoms with bits. Sure, e-books are cheap to publish. But their digital nature is important because of interactivity. An e-book without an interface and a network connection just isn’t that interesting.

Interfaces aren’t just screens, either. Kindles, Nooks, and Tablets might require tapping and swiping, but we’re quickly adding other forms of interface: voice, biometrics, location, and so on.

This is the domain of Makers and hobbyists today: you can measure galvanic response, pupil dilation, heartrate, footfalls, and more on an iPhone with an Arduino and some patience. Many interfaces that were once expensive are becoming affordable using common, off-the-shelf components. Eye tracking with webcams isn’t reliable yet (but may soon be.)

So put the two together. Imagine content that branches, based on your reaction to it. An adult novel that describes a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead in luscious detail on page one—and then, based on which word made you sweat, or breathe a little deeper, or hasten your pulse, reconfigures the story. Books get much more fun when you don’t know you’re choosing: now if I can just find a smart Maker and a dirty-minded author.

Choose your own adventure, indeed.