fishscreenHere’s an interesting iOS appbook, found via Wired: Robin Sloan’s “Fish: A Tap Essay”. Sloan was bemused by the way we constantly “like” or “fave” things on the Internet, as a way of calling our friends’ attention to them, but then don’t ever go back to them ourselves. Why would we? There’s so much distraction, so many shiny objects pleading for our attention on the Internet.

The things we love, he points out, like favorite books, movies, and music, we go back to over and over again. But how often do we return to that funny LOLcat, Internet meme, or even interesting and thought-provoking article we came across and wanted to pass on to our friends?

Rather than just post a blog somewhere about this phenomenon, where it would be read, liked and faved a few times, and then forgotten, Sloan wanted to convey the point in a way that would get people to internalize the point he was making. So he made a free appbook that he has posted to the iTunes store.

The app calls itself “a tap essay”, and is essentially a series of clean and sparse flashcards. You tap anywhere on the screen to move forward, but there is no “back” button so you can’t return to the previous slide (except by reaching the end and going all the way through from the beginning again).

On Wired, David Dobbs notes:

This slow-drip approach, along with commitment involved, created a pleasurable sense of immersion. It reminded me, paradoxically, of the frisson I felt the first time I played Myst, years ago. Myst was one of the first computer games in which you wandered around an open world and slowly made sense of it. You find yourself on an island and have to wander around and figure the place out. It’s rich. I can still remember the goose-bumps I got when I realized how it worked. With Fish, of course, I was not in open space but headed down a spare, artfully lit one-way tunnel. The novelty came not from options, but from commitment.

It reminds me of Myst, but for another reason—as was Myst, this app is essentially a HyperCard stack in form, harking back to one of the earliest implementations of hypertext for the digital age.

Dobbs also suggests the app should offer “a vital lesson […] for e-book designers” (and, indeed, I would expand that to developers of any app in general): when developing an e-book, the biggest problem is what to leave out. The content should be informed by the design, and when done right the words and design mesh in such a way that “the work comes alive.”

Does “Fish” come alive the way Dobbs thinks it does? The jury is still out. I found it enjoyable, insightful, and worth reading. Others complain it’s just an attention-getting mechanism. Now, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing really wrong with attention-getting mechanisms as long as you have something interesting to say, and I found Sloan’s “tap essay” novel and engaging.

I do have one complaint, though: In order to read it, I had to download and view it on my iPad, because my first-generation iPod Touch can’t run the iOS 5.0 that the app requires. Frankly, it puzzles me why an app that harkens back to one of Apple’s very first major applications should require the very latest and greatest version of iOS to run.

Anyway, “Fish” is free; the only thing it will cost you are the five minutes or so it will take you to read through it. Attention-getting mechanism aside, I thought he made some interesting points, and I’ll certainly remember what he said the next time I click on any “Like” or “Share” buttons.


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