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November 4, 2008

Manga Man creator talks mobile T-shirt publishing, sentient tattoos and the physical social networks

SAN FRANCISCO, USA – I recently had the pleasure of delving inside the mind of Alex Besher, the acclaimed sci-fi writer behind the new Manga Man multimedia mobile universe, in an interview that exposed some fascinating insights into accessing mobile content on the move.

He tells us where the idea spark was ignited for enabling fans to freely download a mobile-tailored version of his Manga Man universe (a combination of a novel, illustrations, video, music and more) solely by scanning the QR code on a dedicated T-shirt (as worn by Alex, right). Plus, he explains how this publishing method actually manages to echo the content he has created, highlights the importance of the old tradition of word of mouth (fused with new technologies, such as Twitter), and shares his vision for physical social networks created by technological ones, and the future of mobile publishing.

Read on to take a fantastic voyage into inner space of Alex Besher’s brain…

Launching literature (and added multimedia extras) on a mobile phone isn’t new, but launching it exclusively in this format and making it only available by scanning the QR code on a T-shirt is what Alex rightly calls “a quantum leap from traditional publishing”. But I was keen to find out how such a concept was born.

“It was one of those eureka moments that came right out of the blue. I’d been reading the local press and there was a news item, buried I should say, about how San Francisco restaurants were participating in a trial with the use of QR code stickers outside their stores for the benefit of passersby.”

This method for accessing content resonated with him, but as for why it was so pertinent becomes clearer when Alex explains the context of the literature and scenarios involved.

“What’s original isn’t the fact that I’m using QR code, but rather using QR code as a tool and as a portal. All my novels focussed on transcendence. I decided to use a T-shirt because in Mir [the title of one of Alex’s works] there are sentient tattoos that live on people’s bodies, and these tattoos travel from body to body. They’re actually a diabolical virus, that alters reality. So you’re T-shirt is one step removed from intelligent tattoos that you wear”

Alex also highlighted an interesting social and educational byproduct of having his literature accessible via a T-shirt.

“One really cool thing about the T-shirt, and this is calculated actually, is that in order to take a picture of that QR code, optimally you need to be within three feet of the person wearing it. So some people see that and ask what is it, who aren’t familiar with QR codes and they come closer – that’s an educational process. They come closer to the person wearing it, and you’ve instantly got a social network, because you’re interacting with a total stranger.”

The sheer nature of this ambitious breed of digital distribution means that it’s going to rely hugely on word of mouth. But this is something that Alex is keen to highlight as remaining a very powerful tool, especially in today’s times with the likes of Twitter helping amplify the process. He even sees a future where your mobile “filters through the trash” (not spam, but uninteresting content) that appears via services like Twitter to ensure you’re engaged with the best content tailored to you.

This is only the beginning as far as Alex is concerned when it comes to how we can access mobile content and literature, reckoning that this method is just one template for “how multimedia publishing is going to evolve. He presents the analogy that we’re currently “in the dark ages of mobile technology, and it’s like the Chinese women with bound feet”. I must say, despite this gloomy and the painful picture of the present, its clear that Alex Besher is hugely excited about how far we’ve come, and definitely sees the future of mobiles as an enlightened place. Do you agree?