At ALA recently I spent a lot of time going around to vendors asking if they had a model for distributing apps. I got a lot of blank stares and “Hm, that’s a good idea. I think I might know a guy in Tallahassee who might do that….” I was getting frustrated. I’m not a developer/codemonkey/tech person, so I don’t really understand the inner workings of DRM (a necessary evil, for the time being, which allows libraries to share digital content) and why it can be applied to some types of files and not to others. In my head, if you can make eBooks available through the library, why not apps? It’s not being done. And apparently no one is working on it. All I need is a prototype, a precedent, a really great idea.
That really great idea is readIMAGINE.
A little while ago I wrote an Early Literacy Grant for the Palo Alto City Library (don’t know yet if we got it) wherein we asked for a bunch of iPads to start introducing the community to some really great apps for young kids. Jenny Jordan, Library Services Manager in the Children’s Library was very supportive of my vim and vigor for apps and early literacy, but I hadn’t heard much from her since we submitted the grant.
Then last month I got an email from her introducing me to a person by the name of Chiara McPhee. Chiara is an MBA student at Stanford and she’s working with a group of students who are developing some story apps and a distribution platform. Would I be interested in meeting with her to see what they’re working on? Ok, sure, let’s see what they’ve got. I’d been approached by app developers before, so this not was entirely unusual.
Chiara met me at a coffee shop in the Graduate School of Business complex at Stanford and told me a little bit more about the project, and about a seriously big-name publisher that’s interested in their model. At that point I was still thinking, “This is nice. But what’s it got to do with me?” Chiara introduced me to LeeAnn Parker, a 2nd grade teacher in a private school in Washington D.C. who did the initial classroom research. Then we went upstairs and it was time to see some of the work in progress. I met Phat Phoung, head of creative and 10 year Pixar veteran, and Mikhail Kushnikov, the tech guru.
I was FLOORED by this operation. They have access to a media lab at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and I was introduced to 6 digital artists and animators, all piecing together two gorgeous apps. They showed me the concept artwork, some incredibly cute characters, and visual representations of the dashboard of their app. Chiara is the business rep in this venture, and she’s a firecracker. She has done her homework, she’s a consummate professional and she is doing this work because she loves it.
These students have their ducks in a row. They have gorgeous artwork, pedagogical field research that’s already been started (the apps aren’t even finished yet!), thorough market research, connections with animators, authors, philanthropists and developers, and some initial seed funding. They are developing an algorithm to determine reading level so the text in the story will be tailored to the child’s reading level. There is a content creation component (libraries are all over that these days) and kids will be able to submit feedback which will determine the plot for the series. They have a beautiful portal which will be customizable within the app to keep track of the art, stories and characters the child has created or interacted with. They are creating a whole virtual world with the capacity to serve as a new model for publishing AND a distribution mechanism.
readIMAGINE has vision. Revolutionary, beautiful, big-picture vision. And they want to launch their product in libraries. I’m going to help them.