Ask a little, give a lot

I’ve really enjoyed two things this week that have made me think of new types of media, and the value exchange within them.

Firstly, the Pepys Road project to launch John Lanchester’s novel Capital, created by Matt Locke and a Mission Impossible style team of lovely brilliant people.

You start by entering a few very simple details about your life; where you were born, when, and where you are now.  Three boxes.

Then, once a morning, question comes through to your email, about climate, or politics, or the Olympics.  You have a choice of two answers, and that takes you on a journey across the next ten years, one day at a time.

Then you get a short story to read, which takes no more than five minutes, but is wonderfully concise and poignant.  The last story I found particularly affecting.


You should start your own Pepys Road journey here, or buy the Capital book here.

Matt’s talked about the three ideas shaping Pepys Road; reading, repetition and reflection.

Actually get an audience to read something, to come back to something, and to reflect on something based on the data they leave behind…

…which reminded me of the Data Comet thing I wrote about years ago… hmmm, might revisit that)


The repetition point is something that Robin Sloan’s Fish, a ‘tap essay’ for iPhone/iPad centres upon.


He asks what does it mean to love something on the internet, as opposed to merely like something.  I’m not going to spoil it for you, as you really must download it and go through it yourself.  It’s free, so there’s no excuse if you’ve got an iOS device.

But beyond the content, the form of the essay, the ‘tap essay’, is a really interesting media evolution.

It’s perhaps born from writing presentations for slideshare; just enough on each page to read, then click to flick.  I like the fact that there’s no back button built into the app, making it an experience you are subtely invited to repeat.


Both Pepys Road and Fish are an example of two things for me.

Firstly, something that Jack & Timo from BERG talked about at St Bride’s on Wednesday last week, the new forms of media that are creeping in to the new world (the “fourteen second video” I think was one example).


Specific short essays to support a more traditional, longer form book.  A short app version of an essay to support a much bigger, more complex idea (that is no doubt worthy of a dissertation, thesis or book, never mind an essay).

They are new forms of media that fit into the lives of their audiences, perfectly filling the cracks in time we have, rather than trying to force in a size predetermined in another age.

Secondly, the thing that both experiences do phenomenally well to help with that integration is that they ask a little, and give a lot.

A lot of online experiences tries to take you through very complex, request-heavy processes.

But nobody needs more work to do, people work hard enough as it is; if this stuff is meant to be enjoyed, make it enjoyable.  The onus is on you to give away loads, and ask for practically nothing in return.

If you can’t think of a way of meeting measurement criteria without overloading the ask to people, then I would gently suggest that you’re doing it wrong.

What’s more important; doing the right thing, the best thing you can possibly do, or measuring it?

Ask a little, give a lot.