February 18, 2009


What’s an unbook?

 traditional book is released in editions.  When a work is revised or updated, a new edition is released. These revised or updated editions usually offer small, incremental changes, such as a new preface or introduction, a new chapter, or small changes to the content.

An unbook is more like software:

1. An unbook is never finished, but rather continually updated, based on feedback from users andtheir evolving needs.

2. An unbook is released in versions. As in open source software, version 1.0 of anunbook is a significant milestone, indicating that it is stable and reliable enough for use by the general public. The significance of a new release is indicated by the size of the gap: For example, the difference between 1.1 and 1.1.3 is minor, while the difference between 1.1 and 2.0 is major.

3. An unbook is supported by a community of users who share their experiences and best practices with each other, and help each other troubleshoot problems encountered in their practice areas. An unbook’s community is a very real part of the unbook’s development team.

An unbook is mindware: software for the mind.

I have been recently toying with David Gray’s unbook Marks and Meaning (see, also, here for more specifics) which requires some patience, not because it is boring but because it requires engagement. You’ll find nearly as many blank pages for sketching and marginalia as you do content. It is a little unsettling at our first since our inclination is normally to be passive while reading.

The best part, however, is the community built into the book. After ordering it, you get an automated email from Dave encouraging you to email him and join the google group. And I’ve found the discussion and responsiveness the group (Dave, included) refreshing and vibrant. In this case, I have stumbled upon a commnity much like clusterflock, a loose aggregation of disparate, brilliant minds, but with a particular focus on visual language.

I recommend the experience, if not with Marks and Meaning, then with another unbook.


  1. Andrew Simone on February 19th, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Dave also just started a blog in which he hopes to bring much of the discussion public. You’ll probably see me there occasionally.