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I started working on the Book of the Future project in early January 2003. At that time, the project had already had its 'soft launch', and was now a working DNA site. The premise of the site was that users would add their 'visions' of the world in 2020, which would be voted for and eventually form a book, to be published six months later.
After the site's initial launch, the number of contributions being made and users visiting the site was fairly low. There we were, sat at the Editor's Desk (our equivalent of Peer Review), with only a few articles to look through. This began to change, however, as trails for the site started appearing on TV. They were short, you could blink and miss the ten-second clip between the news and the weather, but seemed to do the job. Soon articles were piling up on the desk faster than we could read them.
Emily had her work cut out, reading through all of the submissions and deciding which ones were good enough to be given 'edited' status. All of the articles that made the grade came through to me. I had the job of GuideML-ing the articles, adding them into the right categorisation section, and adding vote buttons (using a complicated non-DNA system).
What quickly became clear was just how wide-ranging the articles being sent in were. Looking 17 years into the future takes some imagination, and people tackled the task in different ways. Some articles, like Jimster's, say more about the world we live in today, taking current trends and extrapolating into the future. Other articles were just plain funny, or wacky, or inventive.
Part of the plan for the project was to try and get celebrities to contribute their thoughts. This appeal was helped along by a promise that Comic Relief would receive a donation for every book sold. Some of the articles that came back were a bit surprising. Tara Palmer-Tomkinson wrote a poem, Queen guitarist Brian May gave us some rants, and astronomer David Levy predicted a supernova. Problems hit us when author Irvine Welsh sent in a poem that was full of swear words and obscenity. The piece didn't fit in with the existing rules for users, but at the same time if all the swearing was replaced by asterisks it looked more starry than the summer night's sky. The somewhat bizarre solution was to put it up under a watershed which made the poem only visible between 9pm and 5.30am - a bit time-consuming and irrelevant when dealing with an international community!
As time progressed, the deadline for article submissions passed, and work began on putting the actual book together. The articles were ranked according to how many votes they got, and the top 70 or so were included in the book. We also included some quotes from articles that didn't make it and conversations taking place on the site. Then the book was sent off to the printers and the waiting began. Keeping busy in the meantime, I worked on the development of a Quiz which would 'predict' your future for 2020. It took time for the techies to do the coding, the artist to do the design, and for us to write the answers, but it all came together in the end and, with a bit of tinkering, we finally got it to work! The quiz also includes your 2020 horoscope as predicted by 360 Guru Peter Dickinson
On 31 July the book was finally published. The cover came back looking fantastic, and the book really holds together well. To celebrate the book's launch, we threw a party for all Book of the Future contributors in a trendy bar in London. The turnout was fantastic on such short notice, and it was great to meet and chat to some of the regulars from the site.
In the next few weeks we'll be tracking some copies of the book we released into the public domain with BookCrossing.com and will be announcing who's who in our funky photo competition, which you may still have time to enter!