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Mac Planet: Beyond the story

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A New Zealand firm has made an interactive Anne Frank Diary app. Photo / Supplied
A New Zealand firm has made an interactive Anne Frank Diary app. Photo / Supplied

I mentioned this NZ company, located in London, a few weeks ago in relation to the Anne Frank app and had the fortune to meet co-founder Jen Porter while she was in Auckland for some summer weather.

Jen started off developing for the music industry in Wellington, building systems that delivered content including music as TradeMobile back in in 2005, and this morphed into publishing as they embraced digital methods of delivering, and consuming, all types of content.

Jen started going to Britain in 2007 as it was clear it was still the hub of the worldwide English-speaking publishing industry. "It was pure economy of scale, no other reason." She proved this by showing me a picture of her little London back garden, deep in snow, from just two weeks before.

After basing herself there, TradeMobile became Beyond The Story in late 2012.

The Anne Frank Diary app was built with incredible attention to detail and rewards a careful read, either in its own right to place it into a historical (and artistically rewarding) context, or as a serious research tool ideal for students willing to delve into something rewardingly layered.

Beyond the Story's business model is to work in partnership with publishers as a revenue share: they supply the content, BYS creates the app. In the future, licensing the platform to empower publishers to develop their own apps is on the cards. A lot of the cleverness the little company embodies, according to Jen, is due to Chief Technology Officer Kirk Bowe, who came to them from Universal. Kirk had long held a dream of delivering rich content that improves the reading experience while improving learning.

First efforts were companion apps to books by authors including Mark Billingham and Iain M Banks. They understood and embraced the concept. You'd read a page in the real book, and the app for that page added extra information from the reams of research they'd done to make their fiction plausible.

The next step was an all-in-one entity, and this led to the Kings and Queens app, launched last year, featuring UK historian David Starkey essentially delivering a lecture on his book. This was created in partnership with Sky Television and publishers HarperCollins.

Improvements and rewrites of this model led to the Diary of Anne Frank app (BTS's eighth app), which in turn is a platform ready for new ventures. "What we have now is so much more intuitive ... it sounds pretty simply but took a lot of money and a lot of time to develop to this extent."

As long-term readers of this Mac Planet blog may recall (this being my 390th) I am fascinated with the publishing space and how it's evolving. I worked in the old-fashioned print industry before spending many years in the digital publishing world launched by the so-called 'desktop publishing' that Apple and Adobe were so heavily involved with back in the early 1990s.

And look at the readership of this blog: every week it's equal to the readership of one bi-monthly issue of the now defunct MacGuide (which I edited 2002-2007), and about 50% of this online readership is outside of New Zealand, another advantage of digital publishing: it respects few international boundaries with none of that expensive print-edition subscribing business, as anyone who used to rely on airmailed editions of magazines and journals will appreciate. Plus delivery is instant.

I know and understand that a lot of people like and appreciate actual print: books, magazines and newspapers. And I do too. It's just such a rare indulgence these days. Jen agrees: "It's all about convenience. I sit on the Tube and the buses in London and everyone's reading their smartphones and tablets. People don't have time any more, so they're using transport as their time-out to consume information." This market can only grow. "As I always say to publishers, 'you're not publishing books, you're publishing authors, so get with the program and publish in the formats people are consuming'."

The Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam is a cramped and sobering space. I find it interesting how a digital program on an iPad can expand this claustrophobic world by so much - I'm sure Anne would have approved. Anne Frank, as most people seem to know these days (which is a good thing), was a young Jewish woman hidden with her family in Nazi-occupied Holland. The family was eventually betrayed and most, including Anne, died in concentration camps, but her father survived and was later handed the diary by a woman who found and sequestered the diary for posterity. It was subsequently published, in abridged form, to become a worldwide sensation. Later the unabridged version was published - the app includes the full text of Anne Frank's famous diary, while adding documentary video clips, audio interviews and readings (by actor Helena Bonham Carter, no less) plus notes, and scans of related documents and maps. There are facsimile pages from the original diary, and (importantly for scholars and geeks like me) historical timelines of Anne's life in relation to the wartime events that defined it.

It's a delicate situation, as The Guardian points out, since many might argue the diary doesn't need multimedia and interactive extras to convey its emotional punch. True, but conversely the latest tablet technology can "bring Anne's 1940s diary to teenagers who might not otherwise have read it".

The app is not compatible with iPad 1, but it is with the 2 and later. It's NZ$13.99 in the iTunes App Store, and there's a Nook version.

Shortly, BTS is starting the output of a classic series of out-of-copyright classic books including Treasure Island, Huckleberry Fin and many more. BTS will also working with some New Zealand firms in future.

Then, to my frustration, Jen made me shut off the recorder and showed me some forthcoming projects engaging with some of the world's biggest and most impressive media publishing ventures.

All I can say is 'wow' - actually, that should be 'WOW!' Watch what this company directed by four New Zealand women comes up with next.

I'll leave the last word to Jen. "I could hire 40 people tomorrow."

- NZ Herald

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