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Book meets satellites: OnScene takes readers to the settings

October 3, 2008 |  6:17 pm

Tribune Bay Sometimes a story can be so gripping that your mind can see where the characters are going. But when you're reading his new novel, "Precious Cargo," Clyde Ford wants to give you a little help.

As more and more people are turning to alternative means of entertainment, it's online media -- video, audio and interactive tools -- that seem to be winning out over the printed word. But Ford thinks he's found the solution: combine them all.

Ford is a writer of nautical-themed thrillers who also happens to be a former IBM software engineer. He spent the Last year developing OnScene, a website that combines satellite imagery with a digital version of "Precious Cargo." Readers can browse sample pages on the website and click on highlighted locations, which then display satellite images along with relevant info, audio or video.

Ford says OnScene is the "bridge" between the novel and digital media. He hopes the convergence can capture a younger demographic of book worms. "We're losing a generation of readers," he said. "We need to find ways to engage young people around traditional forms of literacy."

While "Precious Cargo" is currently the only OnScene-enabled work, he plans to use the technology for his future books and adapt it to some of his older paperbacks. In its current form, less than a dozen interactive pages can be read online, along with a list of locations mentioned in the novel that can be seen via satellite images. But Ford hopes to put entire books online once he establishes a revenue model with his publisher, Vanguard Press.

But it's not just boating books that could benefit from OnScene. One Christian book publisher -- Ford requested it not be named because a deal is still pending -- has already shown an interest in licensing the software, he said. The current version of OnScene doesn't employ any kind of copyright restrictions -- pages can be easily downloaded and redistributed, unlike, say, Google Book Search. But Ford says such locks can be easily added.

(On that note, it's surprising that Google hasn't come up with this. Just mix Google Maps with Book Search, add a bit of YouTube and throw in a dash of Knol, and you've basically got OnScene.)

Ford will appear at the Mystery Bookshop tonight at 7 p.m. (sorry for the late notice) to sign copies of his book -- hard copies only, so leave the laptops at home.

-- Mark Milian