Senghor on the Rocks: A Georeferenced Electronic Novel

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

author-submitted abstract: Senghor on the Rocks (SOTR) is the first novel that has been extensively illustrated with the help of online satellite imagery. SOTR was written in the form of a classical novel well before we developed the presented online format for publishing. Because of its linear narrative structure, the consistent first?person perspective of the text and the movement that happens throughout the text, it was very well suited for an adaption as an online "geo?novel" based upon Google Maps. The text of the novel was not changed for the online version, but every scene has been geographically referenced and the chapter structure has been adjusted for online reading habits.

Geographical information systems such as Google Maps usually do not provide the fine grained control of views necessary for illustrating literature. A taxonomy of operation has been developed that was used for annotating the text with the necessary information to control the map visualization, similar to the directions in a movie script. The usual approach to indicate locations on the map with markers or "needle pins" has been found to suggest a very static situation – for SOTR we developed an arrow overlay that can move and rotate freely, hinting towards the constant movement of the protagonist through geographical space. The virtual camera that controls the display of the map also had to be adapted to our needs; Depending on the scene, "zooming" and "panning" operations help to communicate various levels of overview, embeddedness, discovery or disorientation. For the technical implementation, the idea of the movie script is picked up by allowing the author to embed the commands for controlling the map into the text, which is transformed into the book format by corresponding style sheets. The underlying HTML document is a single page containing the text of the book, plus the map controls, in a human readable format

A good part of the project was devoted to increasing the readability of an online text – a full novel of approximately 200 paperback pages is not a text one would usually read online. The novel is presented in an interface that resembles a physical book. While this approach could be criticised as being "naive", it helps viewers to immediately understand the format of the text as a linear narrative of a certain length. This form of visual presentation was also chosen as way of triggering a reflection about the differences to a physical book by trying to imitate it as closely as possible, introducing innovative features such as the animated map. Other features of a physical book simply cannot be represented on a screen even though we took great care to translate at least some of the secondary properties of physical books by giving the book a "thickness” and introducing an automatic bookmark feature.

The projected paper and presentation will provide detailed information on

The taxonomy of geographic annotations developed for the project
Extensions of the Google Maps API created for SOTR

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Eric Dean Rasmussen