April 24, 2012

Enter the Storyverse


Small Demons founder Valla Vakili at the entrance to the Storyverse

Most avid readers would readily admit to having an obsessive side. A tech startup, Small Demons, aims to appeal to, nay manipulate, those literary obsessions, and the idea behind it is so simple and brilliant you can’t help but marvel that it’s never been done before.

Small Demons launched in Beta last year, and made a big splash at this year’s London Book Fair, with a raft of publishers keen to share content on the site. The idea is to build on the conversation surrounding books by connecting the details within them. They database all the people, places, and things — including music, cars, fashion brands, etc. — in books, building up a fascinating web between books you would otherwise never have connected. For example, ever wondered what connects The Bonfire of the Vanities and Jackie Collins’s Dangerous Kiss? Both, of course, mention the New York Times:

To Abe Weiss, being laughed out of the Bronx Democratic organization, being separated from it in any fashion whatsoever, for that matter, would have been like being thrown over the railing of a Christmas cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.  So he was Richard A. Weiss only in the New York Times and over this doorway.

WHEN THE news HIT, it exploded with a vengeance, becoming the lead news story on all three TV networks. Not to mention headlines in the L.A. Times and USA Today, even making the third page of the New York Times. The tabloids came out in force with a slew of lurid stories about Price’s former drug addiction and Mary Lou’s long-ago nude photos—like either of those things had anything to do with the murder.

There’s endless fun to be had chasing musicians, cans of Coke, authors, and whatever else you care to mention through their shadowy lives in literature. In a recent Globe and Mail piece, founder Valla Vakili describes the connections produced by the website as the ‘Storyverse’, and talks of its power in online bookselling:

When you move from storefronts to digital discovery, it’s much harder to find things unless they’re tagged well or else they’re connected to people’s interest. And those are two things we do a lot of.

As a means of linking books and promoting sales, Small Demons succeeds in producing a buzz and interest that algorithms like Amazon’s ’Customers who bought this item also bought…’ function totally fail to capture. It’s also, true to its mission statement, totally addictive. I defy you not to geek out and/or lose hours. Best of all, it links not only to Amazon, but to other online retailers including Barnes & Noble, Google Books, iTunes, IndieBound and Kobo. It can’t rival a hand-sell at a trusted bookshop, but it’s a fun path to new reading material, and it stands to open up some novel lines of conversation.

Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.