As some of you may know I’m a huge advocate of social reading and the whole topic around how to optimise the reading experience for people who expect just a little bit more than plain old text on a white background.
I had my fair share in trying to build a product around social reading of texts found somewhere on websites with QUOTE.fm. Let’s just say it didn’t work out as I had planned. Several reasons. Not far away, in Berlin, Readmill tried the same for Books and got a lot farther but now got bought by Dropbox and it doesn’t seem like “social reading” will be their main focus anymore.
However, I don’t really care who brings social reading to life, I just want it to happen.
For many people reading is one of the last bastions of peace and calmness, something where you’re on your own, just you a piece of dead tree in your hands, your thoughts and imagination. That’s wonderful, I don’t want to criticise that. I just want to enhance it for the few of us who are interested a bit… more.
Here’s my quick overview of what “social reading” could be. Just at a glance, in its infancy:
I want to buy a book and I want to see which of my friends bought it, read it, liked it, reviewed it and so on. Reviews by random people are nice but I know whom of my friends I can trust when it comes to recommendations. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a few quotes from the book that that my friends found worth highlighting? Exactly. It would.
Remember when everyone came to school and talked about the last episode of that one show that was aired the evening before? Yeah, me neither. Since the internet, everybody just always shouts “Shut up, I haven’t seen that one yet!” as soon as you mention anything in that general direction. Books have that and another problem: They’re not finished after 45 minutes. You might be reading for days, even weeks, before you’re done with them.
I want to experience the same story at the same time with other people. I want to read the passage of Dumbledore’s dead (Spoilers!), tap on it and see all the shocked reactions of my friends and maybe even random other people. Yeah, I’m talking about comments, discussions and basically reading circles in and around stories.
This simple addition represents the core of my vision. Books wouldn’t be a static kind of entertainment anymore. They’d live not only in your imagination but also in the “real world” through friends and strangers who are on the same adventure at the same time. Not together with you but somehow connected. I think that might be nice.
The main problem Readmill faced was that they needed the book to add their social voodoo into it. Which means: People have to upload their ebook files into their system so that they can spice it up with all the available meta information I mentioned above. They did a great job, it was basically as good as it could be without being one of the world’s largest digital book stores.
In comes Amazon. If a company has the right pieces to bring social reading to life, it’s them. Here’s a list of assets that are already there and just need to get connected:
- They bought Shelfari a long time ago. A whole social network around books. Friends, followers, reviews, recommendations, everything is already there.
- Their Kindle “network” is kind of broken and useless, but it exists. Every Kindle user has a user name and can add friends somewhere in the strange “My Kindle” section of Amazon’s website.
- They have a shitload of users and books. Everybody buys their ebooks at Amazon and reads them on a Kindle. The one thing you’ll need to make social reading a reality is users, here they are.
- Amazon already tries to cross reference bits and pieces in books with others. It’s called X-Ray. Not used for much but included in their Kindle hardware and adds nicely to the other things listed above.
Bring all this together, add a nice social reading interface to Amazon’s iOS and Android apps and you’re good to go. Heck, it could even be opt-in, like Readmill has done it, so it doesn’t bother those folks who just want the rare text without distractions/additions from strangers and friends.
The funny thing is: Amazon still does this! You’re able to highlight parts of the text and when you decide to make your highlights public this right here happens:
Seems kind of boring, doesn’t it? Nonetheless it comes with two very important insights:
1) I’m not the only one reading this book. Others have been here! I feel strangely connected to other people just by seeing this dotted line.
2) The highlighted part is special, it’s something others found worth highlighting. The fact that Amazon seems to have a threshold of about 40 highlights until the books displays the passage is an interesting addition.
I know, what’s the business value and why should anyone do this? That’s a lot of work for something that doesn’t generate money. Yeah, yeah, I’m aware and don’t care. (Rhymes!)
The one thing Amazon sure has enough of is money and talent. This could be one of the things that are worth to try with an outcome that might be more positive than we can imagine right now.
Everything is social. Who knows, maybe it even brings some kids back to books. Books could be “cool” again.
The whole topic is giant and has a lot of potential. I could go on and on, and there’s a huge chance of me getting back into this area sometime in the future. It’s just too exciting not to try it.
I don’t really believe in Amazon going in this direction. It just would be the best thing that could happen to the idea of social reading. Secretly I hope that Dropbox bought Readmill to include something on the lines of social reading into their apps. How awesome would be a folder full of ebook files. That in combination with their recently announced comments on documents (roughly at 17:00) could be a good start. I’d definitely would be a huge fan.
Edit: Seems like Amazon is actually moving! I didn’t know that they also bought Goodreads (Monopoly anyone?) and are going to integrate it more deeply into the Kindle reading experience. Nice. (via)