Part of being a Public Beta is assessing how the site is being used and how the internals of the thing are performing. Neither of these are easy, and surprises are the norm. Who knew that users would annotate obscure words for the public? Or that teachers would attach study questions to paragraphs for their students? These are great community contributions that prove the kind of versatility we wanted this to have.
It’s been enlightening to see how some of the initial big decisions we made about the technology almost a year ago have played out. Dojo and the Symfony framework have been invaluable, and our managed hosting provider, Contegix, has proven to be well worth the monthly overhead. The one headache for us has been the issue of digital book formats. As anyone who has ever read an e-book or developed application for them will tell you, the “format” issue has always been thorny. Each major industry player has committed to a different flavor. We decided early on we were going to consider ePub, but somewhere along the way found out that the extra work required for that wasn’t going to pay off. Now it no longer seems necessary for our system to natively use a book format at all. In fact, the more we learn about book formats and their proponents, the more we want to keep our distance. To that end we want to provide a host of tools to liberate books from these formats.
Another big eye-opener has been the importance of opening up as much content and functionality as possible to unregistered users and search engines. We always knew this would be important but for various reasons we weren’t ready for it right away. Now that more things are stable, we’ve had a chance to move forward on this again. One of the most recent additions has been a Twitter feed for group and book activities. We’re also adding a full catalog RSS feed soon, along with MySpace and Facebook pages. And in the near future, we would love to collaborate more with some of the other well-known book communities out there, sharing friendlists, status updates and book lists, not to mention catalogs and content. To that end, we welcome suggestions, proposals, partnership prospects, open source ideas, and any other thoughts you might have. Send them along, or call us!