Happy Birthday, BookGlutton! You were but a glimmer in our eye in Fall of 2006. A few months later, when the two of us started working on you full time (Jan 07), we knew we were doing something exciting – after all, who had heard of social reading then? In the last four years we’ve built a lot. We’ve seen the industry change right before our eyes. We were in private beta when the Kindle came out. The iPhone was brand new. We were early.
Looking at things from a startup perspective, early isn’t always positive. In truth, we would have done better to build less and start later – but then we wouldn’t have experimented as much. We spent a lot of time building for laptops, wishing tablets would finally happen. We had to build our own social network from the ground up because Facebook didn’t have an API (and then pivot when it did). And we had very little to base our interface on…so we made most of the user experience up as we went along.
What we built at BookGlutton includes:
- A website (obviously)
- One of the first browser-based reading systems
- Chat system
- Annotation system
- Epub converter
- End-to-End cloud-based publishing system for publishers to upload content (manually or via onix), set metadata and pricing, and publish.
- E-Commerce system with gifting, sampling and immediate publisher sales reporting
- Series of APIs for gathering notes, book opens, epub conversions, and group activity
- Widget that allows users to embed the Unbound Reader on their pages. People can log in from drifferent widget installs around the web, yet still meet as a closed group (even preview and purchase via the widget)
- Mobile site with touch capabilities
- Catalog partnership that worked alongside our mobile site, released on Stanza, Aldiko, etc.
- “BookClub in a Can,” an exportable version of the system so other sites can skin and install BookGlutton on their sites
- A social network (which grew and changed with the site)
- Facebook App that pulls in science fiction first lines called Future First Lines.
- Private sharing for uploads among small groups (mainly for writers) that don’t appear in the catalog listing
- Collections, experimental download options, an affordable ad platform for publishers, Goodreads reviews, video in epubs, and author pages – to see how the community embraced these features.
BookGlutton grew to become a huge system, and has given us plenty of opportunities to geek out. Our initial plan was clear: we just set out to build a reading system with social features. As we moved through the process we found that, to do this, we needed to build a social network to use it…and then a publisher’s system, a content repository, etc. Not everything we built has been a resounding success, but we have learned about all the different aspects of digital publishing and where it intersects with the web in unique ways. Buy us a beer sometime…we can talk about it for hours!
Over the years we’ve seen some cool uses of the site:
- People in Iceland embedding Dracula with BookGlutton’s widget and reading it together.
- Teachers in Phoenix using BookGlutton to teach English as a Second Language (ESL).
- Japanese classrooms using it to read Jane Austen.
- Grandparents forming groups with grandkids and leaving them notes.
- NYU students logging on at midnight to meet as a class to prepare for class.
- Authors embedding the BookGlutton widget on their websites and leaving comments inside for their readers.
- Soldiers using it to read with people back home.
It’s been a good ride. We recently launched a new user-funnel with some social gaming aspects and tight Facebook integration (yes, I should send a newsletter out about it). With ebooks taking off, more people are starting to see things our way. We’re excited to see where that leads us next. Aaron and I have launched a separate endeavor, ReadSocial, which brings what we’ve learned about social reading to other reading systems. BookGlutton still has great things in store…
Thanks to all the people who’ve used and supported BookGlutton over the years!
travis at bookglutton dot com