BookGlutton has slowly been moving over to using the ReadSocial API, and to-date stands as its first and only official tester. All of the live chat in the book rooms is now being served up via a service from ReadSocial, which is hosted separately on Amazon’s EC2 service. Eventually that and other services will be available to ReadSocial’s other partners.

But for now, ReadSocial has itself launched another proof-of-concept regarding the many interesting connections they’re making between readers of digital books, and the books themselves. It’s called Readum, and it launched this week. It ties together the largest (and most controversial) cloud-based publishing and reading system, Google Editions, with the largest (and most active) social network, Facebook.

Why couldn’t this be done before? One reason is that Google disables the web browser’s normal ability to select short snippets of text in their web-based e-books, so you couldn’t even copy a passage and share it manually if you wanted to. Secondly, Facebook treats books in a very generic way, which is to say they lump them in with your “Entertainment” interests, making it hard for users to recommend their “liked” books to each other. Now you can jump into the Google edition of any of your “liked” books on Facebook, and share a comment from it back to your feed.

For those who don’t have time or inclination to try it out, here’s a brief video overview:
http://vimeo.com/user6312450/readum

 

And here’s where you can get it (Firefox and Chrome only at the moment):
http://www.readum.com

Enjoy!

Insight on web publishing can be found in the oddest places. Take for example, this fascinating bit of early scientific observation, lucidly and meticulously related:

“Observe what happens when sunbeams are admitted into a building and shed light on its shadowy places. You will see a multitude of tiny particles mingling in a multitude of ways… their dancing is an actual indication of underlying movements of matter that are hidden from our sight… It originates with the atoms which move of themselves [i.e. spontaneously]. Then those small compound bodies that are least removed from the impetus of the atoms are set in motion by the impact of their invisible blows and in turn cannon against slightly larger bodies. So the movement mounts up from the atoms and gradually emerges to the level of our senses, so that those bodies are in motion that we see in sunbeams, moved by blows that remain invisible.”

(from Lucretius‘s  “On the Nature of Things“)

After pondering this passage for some time in the context of digital publishing, I came up with a new project idea. Not that I need any new ideas right now, seeing as how my current projects haven’t been able to repair my shoes yet, or replace my aging laptop. But still, a great idea is a great idea. This passage had me thinking of shedding light on unknowns, and the curation and filtering that we now need in place on the Web. The overarching truth that powers the observation here is that light only penetrates enclosed spaces when the source is properly aligned with an opening.

So what is the opening?

In my answer to that question, it’s a window on a world of literature outside the realm of what’s available in your standard outlets. It’s a community of editors, in short, who are taking unusual, unpublished works and presenting them for the first time to the world, with a twist: they are all linked, and illuminate each other. In other words, they are not admitted unless they somehow enhance or speak to each other, and the links between them and other media are just as important as the content within each volume. This outlet brings illumination to titles that are otherwise shadowed by disconnected, monochrome systems. Each editor may use it to build community, market a single book, or sell online access to many books. It belongs to all editors, is the publisher for each, and brings all their books into one web of books, accessible through any mobile browser.

That’s the next thing, when I get a chance.

 

Aaron

Photo Attribution: Will Clayton

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:

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
travis at bookglutton dot com

They’re cutting edge. They’re techy. They’re run by the kind of people we want to drink beer with. We ♥ the Pixel Awards. If you haven’t come across them yet, here’s a snippet from their site:

Established in 2006, The Pixel Awards take a fresh look at the best on the web. We are the cutting-edge website award, annually honoring compelling sites that have shown excellence in web design and development….Any site can enter. Only 24 exceptional sites will win.

BookGlutton has made it down to the final cut – we’re 1 of the 5 finalists in Community. This also puts us in the running for the People’s Champ award. We’d be ever so pleased if you’d vote for us. It only takes a second to go to the site, find the Community option and vote for BookGlutton. You can actually vote for the People’s Champ every day through NOV 30. They’re going to tell us who won in December…and the lucky ones will get this kick*ss trophy.

Vote here >>

In the foggy avenues of outer San Francisco, where the strange musky odor of the towering Eucalyptus trees along Park Presidio permeates the air, Brewster Kahle hosted a conference for a small number of people deeply interested in the convergence of books and the Web. The conference, called Books in Browsers, was heavy with talk of “social reading.”

Not once did anyone mention “social publishing.” But I’ve come to believe that we need to think about this concept before we turn so much attention to “social reading.”

So what does “social publishing” mean? I did a quick search and found no formal definition, but I did find this:

http://billboardsandcavedrawings.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/what-the-hell-is-social-publishing/

That includes, if you scroll down the page, a definition from one person I would consider authoritative on the topic, Richard Nash. From Loudpoet’s (Guy LeCharles Gonzales) interview:

“‘Social (publishing)’ is taking the book and making it much easier to have a conversation with the book and its writer, and have conversations around the book and its writer.”

This is a decent definition that gets at certain key activities in the business of social publishing. The problem is I don’t think Richard’s intent was to define social publishing, but to define the term “social” as it applies to publishing. That’s different than the concept I’m trying to define.

Put simply, social publishing is concerned with everything that happens around a book after it has been sold.

To most people, this just doesn’t sound radical. But to those familiar with the publishing industry as it stands represented today by the largest American publishing houses, it should sound revolutionary. Because, you see, most publishers, especially those bound up most by the business of printing, packaging and shipping books, don’t care what happens to a book after it’s sold. Other people in publishing care — authors, editors, agents, publicists, etc. But when we say “publisher” we really mean the entity which is in the business of publishing things. Whether it’s one guy or one large company, the fact of the business is that the end goal of each book is to be sold. That’s as far as the process goes. And that’s the big problem today.

Social publishing is the natural evolution of publishing as a business. It encompasses the Web and all new digital distribution platforms, including the way people read and discover on them. It includes social reading, which is really just reading, an act that has always been social. Social publishing requires a deep interest and study of what happens to a text after it is disseminated — how readers interact with it, how they share it, how they copy it, how they talk about it — and it requires action arising from that deep study.

Since I’m still working out my definition of cloud publishing, I will also add that cloud publishing is most definitely a form of social publishing, and perhaps the best example of it. Cloud publishing is social publishing that dates its birth in 1993. If you think about this, and think about the digital-only production, distribution and consumption chain of the Web and the different motivations for publishing there and the interesting things that happen to content after it’s published there, then you’ll see everything that traditional publishers need to learn.

Those who date their enterprise earlier than that would do well to realize that what happens in, around and on the pages of a book after it’s sold are definitely matters of concern for future business.

Aaron’s presentation at Books in Browsers had 3 fundamental points, and 2 product announcements, so I’d say he pulled his weight among the heavies of publishing present at the Internet Archive last week. It was an impressive guest list, and in truth we were honored to be presenting. His presentation, The World Wide Web (of Books?), is embedded below. I felt these were the three most important concepts:

  • The future requires a new kind of publisher, the Cloud Publisher, who asks “What else can we charge for?” This is a common way for people with web-development backgrounds to approach new markets – what can we create a market for using new technology? Think Foursquare. Think Twitter. It particularly makes sense when facing the Gorgon of online publishing and distribution.
  • Communities are different than Audiences. The ideal community for a book may not align with its current audience. This explains why some retail chains can’t make the jump to community, and why communities are best built from the ground up. This will be a blog post in itself, but it’s worth mentioning here.
  • There are many layers that will live on top of social books, including the metadata layer, hyperlinked layer, and, you guessed it, the social layer.

-Travis Alber

As a designer, you conceive your design with the core values of a project in mind; you strive to reflect the ideas and feelings behind it. Contrary to that, the first lesson in web development is always separate your design from your code. It’s important that projects be flexible. A myriad number of screen sizes and devices mean the “presentation layer” should be designed to change, particularly when you use web technology. Moreover, partnerships will impact your design.

Aaron and I have been making websites for 15 years, so we get that. Most people don’t know it, but what we’ve built at BookGlutton is flexible in many ways. Easiest to change is the look and feel. Over the years we’ve had a number of conversations about offering our “BookClub in a Can,” the ability to export the social experience to other sites, so they can curate their own book clubs. Business considerations and content deals ultimately kept these projects from launching, and BookGlutton remained a destination site. But it’s fascinating to see how associating the reading experience with a different brand affects your relationship to it.

ANSWERBAG

ANSWERBAG

GOODREADS

Skinning the Reader takes almost no time at all. However, it changes the experience significantly. The Reader takes on the trappings of that community.

TOR

ELLE

All the mockups listed here preserved the buttons and layout, but even that can change. It makes for interesting consideration. Sometimes these mockups were presented in meetings; sometimes the discussion ended prematurely. See more skins, as well as the original BookGlutton design on Flickr.

A good reason to go digital?

Bed Bugs at the NY Public Library

I moved to NYC four months ago, and not a week goes by without a warning about the bed bug epidemic. Beware movie theaters! Avoid used-book stores! Leave abandoned furniture where it lies! I hear all these warnings, and I often think of the library.

I’m a library person. Growing up, I spent rainy Saturdays wandering the poorly lit stacks of vintage sci-fi. I loved it. When I was planning my move, I specifically thought about the New York Public Library. I imagined myself beating the summer heat in a cool corner, flipping though a book I surreptitiously happened upon.

With all the hype, I haven’t visited the library at all. It’s a shame. I’m sure the library is doing everything it can to combat the outbreak. Maybe all my information is hearsay and conjecture. Either way, considering my options has made me aware of one benefit digital books have over their print counterparts: they’re bug-free. (Well, at least the infectious-kind.)

One last note: since I work in the start-up world, I’m obligated to break my moratorium on movie theaters this weekend, in order to see The Social Network (even if I have to stand up the whole time). I’d imagine the library is only a matter of time.

Rueda Bench

Sitting in Union Square Park this morning, watching as drops from yesterday’s deluge were made into rain again by breezes in the canopy, catching the sunlight as they fell, I tried to resist the urge to look to the bench at my left, where some guy seemed to want everyone to know how much fun he was having with his music. “Oh yeah!” he kept exclaiming, “CCR! Creedence Clearwater. Born on the Bayou.” And started bobbing and making guttural noises which sounded not quite like the bass line and rhythm of that song.

I really just wanted to watch the shining drops that kept falling in the center of the park whenever a breeze came up, but he kept exclaiming louder, and soon all I could focus on was his aggressive enthusiasm for music I couldn’t hear.

I thought, if I shift to the far end of my bench to give him some distance, he might calm down. But this action seemed to encourage him.

Whenever you encounter someone like this in New York, you run through a threat assessment first. Might they stab you? Are their hands empty? Do they look capable of strangling someone? I ran through the possibilities in my head, medicalizing his behavior, coming to all kinds of rational conclusions as to what might ail him, leaning toward something typically harmless like Asperger’s, and finally, as he burst out with an even louder “CCR! Oh yeah, I can’t believe I’m listening to Rock N Roll Music,” and as I looked across at a man in commando garb, doing boxing routines, and another man, mostly toothless, pouring a beer into a plastic cup he’d pulled from the recycling, I thought, “Oh yeah. Oh yeah is right. They’re all just maniacs.”

It’s never wrong when you find yourself surrounded by maniacs to ask yourself what exactly you’re doing in the same place at the same time. The truth is, I was sitting there obsessing, in my own way, on the idea that has consumed us for four-and-a-half years now, that the act of picking up a book to read is an important event that implicitly connects you to the other readers of that book AT THAT MOMENT. At its most far out, the notion that no matter how obscure the book, that finally we might have an efficient way to know that we’re not alone in sitting down to read it, that the connection may now be made explicit, whether we take action through it, or simply become aware of it via, say, the arrival ding of another reader. At the very least, we should be able to ANNOUNCE it in some way, if we want. Don’t call it a “check-in,” or you’ll get immediate backlash from people, at least in this city. Whatever we decide to call it — paragraph ping, book ack, page status — it’s that moment when you let your circle of trusted connections know that you’re engaging with something permanent. After all, books have the same kind of permanence that locations do, even though their actual locations move around. Their interiors are worlds in themselves, full of solid reference points that change either very little or not at all. If you check into the third paragraph of a chapter of Faulkner, it’s as likely to change as a particular piece of bedrock in Central Park. Conversely, twenty years from now, what good is it to know that you checked into your local Starbucks?

Maniacs exaggerate simple truths about human nature. There’s a part of us, when we engage with something we like — whether it’s queueing up CCR or Kanye, or opening a copy of Go Tell It On The Mountain or Song of Myself or the Bible — that rejoices in the idea of having other people know. No one can say that they have never, when listening to music or looking at art or reading a great story, thought to themselves “Oh yeah! I can’t believe I’m experiencing this! I want people to understand that this experience is worth having!”

This is normal. Otherwise, these things wouldn’t move us in the first place.

I don’t know why I’ve become so intent on this idea, but I’m probably going to keep struggling with it until I get it right. And I’m well aware that in the last three years, everyone else has become interested in it, and there are plenty of implementations of things that attempt to make this idea reality. But I haven’t yet seen one that gets it right. Even my own. I wish I could convey it better with words, but I think the only expression of this that will open people’s eyes is actual execution and delivery.

Add this into the mix as one more theory on the future of the Book. Following the evolution of current distribution channels along to an interesting and somewhat sustainable outcome, and forgetting the notion that printed paper pages will somehow endure, let’s suppose that “bird books” and landlocked books continue to exist in harmony, except with landlocked books being essentially shells of what we think of as paper books.

Propelled along by Moore’s Law, the landlocked book sheds its paper interior, which is also the bulk that makes it so costly to ship and produce, and gains instead a slim flat panel display, mounted on a cardboard structure to give it a certain width. This may be the day such a display becomes cheaper to produce than its packaging — 7 cents, to be inexact.

The system contained on the chip in such a device is harder to predict. Perhaps it will be KindleOS, or iPhoneOS, or Android. It doesn’t matter to anyone, because you won’t download other books onto it, or jump on the web, or even be online. It will be engineered to deal with one specific book. If that book has video, it will be compiled to handle that, or if it needs to pull in web feeds, it will have basic network capability. Etcetera.

The binding, hard cover, and jacket will look and feel just exactly as book readers would expect it to look — and no print book designers will be harmed in this evolution, they will all just become jacket designers. The thickness of the packaging will even allow for a spine, so you can continue to clutter your shelves with these shiny objects, and when you want to read, select your title by looking at spines, pull one out and sit down and read in your cozy chair just as if you were reading an old fashioned print book, sans Kindle, sans iPad, sans anything that remotely feels like a “device.”

So the Holdout Theory posits that, since publishers and hardware manufacturers both have enough vested interest in distribution methods they already understand, rather than ones they can’t seem to figure out, that creating a future like this is a matter of deliberately holding back the evolution of the ethereal, un-landlocked, “bird book” in favor of one that ships and sits on retail shelves and feels like an object and not an intangible bunch of data.

I have to admit, it’s not too bleak a picture, to imagine that one day we will have both the iTunes or the Netflix of digital books as well as an option to buy something very object-like, even if it’s just a package with a machine inside. After all, it’s working pretty well for software manufacturers.