Archives for posts with tag: book club

We (Aaron Miller and Travis Alber) just contributed a chapter to Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto – Collections from the Bleeding Edge of Publishing. The digital book is being released by O’Reilly in three parts. Our chapter, which appears in Part 2, comes out today!

You can buy a digital copy now, and get an update when the rest is released. You can also check it out and discuss the book in-progress on Hugh McGuire’s site, Pressbooks, right now. The entire book (including a print version) comes out later this Spring.

Check out our chapter in Book: A Futurist's Manifesto

Book: A Futurist's Manifesto

Our chapter “Above the Silos, Reading in the Age of Mechanical Barriers” is part philosophy, part social reading, part internet history, and part technology. We think it’s a good blend of what we built, what we learned about social reading, and where it’s headed next.

Here’s an excerpt from the chapter introduction.

…We think there is a very simple but profound answer to the question of why people read books: people read books to make connections. This can be considered at a cognitive level, through simple, repetitive pattern recognition, or at a conceptual, spiritual level. Either way, the basic work of the reader’s mind is to make connections, and the basic mode of higher thought is to exist both in and out of the physical world for a bit, drawing lines between the two.

In any written work, there is a cognitive process of connection-making which makes up the act of reading itself: glyphs form letters, letters connect into words, words into phrases and sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into a sense of semantic completion. As we read, we progress through linear rhythms of pattern recognition even as we gain higher understanding of an author’s argument, a character’s motivation, or a historical event. By connecting very small patterns together into larger ones, we connect concepts back to the real world around us, to real people and places. The pattern-recognition part can be thought of as a linear progression, necessary grunt-work for the brain to get at the concepts. However, the tangential connections we make are the ones that matter to us — and they’re the reward which is so hard to get to for those who have trouble with the mechanical work of processing the words and sentences. We may even make many unintended connections along the way, and sometimes it’s those surprises that keep us going. From a description of a road on a summer day, we might recall a bike ride from our youth. From a listing of facts about milk, we might be startled by a sudden craving for ice cream. Perhaps during an introspective passage about spirituality, we look up from the page to see our future spouse for the first time.

A book and its patterns, and the place we sit reading it, and the person we fall in love with, can become forever tied together. It is at this level that reading interests and addicts us. We think of it as a solitary act, but it’s often the connections we make back to the real world that make it so rewarding. These connections are sometimes even more interesting when made across larger gulfs. Fake worlds, or extinct ones, can interest us more than the one we live in. We’re fascinated by fictional characters when they mimic or reflect real personalities. Even the most outlandish science fiction can be interesting in this way, because of the allegory, or the grand sense of scale that crisply dramatizes contemporary issues, or the parallels we can make between even the most alien worlds and our own. It’s these very large, meaningful connections that are the ultimate goal of reading. It’s the understanding we gain, or at least feel we gain, about the world we live in, and the people we share it with, that are the deepest connections we make when we read. In that sense, it is entirely social.

We’ve been doing the ebook thing for five years now. A veritable flash-in-the-pan for the publishing world. But like dog years, web years fly by at an accelerated rate. Five years is a lifetime in web-years. Five years should really get you fifteen years of street cred.

We’ve learned a lot. About building communities. Running destination sites. Integrating with publishing workflows. Reaching out to third party systems. Pulling content in from other sites. Creating online reading systems. Making people happy. This has all been a valuable, powerful, (sometimes painful) learning experience. But when we sat down and thought about what we really know, we know the most about Social, with a capital “S.” We know what people will and won’t use (which is not to say that we can’t be surprised). We know how baggage from other web communities figures in to people’s expectations for a digital reading system. We know what types of behaviors people bring with them from the print world, and what they really miss when they switch back to it from digital. We know about user experience, and the compromises that sometimes need to made of it in terms of schedule and technology. We know all about user-funnels, stickiness, and a whole host of other concepts that figure prominently into the digital publishing world, whether or not publishers realize it. But when it comes right down to it, we decided we should focus on what we really know. What we’re passionate about.

ReadSocial is launching soon.

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

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.

This week Mashable posted an article “Social Experience is the Future of Online Content

What really stands out is the phrase “Content acquisition alone can’t be the final answer.” This is true, and something you’ll hear us saying frequently at BookGlutton. Don’t get me wrong, we spend quite a lot of time in meetings acquiring content for our readers – it’s important to have the right books. But that will never be a major differentiating factor. Publishers want to sell through multiple channels in order to reach the maximum number of users.

For free books this is already obvious. You can download Winnie the Pooh from almost any online reading system or bookstore (it even comes pre-packaged with Apple’s iBookstore). No one seeks out the store that has this specific book. As time goes on no one will be going to a particular store to get Random House books or Penguin Classics just because that’s the only place to get them. Instead they’ll be available almost anywhere, and you’ll be going for the experience. The user interface, the animation, the ability to connect with others and share your thoughts, will be what really matters.

That said, I have to caution: don’t confuse experience with features. In many reading systems, features can be the equivalent of Photoshop filters, cool to play with but only really used on occasion. Many reviewers like to tally up features, as if the program with the most wins (one only needs to look at the success of Apple’s software to see simplicity and alignment with user needs can win out). After all, the ability to make your font purple is nice, but most users are more about utility and connection than customization. I know there are some that may disagree – I have a friend who would read everything in Adobe Jenson Pro if he could (though I often wonder if he would bother to change every application he installs to do so). But in the end the most successful tools in life are ones that fit in with how you live your life. And that’s something we’ve believed in for some time.

At BookGlutton we spend a lot of time thinking about what the future will look like. We’ve been building the current site for a few years now, and have pretty serious ideas about where that future is going. Like all prognosticators, we can’t take into account every surprise, but we’re sure about a few things.

1. The web is the future.
2. Connections to social networks are a significant, serious piece of our lives. They will continue to be important (Ze Frank had a great presentation at Internet Week New York on this point).
3. Books are an enduring way we transfer big ideas. They may become digital, but they’re not going away.

Last week Kevin Rose, founder of Digg, posted this video about what he’d like to see in the future of reading. For users of BookGlutton, many of the points may sound a little familiar (parts of 2, 3, and 5 are alive and well at BookGlutton). Good to know some great minds are in agreement.

You can use BookGlutton by opening Safari and heading to http://www.bookglutton.com.

Now you can download some files for backup purposes

Downloading is here! Grab a backup of the files you read socially on BookGlutton.com and store them for safe keeping. Most people prefer to read on online, via computer or phone – that’s much easier than dragging a file around. And of course, if you’re looking to talk to anyone about what you’re reading, BookGlutton is the best way to do it. But we get what you’ve been saying: it’s nice to have the option of downloading files. If the Publisher is game, so are we.

ISN’T THIS A STEP BACKWARD?
Not really. Most people are happy to read online and don”t really want to warehouse a file. But to the people who want to own something a little more tangible (well, as tangible as 1’s and 0’s can get), now you can feel like you’ve got things covered.

WHICH FILES CAN BE DOWNLOADED?
Most, but it depends on the publisher. If a publisher says it’s okay, we allow the download. Naturally if the book has a price attached you’ll need to buy it before that download button delivers.

WHAT FORMAT?
EPUB all the way, brother. It’s what we use on the backend, which is why we can flip it on like that.

WHERE ON THE SITE CAN I DO THIS?
Do this on any book detail page, right column; look for the icon that matches the giant one pictured here.