Category Archives: Digital

Needing Social Reading

This is an updated version of a previously published post.

“Do people really want to share what they’re reading?”

My instinct says, “No.”

At the same time, the practical answer(s) to this question, the “what,” “where” and “how” people will share, is fascinating.

Twitter created a market for a certain kind of sharing. But “social reading,” though a general and widely applicable term, seems to be about sharing an experience that resists having a market.

Why? On one hand, reading is relentlessly private. For the most part, who knows what’s happening when we read, what we do with it, what’s important to us, what we remember, how it affects the way we speak and think, how it changes over time? The material to be shared is often below the level of language itself, it’s subverbal, it’s somewhere psychologically deep. (I’m thinking of something more profound than sharing Kindle highlights.)

We don’t know how to share this. We can’t conjure the words to do so. How do you create an economy out of that?

On the other hand, the public aspect of reading, you might say, isn’t about reading at all, but buying: the retail experience. This is definitely public – obesely pubilic, pumped up, overdesigned. The interpersonal aspect of reading, however, is starving, anemic. We chat through the appetizer, we gloss over, we lend without a word, we tweet, we forget what we read yesterday.

Reading requires interpretation, opining, ranting, etc. One can’t coax people to do that about what content they read, or what music they listen to, or what films they watch.

Tumblr and Pinterest are probably something else than the kind of sharing I’m thinking of. They are more like a reaction to content abundance, a kind of anti-interpretive aggregation.

What kind of new social reading desires are being created? Will the intensity remain low, dwindling, never enough for much of a market or an economy?

Or is there something significant happening, latent and evolving?



I’m a fan of Readmill, the digital reader app for non-DRM EPUB files. Why? It’s simple, and doing the work of realizing the Open Bookmarks standard for social reading. They also come across as being passionate and reader-focused.

This book needs Readmill

However, there are a number of simple features that make Readmill less appealing to me than iBooks. Here’s what I think Readmill should consider exploring in order to improve the reading experience.

– Enable readers to open books from a Box account, instead of Dropbox only.

– More font sizes. The smallest current size is still too large. I like to read with a small font. Readmill at least needs to match iBooks with this setting.

– Enable searchable books, including notes. I can’t do this in Readmill.

– For linked text within a book, reveal what the link is before launching. Currently, I have to launch in Safari before knowing where I’m going.

– Allow highlighting across pages. If I have a highlight that extends past a page break, I have to change the font size in order to get the highlight I want viewable on one page.

– Allow for different note colors. If I have different kinds of things I want to highlight, I need a color other than the default yellow.

– Allow editing of highlights. Currently, I have to delete and re-highlight if I want to change something.

– Allow readers to toggle which highlights are shared. For example, sometimes I just want to highlight a word that doesn’t need to be shared – in fact, it would be confusing for my followers to see words out of context.

– There also needs to be a place to add comments separate from highlights. Sometimes I just want to make a comment separate from a part of the text, but before my review of the book after it’s complete.

– Better note visibility. Currently, I can’t tell if a highlight has a comment unless I click on it, and interrupt my reading flow by bringing up the separate highlight pane.

– Highlights should be sortable (even if I have to do this through the web). I want to be able to read them in order of their position in the book, not in the order that I applied them. If I read a book out of sequence, for example, and want to go back and read my highlights as a group, in the current sort order this is difficult to make sense of.

– The timer and “% complete meters” are the beginnings of a data platform so that publisher affiliates can find out how people are reading (and pay for that information). On Readmill, reporting this data has a long lag time. Goodreads does this feature better. I would also like the option of manually entering my position in the book.

For every digital reading experience, there are some features that really matter, and others that are minor. But every time I see how Readmill has taken the time to match the bookmark in their logo to the loading icon, I feel they should have been focusing on some of the things in the above list, too.


Academically-sponsored discussion + author (Jennifer Egan) + speculations on technology and books = hits at the soft spot where readers and writers meet.

via Dan Rosenblum/@CapitalNewYork:

“[Egan] said there was a contradiction between her interest in technology as a writer and her personal behavior.

‘I didn’t want email on my phone, and I held out as long as I could,’ Egan said. ‘But then I noticed that I was having to go home all the time, because I was having to check my email.’

But, she said, the ‘fetishization of connection itself’ fascinated her.

‘Who cares that we can connect?’ she said. ‘What’s the big deal? I think Facebook is colossally dull. I think it’s like everyone coming to live in a huge Soviet apartment block, [in] which everyone’s cell looks exactly the same.’

The room laughed.”

Readers will pay (money, time) to connect with writers. Sometimes it’s funny, too – even at a moment like this when a writer’s contempt puts distance in that connection, and puts a reader farther away from what they are: creators themselves.

It could be different. Egan could find be finding a new audience on Subtext, for example.

I wonder what Egan would be saying about connection if she had no readers.

Two poles: on one, the “Everyone is an artist” of Joseph Beuys. On the other, the “I am not really an artist” of Maurizio Cattelan.

When writers are not biting the hands that read them, the reader is probably somewhere in between the two.

The Understated Ebook Cover

The bookshelf for an ebook is a screen: a smaller world where design elements, images, and small type are lost. Here are some striking, text-only covers, as well as one wild card, with only an image and a logo. Click-through for the book in its marketplace.

Lemon-lime, with a dash of blue agave.

Seen, Written by Klaus Kertess (Gregory R. Miller & Co.)

n+1’s Kindle Singles look. This one intimates some kind of scrolling canvas.

Argentinidad by Benjamin Kunkel (n+1 singles)

The series look for all 5 “Hybrid” books titled “The Duel,” from Melville House.

The Duel, Giacomo Casanova (Melville House "Hybrid" Books)

The series look chosen by Hatje Cantz for their list of Documenta Notebooks, showing only the author’s name and a title-specific color.

Reading, Rewriting Poe's "The Oval Portrait" - Angelically, by Jalal Toufic (Hatje Cantz)

The Domino Project series look, with one exception, consists only of an image and a logo.

Zarrella's Hierarchy of Contagiousness (Domino Project)


Here are a few quick hits on my experience with the social media startup Percolate in beta, which I’ve been using for just over 24 hours on the web and iPad thanks to the awesome generosity of Noah (Brier, co-founder), who was super-accommodating with setting things up.

Percolate screenshot

You can read about Percolate and see some screenshots on Mashable, What’s Next Marketing, as well as on Percolate’s own blog.

It sounds like one of the passions behind Percolate is to make publishing more comfortable. Kudos to that – you can feel it. I didn’t want to lurk here, and it’s simple to use. Instead, I jumped into “My Brew,” which is culled from my Twitter and Google Reader streams, and allows my to rate and comment on them, “percolating” them into a different stream that I can share with others (as well as read what they’re percolating, too).

Here are my initial, somewhat impulsive, first thoughts. And, of course, Percolate is just in beta, and being updated.

So what else would I want to see?

a manual “new brew” button — mixes up my brew and gives me a fresh set of sources to read.

more enabled discovery – posting and voting could open up other possibilities for me to follow. One way that Percolate would stay in rotation is that it shows me what I might have missed on other social media.

a shared brew – a brew that changes based on the people I follow, and mixes in some of their sources and also their posts, so that I comment on other posts, too.

connections – I think My Brew either needs to contain everything from my connections, or be an almost completely new set based on them. I’m still going to be on Twitter or Flipboard, and want to go to Percolate to mix it up, but don’t want to see the same sources on Percolate as well. I also don’t want to feel like I’m “missing something,” like when my RSS feed doesn’t sync right.

a functional search box for new sources based on keywords I choose.

a messaging system, so that I can communicate with others within Percolate.

a third column – one for my percolating stream, one for people I am following, one for my brew. I like to see what I’ve posted and have it front and center.

smaller brew elements – I found myself scrolling down quite a bit in order to review a just a few more sources.

Looking forward to using Percolate more and seeing how it develops. Seems like there’s a lot of passion and thought behind it.

Phrase Scanner 7/14/11

cultural diabetes: idea that media production and consumption behaviors are out of equilibrium. I don’t know if the headliner came up with that phrase, but the article is in New Scientist by Peter Lunenfeld.

sensorium: Total sense environment. Word is from the 17th century. Also the title of an MIT Press book on the “techno-human interface.” Book is from the 2006 century, which feels just as long ago.

Feltron: “Nicholas Felton is a leader in the field of information visualization and personal data-tracking.” The Feltron, then, is like his own personal data presence/pseudonym.

bitcoin: a person-to-person digital currency.