Friday, June 03, 2011

Social Reading - the "Next Big Digital Thing"?

Bob Stein of the Institute for the Future of the Book recently addressed a group of book publishing professionals in New York. He talked about how the reading experience in the digital age is likely to change.

Bob has been on the cutting edge of book publishing for some time, having helped developed one of the first CD-ROMs for Mac in 1988 (about Igor Stravinsky, in black and white, no gray scale) and the first eBooks for Mac in 1992.

In 2004, the Macarthur Foundation (the people who give out the "genius awards") financed his work on the first "networked book" or social reading project. In that project, 7 women read a book online and then used a system of comments to collaboratively discuss the process of reading. [I imagine it was a bit like Google docs, which allows multiple users to edit documents for a remote, yet totally collaborative, effort.]

These days he's working on an exciting browser-based product that takes the networked book to the next level. Users can highlight passages and comment on them (just like we oldsters used to do in the margins of printed books during literature class), have a book discussion group from all parts of the planet, even engage with the author for real-time readings and Q&A. The value, Bob says, is in the interaction, and it'll be ideal for classroom situations. It'll also be useful for the slouch who doesn't WANT to read, but would rather read the highlights that others have made, a la Cliff's Notes.

If you want to give the concept a try, Copia exists already, though it's an app-based system, not browser-based. You can get the lowdown on what Copia is, download it for free, get some free eBooks, and find groups of people with similar reading interests. Copia is currently available on desktop computers and iPad. The motto there is: If a book is worth reading, it's worth discussing.

(Click here to read a review of Copia.)

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