7 November 11 | Chad W. Post

Spiegel Online has an interesting article about Readmill, a new start-up with the goal of making book reading a “more social” activity:

The goal is to transform book reading into a social activity, bringing together readers via their e-readers, and to grab a share of the booming E-book market. Other companies have their eye on social reading as well, such as the platform LovelyBooks. But Readmill, set to go live soon, wants to take the idea even further.

Both avid readers, Berggren and Kjelkerud have an ambivalent relationship with books. Kjelkerud calls them “somehow cold and unsocial.” Reading is solitary, and anyone who wants to discuss a passage must first shut their book, he explains. Berggren says that even digital books and the internet-connected reading devices haven’t changed things much. “There are many E-book services, but none of them are really social,” he explains. What was missing were good ideas to network books and readers with each other.

Readmill, an intelligent bookmark for e-books, is their answer. The program looks over the reader’s shoulder, keeping a protocol of their progress and showing sections that have been highlighted and commented upon by other readers. This way Readmill members create a semi-public reference list for their books, giving them the possibility of alerting friends to interesting passages for discussion.

Music fans will recognize this principle from Last.fm, a music website that analyzes listening patterns to develop new artist and concert suggestions, in addition to bringing users with similar tastes together. Like Last.fm, Readmill’s software operates on three levels: as a background process for reading applications, as a web service that processes reading habits, and as a reading app for the iPad, where members can upload e-books that aren’t copyright protected.

Also similar to Last.fm, Readmill gets interesting when as many other e-book reading programs and devices as possible feed the Readmill central server with data. By year’s end, Berggren told SPIEGEL ONLINE, the company hopes to be supporting enough reading programs so that it could, theoretically at least, be combined with 80 percent of all e-books.

As I’ve said before, and will likely say again, creating book discovery tools for this Age of Screens is a huge growth market and great opportunity for people looking to get into an exciting new part of the book industry.

In terms of Readmill, this sounds a lot like an automated GoodReads. Which has it’s appeal. Right now, you have to go into GoodReads, report on what you’re reading or about to read, and find friends, etc., etc. I’m a constant user of GoodReads (feel free to “friend” me! My username is simply chadwpost), but I do tend to spend a lot more time on Last.fm, since everything I listen to is automatically “scrobbled” there, thus generating a bunch of recommendations of other bands to check out, etc.

I still think this sort of game is more suited to music than books, since even though I read an absurd amount of stuff (over 80 books a year), I listen to more than 1,000 songs a month, providing way more data about what sorts of things I like, how often I go back to relisten to them, what my trends are over time, so on and forth. With books, I may think about or reread a section of a particular book every couple months, but this info doesn’t show up in GoodReads . . . Any book I give “4-stars” to is of equal weight as another 4-star book. But at Last.fm, I can “love” 100 songs, but of those 100, it knows that I listened to one of them 50 times over the past year, and another only once. It’s all about granularity . . .

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