Can social media and books go together? Recent writers have said no, but I hold out hope for digital social reading.
For a while now, I have hoped for a time when e-books were fully social: that reading is a participatory social act, not a solitary experience, when we want it to be. With current e-reader and tablet technology, this goal seems possible. Why not incorporate tools that allow readers to hold book clubs, communal reading projects, or classroom discussions right from the book, a sort of digital Junto? In theory, you could read a book and participate in a book club or MOOC-like literature class without leaving your e-reader. Your book, then, would also be your social media platform for participation.
Unfortunately, we’re still not there — we do not have an e-book setup that fully integrates, with a reader’s full control, into participatory media. Amazon’s Kindle gets closest; the Kindle Paperwhite and the Kindle Fire HDX integrate with Goodreads (now owned by Amazon). But it’s only one small step.
Mark Isero of Iserotope and the Kindle Classroom Project recently commented on one of my blog posts from 2012, “Social Media and Books: Can They Work Well Together?” Mark’s comment reminded me of my dream of a digital book that worked like a digital “town square,” where you could communicate (via social media) with like-minded readers. The social integration found on the latest Nook and Kindle models, as well as many reading apps on the iPad, bring us close to that dream, but the digital social reading experience is treated as a separate thing from the book itself.
Here’s what Mark wrote:
I’m wondering why Amazon / Goodreads hasn’t built a feature where you can select friends with whom to read a book together. Only those notes and highlights would appear on your Kindle. What do you think? I would be much more interested in social reading that way.
And here’s a snippet of what I wrote in that blog post:
Maybe our experiences with social media and books come down to reading preference. While I prefer to savor my first reading experiences, others might want to share them to a wider public. Or, maybe this concept is still too new, and we have to wait for meaningful communities to build around these e-reading platforms. Six years ago, who would have predicted that so many people would be connected to Facebook? Maybe it’s a similar situation with books.
Do People Want Social Books?
Do I still subscribe to this idea that books can be both solitary and social experiences, and that having access to both reading experiences in one place is a key feature I want in an e-reader? For the most part, yes. I’d like to see e-reader and tablet reading apps do more to integrate participation and communal reading.
What I really want to see is something that allows virtual communities to form spontaneously around book discussions in the book itself, not in a separate app or platform. Goodreads integration, and Amazon’s kindle.amazon.com gets us close to this, but it still only allows for sharing quotes and notes, not creating long form discussion or real-time reading or study groups (for those times when that type of reading works).
Maybe there is only a small minority of readers who want this, so it’s not a matter of the technology not making it, but rather a lack of demand. But I could see this gaining traction in schools and universities — a sort of deep, active reading platform that breaks down limitations to participating in a discussion.
That said, I wonder if all of these notions of active reading take away from private, immersive reading experiences. Will we always want to be connected with like-minded readers? No. I like my private reading time, too, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts. I want to be left alone when a book engages me, and I want to discuss it with others on my own terms. There would need to be functions that allow readers to turn off the “book club” or community.
Even with this caveat, I see a possibility here, and one that I hope Goodreads will continue to bring to the Kindle, with more innovation.