The debate over e-books versus real books refuses to die down. And now here is a feature that will get the goats of staunch ‘realists’. There are several apps for smartphones and tablets today which seek to make e-reading a social activity. This includes conversing with authors, fellow readers and even earning badges for, say, reading a book through the night. Amazon, which has established itself as a leader in the ebooks space thanks to Kindle devices and apps, itself has entered the social space. Along with it are other apps for smartphones and tablets which may not have the latest books, but come with an array of nifty features.
Let’s start with Kindle.
Kindle launched a social networking site quietly way back in February. You simply had to go to kindle.amazon.com and register your account. But in late August, Amazon integrated Facebook and Twitter to its network. What this means is that you can now follow all your Facebook and Twitter friends with a Kindle account.
So what’s social about Kindle? Well, Kindle always allowed users to highlight text and add notes for their own benefit. Now these highlights and notes can be made public. Conversely, you can read other people’s thoughts on a book or specific passages within a book. But to do this you need to upgrade the software on your Kindle device to the latest version.
Another interesting feature is @author. There are a number of authors (not all) who have signed up for this feature. So if the author of the book you are reading is on to this programme, you can leave Notes prefixed with the term ‘@author’. This shows up on the Author pages on amazon.com and the author can even respond to the comment. But the interface of the website is
confusing. Also, it is not clear whether Amazon has introduced the ability to make public notes on its desktop and mobile apps.
This beautiful app is built both for iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android devices. I tested it on a tablet running on Android.
Kobo makes the reading experience social by integrating with Facebook. The moment you start reading a book or finish it, Kobo posts a message on your Facebook Wall. Selecting a line or a passage, brings up the ‘Highlight’ option. You can choose to post the selection to your Wall or set it as status straight out of the app. You can even add your own comments expressing what you liked about a particular line or passage. The Kobo app for iPad has an additional option called Pulse.
Tapping on it brings up a panel where you can read what others had to say about the book.
Users earn various badges upon completing tasks. Some tasks are simple: Such as starting a new book, or finishing one. There are others which are more innovative: Reading a big book like War Peace or reading after midnight (this unlocks the Witching Hour badge).
You can access the Kobo store from the app. The store is well organised and has a great range of classics. You can buy newer books as well, but the collection is small compared to Kindle store. But we did spy titles like The Finkler Question at the store.
iPad Readmill is currently in a closed beta mode. But if you head over to their website (www.readmill.com), you can enter your email address and the team sends out regular invites to people.
Like Kobo, Readmill wants to make reading a social experience. After you sign up, you have the option of connecting your Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts to Readmill.
But it doesn’t have a dedicated store. It supports the ePub format and you can download books from websites like Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org) and Feed Books (www.feedbooks.com), among many others. You can download a book from the browser on the iPad and open it with Readmill. Alternatively, you can download the book on your PC and use iTunes to transfer the book.
Readmill has opted for a simple yet elegant design. There is no fancy bookshelf — just a simple list of the books you have downloaded. When you first open a book, you have to ‘Connect’ it to Readmill. Unlike Kobo, which allows users to flick pages, Readmill is dead straight — tap on the right side of the screen to go ahead, tap on the left side to go back.
You can select a line or passage and click ‘Highlight’. The selection, along with your own comments, can then be posted to Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr. The account page on the Readmill website also allows you to connect with friends on Facebook and Twitter who too use Readmill, so you can see their comments about the book you love.
What I liked most about Readmill is the simplicity of its design. Future updates will have marginalia mode, which will allow users to share comments from within the book.
The Germany-based team is also trying to build the app for the Kindle.
Goodreads.com is a popular social networking site for bibliophiles. The site has apps for Android devices and iPhones. While the iPhone app allows you to buy and read select books, the app for Android doesn’t have this functionality. But still you can interact with a large community of readers who comment on thousands of books. The app comes with a Barcode Scanner, which uses the phone camera to scan barcodes of books in your collection and upload that onto the social networking site.