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May 25 2012

Top Stories: May 21-25, 2012

Here's a look at the top stories published across O'Reilly sites this week.

White House launches new digital government strategy
The nation's new strategy for digital government is built on data, shared services, citizen-centrism, and consistent methodologies for privacy and security.

Quantified me
Jim Stogdill is trying to walk the line between obsessive tracking and an open-ended approach to motivation.

A gaming revolution, minus the hype
"Playful Design" author John Ferrara discusses gaming's place in cultural transformation, and he offers five universal principles of good game design.

What do mHealth, eHealth and behavioral science mean for the future of healthcare?
Dr. Audie Atienza says we're just at the beginning of discovering how to best develop and utilize mobile technology to improve the health of individuals and the public.

Social reading should focus on common interests rather than friend status
In this TOC podcast, ReadSocial co-founder Travis Alber discusses her company's focus on building their platform without tying it to your social graph.

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White House photo: white house by dcJohn, on Flickr

May 21 2012

Social reading should focus on common interests rather than friend status

This post is part of the TOC podcast series. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

Social reading is gaining momentum. There are quite a few startups involved in this space, and most of them simply assume your Facebook friends share the same reading interests you do. ReadSocial is different. In this TOC interview, we hear from ReadSocial co-founder Travis Alber (@screenkapture) on why they're building their platform without tying it to your social graph.

Key points from the full video interview (below) include:

  • Adding conversations into your content — The reading experience needs to flow smoothly, but the reader should have the opportunity to dive into deeper discussions with others along the way without leaving the book environment. [Discussed at 00:39.]
  • Publishers play a role, too — Note that Travis talks about publishers as well as readers here. You can't just have a "build it and they will come" mentality with social reading. Publishers need to take the initiative and add value by inserting comments, managing groups, etc. [Discussed at 2:00.]
  • An open source platform — Open systems are always better than closed ones, and it's great to see that ReadSocial is an open source product. [Discussed at 3:47.]
  • Analytics built in — As publishers we want to learn more about our customers and their reading habits, what they liked in the book, what they skipped over, etc. ReadSocial provides those insights. [Discussed at 4:00.]
  • Hashtags determine what groups you're part of — This functionality gives ReadSocial the flexibility not found in other platforms. It also allows you to be part of just one or many different groups reading the same book. The emphasis here is on common interests rather than a friend status within Facebook, for example. [Discussed at 8:37.]
  • ReadSocial offers API access as well — The entire ReadSocial platform is accessible via API's, which could lead to all sorts of new and innovative applications. [Discussed at 17:00.]

You can view the entire interview in the following video.

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January 27 2012

ValoBox wants to reward content creators and consumers

Earlier this year, I chatted with Anna Lewis (@anna_cn) and Oliver Brooks (@cn_oli) about their new startup, ValoBox — a platform that allows readers to consume books by the page, chunk, or as a whole. The duo has been hard at work through the summer and fall, and ValoBox has launched. I got in touch with Brooks to see how the platform and development have progressed. Our interview follows.

How has ValoBox evolved since our interview in May?

OliverBrooks.pngOliver Brooks: The product has stayed laser focused on keeping things light and simple. It has gone through a lot of tweaks to the user interface and system, to boil it down as much as possible.

ValoBox is really comprised of two applications, the publishing system and the ValoBox reader.

The changes to the publishing system have focused on ease of integration use and quality of output. The system can now create a ValoBox book automatically from an ONIX and EPUB file feed. A lot of effort has gone into making sure the content is presented perfectly, even when split into small, purchasable sections. We've also built a system similar to Google Analytics for books, which provides the publisher with information for each book, such as where on the web is best for selling books (Twitter feeds, blogs, etc.) and details about how each book is used.

In our earlier interview you discussed a "premium layer for the web." Is that still guiding your efforts?

Oliver Brooks: Absolutely. We believe books are just the start of our game — we see ValoBox as suitable for premium articles, audio, video, and even web pages. We think premium content should integrate with the web rather than be a separate ecosystem.

The existing book reader interface will be one of many portals into premium content. We have designs for interfaces that don't intrude on the design of a website at all. When you want to buy something, you will see ValoBox branding and have an easy way to purchase the content. As almost everyone is always signed into a system of some kind — be it Twitter, Facebook or Google — our vision is that you can always access premium content with just a click.

How does ValoBox work?

Oliver Brooks: It's an HTML5 application that runs inside any modern web browser. This means you can access it from any website, on any device wherever you are. Content is stored in the cloud and streamed securely from our servers on demand. A future enhancement will mean you won't even have to be online to read books you have read before; they'll automatically be stored on your device for later.

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How does ValoBox help readers?

Oliver Brooks: The core benefit is accessibility to premium content. ValoBox lets you access an entire catalog, and you can choose which pages you want and buy them for cents at a time.

So, you might see a book reviewed on your favorite blog or hear about an interesting topic from a Twitter feed. A couple of clicks and cents later, you can be reading what they are talking about. We think it's ridiculous that books are locked behind lengthy and expensive checkout and download processes, and then require special applications to read when videos and audio are available with a click.

Another huge bonus is our social retail system. If you like what you read and think you know someone else who would like it, you can share it with an embed or a link. Anything that is bought from your share will earn you a 25% cut.

How does it help authors and publishers?

Oliver Brooks: Authors will have an awesome tool for promoting their books. Books can be integrated with their websites and social media promotions, providing the tip of the pyramid leading to many other shares and embeds. All the activity is tracked in real time to give an unparalleled level of knowledge about where books perform best. Don't forget that if an author sells the books, they will not only get their royalty but also the 25% ValoBox social retail cut.

As for publishers, they get a great way to empower their readership to create new and sustainable sales channels. Imagine thousands of innovative readers finding the right places for books inside their personal and professional networks. No traditional retailer could dream of going into places such as a university e-learning environment or a team management wiki, or of garnering sales from inside a full-scale social network. Just like authors, publishers have real-time, detailed analytics of how each book is being bought. They also have a view of how all of their books are read across the entire web.

I like to think of ValoBox as a way to realize the value of creating a symbiotic relationship between the content creation and consumption communities, rewarding each one for their efforts appropriately.

This interview was edited and condensed.


January 03 2012

Social is an integral part of tomorrow's reading experience

This post is part of the TOC podcast series, which we'll be featuring here on Radar in the coming months. You can also subscribe to the free TOC podcast through iTunes.

Book reading has always been considered a solitary activity, but maybe that's just because of the limitations of print. Social reading platforms are sprouting up all around us, and mobNotate is one of the more interesting ones. This TOC podcast features insight from mobNotate's founder, Ricky Wong (@kinwong), as well as their technical advisor, Sean Gerrish. They talk about where they are with the mobNotate platform, why social is an important part of tomorrow's reading experience and what it will look like.

(Listen to this interview via the embedded player or download the MP3 file.)

Key points from the full interview include :

  • Machine learning makes it happen — Related conversations are already happening on the web, but mobNotate ties them back to the text so you don't have to hunt them down. [Discussed at the 0:45 mark.]
  • Social reading is not an oxymoron — If social reading is implemented correctly it will feel like an on-topic conversation with a lot of really interesting people. If it's done poorly, of course, it's nothing more than a distraction. [Discussed at 1:38.]
  • Reader apps & devices don't lend themselves to content creation — And that's where a tool like mobNotate comes in, which makes it extremely easy to add your thoughts to the conversation. Think "tapping and swiping" rather than "typing" as well as "curation" rather than "creation." [Discussed at 6:41.]
  • Social isn't just for certain genres of content — There are different (and better ways) to implement social features on different types of content. [Discussed at 9:35.]
  • Community is an important part of the value proposition — Social features can help add to the value of your product and therefore help justify a higher price. [Discussed at 11:35.]

  • Social features can still result in a clean & simple reading environment — Sean's example here of Google "then and now" is a terrific analogy. Social reading functionality needs to be as important to the user experience as images and videos have become to search results. [Discussed at 15:00.]
  • The 80/20 rule applies here as well — A small percentage of users will likely create and curate the content that's used by the larger audience. [Discussed at 15:46.]

You can listen to the entire interview here.

TOC NY 2012 — O'Reilly's TOC Conference, being held Feb 13-15, 2012 in New York City, is where the publishing and tech industries converge. Practitioners and executives from both camps will share what they've learned and join together to navigate publishing's ongoing transformation.

Register to attend TOC 2012


October 05 2011

Content is a social creature

The upcoming Books in Browsers conference will focus on books as "networked, distributed sets of interactions," as opposed to content containers. I've asked several of the event's participants to address the larger concepts surrounding books in browsers. We'll be publishing these interviews over the coming weeks.

In the brief interview below, Bob Stein, founder and co-director of The Institute for the Future of the Book, addresses a three-part question on content and social engagement. The concept isn't new, Stein says, but the best is yet to come — when content is specifically designed for social engagement.

Is reading destined to become a social activity, or has it always been so?

Bob Stein: Reading and writing have always been social. Authors read the work of others and discuss their ideas with colleagues; readers talk to each other about what they've read. But the reification of ideas into mass-printed objects has obscured the social aspect, which doesn't "appear" to be part of the book itself.

How can content be developed to enhance social engagement without detracting from the content itself?

Bob Stein: Perhaps the conversation (social engagement in your parlance) is a key component of the content; it needn't detract — it can add.

Does all content lend itself to social engagement?

Bob Stein: All content doesn't lend equally well to social engagement, but all content can, if handled properly, gain from explicit social engagement. Most interesting in coming decades will be the creation of new content, designed from scratch to make the most of social engagement.

This interview was edited and condensed.

TOC Frankfurt 2011 — Being held on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, TOC Frankfurt will feature a full day of cutting-edge keynotes and panel discussions by key figures in the worlds of publishing and technology.

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Photo on home and category pages: Networking People by ZyXEL America, on Flickr


November 12 2010

Bookish Techy Week in Review

In bookish-techy news this week:

Jonathan Safran Foer pubs crazy new book that can't be digitized

Tree of Codes, produced with British publishers Visual Editons is a book that simply can't be digitized because it has a different die cut on every page.

The literary magazine returns

Thanks to the Internet, literary magazines are flourishing.

Jay-Z pulls off an awesome book promotion

From Creativity Online:

The campaign made an opening splash at the Delano in Miami -- a page was fully reproduced on the bottom of the hotel pool, with footnotes imprinted on towels strewn across the surrounding lounge chairs. While the words appear for real on the street, those who don't have access to the locations can find them via a unique application/game that Droga5 developed using Microsoft's Bing. Visitors to the site get daily clues, researchable via a Bing overlay, which will lead them to where the pages are, albeit virtually in Bing Maps.

Still no consensus where e-lending is concerned

From ReadWriteWeb:

... according to some publishers, if libraries start lending e-books, it could serve to "undo the entire market for e-book sales."

What happens when the libraries die?

Jason Perlow considers the creation of digital underclass:

Libraries will need to be replaced with digital equivalents as publishing moves towards eBooks. As a result, will a new "Digital Underclass" be created from the base of technology have-nots?

Richard Nash previews Cursor with "A Red Lemonade Sampler"

From Richard Nash's blog:

In a matter of weeks, links like I'm about to offer will be offered on Red Lemonade, but I didn't want to wait to share these little digital objects with you.

David Pogue really likes the new Galaxy tablet

From the New York Times:

Samsung sweated the details on this thing. The screen is gorgeous. The touch response is immediate and reliable. The whole thing is superfast and a pleasure to use.

Ebooks to Join The New York Times Best-Seller List

Also from the New York Times:

The lists will be compiled from weekly data from publishers, chain bookstores, independent booksellers and online retailers, among other sources.

Got news?

Feel free to send along any news items, blog posts, or things of note from the publishing world.

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