3 interesting social reading sites

Reading for me is a solitary activity, I have to admit. But others like being members of reading groups and so on – and who am I to judge them?

I linked recently to an article on Gizmodo asking why ebooks are so much like paper books – in other words, why don’t they innovate with the form a bit more? Here’s three examples of sites or apps that take electronic reading in a more interesting and social direction.

Readmill

Readmill is a replacement for iBooks on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. It places a heavy emphasis on good design and typography and eschews some of Apple’s silly skeuomorphic tendencies. It also enables you to highlight passages while you read, and share them with your friends and followers – and your social group also helps you to discover new books to read.

Subtext

Subtext is a free iPad app that allows classroom groups to exchange ideas in the pages of digital texts. It’s designed for use in learning environments, and enables a tutor to add in quizzes and assignments too. Here’s a video to explain more:

Copia

Copia calls itself a “social ereading platform”. It allows you to make notes in the ‘margains’ of the ebook you are reading, and then to share them with friends and publish them in notebooks. It also features the ability to create reading groups, and have discussions about books which is rather neat.

Copia is available on the desktop or the Android and iOS mobile platforms.

Do you use any social reading apps or sites? Are they even necessary?

Some recent dead tree reading

Now and again I find time to read books about work-related stuff. Here are three I have been tucking into recently.

John Naughton is a hero of mine. His weekly column in The Observer is required reading, and A Brief History of the Future is a wonderful primer on the origins of the internet. His latest book is a treasure trove of information which works just as well for the net newbie as it does the veteran of the interwebs.

Another book, another hero. Now at innovation software firm Spigit, James Gardner was once of the DWP where he implemented the ‘Idea Street’ innovation prediction market. His Little Innovation Book is a marvellously concise introduction to innovating in big organisations, and in Sidestep and Twist he outline how the big, game-changing breakthroughs tend to be adaptations of existing ideas rather than anything genuinely new.

Euan Semple is one of the best bloggers on social software, and following from his work with the BBC a few years ago, he understands the frustrations of trying to implement new ways of working within corporate structures. Organisations Don’t Tweet… is a great introductory work, in which nonetheless I found loads of nuggets of inspiration and learning – as well as a few reminders of things I ought to know but had forgotten. Buy this book for your boss!

Scheming Virtuously: A Handbook for Public Servants

I love stuff like this.

Nick CNick Charney works in government in Canada, and is also a prolific and excellent blogger. He’s also pretty active on GovLoop, which is where I first came across him I think. Anyway, follow his stuff.

Nick has just published an ebook called Scheming Virtuously: A Handbook for Public Servants which is great reading.

It’s “a tactical guide for any public servant looking to make an impact. It offers practical advice on how to be innovative in the public service while managing your relationships and reputation.” Awesome!

I have embedded the document below, or for those whose employers don’t trust them, here’s the direct PDF download.

I mentioned to Nick that the style reminded me a little of Colin McKay’s wonderful (even after 3 years!) Secret Guide to Social Media in Large Organizations – and it turns out that document helped inspire Nick to write his guide. Good stuff.

Yay for Kindle

Amazon have just relaunched the Kindle e-reading device in the UK, with a new model, which looks rather spiffy.

Kindle

Mine is one of the old, white ones – but I still love it. The new one features a new layout which makes the device smaller overall but keeping the same sized screen. The Kindle now supports wifi, which is cool – mine can only use 3G networks.

As John Naughton writes in his Observer column on the subject:

In the end, however, it’s not hardware that matters, but the effectiveness of the overall system in which the device is embedded. That was the great lesson of the Apple iPod: although the hardware was lovely from the outset, it would never have had the impact it had without the link to iTunes software on the PC/Mac and thence to the iTunes store. Other companies had made nice MP3 players, but none had put together a seamless system for getting music from CDs or online retailers on to them. Apple did and the rest is history.

The evolution of the ebook business reveals the same kind of pattern. First up, in 2006, was Sony, with a beautifully crafted device that had one crippling drawback: the difficulty of getting stuff on to it. A year later, Amazon launched the first-generation Kindle, a device inferior to the Sony product in every respect save one: it had wireless connectivity to the Amazon online store, which meant that purchasing and downloading books on to the device was a breeze. After that, it was game over for Sony and, indeed, for all the other companies that had piled into the e-reader market.

There are a number of cool things about the Kindle, some of which are unique to it, some that aren’t. Here are my top three.

1. Instant books

As John points out in his article, the iTunes-like ability to buy books right away is remarkably powerful. It’s like the difference between ordering a CD online or downloading an MP3 – why wait a day for it to be delivered when you can have it now?

2. Social reading

One thing the Kindle allows you to do is to set bookmarks in your e-books, and also to annotate them with notes. In addition to this, you can also highlight passages to make sure you remember them.

A social layer has now been added to this, in that you can now see what other people who have that book on their Kindles have highlighted. It’s a bit like seeing how many other people have saved a web page in Delicious, and is very cool.

3. Syncing

As well as the Kindle e-reader device, Amazon make applications available for other hardware to read books on, including Mac, Windows, Android and iPhone. This enables you to download books to other devices and keep reading even when you don’t have your Kindle on you.

Most obviously useful for phones, the really great thing with the Kindle is the way that when you open a book in one of the apps, it opens on the last page you read on your Kindle. Likewise, when you then open the book on your Kindle, it catches up to where you got up to on the other device.

Websites I love: Project Gutenberg

Project GutenbergThere are a lot of people who still see the internet as being something that is purely the domain of right-wing lunatics and porn fiends, which is of course a shame. The internet has created, or at least helped to create some wonderful things.

One of those wonderful things is Project Gutenberg, a website which makes available out-of-copyright books for reading on electronic devices. Started in 1971, where texts had to be typed into a mainframe computer by hand, the project boasted 30,000 books by the end of 2009.

Books are made available in a number of formats, one of which is always plain text to ensure it can display on more or less any device. Other formats include HTML and also some of the popular e-reader formats like .mobi and .epub.

Reading off a proper computer monitor is a bit of a nightmare, which is why using Gutenberg’s texts with an e-reader works so well. For me, getting the books onto the Kindle is just a case of plugging the Kindle in and copying the files across to it from my Mac – it takes seconds. Formatting is always pretty good, and it’s a great way of carrying round loads of great books to read, for nothing.

So if you’re ever struggling for great examples of people coming together to do Good Things using the web, don’t forget Project Gutenberg!

Open Leadership

Open LeadershipAm reading an excellent book at the moment – Open Leadership by Charlene Li.

Fans of dead-tree web 2.0 reading will be familiar with Groundswell, which Li co-authored and was chock-full of interesting case studies – mostly from the US private sector – around how collaborative relationships with customers, often using the web as a platform, lead to success.

Here’s some of the blurb for Open Leadership:

Open Leadership reveals step-by-step, with illustrative case studies and examples from a wide-range of industries and countries, how to bring the precision of this new openness to both inside and outside the organization. The author includes suggestions that will help an organization determine an open strategy, weigh the benefits against the risk, and have a clear understanding of the implications of being open. The book also contains guidelines, policies, and procedures that successful companies have implemented to manage openness and ensure that business objectives are at the center of their openness strategy.

It’s a great read too. One of my favourite bits is where Li lists early on five new rules for leaders to bear in mind when managing relationships:

  1. Respect that your customers and employees have power
  2. Share constantly to build trust
  3. Nurture curiosity and humility
  4. Hold openness accountable
  5. Forgive failure

Hear, hear!

You can get a flavour of the book with this free snippet:

Some recent reading

As well as blogs, tweets and reports that are published online, I spend quite a bit of time reading books too. They are often great for the bigger picture stuff which requires a bit of thought and chewing over.

Here’s a list of some of the stuff I’ve been reading recently – I’ve marked them as either DT (dead tree, ie a real paper book) or K (meaning I have it on my Kindle). It’s all in no particular order.

The Kindle has really changed the way I read techy books. I now won’t buy a work related book in paper form unless I have to – they just seem to suit the Kindle really well. I won’t switch to the Kindle for novels just yet, I don’t think, but for some reason the digital form suits non-fiction rather well.

(Disclaimer – where I have linked to Amazon, I have used associate links, meaning I get a few pence if you buy the book via the link. All the money I make from these goes towards the running of Palimpsest, a book group forum I host.)

DavePress bookshop

I’ve always wanted to own a bookshop. Somewhere nice and quiet, with tables to sit down and read, some sort of tea and coffee arrangement and plenty of books to browse and buy.

I’m obviously not ever going to have one – after all, if Borders can’t cope, then how could I? But I can have a virtual arrangement, thanks to Amazon’s astore service.

You can find it here. I’m still stocking the shelves, but you should find some good stuff in there. In fact, they are all books I have read and liked, so you can blame me if they’re crap.

Disclosure – I get a few pence every time you use the bookshop. I’m not going to get rich out of it, though!