It’s arguable that “social reading” has always been around. People read, and some talk about what they read, but social reading has never been envisioned in as productive, accessible, and pervasive a medium than the digital. Personal devices such as the Kindle and the NOOK exist for the purpose of reading electronic texts and even sharing them, but there is still no strong, digital community that promotes social reading in the most progressive and innovative sense.
According to Bob Stein, founder of The Voyager Company and The Criterion Collection, not even Apple iBooks has really changed the book as we know it. iBooks and its competitors, namely Kindle and NOOK, are designed to facilitate the consumption of books and the sale of books in the quickly-evolving mobile and digitally driven world, but have done little to meaningfully transform the book, or the act of reading. E-books and other digital publications remain the same islands of text that print publications have always been. Where is the Social Media Age bridge between readers, writers, editors, publishers, and scholars? Where is the Facebook of fiction, the Pinterest of poetry?
Stein and his colleagues are attempting to provide an answer in the form of a prototype social reading community by the name of SocialBook. Like Apple iBooks’s author app, or Kindle Direct Publishing, SocialBook allows the editor(s) and/or author(s) of a text to upload the work to a social network of readers, who may engage with the text on a digital platform. However, unlike current trending platforms, SocialBook allows readers to contribute their marginalia to an ever-expanding discussion that encompasses the text, and is accessible by all readers of that text. Users may open tabs, located along the sides of the text, and view reader commentary as well as author, editor and publisher commentary. They can also contribute to an ever-growing, public conversation about the books they read. Stein talks more about social reading here, on the Institute for the Future of the Book’s “If:Book” blog, and in this video from 2011:
The possibilities of such a platform are great, and many have yet to be tested at length in a real market. All of SocialBook’s currently uploaded titles are also public domain, and therefore can be accessed by anyone. However, Stein explained, when he spoke at a digital forum at the University of Florida in 2012, in the future, the community will likely accommodate copyright protected material. Like any DRM-protected e-book, any works not in the public domain will have to be purchased. Upon purchasing access to a copyright protected book, the reader will unlock the socially engaging features SocialBook already offers for works in the public domain.
Going forward, this technology raises many questions and concerns regarding our definitions of “publisher”, “editor”, and “author”. It is unknown for now but reasonable to guess that this process may diminish the need for the traditional publisher as we know it (or perhaps change the role of the publisher) and will allow editors and authors greater publishing freedoms. For the first time as well, it will be feasible for authors and editors to have round-the-clock, open-ended, and public dialogues with readers, critics, and scholars.
With the “Groups” feature, there is incredible potential for SocialBook within classrooms. With a platform like SocialBook, students can not only experience textbook learning as a fully socialized practice, they can also interact with the text by contributing public thoughts and notes to the margins. Their peers–in the classroom, at home, or on the go–can access and respond to those posts, add their own thoughts to the conversation, answer instructor-prompted questions, and pose questions of their own to other readers. Teachers and professors can guide or moderate frequently updated discussions, and even connect to other classroom group discussions anywhere in the world. Ten…one hundred…one thousand or more people–there’s no limit–can read the same copy of the same book at the same time, building an engaging, public, social, shareable, “super conversation” that’s organically curated for readers by readers.
When Bob Stein spoke at a digital forum at UF, he asked the attendees to imagine if Romeo and Juliet, the theory of relativity, or any other great work had originally been published on SocialBook. What if everyone had access to Shakespeare’s or Einstein’s personal annotations? What if great thinkers could speak to us about their ideas across time, and what if we, the readers, could keep the conversation going?
Images & Related Articles
Girl reading a book: DailyGenius – “10 Questions You Should Ask Yourself While Reading”
Social reading illustration: Blog.Social2b.com – “Social Reading and the Future of Publishing”