Hey Amazon, it’s time to socialize the Kindle

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Image by MARQUINAM via Flickr

Over the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, mostly on my Amazon Kindle.  I think it’s a great device in its current form, an will no doubt get better with the refresh that’s due out next week.  As an electronic book reader, the Kindle is definitely the leader of the pack.  All of the launch time reviews correctly stated that there is no eye strain, and I often forget that I’m using an electronic device (that’s a good thing).  Having multiple books in one compact device makes it possible to jumble my reading interests, without adding bulk to my backpack (I usually read 2-3 books at once, and often move between a business book, fiction, and/or current events stuff).  An added benefit for Amazon is that I’ve ended up buying books, literally, as they were mentioned in a meeting or on a TV show.  That’s another part of the puzzle that Amazon got right, a low friction transaction.  The first generation Kindle defined a market, in many ways, like the first generation iPod did.  And, based on the early, leaked photographs of the Gen.2 model, it looks like Amazon will address some of the awkward design elements of the initial offering.  While most of the coverage on Monday will be focused on the hardware, I’ll be really interested learning what Jeff Bezos and Co. have in store for the software part of the Kindle upgrade.

Reading has always been about community
I’ve found that I learn a whole lot more about a book’s meaning if I can share my thoughts and ideas with others.  I’m not really into book clubs, but Amazon does have a unique opportunity to extend the reading experience into a community experience with the Kindle.  The current generation software of the Kindle allows me to electronically annotate excerpts.  Sometimes I simply highlight interesting passages that I want to go back to, other times I’ll add a note that serves as a reminder to dig deeper into an area or ask another question.  Given the Kindle’s wispernet wireless connection, wouldn’t it make sense to connect those notes about books to a larger community?  I’m just wrapping up David Sanger’s The Inheritance, and I’ve got a ton of notes and comments that I’d love to share with other readers.  Shouldn’t each Kindle book have a ‘community’ wrapped around it?  In the case Sanger’s book, which is related to current events, the author could engage in that community and extend usefulness of his book.  For readers, instead of static reviews of a book on Amazon’s website, we’d have a dynamic community to share ideas with, argue or get deeper insight from the author.  I understand that Amazon doesn’t want the Kindle to become a ‘free’ way to connect to the internet, but wispernet could feed my notes and highlighted sections to a section of the book’s page online, and then I could continue the conversation via my computer connection.  This is one feature I’m really hoping Amazon announces on Monday…and they allow us first generation Kindle users to upgrade our software to enable this community.

Books are meant to be shared
The beauty of a physical book is that it can be shared, resold, or passed along to just about anybody without much difficulty.  As DRM slowly slips away in the music business, Amazon needs to define a reasonable model to- at minimum – resell books that I no longer want.  I believe there is a compelling reason for publishers to want a resale market to exist as well.  Unlike the aftermarket for traditional books, a market mechanism could be setup whereby publishers would get additional royalties for a resold book.  Amazon would benefit as a clearinghouse, and it would also drop another barrier for me (or anyone) to buy some ‘one-time use’ books.  For example, I’ve been hesitant to spend a lot on fiction on my Kindle.  Maybe it’s just me, but most fiction I’ll read once, and then pass it along to someone, or resell it (sometimes on Amazon’s website).  If I knew that there were a reliable aftermarket where I could resell these books, I’d be willing to buy them more often.

These are just two developments I’m hoping to see on Monday.  The Kindle is a revolutionary device.  It’s now time for Amazon to evolve the ecosystem around the device and extend the usefulness of their revolutionary product.  Amazon, it’s time to socialize the Kindle.

UPDATE: I just noticed that Amazon has hinted at the need to extend the kindle format to smartphones.  While this may be another market to chase, I can’t imagine doing extensive book reading on my iPhone.  Now, if Amazon modifies it’s DRM mechanism so I can use the same license on both my Kindle and my iPhone, I’d find it useful for those times when the Kindle isn’t in my bag.  My iPhone is always with me.

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