Saturday, November 13, 2010

So What Is Social Reading?

We read a lot today about social reading which itself is somewhat of a challenge to understand and some would suggest nonsensical because of the multiple interpretations that can be applied. However it appears to be 'the' digital buzz phrase and so will probably take time to get a common understanding.

Is social reading about one reading out load to a group or individual and if so what new about that? Perhaps in a digital world the text is dynamically converted to speech and read out aloud but again what’s new about that?

It appears that social reading nothing to do with reading and more to do with commentary. It is described by some, as the ability to share, thoughts, insights and opinions on a work and to do this interactively with others. We may have got that wrong and expect some digital thinker to correct us.

So is social reading about having an interactive reading group, who share their thoughts in flight over whilst reading the work over the internet? You get to see others comments and links at a paragraph level and have grammatical commentary offered on the fly. Perhaps it’s like students sharing a textbook online with suitable annotations, links, bookmarks and highlighted excerpts, but would this really work outside of reference works and textbooks?

Perhaps social reading is like the readers comments or substitute blurbs one finds against works on Amazon. Blubs used to be referred to as publisher’s puffs and it would be brave of anybody in today’s politically correct world to refer to these new readers comments as 'reader’s puffs'!

Shelfari offers 'social reading' but looking at the comments it seriously begs the question exactly how much it is taken seriously. However its mission is to, 'enhance the experience of reading by connecting readers in meaningful conversations about the published word'. It was started in 2006 and surprise surprise was acquired by Amazon in 2008. Last month is was integrated within Kindle as “Book Extras”.

'Book Extras are curated factoids by the Shelfari community that provide readers with helpful information while they’re reading or deciding if they should read a book. These Extras include character descriptions, important places, popular quotations, themes, book-specific glossaries and more.'

It is interesting that when one reads a novel you are already being drawn into a plot created by the author and seen through someone else’s eyes. This immersive experience is what make a lot of reading special. Recommendations are always very useful and drive many sales but these are often from friends whose taste is know or reviewers whose authority is respected. Would you read a book just because an unknown person gave it a rave review?

People may be happy to comment in their closed network with the option to a move these to a public and open space. Comments made within a closed group may be more provocative, less accurate and even extremely negative, where they may be more watered down in public.

Finally we must respect the ‘fire mail rule’, which suggests that you think twice and count to ten before you send an email which may feel good at the time but that looks bad and inappropriate later. Academics are understandably cautious about commenting reactively on others, as they often earn from their own writing and their comments unless sound, may come back to threaten their own reputation and livelihood.

So is social reading a real possibility or just a fad dreamt up to try and extend the reading community, create a social network and to connect to the digital world?

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