Notes in the Margin

On the intersection of web apps, digital content and social media

Social Reading

There are social networks organized on all kinds of topics. For reading, two popular current sites are Goodreads and Shelfari. In each case, you add books you have read, are reading, or want to read. These titles are then visible to the book-related network of people you define and maintain on that platform. Each platform looks fun and useful – a way to get to know your friends better through the books they read, and to get recommendations on reading material of interest.

There is also a faint social element to reading on the Kindle platform, where you have the option to see passages that are highlighted by others. Amazon describes the feature this way on their web site:

Amazon displays Popular Highlights by combining the highlights of all Kindle customers and identifying the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people. Some books don’t have enough highlighting in them to have Popular Highlights. Popular highlights are marked with a gray dashed underline in your reading. You can see Popular Highlights for all books that have them at

Though intriguing, it’s a very modest social feature, through which you can learn which passages of your current book most people find interesting, a form of crowd-sourcing. It’s easy to imagine someone skimming an entire book by jumping from one popular highlight to the next (which is the very kind of superficial reading the Nicholas Carr bemoans in The Shallows).

But last week a new social reading tool was introduced that seems to be a significant step forward in this arena. Copia was introduced last week referring to itself as “part online bookstore, part social network,” and “the world’s first truly social e-reading platform.” In fact, it promises characteristics of both Goodreads and shared highlights in Kindle, but goes one important step farther. It allows you to create and share with specified friends annotations about specific passages in the book; and of course, you can read the notes of your friends as well.

Reviews of the new platform can be found on Mashable and ReadWriteWeb.

The result is a truly social reading experience which, short of book groups or re-aloud sessions, is more or less unprecedented. It may also be exactly tuned to the “participatory culture” of today’s younger readers, who create meaning socially more than any previous generation. In fact, social reading might be an antidote to the situation observed by Nicholas Carr, cited by college English professors, that students are increasingly having a hard time getting through a novel.

A cautionary note: Copia is riddled with bugs, and the user interface is unintuitive and overly busy. Unless these are addressed, the platform won’t get much attention. But simply as a lead example of an important and emerging social platform for education, it’s worth taking note.


Written by tstaley

November 29, 2010 at 2:54 pm

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