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Reading together with Kindle

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The new secret handshake among bookworms

I’ve noticed a new greeting among bibliophiles. The question is invariably asked, when one is caught in the act, “Nook or Kindle”? After which ensues some discussion about the relative merits of each or whether a good old-fashioned physical book is preferred.

I thought I might join the 21st century of modern book reading. My Kindle is on its way.  In anticipation of the delivery of the magical device I installed the PC version of the Kindle reader on my PC.

“Cover and pages may have some wear or writing…”

I used to lend my books to others to read. One particular person told me that they liked to read my books because of the underlining, highlighting, and marginal notes that I wrote into my books. “I want to see how you think”, said that person.  Of course, different people see significance in different parts of a book. When someone marks up a book it give some insight into what that person thinks is important. Marginal notes provide additional bits of information on the reader’s perspective.  Call it “meta-reading”.

I buy a lot of used books from In the description of the used book there is usually some indication by the seller if the book is “marked up” – had highlighting, underlining, and/or marginal notes. Some people want to buy clean books – no markings. I’ll take a marked-up one, no problem. The markings are sort of a remnant from the previous reader(s) – a sort or trail of readership.

Kindle Popular Highlights

So, it was interesting to see a feature of the Kindle called “popular highlights”. Popular highlights let you “mark up” a book with highlighting and marginal notes just like some readers like to do in physical books.

But it gets better than that. The Kindle is wireless allowing the ongoing communication of the Kindle device with the Kindle service back at So, it is possible for your highlighting and marginal notes to be pushed up to the Kindle service.  It’s there for safe keeping.  And, if you think one level further, the capability is now there for your Kindle book markups to be shared with others.

That is exactly what Amazon has done. The Popular Highlights feature of the kindle allows a Kindle user to see what other people have highlighted and noted on a particular page of a Kindle book as they read the book.

Here is a screenshot of The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  The window at the right shows Popular Highlights by the community of Kindle readers that read this book and marked it up with highlights.

Refining Popular Highlights

The feature of Popular Highlights on the Kindle would present some interesting possibilities if refined. Right now, popular highlights are linked to the undifferentiated community of Kindle users. But, suppose that Kindle readers could form groups and one could “subscribe” to popular highlights by group or multiple groups? Creating groups would differentiate and segment the great mass of Kindle users into focused communities of users with similar interests. Perhaps popular highlights could be linked to Facebook.  Facebook friends could share popular highlights if they were reading the same book on Kindle and friends permitted this sort of sharing.

The Take

The first wave use of the Internet was to connect people to information.  The second wave use of the internet was to connect people to people.  The wireless Kindle along with Popular Highlights and amazon infrastructure allows for the capability to form a sort of global social web among all Kindle users.  With this capability reading a book, which was once a solitary activity, is now tuned into a social activity.

Libraries, churches, bookstores, other organizations, and sometimes ad hoc groups have created book discussion groups. Popular highlights could contribute to the social aspect of the reading experience for these groups and also take it to the next level.  If Popular Highlights were near real-time then the “book club” reading experience could be “always on” no matter the location of book club members at any time.

In the context of high school or college Popular Highlights (highlights with attached marginal notes) shared among the class members would be a new near real-time collaborative experience in education.  Popular Highlights will let us all read together on the Kindle.


Written by frrl

May 4, 2011 at 8:43 am

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