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Kith and Kindle

Amazon’s personal electronic reader cannot go it alone. Here is an idea for the Kindle to become part of the social media landscape. Let’s call it Kindle’s Family and Friends plan.

Similar to a few cell phone plans, let a Kindle user share books for free with up to five members of their family or friends. Once you identify your friends and family, you can share any e-book you’ve bought with them. This addresses one of the major issues raised by early users.

In the beginning, this sharing has marginal impact because there are so few Kindles in use. However, sharing content helps to build a library and more significantly, create social interactions around that library. Think of the Kindle not as a personal reading device but as a personal library that you’d want to share.

Why is this important for Kindle’s long-term viability? The true test of Kindle, especially for its publisher stakeholders, will be not whether enough people buy Kindle but whether the first group of people who buy Kindle use it regularly and often. (I have a Sony book reader which sits idle.) Sharing expands and encourages usage for the Kindle, and this is ultimately good for publishers. Note that I can share music I buy through iTunes with five other “devices,” which in my case are the computers of my wife and children in my own home. This same music can also be shared by streaming it over the local network, something that happens widely in offices. Content should not be locked to a single device, whether it’s an iPod or the Kindle.

People who enjoy a book naturally want to share it with others. Just today, my wife was sending a book she had enjoyed reading, “Dreams From My Father” by Barack Obama, to her mother in Chicago. This gifting of a book is part of what makes a book valuable in the first place. If the book didn’t retain this value once we consumed it, we would throw it away. By sharing a book with a relative or friend, we cultivate those relationships. It gives us something in common to talk about. Inevitably, this conversation spills out into the marketplace, a good thing for the author and publisher. (Again, the alternative is the book is thrown away, and never used again, and the conversation may never get started.)

Family and Friends is the first step in building peer networks of Kindle users who share long-form content. What about co-workers on the same project at a company or team members working together from different companies? Amazon needs to encourage ways for these users to organize their own information as shared libraries for small groups. This library might be a combination of published information, private communications and internally produced or self-generated publications. A team working on a project might want to share thick specifications, project proposals, company policy manuals, reference manuals, business plans, and standards documents. Oh, yes they might share books, too. Make it easy to build a library that can be created from lots of different sources and tools and shared with a known set of users. Make it possible to sync a library across a group of peers. (Ray Ozzie of Microsoft knows this area better than anyone as he previously created the groupware platform Groove Networks.)

One reviewer of the Kindle on Amazon.com complained about a lack of PDF support and said that he did not want to replace books. “What Amazon does not understand,” he wrote, “is that I want something that could replace my *laptop* so I can review work related PDF files without printing them out.”

The Kindle does support sending Word files to the device via email (I do not have a Kindle and have not tested this.) I might forward to the Kindle a long Word attachment because I don’t want to read it then and there on my laptop. I may not need to read it now but at some point in the future. That’s also true of longer content I encounter on the Web, which I’d like to able to forward as well. Perhaps I want family and friends to be able to forward reading material to me, even if it’s the equivalent of clipping a page out of a magazine. The Kindle could maintain a queue of my required reading.

When I look at my rather messy desk, I see this mixture of private communications, drafts of documents in various stages, printed Power Points, mail, reports, binders, etc., all mixed in with magazines and books. On my laptop, the same kind of content also exists in an disorganized array of folders. One of the problems I have is not knowing whether to keep something and where to put it if I do need it in the future. (I don’t file.) Most often I am trying to retrieve a document by searching my email. At other times, I have to fetch an internal document from the intranet, trying to remember where I saw it last. Or I ask someone who might know.

Kindle users should be able to store a wide range of free materials mixed together with published materials, just as they blend together on my desk or on my bookshelf. Most of what we read everyday is not published. It’s private communications, and a lot of it is email. It’s easy to read short-form content on a laptop but a reading device can be useful for longer, more structured documents, which may be held for some future use. Wouldn’t the Kindle be more valuable if used as a repository for personal and published information but one I can share with family and friends as well?

I will add that I have given similar advice to our own online books initiative, Safari Books Online. I think it’s crucial to the success of Safari that it be designed as a repository not just for O’Reilly and Pearson books but materials generated by its users and shared for them as a small group. Safari understands the concept of library; it needs to help users organize material that doesn’t originate with publishers. A group of programmers that developed an internal manual of programming guidelines could have that information on the same shelf as published guides on programming languages.

So my advice to Amazon and its publishing partners: forget strict controls and think of mind share.

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  • MikeInAZ

    Wow, you’ve made some really great suggestions (sharing). I also want to use the Kindle instead of printing my docs for offline reading. There’s a ton of possibilities and hopefully Amazon will evolve quickly.

  • http://www.webkatalog-eintragung.de Webkatalog

    im from germany and i hope amazon will relase this electronic reader in germany fast too.

  • lee

    While it is not the exact same thing, I’ve read that amazons allows for 6 kindles per account, in which all 6 can view the same books. But I like your idea also.

    Also you mentioned PDF files, the kindle can read unencrypted mobi files, which there is a converter out there that will convert PDF files to mobi files, and you can transfer the files via USB.

  • http://www.informednetworker.com/ David Mackey

    Good recommendations and reasoning behind sharing, and I absolutely agree. Even if it means I lend out a book and can’t read it while my friend has it and then get it back (wow, i could never lose a book again, b/c I could put an expiry on my lending).

  • http://diveintomark.org/ Mark

    > Wouldn’t the Kindle be more valuable if used as a repository for personal and published information but one I can share with family and friends as well?

    I hate to say it, but I think Kindle is already exactly what Amazon wants it to be. If you want something that stores your own stuff and lets you share it with others, buy a general purpose computing device. The low-end ultraportable market is heating up, starting with the OLPC gizmos and moving up to the eeepc and Classmate. Hell, even the locked-down iPod Touch has a full-featured, modern web browser.

  • http://www.futureconverged.com Honary

    Very good points. In many ways I see Kindle as such a closed system that I think it will follow on the same footsteps of its predecessors such as Sony Reader. I have been waiting for a “proper” ebook reader for years and was excited about Amazon getting into this market, but the result is very disappointing.

    Mark’s comment above delivers the point. If any ebook reader is going to succeed, it needs to beat the cheapest general purpose mobile PCs out there in addition to being extremely easy and compatible to use for anything that involves “reading”. It should be able to do one thing right: be a reader. Just like a music player or a mobile that has a core function. A reader should let me read all of my own personal material, unpublished & published material, shared material and anything else that may come in the future that can be read. If I am confident that an ebook reader can do that single task efficiently, I will buy it. Kindle, unfortunately,is not this device. May be Kindle II will be, but for now, this is not it.

  • http://makezine.com pt

    i used a kindle for a month or so before it was released – i think amazon’s challenge is what you described – they really need to encourage a lot of usage for the early adopters, i’m surprised they didn’t include $100 credit towards books, it’s worth it – with e-ink readers (i have/had all of them) the biggest problem i’ve seen is abandonment by the users, it’s a novelty then folks go back to laptops and printed books. the kindle has a wireless connection so that might keep the interest level going longer than some of the other attempts for e-ink devices.

  • http://michaelbernstein.com Michael R. Bernstein

    I’m with Mark.

    The fact that the Kindle store contains over 7k DRM-encrusted ebooks from Project Gutenberg (originally converted by mobipocket, and still available for free download sans-DRM from the mobipocket site) selling for 99 cents each is rather telling.

    “Add DRM to public domain works to lock copies to a single device and charge the user for the privilege” is an incredibly wrong-headed plan.

    The bare minimum that Amazon needs to do is make the Kindle work with an unencumbered ebook file format that can be freely (beer and speech) produced. They can do this by either releasing the source to the already free-as-in-beer windows-only mobipocket software (for both reading and writing), or they can add support to the Kindle for another format that can already be created by free software (RocketBook, for example, but there are others to choose from).

    If they do that, then I’ll be a bit less skeptical about the prospects of them sharing and growing the pie.

  • http://stormyscorner.com Stormy

    I disagree. I think the model of sharing a physical book is changing to a model of recommending books and rating them. Amazon’s rating model has drastically changed the way users buy books. I won’t buy a book without first checking the Amazon rating! We are already familiar with the idea of sharing recommendations instead of the object itself. Most of us recommend movies to our friends but don’t actually have the DVD to pass out.

    So while it would be nice to be able to share or resell Kindle books, I think as long as the price is right (to reflect the fact that you can’t resell or share them), I think the model will work.

  • http://www.briansp.com BrianSp

    I’d bet Kindle’s limitations have more to do with the fears of the publishing industry than the inability of Amazon folks to ‘get it’.

  • Phil

    I own a Kindle and use and enjoy it daily.

    My fear is that content will not keep up.

    I would love to see O’Reilly books on my Kindle. I’d fork out money even though i have 150 titles on my (office) bookshelf and subscribe to Safari. I’d much rather carry around one little device enabling me to read any title any time.

    I would not cite iPods as a flexible and open device.

  • http://blog.monstuff.com Julien

    I second Phil’s request: please give us Safari on the Kindle.

  • http://www.directorydolphin.com Rex

    I agree with Dale.The true aim of Amazon should be, not to make personal reading device,but to share and kindle other minds too.

  • jae

    I third the kindle safari request. I will do whatever it takes to put oreilly books into the kindle.

  • http://www.callofduty4.de Stefan

    I’d bet Kindle’s limitations have more to do with the fears of the publishing industry than the inability of Amazon folks to ‘get it’.