thoughts on sharing highlights, 2 free kindle books

Let’s start with the two free books (one of which was free last year too) –

  1. Swashbuckling Fantasy: 10 Thrilling Tales of Magical Adventure by Various Authors. It’s published by Simon & Schuster. 
  2. Loving a Lost Lord by Mary Jo Putney. It seems it’s been made free again as the author has a new book about to be released (courtesy official kindle forum).

Also interesting –

  1. Primal Wound by Ruth Francisco for $1. For some reason this storyline appealed a lot to me.

    A young woman sets out to find her birthmother and uncovers a family saga of deceit, insanity, and murder.

    When Cicely Scott volunteers to be a kidney donor for her father, she is shocked to discover she was adopted. Suddenly she has lost herself, her history, her identity, her family. But she gains something else. She is free to become whomever she wants to be, informed not by genetics or family, but by her own set of ethics. Does that include the license to kill?

  2. Kill & Cure by Stephen Davison for $1 and rated 5 stars on 7 reviews.

    David Stichell, a London Chiropractor, is an ordinary man plucked from the normality of his existence and thrown into hell. As a helpless witness to the brutal shooting of his fiancee he escapes her killer and alerts the police. They arrive expecting a murder scene but the place is clean and his fiancee has vanished… Kill & Cure is fast, furious and incredibly well plotted..Reading Matters

  3. The Shot to Die For by M. H. Sargent for just $1 and rated 5 stars on 6 reviews.

    The body of Marine Corporal Jason Briggs, missing for eight days, has been found in a Baghdad, Iraq field. Investigating the death is an elite 4-man CIA team first seen in M.H. Sargent’s thriller, Seven Days From Sunday. Even though the team, including an attractive female doctor, has seen their fair share of bodies before, this one is different – they discover a computer flash drive embedded in the body.

    Meanwhile, a photographer with The Iraq National Journal newspaper has been kidnapped. He unwittingly took a picture of someone in a compromising situation and the kidnappers want the digital memory card.

  4. Seven Days from Sunday by M. H. Sargent for just $1 and rated 4.5 stars on 13 customer reviews. 

    In this fast paced thriller, Iraq’s top terrorist makes two promises – a kidnapped American contractor will be executed on a given date, his body dumped in Baghdad’s Green Zone and a major attack will occur in seven days.

    Working desperately to find the American and thwart the impending attack is an elite 4-man CIA team which includes an attractive female doctor. But they can only watch helplessly as the terrorist and his masked henchmen behead the American during a live video feed carried on the Internet.

That frees us up to talk about the new shared highlights feature Amazon has already unveiled (though it’s supposed to be out formally in Kindle 2.5).

Pros and Cons of Sharing Highlights

Sharing Highlights – The Next Privacy controversy?

BNet jump to the conclusion that sharing highlights is a privacy issue

Amazon is publishing what are, essentially, readers’ private thoughts. The digital issue is fairly clear. For instance, I’m reading one of my favorite books, Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws Of Power, and highlight a particularly nefarious passage, as there are a lot of them.

Readers’ private thoughts?

Being a bit overdramatic aren’t we.

It’s definitely important to consider the privacy implications – However, there aren’t that many.

  1. If it’s a popular book then there are going to be so many people highlighting passages that individual readers will be lost in the crowd.
  2. There is no personally identifiable information shown on the Most Popular Highlights Page.
  3. If it’s a rare book privacy issues are handled by only showing passages which at least 3 users have highlighted. Check out this page of the 20,076th most highlighted book to check for yourself.
  4. Only passages are shared and NOT notes. Highlights from across all readers of the book are listed so it’s probably impossible to uniquely identify one person’s highlights.
  5. It can be switched off. You just disable annotations backup. It’s a workaround and it means you lose the ability to have backed up notes and highlights in the cloud.

The actual bad thing is that Amazon doesn’t have a specific setting to disable sharing of your highlights. That definitely needs to be put in.

At the official kindle forum someone using Kindle for iPad started a thread about it being a privacy violation – Who would have thought an iPad owner would attack Amazon 😉 . At the moment it’s not a privacy issue. There are however lots of potential problems if Amazon expands this without thinking through things very carefully.

There is also the slight possibility that Governmental agencies start asking Amazon to reveal information on who bought and highlighted passages that are potentially problematic – certain religions, certain topics. That would lead to disaster.

Sharing Highlights – How is anyone supposed to compete with this?

Let’s put aside privacy and look at the value that the Shared Highlights feature provides –

  1. Book owners can see what other people liked about a book. 
  2. You can choose between books based on what people’s reactions to them seem to be (in terms of highlighting frequency and what was highlighted).
  3. Super helpful when writing book reviews or book reports.
  4. It’s a fascinating activity in itself – seeing what people like about a book.
  5. Great research tool for authors.

Most Highlighted Books is a very good indicator of how much a book impacted readers. Once Kindle starts breaking them up by category we’ll see this become as important a resource (and perhaps more important) as the Bestseller lists.

It’s a big, big competitive advantage because physical book stores, publishers, and eReaders without a wireless connection just can’t compete.

Sharing Highlights – Skewed towards motivational and religious books?

One of the threads at the official kindle forum talks about how the list seems swayed towards non-fiction in general and motivational and religious books in particular. It’s true – it’s a list dominated by non-fiction.

Here are the most highlighted books –

The Lost Symbol.
Holy Bible.
The Shack.
A New Earth.
Outliers.
Getting Things Done.
The One Year Bible.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
The Purpose Driven Life.
Excuses Begone.

And so forth.

Guess you just have to scroll down to less often highlighted books to find more fiction. It goes all the way to the tens of thousands so it’s not a big issue.

There’s also an interesting feature called ‘Daily Refresh’ that shows you highlights from your read books every day. Definitely an interesting idea though can’t seem to get it to work.

Reading related features versus Becoming a Tablet

There are some people (the entire Press) who are jumping at the announcement that Kindle is adding social features in its 2.5 upgrade. They’re taking it to mean that the Kindle is evolving into a tablet – It’s not.

Kindle is adding reading related social features – not Tablet features

People see trigger words – Facebook, Twitter, Social, Sharing – and forget to read the rest.

Let’s read the fine print here –

Share book passages with friends on Facebook and Twitter directly from your Kindle.

See what the Kindle community thinks are the most interesting passages in the books you’re reading.

It must be very exciting for the press to see that the Kindle is finally getting social features – they feel Amazon made a mistake by creating a device focused on reading and think that Amazon is now rectifying that mistake. They are going to be sorely disappointed.

These are social features only in the sense that they connect people. These features are all about books – they are focused on connecting readers with readers and helping spread books and sell books.

Sharing Book Passages has more to do with reading than Twitter/Facebook

It’s not a Facebook App or suppport for Facebook.com that’s added.

The Kindle is simply letting readers share passages from books they are reading with their friends over Facebook. Ditto for Twitter.

This will lead to more book recommendations – recommendations from people you trust and are interested in and share things with. It’ll thus lead to more book sales. It’s bringing back some of the benefits of lending books without actually lending books.

Most Highlighted Passages is a Book Recommendation Engine powered by the Crowd

Amazon’s focus on books rather than social features should be obvious from the ‘Most Popular Highlights’ feature.

It’s not instant chat or email or text messaging.

It’s collated user information – What books people like enough to highlight passages out of.  What passages are their favorites.

That creates interest. It leaves gaps – People wonder what goes around the passage. Why that passage was chosen. It brings people together because they realize they share a lot.

And it sells more books.

The Most Highlighted Books List is scary powerful

Take some time and read through this list – Most Highlighted Passages of All Time.

This is a jump over the two best sources of book popularity we had –

  1. It’s better than book sales ranks and bestseller lists because it tells us what books were actually read and liked enough for people to highlight stuff.
  2. It’s better than reviews because it’s information gathered from across all users – whether or not they would ever leave a review.

It’s also great for marketing –

  1. People get to see the passages that are the real gems.
  2. People know these passages really struck a chord with people. It’s pure effort – people liking something enough to highlight it.
  3. It’s social proof – If 1,698 people highlighted a passage in Outliers it must be good and if all of them bought the book and liked it then the Book must be worth buying.

We are looking at the next jump in reviews and decision points.

We have rich, proven data – without users having to make an effort and without stealing or revealing user information.

It’s the wisdom of the crowds without the crowds having to make an effort.

Amazon are not building a Tablet – they’re building the best buying device ever created.

How not to compare eReader page turn speeds

Teleread link to a post at Laptop Mag that at first sounds really promising – eReader Speed Tests.

They give this promisingly straightforward break-down –

  1. Amazon Kindle – 1 second page-turns. 
  2. Sony Reader Daily Edition – 1 second page turns. 
  3. iRex DR800SG – 1 second page turns. 
  4. Alex eReader – 1.5 seconds. 
  5. Barnes & Noble Nook – 2 seconds. This was done using the 1.2 upgrade and not the latest 1.3 upgrade.
  6. Entourage Edge – 2 seconds.

Who would have thought page turn speeds would so neatly fall into these convenient little buckets.

Except it’s all nonsense.

Multiple reasons the eReader Page Turn Speed Comparison is wrong

 Here are a few holes that are painfully obvious –

  1. Just 1 or 2 page turns are timed for each eReader. That obviously means it could be a one-off. For example, the 3 Nook page turns on the video come in at – 1 minute 58 seconds, 1 minute 51 seconds, and 1 minute 40 seconds.   
  2. Different books are used on the different devices.
  3. For the Kindle one refresh is to an empty page and another is to a page with a large font size. Those are naturally faster refreshes.
  4. There’s no information provided on what is running on the eReader besides the book – Is wireless on? Does the Entourage Edge have the browser running? When was the device last restarted?
  5. The Entourage Edge has a much larger screen than the other eReaders. It’s apples and oranges. That actually makes the 7″ Sony Daily Edition’s fast page turns very impressive.  

There’s no way you can fairly compare multiple eReaders while using  different books, different font settings, and different font sizes. Measuring just 1 or 2 page turns per device is adding insult to injury.

Let’s see if we can conjure up a fairer comparison of eReader page turn speeds.

A much better comparison of page turn speeds

This is how it’s set up –

  1. All eReaders on the latest updates. Nook on 1.3 and Kindle 2 and Kindle DX on latest (not 2.5). Also Kindle 2 US on 2.3.3. The Sony Reader Touch Edition hasn’t had any upgrades to the best of my knowledge.
  2. The exact same book on all eReaders – Already Dead by Charlie Huston. 
  3. Start all eReader tests from the first full page in the book – so we are refreshing pages that are as similar as possible.
  4. Try to get the same number of words per page on every eReader and try to use fonts that are similar.
  5. First run testing the number of page turns in 60 seconds. Second run that’s identical to increase our confidence in the times.

Here are the results we get –

  1. Sony Reader Touch Edition –  0.82 seconds per page turn. First Run: 72 pages in 1 minute. Second Run: 74 pages in 1 minute. Finishing Page: The way Dexter Predo knew. Second Run – Mr. Predo knew something.
  2. Kindle 2 International – 0.89 seconds per page turn. First run: 64 page turns in 1 minute. Second Run: 71 page turns in 1 minute. Finishing Page – She heads over to the Bar. Second Run – My Head to Mr. Predo. 
  3. Nook 1.3 – Exactly 1.5 seconds per page turn. First run: 40 page turns in 1 minute. Second run: 40 page turns in 1 minute. Finishing Page – Zombies eat brains. It’s their raison d’etre.
  4. Kindle DX International – 1.2 seconds per page turn. First Run: 50 page turns in 1 minute. Second Run: 50 page turns in 1 minute. Finishing Page – Philip’s Connection to the Coalition.
  5. Kindle US 2.3.3 – 0.76 seconds per page turn. First Run: 83 pages in 1 minute. Second Run: 75 pages in 1 minute. Finishing Page: Second Run: The problem with Philip is.

Those are really surprising results –

Kindle US comes in first, followed by Sony Touch and Kindle 2 International. Then we get the Kindle DX International and finally the Nook.

Surprised that the Nook is that slow since it seems faster. The Sony seems fastest of all. However, the test runs are a much more reliable measure than one person’s ‘feel’ for page turn speeds.

Note: The Kindle 2 International is on a build related to the Kindle Apps Beta program – perhaps that’s why it’s a bit slower than Kindle US. Perhaps it’s the individual unit.

A little on the Font Settings –

  • Kindle DX – largest size, Kindle 2 and Kindle 2 International – 2nd largest size, Sony – Large, and Nook – Helevetica Neue Large. 
  • Nook had 15 words more per page – However, its spacing was such that the difference was a bit less when you consider multiple pages.
  • Kindle DX had 15 words per page more too. This difference was maintained throughout. The Kindle DX also had larger alphabets.

The page turn times for the Nook and Kindle DX are 15% higher than what they would be in a perfectly fair test.

Words per page seems to be a key factor in page refresh speed. Try it out yourself with different font settings to see the impact.

How relevant are download speeds?

The second eReader speed comparison LaptopMag does is download speeds. It’s a strange comparison to choose –

  1. Beyond ‘getting the book in 60 seconds’ what improvements are we looking for?  
  2. There are hundred of page turns per book. There is one download per book. Why even talk about download speeds?
  3. Page turns are crucial because paper books don’t really have the ‘eInk refresh time’ – paper book page turns take just a quarter of a second (perhaps even less). Download speeds aren’t crucial because 60 seconds is already a huge improvement over 30 minute trips to the bookstore.

It’s just creating an artificial distinction. If the eReader offers wireless downloads then it doesn’t really matter whether the book takes 30 seconds or 60 seconds to reach the reader. As long as it’s less than a couple of minutes it’s fine.

Laptop Mag deserve credit for actually testing eReaders

They should have used something better than their current test set-up for measuring page turn speeds. At least they’re trying. They did throw in video and they did get the rankings mostly right.

It’d be great if more blogs, newspapers, and analysts started actually trying out eReaders instead of imagining things. In the course of one day we’ve gone from Wired’s article about the Kindle 2.5 upgrade which criticized an upgrade the author hadn’t even seen to this Laptop Mag article which actually tests and videotapes eReaders.

Main stream bloggers are actually using eReaders before writing about them – Things can only get better from here.