Opinion: What Amazon Kindle needs is… interactive book groups

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kindle-column.jpgSo, Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader is finally on sale, and although there’s been a mixed reaction from journalists and users alike, Amazon has still won plaudits for the focused way it’s entered the market.

The key thing to remember is that Kindle is a first-generation device, so there’s scope for firmware updates to bring new features, as well as future models that’ll solve the flaws and introduce new functionality.

I’ve been thinking about that last point – the new functionality – in terms of what can be done with an e-book reader that comes with 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity built-in. What I’ve come up with is an idea that would really deliver on Amazon head honcho Jeff Bezos’ claims that they want to go beyond what’s possible with physical books.

What idea? Virtual book groups, of course.

Just think about the potential. You’re reading a new book on your Kindle or similar device, and hundreds (or even thousands) of other people are doing the same, albeit at different stages. Why shouldn’t you be able to make annotations throughout the book of your thoughts and questions, then share them with the wider community?

Unobtrusive symbols could appear within e-books to indicate that there are user comments on that passage, which you could then click to read, and even reply to. It’d be a cross between a virtual book group, and an interactive version of those York Notes books people use for their English GCSEs.

The popularity of book groups in the real world proves that keen readers love to share their thoughts – and although Kindle wouldn’t replace six people in a room talking, the chance to broaden that out to a global community has huge potential. Especially if you’re into literature that’s a little out of mainstream tastes.

What else? Amazon could build in book buddylists, so you could sign up a group of people and all read the same book over a few weeks, with a closed discussion for you to share your thoughts. At the end of these, you’d be able to write your review of the book and upload it to Amazon’s main service (yes, with a mark out of five stars too).

Kindle itself, and Amazon’s e-books service, has flaws that won’t be corrected by these features. But it’s the interactivity that could truly ensure Kindle is a new way to read.

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Stuart Dredge