Does Kobo Have Its Pulse on Social Reading?

Kobo Books announced a new offering to their ongoing social reading efforts, called: “Kobo Pulse,” that could bring some social networking heft to their initial fun, yet also somewhat digressive Reading Life features. While Kobo Pulse didn’t make quite the news splash unlike some other ebook-related news of the week, I think there’s something interesting here we should look at.

Here’s the official press release, “Kobo brings books to life with Kobo Pulse.” And some highlights of what Pulse is —

“With Kobo, every page of every book has a pulse — an indicator of social engagement driven by who and how many people are reading, what they are saying, and what they are thinking. Kobo Pulse™ allows readers to learn about the life of a book, connect with friends, share their sentiments, and engage in thought provoking discussions while reading any book. Kobo Pulse and your Reading Life are also integrated with Facebook.”

Ok, well, I do like the metaphor of reading as a living activity. The one thing I can say about Kobo is that they certainly give the impression of a company that groks what reading is and is doing some of the most creative work in the realm of social reading and ebooks.

Let’s take a closer look, per Kobo:

  • Feel the life of a book: Kobo Pulse indicates the intensity of social engagement throughout a book, becoming larger and brighter, inviting the user to engage with other readers
  • Get more out of reading: Readers can see what others thought of what they just read. They can also see interesting stats like how many people are reading or engaging with a book, throughout the book.
  • Connect with others: Readers can connect with other readers around the world
  • Join the conversation: Readers share sentiments (liking, disliking) and comment on individual passages or ongoing discussions

Will it appeal to readers? It might. Or it might not. Tech Crunch has a bit of a guarded reaction (“Kobo Pulse Aims To Offer New Twist On Social Reading”), and is correct in assuming that it won’t be easy to change ingrained reading habits (that Maureen Corrigan book title pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading). There’s kind of a complicated give-and-take in making reading more social. Reading is of necessity a solitary activity, and reading and social interruptions aren’t always a congenial mix. And yet, there is an inherently social impulse to reading — we like to know what other people are reading, or what other people think about what we might read or already be reading.

Kobo Pulse strikes me as an interesting experiment. To try and make social reading more — for lack of a better comparison — Facebook-like is both clever and a bit of a gamble. I don’t really know what the attention span of the normal Facebook user is, but it’s worth wondering if book reading and Facebook using are compatible activities. Facebook integration could enhance the social reading experience, or it could just as easily distract wandering minds away from slow passages of ebooks. Hmm. I do like the general idea behind Pulse, and since nobody has truly figured out The Solution (assuming there is one) for social reading, every experiment is a worthwhile one.

I will say this, however. For educational purposes (i.e., students reading textbooks, within a classroom, etc..) I think an approach like Kobo Pulse could really be a good thing. I’d love to see ebook-savvy teachers try this out.

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Also, it sure looks like Kobo is also planning their own foray into the increasingly crowded Tablet Wars. Kobo as an e-reader platform thus far has been doing some very innovative work. As a hardware company, the jury’s still out. There’s some worry, because while reviews have been generally positive (Engadget has a good, even-handed review here).

Is this really a good idea for them, though? Of course that’s rhetorical, because they’re gonna do it, if they’re gonna do it.

PC Mag: “Kobo Prepping Vox eReader Tablet in Wake of Amazon Kindle Fire.” Details at this point on such a Kobo Tablet are effectually nonexistent (“Calling the Vox a “tablet” implies that it’s something more than an e-reader, however.”) But a safe assumption might be, that if such a tablet device were to be released, it would be in time for Christmas 2011, so more details might be forthcoming.


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

tyler shores cambridge

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