Google and Social Reading …?

Is Google planning a social reading network? Perhaps. Rumors and conjecture are the next best thing to actual information, right?

There is some intriguing information about a new Google social reading platform AllThingsD: “It’s Called Google Propeller and It’s Aimed at Flipboard (and Facebook, Too, Natch)

“I heard from someone working with Google that Google is working on a Flipboard competitor for both Android and iPad,” posted Scoble. “My source says that the versions he’s seen so far are mind-blowing good.”

Sources said Propeller is apparently one of a number of new socially focused announcements Google is prepping, including new apps. But the timing for their launch is unclear.

Here’s what is: Propeller is a souped-up version of similar reader apps such as Flipboard,AOL’s Editions, Yahoo’s Livestand, Zite (which was just bought by Time Warner’s CNN) and Pulse.

Facebook is also making social versions of publications available within its site. So, instead of just seeing a sidebar on a news site of what stories your friends liked, you’ll get a personalized and reformatted version of the latest news when you visit that publication’s page within Facebook.”

Flipboard is an exceptionally good app, both in overall design aesthetic and its intelligent approach to social content. Naturally, speculation centers around questions such as, “Can Google’s Upcoming Social Reading App Compete With Flipboard?” It probably can, yes. It remains to be seen exactly how Google will leverage its massive user base, and what connection it might have to other services (Google+, etc.?) —

“Google reportedly tried to acquire Flipboard last year, but was unsuccessful in its bid and then went on to start building its own competing app. If nothing else, this signifies how the popularity of socially-fueled tablet reading apps are changing how people consume content, something of which Google obviously wants to be at the forefront.

If tablet sales continue to explode, the way people consume at least some of the content on the Internet is going to shift, at least in part, toward this personalized, socially-fueled model.”

This is all well and good. Although, I do wonder — if people are only reading what other people like them are reading, is this an inherently healthy thing for we all find information? Think about the front page of a newspaper. We’re confronted with many stores, some of which we wouldn’t actively seek out, but once we see it, we become informed. Social reading represents a shift of content curation — from news editors, who set the reading agenda, from a more reader-centric approach. Not that two are mutually exclusive, by any means.

More thoughts, “Google Will Enter Social Reading Apps with Propeller

“The beauty of curated content is its stickiness to the user. The user has pre-selected the curator as a trusted source of information and so the magazine is then much more likely to be what the user wants to read, which creates much more exposure of the ads. Google Propeller might be very well done, because there is much more data about preferences than what its competitors can provide. The competitors are limited to certain databases of preferences, whereas Google can draw upon those same data sets and behaviors in Google Reader, Chrome and searches.”

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

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