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The Next Big Thing: Social Reading

2012 October 6
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YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

by flickr user sharmineishak

  • Raise your hand if you use Goodreads!
  • Raise your hand if you love to talk about what you are reading!
  • Raise your hand if you sometimes can’t wait to talk about a sentence, or a paragraph, or a chapter you just read!

I would bet that anyone reading this blog post answered “yes” to at least one, if not all three, of those raise-your-hand challenges. Each of the activities, from Goodreads to dying to discuss, are signs that in some way, all of us are social readers, and we crave and appreciate social reading experiences. Before the web, these experiences were centered on face-to-face conversations around a water cooler, in a classroom or meeting, when at a restaurant, before a movie started, or in a formal book discussion group. Today, with the Web 2.0 world and with mobile apps, the social reading experience and the possibilities for social reading experiences have grown in extraordinary ways.

In some ways, Goodreads is an old-fashioned form of social reading. Sure, people can discuss books, but it’s a pretty traditional experience and a somewhat static experience. I say this because real-time is not a part of the Goodreads experience, and one has to leave their book to go to Goodreads and post in a discussion. It’s an outside-the-book social reading experience. (More on the outside-the-book/inside-the-book reading experience in a bit.)

A bit up the less traditional chain is using tools like Twitter for real-time virtual book discussions where participants all use the same hashtag to converse about a particular book. Then up the chain a bit more is using Google+ Hangouts for live audio/video broadcasts of book discussions. (The New York Public Library did this in the summer for a live virtual book discussion of Gone Girl.) Hangouts can be recorded and viewed by those who didn’t get to participate live. But the real next big non-traditional thing in social reading is live, inside-the-book book discussions using apps such as Subtext.

The way these apps work is that a group of people each have the social reading app on their mobile device (Subtext works just with iPad). The group joins together via the app and lets the app know each person wants to share notes, highlights, and so on created while reading the book.

Here’s an example: Imagine I’m reading The Lock Artist (a 2011 Alex Award winner) with a few of the other Hub bloggers via Subtext. We create a Subtext group and during my reading, I get to a passage that I think is really amazing and I just have to express my thoughts about what the author stated. I highlight the passage and add a note and ask others reading the book what they think — if the text struck them the same way as it struck me, and so on. All of the others reading with me will see the note and be able to respond inside the book at any time. It might even happen that I could write the note and in the next minute another reader responds, and while inside the book, reading the book, we get to have a discussion about the paragraph, the book, and so on.

That’s the new face of social reading. Some might call it instant gratification reading, but I call it getting to discuss what’s important when it’s important. It’s hard sometimes to bring back the thoughts and feelings of a reading experience when it’s a few days — or even just 24 hours — removed. Being able to read and discuss all in the same environment keeps the reading alive and gives lots of opportunity to gain enjoyment and even understanding in real time.

What do you think? I love the idea of inside-the-book book discussions. I’m always looking for people to have them with. (Hint, hint!) If you’re interested in learning more on this topic, and will be at YALSA’s YA Lit Symposium, I’ll be leading a session on social reading on Saturday, November 3, at 8:30 AM. Stop by and maybe we can read a book together.

— Linda W. Braun, who is about to re-read The Lock Artist in the Subtext app, if anyone cares to join her…

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3 Responses
  1. Pete Hammer permalink
    October 10, 2012

    There’s a similar social viewing capacity on some streaming video sites. For example, go to http://www.viki.com/, select a Korean soap opera like “The the Beautiful You,” and play an episode with the “Show Timed Comments” button turned on. The English subs go across the bottom of the screen, and across the top are comments that viewers have posted while watching. It adds another dimension to the viewing experience!

  2. Becky permalink
    October 15, 2012

    Very interesting! I use Goodreads heavily and am always posting lots of quotes and questions there (often hidden within the spoiler tags) after I finish a book. When I think of this process in terms of an inside-the-book discussion, it’s feels like that is what I am trying to do, only by turning the book inside-out after I am done and hoping people will join me when *they* finish the book. Maybe I need to try Subtext or something similar!

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