The Future of the Book: reading and annotating online

In the last weeks I happened to run into a few online products that look at the future of the book, that is, at how reading (and the things we normally do when we read) will change, now that the digital world is so pervasive and accessible.

To be fair, I’ve been intrigued by this topic for a long time, although probably with a much less academic interest than the one many people in the digital humanities community often have. In short, I’d say I care more about designing applications that can change the way people read online, rather than taking on biblical text-encoding enterprises that at the end of the day result in just another, more complicated, html page.

So I was happy to see that there’s lots going on in this area outside academia; in this post (which is a work-in-progress) I’ll start collecting a few examples of this kind of digital tools.


Findings is a “groundbreaking tool for collecting, sharing and discussing clips you find on your Amazon Kindle and from any website on the internet. Just import your Amazon Kindle Highlights with Findings and you can start sharing and discussing them with others instantly”.

The key idea here seems to be that since a lot of the reading we do nowadays is online (or on digital devices) we may as well start sharing the ‘highlights’ we create by using a social network architecture (e.g. share, vote, comment on etc.). The idea definitely makes sense, and, quite interestingly, it reminds us of what used to be common practice in a time when the book (as we know it nowadays) wasn’t yet an established form of writing (check out Robert Darnton: “early modern Englishmen … broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks“)

Small Demons:

Small Demons. The blurb is catchy: “suppose someone took every meaningful detail from all the books you love. Every song mentioned, every person, every food or place or movie title. And what if they did that for all the books everyone else loves, too. The ones you’ve never heard of. Suddenly you’ve got a whole world of seemingly random people, places and things, all gathered in one place. Together they create something vast, wonderful and entirely new. A Storyverse. A place where details touch, overlap and lead you further. To new music to listen to. New movies to watch. Places to visit. People to know. And of course, new books to read. Getting started is simple. Just choose a book. See where it takes you.”

Here there seems to be some level of semantic annotation of the texts, which produces a thick layer of metadata that can be used to create unusual and interesting interconnections among the materials published. Definitely worth keeping an eye on – in particular I wonder how ‘deep’ is the semantic annotation process, and on which scale!


Readmill is a “curious community of readers, sharing and highlighting the books they love. Highlight your favorite passages and share them with your reading community. Follow people you like and find out what your friends are reading. Explore a world of reading and keep a list of books you want to read. Read with Readmill for iPad, and sync highlights from Amazon Kindle with the Readmill Bookmarklet.”

The read-highlight-share idea is the same as in Findings (above); the main difference, at first sight, is that this Berlin-based startup is also producing mobile apps (e.g. iPhone, android) that will make the ‘Readmill experience’ much more integrated and, supposedly, powerful. We”ll see! is presented as “the best way to discover, read and share great texts that have the power to convey ideas, provoke emotions or change your entire life. It’s all about texts truly worth reading.”

This is another German company that in the spirit of Findings (above) has put up a service for saving and sharing quotations taken from online resources. The site look is quite appealing, there’s no support for Kindle yet by it appears from the Timeline that soon we’ll see a whole bunch of new features on this site..

Read and Note system “has the ability to annotate digital versions of books and many types of different assets, add any asset and the capability of linking references through the annotation process. The e-publication suddenly becomes more than a ‘read-only’ document”.

This technology seems very promising; the website talks about supporting iPad and mobile devices too, which is always a plus. Unfortunately there isn’t any demo or screencast available at the moment, but we’ll keep an eye on this (you can sign up to receive news from them if you like).

UPDATE 1/6/12: a video of the software is now available online.

Tailored Texts

Tailored Texts is a “project which allows lovers of language and literature to collaborate in the reading and annotation of original-language texts that are in the public domain”.

The software is very usable and it offers several fairly advanced features, such as categorised annotations (‘definitions’, ‘grammar’, ‘analysis’ etc.), wikis and integrated discussion boards. It may be tailored especially to language students, teachers and translators who need to study a text and/or annotate it collaboratively, but it seems as if it could be used in a number of other contexts too.


That’s all for now..

Which of the ones above will succeed? I’ll try to keep adding pointers to this list as I run into them in the next weeks, so come back for more.

  • Tip: the recently finished ifBookThen conference had a lot of interesting talks (also, you can read an overview of it on Storify)