Connectivity in eBooks

by Avery Peters

Published at 2013-06-05

I am a reluctant adopter of the eBook. Much of the time I prefer to read physical books – to hold them in my hands. When I was starting my business last year I bought a few business books for inspiration. Since business books have more of a functional purpose I decided that I didn’t need a hard copy, so I to tried out a few eBooks. 

As I began to network with small business and others in the publishing industry I purchased Seth Godin’s Linchpin: Are you Indispensable? on my Kindle e-reader. It was a great way to start the day before sending out emails to potential clients or before I would go out for an information interview. Seth Godin asked me: “Are You Indispensable?” and I would answer, “Yes!” It was my personal pep rally every morning. As I continued reading I realized that I was not alone.

Popular Highlights

I was navigating the tools in the eBook and I realized that I could highlight certain sections. Once I highlighted a section, I realized that it was underlined too. I checked out the menu page and saw that it listed the sections that I had highlighted. As I continued to scroll down there was a list of the most popular highlights, too.

I highlighted the quote, “The only way to get what you’re worth is to stand out, to exert emotional labor, to be seen as indispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about” and realized that there were 1,365 more people who also highlighted the same section.

Aggregate Data: Annoying or Useful?

I find it interesting how through this function I can connect with other readers to see what they find important or what inspires them, or even that we find the same section to be important. Once a threshold of highlighting is reached, the quotes are marked as “popular highlights.”

After a while the highlighted sections became distracting. I don’t need other people to tell me what’s important. It adds emphasis to sections that the author didn’t necessarily intend to emphasize. On the other hand, this highlighting feature can give the author valuable information about what sections their readers most enjoy, it also gave me a feeling of camaraderie with my fellow readers.

One of the more recent features of the Amazon Kindle is “Public Notes” where readers can choose whether or not to make their notes and highlights public. I myself haven’t used this feature yet, but Kindle readers can choose who they want to follow to see what they highlight and what notes they have made in the margins if they choose to make it public. On their website Amazon lists the books that have the most public notes and the readers who have the most followers of their quotes and notes. Kindle gives you the option whether or not you want to make your own notes public, but you cannot restrict who can view your notes.

I can see how these notes are useful in non-fiction books like the book that I was reading, but I can’t imagine that it would be as useful in fiction books. I wouldn’t want to accidently read one of the “popular highlights” before I got to one of the most important elements of the plot. I also think that it takes away from the readers’ experience of deciding what’s meaningful for themselves. It can cause readers to become lazy.             

Public notes have the potential to create valuable discussions with other readers. I have been in a number of book clubs. I enjoy discussing books with my friends and colleagues. Together we develop questions and ideas that we don’t necessarily think of on our own. I think that the Kindle notes and highlight sections are valuable, but they still can’t replace a good book club discussion.