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Designing the ultimate reading experience

Ayush Agarwal / @yush

DRAFT

Table of Contents
Building on existing features
Making notes searchable, shareable, and public Rich notes Blog integration Voice search Consistency across platforms Post reading comments

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Business model innovations
Pay-per-chapter Subscription and rental Direct publication

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Increasing reader efficiency
Text summarization Speed-reading tools Time for reading Reading analytics

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Improved learning
Smart vocabulary Spaced repetition Language learning

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Active reading
Reading with the author

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Interactive books Immersive reading

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Social reading
Tweet aggregation Publish readingstream Ad-hoc book clubs

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Reading games
Badges for completing books Reading races Quizzes

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Location-based services
Location as search Annotating shared content with location Event notifications

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Building on existing features
The Kindle platform has a lot of very compelling features which could be augmented to further enhance user experience. • Making notes searchable, shareable, and public • Rich notes • Blog integration • Voice search • Consistency across platforms • Post reading review

Making notes searchable, shareable, and public
Making notes searchable is a very simple addition; however, it makes note-taking so much more valuable as now users can use #tags within their annotations to find various sections of a book and also to save information. Similarly, if notes can be made shareable and/or public then the value of the note-taking increases significantly. Also, just as there are top highlights, there could be additional interesting aggregate data that could be displayed about notes.

Rich notes
Instead of making notes purely textual, the notes could also include sound clips, images, etc.

Blog integration
By making highlighted passages more easily embeddable in blog posts, and helping users create more conversation about what they are reading, we help readers get more value out of their reading experience as they can now engage with others through their blog. This also creates value for Kindle as readers of the blog post are more likely to consider looking at the book and making a purchase.

Voice search
Given that a book has a finite set of words, voice search is much easier to implement and could be very useful.

Consistency across platforms
Today some features are enabled on the Kindle hardware device which are not enabled on the iPad/iPhone applications, and on the desktop applications. Building a consistent user experience across platforms is important for making sure that there is minimal mismatch of user expectations. For instance, if the Mac desktop reading experience is the first reading experience that a user tries out then they might assume that highlighting does not exist. 3

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Post reading comments
Once a user has finished reading a book on a Kindle, there is no specific call to action. This is a great time to ask a user to write their own review of the book and/or comment on existing reviews.

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Business model innovations
The cost structure of virtual goods is truly distinct from the cost structure of physical goods. With negligible marginal costs for each marginal sale, and information that can be sliced and diced based on user needs, there is a lot of opportunity to innovate on the business model. Here are some specific examples: • Pay-per-chapter • Subscription and rental • Direct publication

Pay-per-chapter
Similar to the music business where an album could be purchased for $10 or a track could be purchased for $0.99, what if readers had the option to buy chapters of a book for $0.99 or the entire book for $20? Certainly, the music business analogy is not complete since a single track is a complete product whereas a chapter may or may not be a complete product depending on the type of book. My hypothesis is that it does not matter since the user gets to decide. Users will get more value out of book searches and book searches will have a disproportionately higher conversation into chapter sales and potentially book sales as well. This is core to the user experience. Today as a user looking to learn more about the ‘Kano model,’ when I do a search on Amazon I am shown a list of books which have a chapter or two discussing the subject, but there isn’t a book dedicated to the subject. It is unlikely that I am going to purchase a $50 book for one chapter. What I end up having to do is to look at the online reading samples and being content with the partial information. Given the opportunity, I would have gladly paid for the ‘Kano model’ chapter in several books. Here is a very basic calculation to assess the business viability of the given proposal. Today, Amazon gives away the first chapter as a 5

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free sample. Suppose that for a certain book, 100 samples are downloaded. Let’s assume that 5% of those downloads convert into purchases. At $10 a piece, that is $50 in revenues. In the pay-per-chapter scenario there would be no free samples. Therefore, instead of 100 sample downloads, let’s say we get 20 purchases for individual chapters. At $1 per chapter, that is already $20 in revenues. These users who paid $1/chapter are definitely more qualified leads for purchasing the book. Perhaps 20% of the 20 chapter buys convert. That’s 4 people buying the book at $10/person and creating $40 in revenues. Therefore, we now have $60 in total revenues from the chapter sale, 20% more than the pay-by-book model. I acknowledge that this is a made up model; however, I believe that is easy to test by looking at page read analytics for non-fiction Kindle books where we can see if or not there are books where a user purchased a book, immediately went to a specific chapter, and read that chapter only. We could also gather data to support by hypothesis by looking at cases like the ‘Kano model’ search above in which there are no book results and only chapter results. The pay-per-chapter model also means that we can now create new content bundles which could be products in and of themselves. Also, the atomicity of the content means that instead of recommending books, Amazon could instead recommend individual chapters. These recommendations are much more specific and come with a lower price tag, and therefore more likely to result in higher conversion rates.

Subscription and rental
Analogous to Netflix, what if users could queue up books that they would like to read and have a revolving shelf. For certain users who have a long wish-list this would be an ideal experience as it gives them access to an interesting read at all times. The subscription also guarantees a revenue stream. Given the high variation in book prices, subscription might not always make sense. Rental models, especially for products such as textbooks, could be another way to provide convenience to users. On a parenthetical note, I understand that based on the feedback from recent tests in the education market, such as the Kindle push at the University of Virgina’s Darden Business School, the textbook scenario for the Kindle still needs development. However, I believe that there is a class of textbooks such as textbooks for the liberal arts, where some of the pain points that were relevant in the business school use case are not as relevant.

Direct publication
The Kindle platform has the ability to also function as a publication platform. Disintermediating publishing houses by becoming a digital publisher could be a great way for Amazon to create value for its users and offer rich experiences which were previously difficult to deliver because of restrictions from the publisher.

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Increasing reader efficiency
Users are always looking for ways to consume more content. In the equation Distance = Speed X Time, distance covered is dependent upon speed and time. Similarly, amount of content consumed can be measured in terms of total number of words read, which in turn is a function of reading speed and time spent reading. Therefore, reading efficiency can be increased through: • Text summarization • Speed reading tools, and • Finding ways to squeeze in more reading time

Text summarization
Considerable research has been done in the field of automated text summarization and since the Kindle presents text in an electronic format, it is conceivable for the text to be condensed prior to being presented to the user. This can be useful in situations whereby the user needs to finish consuming a large amount of content in a limited period of time. For instance, a user could be on a two hour flight and have to finish going through a 400 page non-fiction book. In such a scenario, if the Kindle could condense the text to fit into the limited time-frame, that would significantly enhance the value of the Kindle platform. This would work as follows. The back end would be aware of the users reading speed from past performance, and even if that is not the case, the on-board processor can determine that by measuring how much time it takes for the reader to flip pages. The reading speed and the amount of time left, can be taken into account to evaluate degree of compression which needs to be put into place. Sentences which have a critical mass of highlights could potentially be left uncompressed, while the remaining text could be compressed. An early example of this technology in action was NewsInEssence (http://www.newsinessence.com/) by Prof. Dragomir Radev which summarized news articles for rapid reading.

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Screenshot from GreatSummary

There are also other services such as GreatSummary (http://www.greatsummary.com) which offer content summarization.

Speed-reading tools
In the life of the busy, on-the-go reader, reading needs to be quick and painless.  Readers slow down because of two main culprits: subvocalization and backtracking. Subvocalization is the act of imagining the sound of words as they are being read.  Most people do not read faster than 300 wpm, and are often also simultaneously backtracking -- going back to the beginning of a sentence or paragraph which they have already read. Subvocalization and backtracking can both be addressed by guiding the eyes to process content at a greater speed.  Two approaches to this have been popularized.  The first approach is to highlight sections of the text presented to the reader and to move the highlighted block across the text at the target reading speed.  There are applications on the iPhone such as QuickReader (www.quickreader.net) which facilitate such reading experiences.

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Screenshots from QuickReader An alternative to using highlighted blocks is RSVP, Rapid Serial Visual Presentation. RSVP requires a very small amount of screen real estate in which text is displayed word-by-word in a fixed position (this can certainly be tweaked to shows phrases, sentences, etc.). RSVP reduces cognitive load as the user does not need to move his/her eyes and is a good technique for helping readers achieve extremely high reading speeds. One of the benefits of RSVP is that it requires an extremely small amount of real estate which means that in principle a person could read a book on a screen half the size of an iphone screen.

Screenshots from Spreeder (www.spreeder.com)

Time for reading
Users expect to be able to access all their content on all devices, and they would also like to be able to access their content in multiple modalities.

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The ubiquity of Kindle content across mobile devices, the Kindle reader, as well as desktops is very powerful as it makes it possible for readers to access content whenever they have access to one of their devices. It also creates a larger install base which certainly makes the Kindle platform more appealing. This ubiquity could be extended through tighter text-to-voice/audiobook integration. In this scenario, each Kindle book would come bundled with an audiobook version. Suppose I have read the first sixty pages of a book and I now want to go for a quick jog. I could take my audio device with me (let’s say my iPhone) and listen to page sixtyone and onwards -- the whispersync could extend beyond text and also include audio sync. The fact that reading never stops for the user is very powerful because now they are completely immersed in the book’s content and are likely to go through it very quickly. Rich audio integration with text is very powerful when it comes to language learning scenarios and other scenarios which are also covered in this document.

Reading analytics

Screenshot of analytics dashboard from Google Reader Beyond helping users consume content more efficiently, reading analytics can also be used to give users more visibility into their reading performance and therefore create the motivation to help them improve their desired fitness functions. Some reading analytics which could be of interest are hours per week spent reading, average session length, etc. It would also be useful for have a list of books read mashed up against the calendar.

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Improved learning
Many users read specifically to acquire and retain knowledge. Beyond being a great reading platform, Kindle also has the opportunity to become the ultimate learning platform. Three innovations that could enhance the value proposition of the Kindle platform for learning include: • Smart vocabulary • Spaced repetition • Language learning

Smart vocabulary
Suppose that I am studying for the SAT exams and I have a list of 2,000 most frequently tested words from Princeton Review. Perhaps Princeton Review and Amazon have a partnership, and there’s a list of recommended books because of their frequent usage of the 2,000 most tested words. What if instead of buying those recommended books I could buy ‘Vocabulary Packs’ for my Kindle? When I buy the 2,000 word ‘Vocabulary Pack’, the Kindle platform will selectively replace words in the books which I am reading with words from the 2,000 most frequently tested words list from Princeton Review. I now have a very good reason for consuming content on the Kindle instead of anywhere else because the Kindle is helping me learn in a much more efficient and fun way. Beyond helping users who have explicitly purchased vocabulary packs, we can also collect analytics about which words the user looking up on the dictionary, and how frequently they are looking it up. Based on that, we can infer the breadth of their vocabulary and use that to inform word replacements. There is also an opportunity to include a module in the analytics dashboard showing the user new words which they have learned and even showing them sentences directly from the books they read where those words were used. This database could even evolve into a personalized dictionary. A dictionary such as that creates a lot of value for the user and also results in a strong lock-in to the Kindle platform. Also, note that the analytical engine informing the dictionary and general information about the user can be used to predetermine which words is the user not likely to know, and therefore the Kindle platform can show the meaning of those words in parenthesis, removing the need for the user to even open the dictionary. Agreed that this means not being able to collect the dictionary data in the first place; however, this could be done intelligently by showing the parenthetic definition a set number of times.

Spaced repetition
Students often highlight and annotate content which they need to memorize or understand especially well. Extensive research has shown effectiveness of spaced repetition, which is a learning technique that incorporates review of previously learned material at increasingly longer time intervals. The Kindle platform could be a very powerful means to

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facilitate spaced repetition as new content could be selectively exposed to the user through periodic emails or in situ if the goal is to teach new vocabulary.

Language learning
The language learning market is a multi-billion dollar industry and a market with very specialized needs. There are a couple of ways in which the Kindle platform could facilitate language learning. First and foremost, deep audio integration means that as a language learner I can also listen to the book as I read the text. This helps significantly with pronunciation. There are opportunities to innovate beyond that as well. Suppose I am learning Spanish. As I mentioned in the last paragraph of the ‘Smart Vocabulary’ section, just as word definitions can be shown in parentheses, the foreign language translations for words can also be shown selectively. Suppose I have purchased the Spanish language pack to learn the 1,000 most frequently used Spanish words. Now, in every page that I read, there could be at most one Spanish word that is introduced in context. For instance, the sentence, “The boy was holding a red book,” could now be displayed as “The boy was holding a red book (libro).” This is not exceedingly intrusive as the user is only being taught/shown at most one new word per page (or every few pages), but by the end of each reading session they could have learned 20 new words and revised several others.

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Active reading
In the music business the cost per minute of attending a concert is 10x (or more) the cost of listening to the same song on a CD. The value in attending the concert is proximity to the artist and the overall experience. If we were to transpose the same thinking to the Kindle platform, it thus has the opportunity to also create very rich and engaging experiences for the reader. Here are some specific examples of how this could be done: • Reading with the author • Interactive books (Active content) • Immersive reading Principally, there is some overlap between the ideas discussed here and the ideas I will be sharing in the ‘Social reading’ section. The primary difference is that these features and ideas are unique to the Kindle ecosystem and have minimal dependence on partnerships and external social channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

Reading with the author
There are certain business books which I have genuinely enjoyed reading and as I read the book there were several times when I wished I could engage in a conversation with the author or express to the author how much I enjoyed their brevity of thought. The idea here to create a reading experience which gives the readers who have purchased a premium version of the book an opportunity to interact with the author. This could manifest itself in several ways. The readers could annotate their book with questions which would be visible to the author and they could choose to respond at will. The authors could add additional content to their book post publication as their thinking evolves on the subject. There could be an activity feed associated with the book, very similar to the newsfeed that users are accustomed to seeing on Facebook.

Interactive books
As the line between books and applications becomes blurry, a multitude of opportunities are created. A specific example I would like to discuss is that of a ‘Learning HTML; book which has a browser simulator built in. As I walk through the book, the various illustrations that I observe are programmable. Suppose that on the very first page I am given the sample code for a basic ‘Hello world’ website. I could immediately modify the text by clicking edit on the image (at some point in the future this could be done with a fancy flip animation) 13

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and changing the text from ‘Hello world’ to ‘I love my Kindle!’, re-render the page, and immediately see the result. Fundamentally, what has happened is that the user now no longer needs to use a computer in conjunction with their book. The entire experience is integrated. I acknowledge that this is a very specific use case where the interaction model is fairly well defined and there is limited necessity for high screen refresh rates. As the Kindle platform evolves to accommodate such scenarios, it is easy to see how the same lessons could be transposed into the textbooks space and other similar areas.

Immersive reading
Just as there is a soundtrack to computer games and movies, why not have a soundtrack for books? Similar to games, most of this music will be ambient, but it adds to the texture of the reading experience.

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Social reading
There is massive opportunity for the Kindle team to incorporate social media integration, leverage Shelfari, and create rich social experiences such as virtual book clubs. • Tweet aggregation • Publish readingstream • Ad-hoc book clubs

Tweet aggregation
Today the Kindle platform allows users to send tweets about a certain passage. It would be very powerful for readers to see all the tweets shared about a particular passage that they are reading.

Publish readingstream
Just as there are various lifestreaming applications, it would be interesting if users were allowed to automatically stream and follow reading activities.

Ad-hoc book clubs
The Kindle platform could facilitate connections between users who are reading the same book if/when they are all in a similar geographic area and are progressing through similar stages of the book. This could be something as simple as an in-app notification that suggests that these users could connect with each other.

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Reading games
Game dynamics are bound to find their way into reading. Here are some game ideas: • Badges for completing books • Reading races • Quizzes

Badges for completing books
In May 2010, the Huffington Post launched badges to recognize high levels of engagement amongst its readers. The psychological reward from stature derived from completing activities is well understood.

Example badges used by Huffington Post While on one hand I am not convinced that badges, leaderboards, etc. lead to a superior user experience, badges and rewards are becoming an important enough aspect of content consumption experiences so as to merit further research.

Reading races
There is the opportunity to create a competitive dynamic between readers where each of them rushes to finish the book more quickly.

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Quizzes
User generated quizzes that apply to specific pieces of content could be another way to enhance the quality of the engagement that readers experience when reading books.

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Location-based services
Content and content consumption can be geo-tagged based on several parameters, each of which could enhance reading experiences. • Location as search • Annotating shared content with location • Event notifications

Location as search
Suppose I own several travel books about India. Standing in front of the Taj Mahal, I’m curious to flip through my books and learn more. Instead of searching through the contents page I could now use location as a search parameter to find content relevant to my current location. Location search could also be used to discover nearby authors, or find passages written by authors in the same location as where I’m standing.

Annotating shared content with location
If the tweets from my Kindle device are geo-tagged then that information can be aggregated in creative ways. For instance, I could be in a cafe and see what people around me are reading.

Event notifications
Suppose I am reading ‘Winning’ by Jack Welch and it so happens that Jack Welch will be visiting a nearby bookstore. The Kindle is in a perfect position to notify me of events such as that given the rich contextual information it has.

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