Amazon Brings Social Reading to Kindle – But Will You Use It?

Kindle Profiles is a social service that was quietly launched by Amazon in March of this year. Its existence was little known, probably because it wasn’t very useful as a social tool until Amazon recently added connections to Twitter and Facebook. I myself only discovered the service after VC Fred Wilson blogged about it the over the weekend. Kindle Profiles appears to be gaining some early traction now, thanks largely to Kindle Profile users auto-following people in their Twitter and Facebook networks. As Wired pointed out, this is a somewhat dodgy tactic, because the user cannot turn off this auto-follow behavior.

Regardless, what’s of most interest to me is how Amazon is actively trialing a social reading service connected to the Kindle brand. While Amazon owns the social reading service Shelfari, which it acquired three years ago, it hasn’t integrated Shelfari in a deep way into Kindle. In this post, we review the features of Kindle Profiles and ask whether you’d want to use this over competing services like Goodreads or Library Thing.

Private & Public Profiles

Kindle Profiles comes in both private and public flavors. The private one, as you’d expect, has much more in it. But as Facebook has done over the past couple of years with its initially private service, over time Amazon will likely prompt and tease you to make your private content public.

Kindle Profiles isn’t even the official name for this service. In its inimitably clumsy branding way, Amazon calls it “Kindle.amazon.com.” The service aims to augment the reading experience by “bringing readers together and by helping them to learn more from the books that they read.” In other words: it’s social. You can follow people “to see their Public Notes and reading activities, and review your books, highlights, and notes.”

The private profile lists out your Kindle booklist, which it gets from your Amazon profile (both purchased books and ones on your Wish List). Each book has a reading status and rating, which is populated from your Amazon profile if available.

How Your Kindle Profile Differs From Your Amazon Profile

At a high level, your Kindle Profile is focused on reading and your Amazon profile is focused on buying. Specifically, there are two main differences between your Kindle Profile and your Amazon Profile.

Firstly, Kindle Profile makes available your Kindle highlights and notes. Highlights are passages in a book that you literally highlight for later viewing. Notes are your own custom notations inside a book, much like scribbling in the margins of a paper book. Both highlights and notes are private by default, but you can make them public on a book-by-book basis.

Secondly, you can connect your Kindle Profile to your Twitter and Facebook accounts. As noted above, this causes the system to auto-follow users in your social networks who have a Kindle Profile, too. You can also manually follow users – here is my public profile if you’re interested.

There is an option to auto-share your reading activity to Twitter or Facebook. Again the default is private, but Amazon puts the public option front and center. This only applies to the status of a public book, so it doesn’t apply to books marked private or to Kindle highlights and notes.

Your private Kindle Profile comes in a handy ‘homepage’ like package, offering features such as a “Daily Review” (selected highlights from your reading), recent activity, popular highlights, stats and “highly followed people” (featuring the usual social media suspects, e.g. Kevin Rose and Seth Godin).

Will You Use Kindle Profiles?

One issue I had when playing with my Kindle Profile was that much of my data was out-of-date. Goodreads is my social reading service of choice and there is significantly more of my reading data in Goodreads than on my Amazon profile. There appears to be no way to sync the two. Since I don’t feel inclined to keep two separate social reading services up-to-date, it’s likely that I’ll stick with Goodreads – since I enjoy that community and I have over three years worth of reading data there.

Overall, it’s great to see Amazon making Kindle profiles social. Granted, it’s far from perfect. The interface is a bit confusing, especially the different private and public profiles. There is also a lot more social connectivity that Amazon could enable, for example allowing you to send highlights automatically from your Kindle to Twitter, Facebook or even Google Plus.

However, the interface and additional social features will evolve over time. This is a good start by Amazon. Now the big question is: will you use it? As noted above, I’m inclined to stick with Goodreads for now. You?

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