A talk at the O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishers conference. I spoke about social software and how to make it work for book publishers, summng up with a core list of activities publishers need to do to engage their readers better.
Social Software and Publishers - Gavin Bell - O'Reilly Tools of Change 2007
What is it and what
works for publishers?
O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing 2007, June 19th.
(these are my informal speaking notes, they help explain the slides, but they are not a script, I do
extemporise around them)
I’m not a publisher, I design social software for a living at Nature, the scientiﬁc journal, though my
parent company is Macmillan
So I’ll own up, my world is social software / web 2.0
I haven’t looked at every publisher, I know there are some awesome projects I’ve missed.
I’m hoping to ﬁnd more in fact I’ve been adding some to my talk over the last day and a half
What I hope to give you is a sense of why social software works and what you can do to make
something that works for your readership, not another me too project.
To enhance the web as a means
of communication and interaction
Tim Berners-Lee, 1996
one of the aims of the web
arguably the main purpose of the web
once we got past pretty catalogs and business card websites
conversation is what makes our world go round
Social software is a widely deﬁned term for software that allows groups of people to communicate
with one another.
It is not one to one email and not broadcast nor publishing, but something else
by Christopher Allen.
Term was popularised by Clay Shirky in 2002, but has been in use since hypertext conferences in
the late 1980s
Though he now refers to it as “stuff that gets spammed”
It is also not corporate groupware like Exchange or Lotus Notes, nor is it intranetware
A very in term at the minute
deﬁning the social interactions around user generated media eg photos or videos
A shift in our language again
Now Jyri Engestrom of Jaiku refers to these as social objects
I quite like this expression, it has broader scope
Our online interactions often have an embedded context, be it temporal or related to particular
content, these contexts are important, particularly if you are looking for long term value.
What is a
An excellent thing, as I’m sure you’ll all agree.
paper, printed, shipped, published, editor, a team effort often
I have quite a few, a quip leading to the next slide.
This is my library, sorry about the scruffy photo
books have immense affordability
you know how far through a book you are when reading
they are fairly cheap, you can lend them
but you know this much better than me
I think the book isn’t going away anytime soon
except in some niches
this is a ﬁve year view, given technology changes I can see shifts in certain areas, eg technical
books, maybe travel guides
directories and reference
battery life is a key determinant, the fabled 300:1 contrast ratio is here
Though time off away from the “computer” is still a driver,
too much Continuous Partial Attention (cf Linda Stone) with computers
so what do we do with these books
These are the verbs upon which our experience of books exists
What ever we offer our users needs to be built on top of these actions
Purchase - most people buy books, though some borrow and for some they Collect
Reading - we hope people read their books
some then work for reference
hopefully our books are good enough to encourage people to recommend them
ﬁnally people discuss books face to face, on the radio, on tv in the newspapers and on the web
At each of these junctures we can support the reader, arguably we focus too much on the ﬁrst one.
Access pattern Consumption Nature
Web non-sequential By page Digital
Music non-sequential Track vs album Digital
Movies Sequential Entire Digital
Books Sequential Entire* Analog
News non-sequential By story Analog
Magazines non-sequential By article Analog
As well as looking at the speciﬁc relationships that we can have with books, it is worth looking at the
type of consumption patterns we have with other media. It’ll be instructive for building a model of
how other approaches don’t work for books.
The way we consume media differs
digital vs non-digital
Fiction vs Fact
I’m talking about CDs MP3s and DVDs
music and video have ﬁxed durations and thus are a more ﬁxed experience
Music in many ways is the most consumable media
repeat viewings / readings are less common for video and books.
Movies and books lead us to thinking about the nature of consumption and our relationship with the
so what is is about movies and books
plot is the differentiating factor, once consumed, you can’t put the genie back in the box.
However for some ﬁlms and books repeat viewings do happen, but in general they are consumed
Whereas music is consumed multiple times.
It is easy to ruin the experience of reading a ﬁction book, yet it is hard to nullify the experience of
listening to a piece of music for the ﬁrst time, a review can only colour your impression, not give
the plot away.
the combination of the actions we can have with books,
the nature of the media
and the affordances they offer
mean that we have media speciﬁc relationships
We can not track our relationships with books in the same way we track our relationships with
music. A pandora or last.fm for books just won’t work.
how we form bonds with media varies
in fact the whole life cycle can be mapped out
we like a particular columnists
our friend recommends a particular book
when the media is digital your relationship can be pretty deep
there are a lot of data points that can be gathered
I’ll show you what I mean
who has one of these ?
(show of hands)
the iPod is not just a music player
it is a data capture device
It has a supporting world of iTunes and its music store.
A lot of the complexity of the music player is embedded in the iTunes software
those playlists and ratings
all forming a longer term relationship
experience led design created the ipod
not features nor a desire for data
they simpliﬁed the experience down to the actions (verbs) required in certain contexts,
eg the emphasis on playing music on the player and managing in iTunes
simple on the player, richness in the interface
much easier with purely digital artifacts
Sadly this is much harder to achieve with books.
I’ll leave you with a thought as we look at some social software examples
Q: what aspects of the experience of reading books can we capture data about?
quick overview of the menagerie
and a quick mention of danah boyd
she makes a good point that you cannot create any form of social organisation on the web that
does not already exist in the non-online world
the web is not magic, you can quicken things,
and place and time matter less
but the basic social organisation of life is there, so you need to be respectful of social norms and
expect normal politeness of your participants.
thinking about your social spaces as if they were face to face meetings is important, it makes you
think about social graces and stops you trying to create artiﬁcial constructs.
Analogies of bars, hotels and restaurants are good places to start, where there is good customer
eg Apple and the concierge ideas
excellent for starting conversations
easy to know who the author is
easy to respond to the author
Many publishers are out there with a company blog, which is a great thing
Good places for getting conversation around a topic
they can lead to a slightly in and out experience, as users drop in ask a question, get an answer and
if well run they can be a great place for reader to reader conversation
again I’ve seen publishers out there with active message boards
I think wikis are good for certain tasks
they are a collaborative authoring tool, rather than community forming
the core activity is writing about a topic, not getting to know other people
(community forms off the back of the social interactions, it is not as explicit a purpose)
I think that they can be good, but they can also be off putting and get out of hand
the term wiki-gardening is well coined. unmanaged they quickly develop a process of new page
creation rather than maintenance of existing pages
Personally I think that these are really over-looked.
Some of my best community experiences have been on mailing lists
Like message boards they also need careful attention
Different models for how they work, ask and answer or discussion led.
They can be tremendously effective, but can overwhelm new people with 100+ messages a day.
The richest of the social tools I’d argue
giving your readers a place on the web to call home
often focused around content
they can offer the strongest ties between users
against that they are the most complex and time consuming to build and run
and there are not really any good off the shelf products.
this comes from their embedded nature
I’ll show you some examples
some examples from non-publisher led endeavours
for each I’ll try to focus on why I think they work and
who they work for.
I prefer the term community generated content (from Kevin Anderson at the Guardian) as it reminds
the publisher that the content comes from a rich collection of people
the photo site that came into an entrenched market and offered a richer social experience for
but not everyone gets it
it is for people who enjoy photography
it is for people who want to share photos,
but really it is about your friends and the pictures they take
sharing life experiences
so my son is there on the left
the reaction of my friends is bound up in the comments that they left to his birth
I can’t extract and recreate that experience on a different photography site
so I’ve a strong tie to ﬂickr
It works when your friends are there,
being on ﬂickr without a network of friends misses the point of ﬂickr
one last thing about ﬂickr, it is a radically different product to how it started out
they iterated hard on getting the social aspect of ﬂickr right
and ignored the clamour for printing out the pictures
They prospered and created something of value, adding printing once they’d made the rest sing
twitter is about the most simple social app I know of
what are you doing
share that with your friends
it creates a dispersed roughly conversation like interaction.
a quiet way to keep in touch with your friends
however it could be replaced by the next bright thing
all it has is the social network
and people are ﬁckle
teens especially, danah boyd has done lots of great research into the movements of teenagers
particularly with reference to friendster and myspace.
they move en mass, often abandoning their proﬁles and conversations
building something with content at its core is more resistant
a platform for blogging, livejournal and blogger are too
creating a blog as part of a community
a nice space to hang out on, they provide tools to do a lot of the hard work
useful for a large swathe of people
slow high value interactions, changing jobs, marking people I’ve worked with
some nice touches in their interface
the proﬁle completeness is clever
works because of the music, other people ﬂock there because of the music
quite a teen proﬁle, heavily studied, loosing out to facebook over the installable apps
facebook, taking my world by storm since they added geographic networks.
notable for the news feed, they added this well after launch and it was seen as privacy disclosure
people were happy to have their details and activity on the site, but to have it shared with everyone
in their network was a step to far
they have added additional privacy management tools now
On a +ve point they have added a way for other organisation to enhance facebook via an API
recently and there are now hundreds of them
visually very clean compared to myspace, but without the core content area of music, so potentially
vulnerable in this respect, however the multiple network aspect is strong
music as a social experience
the collected listening habits of a few million users is what CBS bought recently
very nice app, as it tracks consumption, the person really has listened to these pieces of music
simple social layering on consumption, just not feasible with books given current technology
collected commentary of the guardian on a single website
readers can comment on the commentary
has some excellent features, but has some ﬂaws
comments from the public responded to in further print columns
no commitment from columnists to engage with public
not contracted to do so
no proﬁles for users, so encouraged heated debate from a small percentage of the users
leading Polly Toynbee reﬂected on this in one post which asked quot;Who are you all? Why don't you
stop hiding behind your pseudonyms and tell us about yourselves?
At the Guardian they have an active audience of commenters, but maybe not at the level they
they are and have been moving rapidly to address many of these issues
The BBC blogging about programmes
they are largely programme based giving editors of programmes a space to talk around the issues
coming out of audience feedback and encouraging feedback prior to segments going out.
this is newsnight, the issue is a harsh interview with a politician
lets look at the comments
post moderation, which is the only realistic option.
Both ﬁnancially and editorially
they also track external feedback on other people’s blogs
known as “track backs”
A lot of these examples are travel based, but it is an interesting market to examine
on top of the glossy upmarket guidebooks that DK have been making for a decade or more
they have introduced personal guides created by users
they offer paid for printing and podcast of collected guides
user rating and proﬁles
they are doing a lot of things right
There are many other competitors in this space too
the guardian are here too
and the micro content rating of hotels eg trip advisor
I like the personal guide approach, though, it is quite rich and has a decent amount of sell through
also taps into their core audience in a really positive way
seemingly getting yourself into print
Alastair Sawday is another travel publisher approaching community generated content
he is taking a slightly more conservative approach to collection using essentially pre-moderation on
A great way to get ﬁeld research though for new editions of his books.
taking content reuse to the far end
they put pretty much the entire content of their guides online
taking the risk that laser printing costs more than buying the guide and that the affordances of a
book out way the costs of getting the content and printing it out.
they have a message board along side it, but they could do with stronger connections between the
OK, last travel example, though this one is more of a sport example
it is about climbing.
This is the text description of a climb in England
they have thousands of comments on the individual climbs and have been doing this since 2002.
The grades of the climbs are revised in response to climber feedback and this feeds back into the
what they don’t give away for free are the maps of each cliff, though users are free to upload
pictures of themselves climbing on each route
so they retain value in people buying the book.
Also they have a really strong community would be wary of driving rockfax out of business as they
provide the best guide for allowing them to ﬁnd routes to climb
A nice example of a closely tied community and publisher.
Change of scene
This is Radio 3, a classical music station from the BBC.
the page represents a single programme,
it shows the series of programmes the episode is part of
and collects repeats onto the same page.
It is an example of the level of content modelling that you need to do to get ﬁne grained enough to
allow tracking of conversation about programmes.
They could add comments to these pages and track mentions of the programme elsewhere.
harry potter message boards
message boards are a great place to start doing social software
you can simply install one of a number of packages, pretty them up and off you go.
However they tend to be a bit isolated from your content. they also don’t integrate will with one
another, so you end up with a single message board site or multiple sites and force your users to
have multiple logins.
teenage books message boards
from 3rd party non-publisher
Our most enjoyed feature is our Author Visits where authors visit our community as a featured
guest for two-week periods and our members get to interact directly with them.
collating interested people to gether to presumably sell them further books.
Publishers can host this kind of thing more easily
Standard message board, again appealing to niche genres
it is also useful in that it shows the ratios between reading and contributing, look at the views to
most people read, getting them to signup and through the registration process is a signiﬁcant
many people get lost at the check your email stage...
1 10 100
so the story goes, the numbers vary but many of your readers will never come back again after their
ﬁrst look around
sf - lovers
the original “social software”
the ﬁrst mailing list, which even predates internet email
showing people like their niche genres
One of several “I’ve read this, this is my library” type sites
nice concept, but quite a lot of work to maintain for a user
hard for a publisher to run though
I do think that publishers could do more to tap into the energy behind the users of sites like this.
they are after all tracking your books.
reach out to them
good that they are on typepad, already reaching out to an existing community
spinebreakers looks like an interesting initiative
slight tangent, but publishing nonetheless
gothamist and the rest are a good example of community publishing
community driven features, using ﬂickr for photos, rating
send us your story, sense of belonging
based on Movable Type, similarly Serious Eats
back to Penguin
A challenging attempt to get a bunch of people off the internet to write a novel together
more or less empty page as starting point
too much rewriting of early pages made it impossible to continue
brave and thought provoking, but perhaps not quite the right approach, as penguin acknowledge in
the blog accompanying amillionpenguins
gamer theory from the Institute for the the future of the book
starting with a draft
collaborative reviewing pre-publication
they published 1.1 and are working on 2.0
Pragmatic programmers and O’Reilly have been exploring this area too
beta books and rough cuts
They tend to lead to stronger books and a good community following.
To give you a little of my own provenance
this is from Nature
it is a social network platform to support scientiﬁc collaboration
The core of it is a connected series of discussion boards
Lots to talk about on here
openness - you can see the most popular tags are about what to do next with the site
anyone can create a forum
Allow your users to invite people in, it is a surprisingly powerful mechanism
tagging is the new classiﬁcation
people like tagging, if you encourage them to tag things then you can ﬁnd out more about them.
they deﬁne the tags for themselves, but then given enough context other people will understand
what the tags mean via the person
eg Library means something to you, but it means two things to me
a code library and a place for books.
Yet despite this opportunity for confusion people seem to get along ﬁne
A small step most publishers could take would be to ﬁnd out if and how people are tagging their
two views of authorship
those who have been published
those who want to be published
lots of initiatives in this space eg booktour from Chris Anderson which launched at this conference.
a pretty successful drive to get new authors from Macmillan. my parent company
not true social software but community based at least
so what do authors get up to?
peter f hamilton
Peter F Hamiton
one of the UK’s best selling science ﬁction authors
he runs with a fellow reader a site about him and his books
Q: how could he be better supported by his publisher (pan mac)
What would make him move to a space with other fellow authors ?
Wikipedia seems to be the place that most authors have their most complete proﬁle.
this is social software of a different ilk, collective proﬁling of authors,
often in complement to the authors own personal site
and whatever the publisher provides.
attracting those people who have actually bought your content
supporting their reading experience
simple and effective
but doesn’t get you to know the people
I think there are stronger tools that can be built to support this experience
The pro-am movement
people who are amateur, but carry out their interest to a professional level
they are also the people who buy your books, especially the “advanced” ones
These are the 5+ books a year segment as identiﬁed by Brian Murray.
The ones worth chasing
How deeply involved can the reader get depends on subject
this is reﬂected in published books
Lots of collections of pictures
Lots of books on how to take pictures
Specialist subjects - garden, macro, wildlife
Very few books on lens design
So how to and pictures are dominant
there are two levels for this community and a very small professional group who make the tools.
This pattern follows through many industries, eg cookery vs cookers.
Some people cook from a recipe
Some people combine recipes
Some people write their own recipes
A few people do food writing
lots of people buy cookery books
there are levels of expertise - you can tap into this exchange
many read the glossy magazines
People emulate them
People want the money and fame, but not the intrusion
So the curve stops
It is hard to become famous too!
there aren’t the expert level books on celebs
not a pro-am area
community works best in pro-am areas
Or perhaps community on celeb culture will work, but not as an experience led culture,
it is ad led about with sell through, it is still a different culture from pro-am
the killer app
scope across all publishers
depth of customers
though they lack the ﬁne data for digital media they have as good as it gets in terms of books.
they are getting to grips with social apps too, on amazon.com you can have a proﬁle page, wishlist,
but you have more depth
google mops up the seldom readers (not our concern, Brian Murray)
A quick word about URLs
These are the hidden design task
They are vital
The give names to objects
Think of your friends, books, cars, your house, your office
they all have names
yet we let our software decide the names of our webpages.
Kind of like you’d let your books be known by their ISBNs
so design them
unique ie one and only one url for a piece of content
Naming a thing gives it a soul. Naming a thing gives you power: like tryng to control demons.
Some points to sum up on
For it to have longevity and ownership it needs to start with content
there needs to be something for the social interactions to take place around
Ideally this is something that you can let people link to and see
This is easiest for non-ﬁction publishing.
Who’ll be the “publisher” for your area in 10 /20 years - wikipedia, hobby website, leading retailer
is there still an “editorial role” or will people make do with Google / Yahoo search results
how much can you afford to let people play with for free (all of it, most of it bar a key diagram)
general ﬁction is really hard I think there is little binding force to a publisher, it is with the author
I’d argue you can attempt to generate this with imprints, but I’m not the right person to recommend
How can you help authors, how can you help authors help one another?
generating repeat sales on the basis of one of your books is a good goal for a website.
once you have some content with depth
You need to reach out to a core group of people, ideally people with a long term investment in the
long tail - your content might work as microcontent, what is the shelf life?
architecture of participation, you want to create a space in which collaboration amongst known
individuals is possible, friendship formation is a strong bind
network effect - if you can enable these then you might trigger a network effect,
the site gets better as you use it
gaining growth, interest energy from the interaction between your published content and its readers
What this turns into is up to you - revised editions
eg I’d love to see a decent DIY site with how tos and reviews of tools
just like DK are doing with travel
lastly give your users a space on your site, a proﬁle page, you don’t have to give them a blog, let
your users ﬁnd one another and get to know each other,
starting a community effort is hard
you do not have the right staff in house
it is not a sales role
ﬁnding existing communities on and offline and supporting them
Hobbies good, as collections of content they appeal to core groups already
Fiction, niches easier
TV / internet companies are waiting to take over in the reference hobby world
role of editor diminishing
being off the net is starting to hurt
amazon already are the reference point, luckily for buying your books.
make your content available in different forms
you want to be part of the web, not just on, inside it
use microformats to allow your content to be aggregated and appear elsewhere
you don’t necessarily need to build a space for people to come to
you can go to them
- go onto facebook or twitter
ﬁnd tools and people who are using / referencing your content already, make use of it
tagging, tell people what is being used, once you have single urls then ﬁnd mentions via technorati,
use the amazon apis to ﬁnd people linking to the sell through pages on amazon and link back to
them, if it is a blog maybe trackback them.
reach out is the key message, the web is a series of connected conversations, they do not all need to
take place on your site / properties.
the more that is spoken about your books the more likely people are to buy them
the strikethrough is deliberate
you are not making software, you are creating a community, so start small and make something
that is focused on the activity of keeping your readers talking to one another.
iterate hard, making software is not like publishing a book
this is hard to get, what I mean is 40% of the spend gets you to launch
the rest follows the needs of your users, but not the noisy ones
build to support focused activity, don’t feature add for the sake of it
You go to a bar for the conversation, not the decor or the furniture
me at gavinbell.com