Using Digital Books in Social Networking Mode Still Has Some Way to Go

By January 30, 2012
Social Reading

The Brazilian e-commerce portal Submarino and the digital book social networking site Copia have got together to create a community platform for reading enthusiasts.

A social network based on consumption of a ‘cultural’ product? This is what the Brazilian e-commerce portal Submarino seeks to achieve. In September Submarino unveiled its Submarino Social Club at the fifteenth book biennale in Rio de Janeiro. On 12 January it launched a community site, designed in partnership with Copia, a platform for buying virtual books – for your computer, smartphone, tablet, or e-book reader. The platform enables you to annotate, flag up and share content among a network of users. Copia and Submarino have adapted the concept of “social content” specifically to the Brazilian market. The Submarino Social Club has been designed using Copia’s customised ‘white-­label’ offering, in conjunction with Copia’s Brazilian team. Users will find the attractive features of Submarino combined with Copia’s functionality for note-taking, group chat, ideas exchange and digital highlighting.

A white-label platform

This initiative underlines that the concept of “social content” or “social reading” is now in vogue. Amazon, with its @author, and Barnes & Noble, with Titatok and Pubit, are already having a go, while platforms such as and are dedicated exclusively to the trend. However Clément Monjou, founder of French e-books site, reckons that although in principle the idea has potential, the tools currently on offer are very limited. “It’s very clear that relatively little use is being made of the platform, and this is largely because the functionality on offer isn’t very user-friendly,” he explained to L’Atelier, adding: “There’s still a barrier between the act of reading and the act of annotating.” Another problem is how to create a universal, uniform system of annotation. “Annotation is thought made manifest, a mark which the reader has placed on the text. You can hardly reduce textual annotation to a mere highlighting exercise using colour variations or to sharing one’s ideas on Facebook or Twitter”. 

Need for non-proprietary functionality

So for the moment, it seems to be all about the marketing angle: not too much thought is being given to practicalities, and the functionalities are, from a technical point of view, somewhat circumscribed.  Moreover, Copia’s service offer is based on a proprietary interface. So, the question is: will “social” functions be central to the future of digital reading? “For some readers certainly,” agrees Clément Monjou. “But others won’t use the social functions at all, while some readers will be frustrated by the rigid framework for annotating their reading matter which is currently being imposed on them.” However, the situation is not as unpromising as all that. “Readmill is making intelligent efforts to design an application programming interface around these practices, but still many other fledgling companies are just riding the crest of this particular wave,” he notes. “Opening up the digital annotation process and structuring its architecture based onnon-proprietary functionality, which is therefore detached  from the actual reading ecosystem, would be a major step forward but not enough people are pushing for this solution,” concludes Clément Monjou.

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