Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Ping!

Days ago, a note sent by an e-reader appeared on Facebook and Twitter, announcing to all that so-and-so finished a certain book.

Thing is, he'd finished it long ago. But his e-reader, fearing that some will not be informed of this development, duly tweeted the news. "He finished reading this book on Kindle! Huzzah!"

Not that it's the first time I've seen tweets of this ilk. Who's familiar with Foursquare?

I never really saw the lure of an app that broadcasts your location, but I've since learnt it's a bit more than that. Foursquare is said to allow users more interaction with their environments. Its "superusers", for instance, can correct or update information about "check-in venues". Places can be reviewed in the same way as books, and annotations made to existing venue profiles.

The badges, which you get just by going to places, are a devious kind of incentive that gets users to go out more and collect them the same way scouts or adventurers collect their badges. It gives Foursquare the feel of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG).

So will there be a Foursquare-type app for e-readers? Or does something like that already exist? Or has Foursquare come up with a version for e-readers?

Such an app will definitely be invented, and if not, it should. As books go digital, there will be ways get people to buy the devices and download books. A Foursquare for e-books may get people, particularly the gadget-crazy Gen-Yers, to actually read the books they download instead of just hoarding them in their e-readers or iWhatChaMaCallIts.

What would such an app offer, and how can they get people reading? Badges, certainly, but I'm thinking, bookstores can also tap into this by making themselves more trendy for the hip and wired. Discounts and freebies in exchange for badges, perhaps - who needs loyalty cards?

Maybe have secret badge combo promotions: users who manage to collect a secret set of badges, for instance, get bigger, more exclusive goodies, such as attendances at author appearances, book talks or readings, in lieu of the obligatory signed copy and related merchandise.

Bookstores of the near future could be places where e-books can be purchased or downloaded; cash registers could also show buyers their "Booksquare" (I'm groping for app names here) statuses or whatever they've won, after their purchases. The whole scheme will make for an interesting tie-up among publishers, sellers, authors and app and device makers.

A bookclub app can be another possibility. A mini-Facebook page with threads, related and recommended reads, updates and individual user sections to track who bought the book, who read it and their reading progress. It's a good gauge of how well a book is being received and may help spread the reading bug.

That's some good sides. One example of a not-so-good side is the autopinging of the guy's book status. Was there a way to turn it off? I think there should be. Maybe the switch was hard to find. Maybe there isn't a switch at all. Horrors! Imagine some of the pings that might go out.

But this data is important to certain quarters. Just like the GPS that helps people and guided munitions find their way home, your preferences: albums, books, restaurants and hangouts, will help them sell their products or services more effectively. It's how that data will ultimately be used.

Perhaps the fuss over privacy settings in this wired and dangerous world is warranted. As long as there are irresponsible parties out there who covet this data for sinister aims, many of us would think thrice before going "e". Something makers of e-readers and e-book apps should think about.

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