Two Versions of Social Reading

Recently I ventured into social reading land with 10 Thoughts on Social Reading. Actually, I came up with 12, but I digress.

Digging deeper, I can see that this term has different definitions, depending on who you ask. Readups founder, Travis Alber, refers to social reading as:

talking about content while you’re inside the content.

A synchronous view of the concept.

Now that might work for some circumstances, however, others may prefer an asynchronous view of social reading: first I read, then I discuss.

Of course, variations abound. You can read-discuss-read-discuss just as you might do in a classroom setting or readalong. Or you can read-annotate-share-read-annotate-share so that others can follow along with your exploration of whatever content you’re reading. The separation between writer and reader blurs.

Porter Anderson in an article titled Is Social Reading the End of An Intimacy discusses the link between writer and reader after quoting from Emily St. John Mandel who said:

Books are solitudes in which we meet.

Porter declares that “the solitude of the reader is something we sully at our peril.”

Technologists don’t seem to be concerned about solitude. They’re excited about all the new tools and apps available to facilitate social reading. They envision a world where every device you have is synchronized so that you can always pick up wherever you left off with whatever you are reading and so that you can link your reading with as many social media platforms and people as you want.

Source: Alan Liu, From Reading to Social Computing
Source: Alan Liu, From Reading to Social Computing

Academics are in on the act. In From Reading to Social Computing, Alan Liu, professor of literature at UC Santa Barbara, examines what he calls the literary act:

the literary act is not just transmission it is community

In a lengthy article showing how the web’s evolution and social computing have affected the experience of literature, Liu suggests that if we think of literature as “vital, daring, and meditative expressions of human experience” we can find it in many places including blogs, reading sites, e-reader annotations, controversial Wikipedia articles. Places where we find community.

Conferences are also exploring social reading. IFBOOKTHEN 2015 will host a topic to explore “the relation between experience, technology and contents.” Books being one form of contents.

The London Book Fair will be talking about “new communities of readers and writers whose relationship with text is defined by different rules of communication”. Hmm.

SXSW recently looked at social reading in terms of publishing innovations and new sources of revenue. Well, there does have to be money somewhere, doesn’t there?

Who would have imagined such a robust field associated with social reading? Not me.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

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