In previous posts I’ve touched on some of the social-transformational aspects of eBooks, but perhaps the most interesting will be the effect of social networking. I’m going to propose in this blog post that the eBook platform of the future will support not just models for more social aspects of reading, but will support multiple reader personas to define how you interact with social networks.
Prologue part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 Epilogue
Today we manage our career network on LinkedIn, and a more personal network in the Neverland of Facebook. But that really isn’t enough to define who we are to our different social networks. While, as Zuckerberg says, “you have one identity” on Facebook, the truth is, most people are not so easily homogenized, especially after college. Facebook is only now realizing the importance of separating out our college, family, and other social interactions. In one sense, the Facebook experience will only mature as Zuckerberg grows up and becomes more multifaceted himself.
We really have many different personas based on our different roles, interests, and hobbies. Let me illustrate with an unapologetically narcissistic example: I read literature in the persona of a former English Department faculty member. I read programming manuals in the persona of a software developer. When I read martial arts books, I am the sensei. Books on wine and cooking touch me in my beloved role as a party host, while repair manuals speak to the former mechanic who still has a garage full of shop tools.
These personas are unique; they don’t generally speak to overlapping social groups. (Unless of course I want to host a party for members of my social network that are mechanically-inclined martial artists who want to discuss Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.)
More than any other media, what we read defines our interests, and who we are as a reader. So the eBook is the natural place to engage with that multifacetedness. The eBook needs to be a part of a larger eBook social platform, a foundation that connects you, your library, and your social networks. The platform will provide you with the ability to create and store multiple reader’s personas: avatars that speak to different facets of your personality. These will enable you to be who you want to be, for a given book or entire genre, and within a given social network.
Reading has been a largely private experience for a thousand years. Why now would we want to interact with fellow readers? For the same reason that women’s book clubs are so popular, or students take literature classes, or people sign up for adult workshops; indeed for the very reason we have social networks at all. Any medium that captures our imagination, calls out for interaction. People are generally wired to share their experiences.
This is true of all media; when we share information with a group who share common interests, we gain a greater understanding and appreciation of what we are reading, watching, gazing, hearing, or gaming. The eBook platform can introduce us to a group of individuals that we can self-select for our personal, virtual book club, social salon, study group, or research network. Books give us information, but with an eBook social platform, we have the potential for a great leap forward in knowledge.
This doesn’t mean that eBook networking is limited to literature and learning. Communities will be created around any topic or genre. Doctors, mechanics, teachers, cooks, scientists, literati, sexual adventurers, sci-fi geeks, journalists, engineers, political activists, religious groups, history buffs, gun collectors, yoga practitioners. Once your eBook becomes truly social, there will be no telling whom you might meet, across the globe, within its pages.
Your reader’s persona will define you through a set of self-invented biographies and media profiles. Unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, there is no need to be real in a reader’s persona; books are intended to transport you to a place without limits. Having a reader’s persona enables you to be real or fictional, as appropriate to the task. A network of doctors may require authentication as they share treatment information. Scientists, politicians or lawyers may insist on networking that is gated by a mechanism for verifying credentials.
But limiting yourself to your real biography for all contexts is no more reasonable than saying that a reader should abandon fantasy and literature in favor of reference works and history books. In a book, we transcend who we are and we become who we want to be. The eBook platform could enable us to adopt personas based on our favorite genres.
The eBook social platform I’m describing doesn’t yet exist, but the pieces are already coming together. This platform will have many other important attributes, especially software applications (apps) that will provide ever more innovative types of interactivity. So naturally, that will be the topic of my next post.