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7 posts from February 2009

Kindle 2 Review from Lori Cates

Kindle 2 I'm still staying on the sidelines with my old-fashioned Kindle 1, but my good friend Lori Cates, author of the popular Publishing Careers blog, ordered one.  In fact, Lori's Kindle 2 has already arrived and she was kind enough to write this initial review:

Recently the CEO of my company authorized me to buy a new Kindle 2 for our publishing group, so that we can gain an understanding of the user experience that surrounds it. Although I am a book publishing product manager, I’ve been an avid reader much longer, so it’s that part of my personality that welcomed our new Kindle with glee yesterday afternoon.

The unboxing was thrilling, as I made my way through several layers of high-concept packaging tagged with "Once upon a time…." I was no less thrilled with the sleek new design of the Kindle 2. I never owned a first-gen Kindle, but I held one and have seen lots of pictures. The new model is a definite improvement. But I have to say that I like it better because it looks more like my iPod.

The Kindle 2 charged up in just over 90 minutes, twice as fast as the instructions said it would. I then began exploring the user’s guide and the controls. The little joystick thing is fairly intuitive, but finding my way around the screen took some getting used to. I found myself wishing I had a mouse or maybe a touch-screen. (Again with the Apple comparisons.) Others have said that the keyboard is overkill, but I like it.

The biggest thrill came when I figured out how to download free samples of books—both from my computer and from the device itself. It was pure magic to see those things show up almost instantly on the Kindle screen, wirelessly and effortlessly.

Already I see that the quality of the sample varies from book to book, with some being nothing more than the skimpy front matter, and others providing an entire lengthy first chapter. Those that provided more text made me want to buy them more, I might add. The $9.99 price of many books still stopped me in my tracks, at least for day 1. It still seems pretty high for not getting anything tangible in return (even though I, more than anyone, know how much goes into creating that content).

Then I tried the much ballyhooed text-to-speech feature. Eh, not too impressed. It was certainly more intelligible than I had been led to believe. However, I have yet to find a volume control, so it was hard to hear.

The display is quite magnificent in the detail it can provide, as well as the amazing way the e-ink rearranges itself on the screen. I suffered some immediate eyestrain when I started reading (you can adjust the text size, but who wants to have to flip the page after every paragraph?), so I had to put on my computer glasses. Having said that, I think maybe the background should be a little lighter. (Is there a way to adjust that? If so, I haven’t found it yet.)

Eventually I got used to everything and had an enjoyable experience reading sample chapters. I started to think that maybe I would like to have one of my own to take on trips. I showed the Kindle 2 to my constantly traveling husband, though, and he tired of it nearly instantly. “I can read a real book faster,” he said. Our preschooler, however, was much diverted by the Next Page buttons, and giggled as she watched the e-ink scramble around on the page.

The verdict? I like it! I could get used to it!


Text-to-Speech on the iPhone?...

Iphone3g It was more than a year ago that I encouraged Amazon to consider adding an eye-resting feature where the Kindle reads to you.  I doubt my post had anything to do with it but I was pleased to see they've implemented this on Kindle 2, calling it "Text-to-Speech."  The big question now is whether Amazon will offer the same functionality to all their Kindle 1 owners (via either a firmware or software update).  Since the hardware capabilities exist for this in Kindle 1, there's no reason they shouldn't offer it; not doing so would be a sharp poke in the eye to all the early adopters who bought Kindle 1, IMHO.

As I've also mentioned before, I have no plans to upgrade to Kindle 2 since I'm leaning more and more towards the iPhone platform for my reading needs, which got me thinking...  When will we see a text-to-speech feature on the iPhone?  Many have complained that the iPhone's screen is too small and its backlit display makes long form reading less than comfortable.  Fair enough.  I tend to read shorter-length pieces on mine anyway (e.g., NY Times, USA Today, etc.), but text-to-speech would be a killer iPhone feature and it would undoubtedly lead to even more long-form "reading" on the device.

Lexcycle makes the extremely popular Stanza reader for the iPhone.  I'll bet it wouldn't be hard for them to add this feature to a future version...


Five Important Points About Twitter

Twitter I've mentioned before that I tried Twitter awhile back and immediately gave up on it.  I'm glad my colleague Steve Weiss talked me back onto it last October, mostly because I'm now finding it to be a more valuable tool and platform than blogging.

With that in mind, I'd like to present the five most important things I've learned about Twitter over the past few months (in no particular order):

It's all about the client -- Twitter's website is as bare-bones as it gets.  If you base your impression of Twitter on the site itself you'll walk away disappointed.  Once you sign up you really need to get a client app for Twitter.  I used Twhirl for awhile but some colleagues talked me into TweetDeck.  I love TweetDeck but it tends to crash and make my system flaky; I can go days without rebooting if I don't run TweetDeck but I have to reboot every day if I'm running it.  (My Mac friends tell me it's much more stable on that platform, so I'm glad I'll be switching shortly.)  The point here is that the various client apps offer a great deal more Twitter functionality than the website itself does.  And don't forget about your mobile device.  I have a couple of Twitter clients on my iPhone and I use them as much as I use TweetDeck on my laptop.  Mobile devices and Twitter were made for each other.

It's more about listening than speaking -- It's true.  Nobody cares how good your blueberry muffin was. Please don't Twitter that stuff.  I don't tweet that frequently but I get loads of value by following (listening to) other Twitterers.  Hashtags are one way to tune into a specific discussion.  For example, at last week's TOC conference if you followed the #toc hashtag you could have tuned in to the proceedings (more on that in a moment).  Listening is next to impossible without a great client that offers search functionality though.

It enriches the conference experience -- I couldn't believe the Twitter activity throughout the TOC conference.  It's one thing to marvel at the volume of tweets, but it's even more important to stop and think about the value that's created by that stream.  TOC was a multi-track conference, which means sessions were run in parallel and you obviously couldn't be in multiple rooms at once...unless you followed the Twitter stream.  I found myself listening to a speaker in one session while also reading the tweets from the others running simultaneously.  Some attendees felt the tweet stream made another session look more interesting so they switched from one to another.  It was also interesting to read audience feedback while that particular session was still running.  Twitter has the potential to dramatically affect (and improve!) the conference model.

Speaking of conferences, you don't even have to be there to get the benefit -- T&E budgets are tight.  You probably won't make it to all the conferences you'd like to attend this year.  Why not research the ones you'll miss and see if there will be hashtags to follow along from home/office?  Anyone who missed TOC would have benefited significantly from following #toc last week.  It doesn't replace the in-person networking and other benefits of being there, but it's better than missing out entirely.  And, if you're lucky, you might be able to pass your speaker question(s) along to an attendee via Twitter.

It's 140 characters per tweet, max, sort of... -- The 140-character tweet limit is both the best and worst aspect of Twitter.  I love it that nobody can ramble on but it's painful when you've tightened your message as much as possible and you're still looking at 142 characters.  That's where links come in.  I've sometimes written a lengthier blog post and then linked to it from a tweet (in fact, I'm about to do just that with this one).  Some followers won't bother to click through but if you make your link message powerful enough you might coax them.  Remember to use numbers (rather than spelling them out) and symbols (such as &, not "and") when you run tight!

So there you have it.  My top five points about Twitter.  Now for the call to action.  If you don't already have a Twitter account you need to sign up right now.  Seriously, do it now, don't wait.  Next, download a client app and start playing around with it.  These two steps combined will take you all of about 3-5 minutes, so it's not a big time investment.  Next, if you're looking for publishing/publisher Twitterers, start by looking at the 75 Twitterers I'm currently following.  And do me a favor: If you find some other interesting publishing-related Twitterers that I'm not yet following, please let me know (or add them via a comment to this post).

Twitter is for real.  So are the benefits of being on Twitter.  Jump in today and you'll ask yourself why you waited so long.


O'Reilly's Tools of Change (TOC) Conference Starts Tomorrow

ScreenHunter_02 Feb. 08 13.35I've been counting down the days for this one and tomorrow it will finally be here.  I'm talking about O'Reilly's TOC conference, which starts bright and early tomorrow in NY with a series of tutorials.  I'm heading there tomorrow afternoon and plan to attend a conference-related Tweetup that's scheduled for later in the evening.  Then it's two full days packed with great sessions from morning till evening.

I've been tipped off to several exciting product announcements that will be made at TOC this week, two of which that have really caught my eye.  I can't say anything more about them just yet, but stay tuned for upcoming blog posts and Twitter tweets over the next 3 days.  Actually, I'll probably spend more time Twittering than blogging, so look for more of the former and not so much of the latter.  I also have a search panel set up in my TweetDeck feed, searching for #toc entries; there are already a lot of tweets piling up there, so if you can't make it, be sure to watch the stream from attendees.  And, if you see me tweet from within a session and have a question you'd like to ask the speaker, send me a direct message and I'll do my best to get an answer.

Finally, I'm already keeping an eye out for some of you, but if you're a Publishing 2020 reader and would like to say hi at TOC, be sure to pull me aside between sessions.


Content Nation, by John Blossom

Content nation I received a nice gift in the mail yesterday.  It's a signed copy of the recently-published Content Nation, by John Blossom.  This was one of the last projects I was involved with at Wiley and it's great to see it in print.  The subtitle of the book is, "Surviving and Thriving as Social Media Changes Our Work, Our Lives, and Our Future."

John is the head of Shore Communications, Inc., and he built a social media portal as a companion for the book.  John, I've only had a day to flip through the book a bit but I like what I see.  Anyone curious about the content revolution we find ourselves in will undoubtedly love this book.


Is the Web Affecting How We Read Books?

Books2 It's time for a link to one of those controversial posts...a post that you'll either totally disagree with or you might find very enlightening.  I'm talking about this one from David Meerman Scott entitled "Does a new literacy call for a new book model?"  I read it and found myself wondering about the possibilities it could lead to.

I'm a bit skeptical that some of the elements from Zak Nelson's mock-up, which is included in that post, are viable.  Nevertheless, if you take only one thing away from reading David's summary, remember this: We (publishers/authors) need to do a much better job of writing content for more than just the print medium.  Too many books are being converted to e-content (for Kindles, iPhone apps, etc.) without even the simplest embedded links for cross-references and external references/resources.  How stupid is that?


Two Great New O'Reilly Titles

Designing Web Interfaces I've been on the road a lot lately and came home to a pleasant surprise: a box full of some of our latest books was waiting for me.  I was particularly impressed by two of these.  First up is Designing Web Interfaces, by Bill Scott and Theresa Neil.  When you think of four-color books you probably don't immediately think of O'Reilly, but this one offers a full color view of the best way to build a great web app interface.  You may have even noticed the image on the cover is in color, which is a nice touch that helps set this one off from our one-color animal books.  This is a terrific book that I plan to spend time with and recommend to anyone doing UI work.

The other new publication I wanted to call attention to is Beautiful Architecture, which was written by more than a dozen contributors and edited by Diomidis Spinellis and Georgios Gousios.  It's the latest title in our Theory In Practice series and comes with an endorsement from Grady Booch.  It's also worth noting that all the author royalties on this one are being donated to Doctors Without Borders.  Very cool.

I also wanted to give a quick plug to a book we're about to publish but I haven't received a copy of yet.  It's called iPhone SDK Application Development, by Jonathan Zdziarski and it's been rocketing up the charts all weekend.  I've seen it as high as #20 on Amazon's Computers & Internet bestseller list, and it doesn't even officially publish till Tuesday, 2/3!  The iPhone is clearly a red hot development platform.