In an article on the Quill & Quire Quillblog, Stuart Woods writes about the recent investment made by Rakuten – the Japanese parent company of Kobo – in Pinterest to tie in social-based media with the content and social reading tools that already exist on the Kobo. Since taking over Kobo, Rakuten has expanded internationally and developed many of the Kobo functions such as the Reading Life app; now it is time for them to further enhance the experience of reading. But is it really necessary?

As a Kobo user, I can honestly say that I have never felt remotely inclined to highlight sections of my eBooks or post comments on my reading via Facebook and/or Twitter. This is primarily because there is often no Internet service while I read on the subway, secondly because of the limited Internet capabilities of the Kobo, and thirdly, I’m not quite sure how to do it. Would talking to strangers about what I am reading enhance my experience? I’m not so sure. With that being said, I am also a frequent visitor to the Pinterest website, however have not taken to pinning anything myself.

During a presentation in my New Technologies class at Humber College as part of the Creative Book Publishing program, a classmate mentioned the trend of readers “pinning” book covers that they enjoy reading, which is in some ways a marketing tool to reach new readers. I feel it is significant to acknowledge the market that these pins are reaching: primarily females, presumably in the 20-45 year old age category. A lot of these women are probably readers, and so it is good to promote new books among existing readers. Will the partnership increase sales to new groups of readers? It is impossible to tell. Perhaps through the synthesis of Pinterest with Twitter and Facebook this concept holds more promise.

“A book cover is a visual hook for a book no matter what format you are reading it in,” explains Nathan Mahraj in his comments that have been added to update this article. While this is true, covers appearing on a Kobo reader are black and white due to the restrictions of e-ink on the readers. The cover as a “visual hook” loses its eye-catching colour and appeal when advertised on the Kobo screen. The association of the full-colour Pinterest pin to the black-and-white version on the Kobo may or may not translate. Regardless, I am curious to see where this partnership goes.

In this article on The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder discusses a new ebook format that Medallion Media has just unveiled, called the TREEbook. The format introduces the component of time into the reading experience: the ebook makes decisions that affect the outcome of the story for you based on your own reading habits, such as how long it takes you to finish a passage. It only seems logical that TREE stands for Timed Reading Experience Ebook. It pushes the boundaries of active fiction, but as with all new technology it is accompanied by a plethora of questions and implications.

To begin to understand the concept of active reading, I attempted to read Stephen Marche’s experimental interactive novel, Lucy Hardin’s Missed Period and I will admit that being in control of what happens is kind of intriguing. It’s like a new story every time you read it, like re-reading your favourite book and noticing something new, but much less predictable. For a consumer society that wants the biggest bang for their buck, this style of reading seems like a fantastic idea. The TREEreader takes the Colilquy application (available on Kindle, Nook and Android) a step further in that the ebook makes all the decisions. It seems as though reading can once again return to being the traditional experience that has kept us turning pages to find out what happens next for centuries – so how new is this concept, really?

As Hoffelder points out, the format requires a particular suite of tools that Medallion will release to publishers and ebook conversion companies for developing their own titles. The format also requires more writing – and necessitates even more new ideas – generated by the author; is it possible for an artist to imagine multiple beginnings, middles, and endings for the narrative that he/she believes to be perfect? The good news is that Medallion president Adam Mock assures us that “you can read the book without being aware that the story is changing”. But the question remains how much will the necessary works suite cost for the publishers involved in the production of these books, and how will that affect the price point of such a book that the consumer sees on the other end?

Hoffelder writes that the mysterious nature of a changing plot line would put him off the second or third time he picked up the book, however I am inclined to disagree. It is true that this technology my not be appealing to everyone, however I do see clear potential for reluctant readers of any age: if their attention is wavering and they are moving through the text slowly, an exciting or suspenseful plot twist generated because of their reading habits may be just what it takes to keep them from giving up. My dad is notably a reluctant reader, barely inclined to pick up a book and rarely compelled to read past the first two chapters, however for readers like this, the unpredictability and mind-reader-esque technology may spark their interest. And even if the TREEreader doesn’t catch on, it still keys into the potential for conversations among readers – “When I read it, this happened, what about you?”– which seems to be a primary focus of companies like Kobo, Apple, and Kindle anyways.

I came across an interesting article about interactive reading and the learning potential of this expanding technology, particularly in classrooms for children with special needs. An ereading app, Mayan Quest Activity Book, designed for the Apple iPad, “assists children with hand-eye coordination, listening skills, visual perceptual skills and tracking, helps to increase attention span, improves reading comprehension and works to help children identify shapes and colors,” concepts commonly used in therapy for treating autistic children.  The app also provides options for various skill sets and levels of learning.

Children can listen to the story while tapping words to be read in any order, follow along as the text is underlined while being read to them, read without assistance, and engage with the interactive illustrations to provide further learning opportunities. The app also poses interactive questions. Designed by a stay-at-home dad, Norman Silva who has years of experience teaching children, we know that the book is designed with children in mind. It is also easily accessible to iPad users, costing $0.99 in the iTunes Store. 

The concept of enhanced eReading as a learning tool is not entirely new, however it is interesting that this particular program released in June 2011 has recently gained recognition in a specific area of educational focus. It is one of the enhanced reading book titles recommended by Autism Speaks and seems to stand apart from the rest with its hands-on audio, visual, and touch technology that contribute to a dynamic and well-rounded educational package. The app is under the Color With Leo brand and so it is recognized by parents and educators alike.

Autism disorders are characterized by varying abilities in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and repetitive behaviours (www.autismspeaks.org). It seems as though Mayan Quest caters to each of these individual characteristics: interaction with a highly responsive technological format that speaks to the reader, opportunities to practice and refine motor skills, and a dynamic experience that facilitates repetitive behaviours and encourages curiosity and exploration. As outlined in the “What is Autism” section of the Autism Speaks website, “about 40 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities. Indeed, many persons on the spectrum take deserved pride in their distinctive abilities and “atypical” ways of viewing the world”. I believe that Mayan Quest is just that: a non-linear active reading experience that adapts to “atypical ways” of viewing the world and may serve to achieve higher levels of learning for young children with autism. I am curious to follow any further testing of this technology and the potential it holds for educating a diverse young readership.