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Startups Aim to Share Books Better

Two companies try to refine the social reading experience

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The idea of "social reading" has been around for years, but there's a cluster of new companies trying to make it actually work.

Two of these startups, Subtext and Findings, launched Oct. 25. Another, Readmill, built around sharing clips and excerpts, is currently being tested.

Subtext, for example, lets publishers and readers annotate e-books. One of its launch titles was the blockbuster A Game of Thrones, annotated by the author's editor and researcher.

Co-founder Rachel Thomas says that in some ways she's just trying to mirror the discussions that readers are already having among themselves. But, she admits, there also are times when you just want to "drop into the book" without being distracted by social commentary. That's why her team has tried to build "fine-grained" controls to determine whose comments you see when.

This isn't just about adding a few features to the reading experience. In a recent blog post for the Nieman Journalism Lab, Megan Garber argues that books' immersive, intimate qualities make them "pretty lousy as actual sharers of ideas." With technology, she says, that's beginning to change.