Glose, a social e-reader

Over the past few years, I’ve been thinking about how to make reading better. Especially with all the neat digital tools we have.

This week I learned about a new app called Glose, and it feels like they’ve been reading my mind.

Glose is an e-reading platform. They have over 300,000 books in their library already. In his comments on Product Hunt, CEO Nicolas Princen says Glose is aggressively partnering with authors and publishers who are looking for an alternative to Amazon.

I read 95% physical books, so I’m not sure how much I’ll be buying from Glose’s bookstore. But when I do want to read an ebook, Glose may just have the edge on Kindle.

The reason? Amazon keeps Kindle locked down like Fort Knox. When I make highlights and take notes on a book in my Kindle, it’s hard to get that data out so I can do useful stuff with it.

Glose goes in the opposite direction: they’re building sharing right into the platform. When you buy a book there, you can starting reading, highlighting, and annotating it immediately. And instead of languishing on some Amazon page nobody will ever see, your highlights show up for anyone else who reads that book, and they go into the “readfeeds” of anyone who follows you.

Glose also builds a collection of annotations from all of your books. It’s only a small step from there to exporting this data so I can study it on flashcards, or create my own commonplace book. Or anything really.

One drawback with Glose is that it doesn’t come with its own device. A Kindle is made for reading. But as Princen points out, phones are getting bigger and resolution and backlighting are improving fast. Glose is betting big that people will get more and more comfortable reading (very) long-form content on their smartphones.

Of course, nothing beats a real book in my opinion, so to get the most out of Glose, I’ll need a way to get my analog highlights and notes into Glose’s digital brain. Perhaps I’m stubborn; it’s clear that Glose is aiming to provide people like me enough value to change our behavior, and it’s way too early to say if it will succeed.

And no question, Glose’s sociability is its killer feature. Books are a very strong social object. I can discover people I don’t know who are reading the same books, and make new friends. What would be amazing is a version of last.fm’s old “neighbors” feature, which would show you the listeners’ whose taste was most similar to your own. I could see whose highlights compare best to my own, and Glose could encourage me to talk to them.

When you’re reading a book on Glose, you can chose to see annotations from the world, just your friends, or only you. This makes a book similar to a really big Medium post, or a song on RapGenius, where people might add context to an unfamiliar word, or make a disagreement with the author’s point. Entire discussions can ensue that wouldn’t have been possible before.

Goodreads, of course, lets you comment on other people’s reviews of a book. But that’s a book-level conversation, not nearly as specific as what’s possible on Glose. And in Glose you can have that conversation while you’re actually reading the book.

One quibble I have is that Glose only lets you highlight one sentence at a time. I know this is a core feature of the product, but for me, to use my highlights for study means I need the ability to select multiple lines at once. Especially in non-fiction books where the author is developing a complex argument, that one sentence is stripped of all context and loses meaning.

Of course, the app is fresh out of beta, so it makes sense that many features I’d want are missing, or not yet refined. That’s not such a big deal: there’s certainly a long way to go for the Glose guys, but I think they’re getting the fundamentals right so far. There’s too much stress and frustration in reading today, and we need more apps like this that make it fun again.

For another perspective, , check out the TechCrunch article about Glose’s launch. (Princen actively participates there and on Product Hunt.)