-- Kobo is continuing its bet on social books with a new feature that shows who is reading at the same time as you and a Facebook integration that makes sharing your reading activity automatic, using Facebook's new Open Graph.
The Borders-backed company became the first of the major ebook players to add a social layer to reading when it released a product called Reading Life in December 2010. That product tracks reading activity in a dashboard and rewards users with badges when they meet new characters or approach milestones in their reading. They can choose to share all of these items to Facebook as they go.
Now that sharing — and more — can happen automatically if the reader chooses. Kobo announced that it would become one of the first book platforms to use Facebook's new Open Graph at f8 last week. This means the app doesn't need to ask for permission every time it posts to a user's wall and can send updates to the news ticker.
If two friends are reading the same book, for instance, that might show up on their mutual friends' news ticker. Reading habits can be a box in Facebook Timelines, and, in some cases, Kobo will post interesting tidbits about a reader's activity on his or her wall.
Kobo has also brought social interactions to the page level with a new feature called Kobo Pulse. While Reading Life's social features were largely contained within a separate dashboard of the Kobo app, Kobo Pulse inserts them right into books' pages. It will initially launch on the iPhone and iPad.
On each page of a book, there's a button ("a pulse") that glows stronger when there is a lot of social activity on the page. Tapping it pulls up a bar that shows how many of Kobo's 5 million users are reading and discussing the book, how many have liked it, and how many comments the page has. Dragging it upward pulls up a dashboard that keeps track of the conversation happening throughout the book, displays reader reviews and recommends new books.
Critics of ebooks often cite the escape that a static paper book provides — and they started making that argument long before Kobo added discussions and sharing to every page. Kobo's social book concept is fun. It's instantly gratifying to see how other people have reacted to specific passages as you're reading them. But will it ruin reading?
"I think that even people who feel that books are, as you describe, a quiet moment would still agree that when they're done reading a chapter, when they've paused in a book, they do talk about it with others," says Kobo CFO Dan Liebu. "They talk about it with others who have read the book, they talk about it with their friends. And we've given them the means to do that."
The unconvinced, he says, can always turn the feature off.