ReadUps Hopes to be the Next Social Reading Sensation
"Social reading" is a concept that continues to gain momentum in today's publishing industry, propelling the likes of Medium and Wattpad to widespread popularity. ReadUps hopes to be the next social reading platform to make a splash and differentiates itself by making a Readup (think "meet up") a temporary affair. Here founder Travis Alber explains why the platform's transience lends it strength.
Who Are You?
ReadUps offers a way to "meet up" inside what you're reading. After opening something in ReadUps -- a book, website, or original writing -- friends can leave comments on paragraphs and instant message each other inside the text for a limited amount of time. Users log in with Twitter, so it's easy to tweet out the URL and have others join. When the allotted time runs out (two months or less), the ReadUp disappears.
What problem are you trying to solve?
We're making reading more social. The best digital products reflect how we interact in the real world. People like to discuss what they read, sometimes at a granular level, so we're providing a good way to do that.
We're also adding a sense of timeliness to the experience. Giving readers a timeframe to discuss something drives interaction; having ReadUps expire and disappear from the web motivates people. We also believe that every thought posted online doesn't have to last forever or be part of someone's permanent archive. ReadUps provides room to discuss things with a focus on the here and now.
What inspired you to launch Readups?
The content world is getting more mobile, web-based, and social. ReadUps endeavors to reflect those changes by offering a web-based system that works on many platforms, while integrating social features at various levels within the content.
My co-founder Aaron Miller and I have worked on other social reading endeavors. In 2007 we launched BookGlutton, a reading system with shared notes. At the time there were a lot of technical hurdles. ReadUps is a couple of generations ahead of what we did there, but draws on similar concepts of social reading, strong user experience, and the use of open web standards.
What are the most important trends in publishing?
It's all about user experience. Users like to feel like things have been designed specifically for them; they like systems to be simple yet customizable, they want importing content to be easy, and they want the ability to share what they're doing with a small group of friends. Many folks in the publishing industry come at product development from a defensive position, locking down discussion and limiting sharing. But people will gravitate to products that reflect how they want to live so focusing on social features creates a significant opportunity for growth.
Who is your competition?
Our approach is agnostic, readers can use ReadUps in a lot of ways: to add an additional level of discussion to classroom content, to share chapters for book promotion for a limited time, to get feedback on written drafts without posting them publicly, etc. But we didn't invent commenting or chat; we just integrated them in a smart way that satisfies these use cases.
In other words, there are varying levels of competitors that have worked on social features and content. Many are narrowly focused, though, and only use pieces of what we've built. For example, there are educational tablet apps for students to discuss textbooks and a blogging platform that has added paragraph-level commenting. However, these products are missing the combination of components that makes ReadUps unique: a limited timeframe to encourage interaction, groups to make the discussion meaningful, web-based delivery to allow maximum access, and real-time messaging to reflect how people talk about books in person.
Right now we automatically create a hashtag for each ReadUp -- a way to informally designate a "group" and share it on Twitter. We'll be expanding our use of hashtags beyond group names, to create different layers of conversation. We'll also expand some of our premium options. For example, ReadUps is free to use, but a person can add a password to a ReadUp for $5, so we'll be building on that.