Tag Archives: Caterina Fake

A conversation with Readmill founder Henrik Berggren

Editor’s note: Where I come from, we tend to refer to people like Readmill founder Henrik Berggren as “young pioneers.” Berggren works incredibly hard on a project he’s hugely passionate about, and the result, for those of you who may not be familiar with his online service, is pure fun for book obsessives like myself.

The easiest way to understand exactly what Readmill is and what exactly it can do for you is to watch the simple introductory video on the company’s homepage. To put it simply, though, Readmill is something like a social networking site for the sorts of readers who like to share what they’re reading, and who like to discover what their friends are reading, too. (And if you’re the type who enjoys “scribbling in the margins of books,” as the intro video says, Readmill is most definitely for you as well.)  

Last week, TeleRead’s Cara Gavin had the opportunity to ask a few questions of the Swedish-born, Berlin-based Berggren. Read on for the interview, and then check out Fast Company’s Innovation Agents video, featuring Berggren, at the tail end. 

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TeleRead: Hi Henrik. Can you tell us how you got started with Readmill?

Henrik Berggren: David and I were really excited about digital reading when the iPad came out but none of the platforms lived up to our expectations, so we decided to do something about it. This is Caterina Fake’s copy of Ulysses. When we visited her in San Francisco in December, we had just started hacking on Readmill in a one-room apartment in Stockholm. During our pitch, she ran upstairs in her house and got her copy of the book and showed us the inside—every page was full of highlights, notes and other forms of marginalia. She told us that she read it five times and had huge amounts of things around the book that she wanted to share with friends and peers but couldn’t—it was all stuck in her copy, in her library, and unfortunately for her eyes only. It’s at that point that we decided to create this experience on the web for e-readers.

TR: Is this your first business? If not, what were the others and what happened to them?

HB: Depending on what you call a business, I guess so. David and I have done a series of projects before, including a design studio in Stockholm focusing on physical interaction design. They all more or less failed.

TR: How have you financed Readmill, and what has that process been like?

HB: We’ve raised money from three different venture capital funds: Index Ventures, Passion Capital, and Wellington Partners.

TR: How would you describe Readmill’s brand image?

HB: I hope that it reflects the service  we are building: valuable, enjoyable, exciting and fun.

TR: Who would you say your target audience is?

HB: Right now it’s readers of e-books. Which will soon be all the readers in the world.

TR: Can you explain why Readmill is such an important service? For instance, why is it necessary to be able to share the e-book experience?

HB: It’s important for a number of reasons. Sharing is a natural habit for us humans. Telling friends and peers about experiences we’ve had, good or bad, is a part of our lives. And since reading a book is quite a commitment, you want to be able to choose the right ones. We can help you with that. Apart from that, we make knowledge and information that previously was hidden more visible.

TR: Currently, Readmill users can share passages, but not whole e-books. Is there a plan in place to expand that in the future?

HB: Highlights have existed for hundreds of years and they are great in recommending books. That’s not going to change in the foreseeable future. Will we try and make it easier to access e-books while still making sure authors and publishers gets paid? Yes.

TR: You’ve worked with other startups. What’s the most important thing you’ve taken away from those experiences?

HB: Good question. There are many things, but I think one of the more important ones is keeping a balance between structure and chaos to optimize for speed and creativity.

TR: How large is your team, and what do they do for you?

HB: We are eleven people right now. We’re six engineers, two designers, a business developer, community manager and one person helping out with finances.

TR: What’s an average workday like for you?

HB: There is no such thing! My most frequent task is to solve problems for others so that they can focus on building great things. And that can be anything—from running down to buy coffee, to talking to one of our partner stores to make sure everything is working just fine.

TR: What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever received?

HB: “Make a business plan.”

TR: Do you have any new products you’re planning on launching soon?

HB: We have lots of exiting things in the pipeline this fall. First of all, it’s all about making Readmill available to more people, which means both supporting more types of books as well as being available on more devices.

TR: And finally, what does the future look like for Readmill?

HB: Bright! E-books are growing steadily, and we see a clear place for a great reading application connected to networks of likeminded readers.
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VIDEO | Innovation Agents: Henrik Berggren (Fast Company)

An E-Reader Annotation Mini-Manifesto

 

 

I’ll admit it: I was surprised when our recent post about the annotation abilities (or lack thereof) of various e-readers attracted so much attention. At the time, I wasn’t really sure that anyone cared. Boy, was I wrong.

In fact, a Berlin-based reader by the name of Matthew Bostock found the subject of our post so intriguing, he decided to write something of an annotation manifesto in response. We hope you enjoy it, and as always, we hope you’ll share your thoughts (pro or con) in the comments.   —D.E., ed.   

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AN E-READER ANNOTATION MINI-MANIFESTO

Three Reasons You Should Give E-Reader Annotation a Second Look

by Matthew Bostock ]

 * * *

I was fascinated to see an article here on Teleread last week regarding digital annotation. For me, this topic is one full of immense possibility. But after reading it through and looking at the comments, I came to the conclusion that, amongst diluted split opinion and some focus on hardware, many seemed to have missed the point.

Translating the act of annotating physical books to the digital experience is all good and well, but isn’t there more we could do? Isn’t there more we could dream about? We’re talking about e-readers here—small devices that are connected to something that has the potential to truly evolve the entire concept of digital reading. I’m referring, of course, to the web.

The photo featured at the top of this post is a picture of James Joyce’s Ulysses, read and annotated by Caterina Fake, the co-founder of Flickr. She wished that the shards of brilliance she’d preserved between the pages could have been shared with other people for the purpose of informing, discussing and understanding—things of true worth.

This, in my opinion, is where digital annotation really becomes interesting: If we share what we highlight with other people, and bring a discussion right into the margin of a book, what do we have, and what have we done? We have added value to the digital reading experience. And looking at annotation in this way, there’s a clear reason why we should give it a little more thought.

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1. IT MAKES THE BOOK A SOCIAL OBJECT 

Discussing what we’ve read with other people, or interpreting selective passages within a group, is a concept as old as reading itself. By digitally annotating a book and making it viewable to our entire social graph, we take this concept to the next level. We bring the discussions, the book clubs and the brainstorming right to our palms. We expand our conversations to all corners of the earth. People can conceptually gather around a book, and with the integration of comments and likes, help it blossom into something unimaginable.

2. IT KEEPS BOOKS ALIVE

Highlighting passages and sharing them with other people helps shed light on a book in different ways, at different intervals of time. The life of a book extends far past its publication date, and everything caught between the pages is given a second chance to breathe. As an author, your book has longevity—a true pulse on the web. As a reader, highlights from other people give you a fresh perspective on a book months after you’ve finished reading it yourself. In short, someone may have caught what you may have missed.

3. IT’S THE BEST WAY TO DISCOVER

We choose to friend and follow people we know, or like, or love, or find interesting. A lot of what we listen to, or watch, or eat is recommended to us by other people. And you know what? It works. We share things in common with them. By unveiling highlights and comments, we create the most vibrant, personalised book recommendation system in existence. Other people can also give you an insight into a book far better than a cover and summary can, and finding what books are most popular amongst your friends always unearths some gems.

Should we care about e-reader annotation? It’s not really about agreeing or disagreeing with it, it’s more about exploring what it could mean for the future. At Readmill we always say, “Why make a book digital, and not make it shareable?” I think this concept is such an obvious one to explore. Although reading has a personal, solitary purpose, sharing annotations with other people makes a lot of sense. What I choose to annotate isn’t just limited to my imagination or my copy of the book anymore, it’s viewable and open for anyone to interpret.

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Matthew Bostock is a writer, reader and overall communications enthusiast living and working in Berlin for Readmill. He’s partial to Twitter, and you can find him scattered elsewhere on the web as matthewcbostock. You can follow Matthew’s writing on Twitter, and you can follow his reading on Readmill.