Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Mystery of the Missing Amazon Public Notes

Prime Suspect: The New Amazon Upgrade Program
Amazon Public Notes look like they are taking a turn that only a detective can figure out.

I blogged in February about the Great News of Amazon adding a new feature to their eBooks called Public Notes in which readers could share highlights and notes with other readers. In that blog, I detailed some areas I thought were potential high benefit areas.

Public Notes have caught on with Kindle 3 users as more and more readers add their ideas and thoughts. If I follow the instructions, I can add my own notes as well as view other reader’s public notes.

I decided to go investigate the Public Notes process to see if there were any surprises or changes to the initial release. I not only found some surprises but I can see Amazon moving along in a whole new direction. One that I didn’t see coming.

The Process is Very Elementary

For the purposes of this blog, I selected the eBook with the most Public Notes to date. The leader was “THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES” with over 200 people adding notes and highlights. Since I share no expense in researching for my blogs, I downloaded the FREE version of the eBook.

Let me share with you the simple process.
1.      After I downloaded the eBook, I went to my “Your Books” section for my account and turned on the settings for: MAKE READING STATUS & RATING PUBLIC and the PUBLIC NOTES: MAKE YOURS PUBLIC for this eBook.

2.      Next I clicked on the “ADVENTURES…” title to view the books summary page. It showed that my status for this eBook, “PUBLIC”, had been unlocked. The page also showed me that 223 Customers had Public Notes for this eBook. To view other reader’s notes, you must setup a connection between yourself and the other reader called ‘Following’.

TIP: I could preview other reader’s posts and highlights on the books summary page but I couldn’t view Public Notes on my Kindle 3 until I ‘followed’ an individual reader to view their notes. Preview is the clue here. Only a portion of a reader’s notes can be viewed from the books summary page.

3.      I clicked on the number ‘223’ and a dropdown list called “Customers with Public Notes for this Book” appeared with the names of readers that had added public notes to this eBook.

4.      I selected one of the reader’s names and their profile appeared. Just under the name was a button named “Follow”. I clicked on the button and I was automatically following this reader. Now their notes for this eBook were going to appear on my Kindle 3. Very elementary.

IDEA: It would have been so much easier to have a ‘SELECT ALL’ button rather than going through all 223 readers to see their notes.
POTENTIAL PROBLEM: it seems there is no control over who follows you and who can view your note.

Back in the day even Watson could keep up with Holmes if he had a Kindle and they could sync their notes. I can visualize Dr. Watson taking notes for Holmes and maybe for once, Watson and Holmes would finally be on the same page.

The Plot Thickens
It was time to check the current Public Notes features against my blog in February 2011. There was indeed Good News. The Kindle 3 and Amazon connection was working great. My notes were present with little tags in the content. I had set my notes to be synced with all my devices so they would appear on my Kindle and in my Kindle for PC app.

Other reader’s public notes and highlights were there. Amazon even had included a note of who had created the annotation.

The eBook’s Popular Highlights for all readers of the eBook were underlined with dots and the number of people that highlighted the passage was noted.

TIP: on your Amazon site under “Manage your Device”, you must have the Whispersync Device Synchronization turned on.
Next I reviewed some of the opportunities I had addressed in my blog in the Educational area. They involved the coordination of Public Notes between a Kindle 3 device and Kindle for PC/Mac Apps.

I had discussed the use of teachers and students sharing notes in their etextbooks along with the authors being able to add additional ideas or updates after the eBook was published.

I had known that Kindle 2’s would not include Public Notes but I did not realize until this research that the Kindle Apps do not include Public Notes either. Maybe in the future?

A Red Herring?
As Sherlock Holmes would say “Watson, I have come across a three pipe problem.” While doing my research I came across what may be a clue for the missing public notes in the apps. Amazon has a new program called the Amazon Upgrade which focuses on the use of Public Notes and I believe the future of eBook viewing. As close as I can tell, the program is designed to help authors and publishers get more revenue from the increased use and popularity of Public Notes.

Evidence of foul play for the Reader
The Upgrade program allows a reader to view an online version of an eBook which is accessed from any Internet-connected computer using a browser.

The reader will be able to read, search and annotate every page online along with highlights, bookmarks, copy text and print pages using the Amazon Online Reader from inside a browser. This is not a Kindle for App. The Amazon Online Reader is the same program used to view the Search Inside! purchasing feature for the samples of an eBook.

You can access directly and the eBook will be stored in your media library. The reader can view public notes of other Amazon Upgrade customers.

Can anyone see where the trail is leading us?

Publishers and Authors have a motive
Let’s investigate deeper into the problem or should I say mystery.
1.     Amazon has created the Upgrade process to generate incremental revenue and increase our    costs.

2.     The content will be kept on the Amazon servers, in a cloud no doubt.

3.     You only have access to books purchased through Amazon.

4.     You can only read the eBook using the Amazon Online Reader not on a Kindle or using Kindle for Apps.

Amazon Upgrade Process

If my evidence is correct, this is a crime of the highest order. Here is how the process works.
1.     First to have access to the Upgrade process, you must buy the physical version of the book. No other vendors or personal uploads can be used.

2.     Next you must pay an additional charge for the online version of the same book.

3.     The book must be a part of the Amazon Upgrade program. Not all are.

4.     Not all publishers and authors will participate. In other words, not all books will be in the Upgrade Program.

So do we have a clue what is going to happen?
1.      The process is simple, elementary for starters.

2.      This is not an eBook only program. The author must have a physical book in inventory and it must have a digital version.

3.      You can view the Upgrade notes online but not on your Kindle.

4.      This has to be a Tablet venture with the use of a browser to view the notes.

5.      The process is controlled by publishers and maybe self-publishers but Amazon controls what eBooks they make available for the Upgrade program.

6.      One good thing is a real name is associated with each public note. At least when ‘the kids’ start playing with the notes, we will know who they are or at least where to find them.

WARNING: I see no gatekeeper here or a way to monitor the notes, so that could be a problem.

So where is Amazon going with this? Are they changing the way we use public notes by connecting them to the purchase of the physical book? Are simple ereaders like the Kindle still in Amazon’s plans or are they moving the eBook to online viewing with the use of tablets? Maybe we need Sherlock around to figure this one out?

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Holmes and Watson picture by Sidney Pagnet

Picture Image via Wikipedia

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