Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why Is Everyone Stuck in 1980's Thinking?

Earlier in my career I was a programmer at NCR. That was in the 1980's, the dawn of truly bad music and even worse hair styles. I came to NCR towards the end of their inwardly-focused, proprietary business model. They built their own hardware that supported their operating system and ran their own applications. It was a model that made sense at one point, but was getting clobbered by the open alternatives that were sprouting up.

Last night I was criticized by people who I think are still stuck in the 1980's. When I wrote this tweet at the bookstore I got a slew of direct messages and other replies about how "it's so wrong to browse a physical bookstore, buy nothing and go home to buy the Kindle editions" of what I liked. Btw, I've had representatives from both the major U.S. brick-and-mortar bookstores tell me they're well aware of customers who come in and browse the store then go home and buy on Amazon for 34% off. So the Kindle approach I tweeted about is more of the same, only with a new layer of technology involved. (Btw, I should also mention that my wife bought two books while we were there, so our family supports the store even if I don't directly).

I'm blogging about this because I think it's important to move on, to recognize customer habits are changing and, most importantly, to adapt! This is a Darwinian thing where either the brick-and-mortar stores will evolve or die off. Right now they don't have to worry about ebook sales putting them out of business, but in a few years, who knows?

I'm in the publishing business and I face a similar issue every single day. That's why I'm working so hard to experiment with new ways of delivering content. As I've said many times now, my biggest competitor isn't another's Google. I'm not going to sit around whining about how all those prospective customers are killing the publishing business by using free solutions online. I'm too busy trying to create something that's better than those free alternatives, not sticking my head in the sand and wishing they didn't exist!

Amazon, in some respects, is also still operating with a 1980's mentality. The Kindle is about as closed a platform as you'll find these days. Heck, even Apple, the king of proprietary systems, has opened the iPhone up to third-party developers. Apple still decides who gets in the App Store and who doesn't, but I'm told that most submissions eventually make it through and are offered to the iPhone/iTouch customer base.

Why in the world won't Amazon open the Kindle platform to third-party developers?! I wish I could configure my Kindle so that every purchase I make and every sample I downloaded would be auto-Twittered. Heck, Amazon acts as if Twitter doesn't even exist, so the thought of auto-Twittering is completely foreign to us Kindle owners. That's just one great example of the add-on application ecosystem that would develop if Amazon would just open their API to developers.

Jeff Bezos, turn off the Madonna CD, pause Dirty Dancing on your VCR and open up the Kindle platform!!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pass this on to your friends

Those of us who fell in love with the Kindle long ago often forget that there are a whole lot of people out there who have not even heard about it yet.  And there are many more who have heard of the Kindle but aren't quite sure what it is or what it can and can not do.

As any Kindle evangelist has probably discovered already, one of the most common misconceptions about Kindle is that you must buy all of your books from Amazon.  With all of the free books available (legally) for the Kindle, one could read a lifetime and never purchase a single book from 

Etan Horowitz from The Orlando Sentinal has published a nifty, concise guide to finding those free books and getting them on your Kindle.  Yeah, you already know this stuff, but it's a great page to send to those new Kindle owners in your life or anyone thinking of becoming one. 

Horowitz doesn't list all the sources for Kindle freebies, but his article is a nice starting point.


What I'm reading now on my Kindle:  The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Follow me on Twitter @phigginbotham.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Interview with Kindlefeeder Founder Daniel Choi

If you're not using Kindlefeeder you need to check it right now. I've basically abandoned my traditional RSS reader and read all my feeds exclusively on my Kindle via this terrific service.

I've gotten to know Kindlefeeder's founder, Daniel Choi, a bit over the past year or so and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for the following blog interview:

JW: Kindlefeeder has pretty much replaced my need for a separate RSS reader. What sort of feedback have you heard from other customers?

DC: Basically, the feedback has ranged from really appreciative to effusively grateful. Lots of Kindlefeeder users really like what the service adds to their daily Kindle use.

JW: Are there any features you're working on for a future release that you could share with us now?

DC: Since I rewrote the softwore for Kindlefeeder at the end of Februrary (the first version was launched in September), I've been putting out fires and trying to get the new version of the service into a stable, relatively bug-free state. I'm still in fireman-exterminator mode right now. I also have other projects and clients that I need to devote serious time to. So major new features for Kindlefeeder are probably at least a few weeks off in the future.

But there are a few smaller features and improvements I do have in the queue. A few people have asked for the ability to schedule more than one feed delivery per day, and I think that feature suggestion has merit.

I also really want to improve Kindlefeeder's handling of different character encodings. Right now the service does a good job with feeds encoded in UTF-8, but it's hit or miss with feed content that comes in other character encodings.

Another great suggestion a user gave me was to embed a link right inside the Kindlefeeder documents that you could click to trigger a fresh new delivery from Kindlefeeder to your Kindle. I think that's a really cool idea.

JW: How has your growth rate been for the service? Have you noticed an up-tick in subscribers now that Kindle 2 is shipping?

DC: For the first few months after I launched the first version of the site last September, growth was pretty modest. Kindlefeeder plateaued at around 350 or so users by around December.

But then, at the end of February, after the Kindle 2 started shipping, my user base more than doubled in the space of a week. Now there are over 1,200 users and the user base is currently increasing by around 25 new users a day.

JW: I've often wondered what the author of this great service does with his Kindle. I mostly read The New York Times, KindleFeeder feeds and a couple of magazines. IOW, I don't use it as much for books as I thought I would. How does your usage look?

DC: I actually like to read books on my Kindle, especially nonfiction. I think I've read around 25 books on it since I got my Kindle (1.0) last August, and I enjoyed most of them. The last books I read are Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz, Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, and The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson. I'm almost done reading So Damn Much Money by Robert Kaiser, and that's a really important book I think everyone should read.

But I also use Kindlefeeder to read feeds from my favorite blogs. I like to read feeds from The Economist, Slashdot, and BBC News.

JW: If you could wave your magic wand, what are the top 2 or 3 features you'd love to see Amazon add to the Kindle?

DC: First, I would really, really love to be able to write notes and annotations on an e-ink screen with a stylus or some sort of electronic pen. The ability to scrawl notes in margins and underline, star, and circle passages is the most important reason I still often buy printed books, even when they're available in a Kindle version. I hate using the "Add Note" and "Highlight" features on my Kindle. They're totally clunky and unnatural.

Second, I would love to have a device with a much bigger screen. I mean big enough to show at least two pages at once. Because then you could do a lot of productive cross-referencing. This is important when you're reading something like an O'Reilly programming book. You need to be able to cross-reference the table of contents, the index, and multiple chapters really easily. Until then, I'll keep buying print copies of books on software programming.

Friday, March 13, 2009

But I could buy a netbook for that!

A few weeks ago my old television died. I decided to finally take the plunge into the world of high definition television. I shopped around and found an HDTV that suited me perfectly.

But then it hit me. For the same amount of money, or less, I could have bought so much more. I paid good money for something that does only one thing -- display video -- when I could have spent a little less and had a machine that not only displays video but also plays DVDs and VHS tapes! What was I thinking?! Surely the machine that does it all is much better.

That's the mentality that pervades many who scoff at the Kindle's steep price tag and uni-tasking nature. Read an internet forum about the Kindle and without fail some naysayer will eventually bring up netbooks as a better alternative. After all, the Kindle only does one thing well: display e-books. Why wouldn't you prefer a netbook for the same money since it can do so many other things in addition to that?

The problem is, we avid readers don't want another device that does all those things. We want something designed specifically for reading books. Period. And while netbooks can certainly do the job, the quality of the screen, the battery life, and the ease of purchasing new reading material can't begin to compare to the Kindle.

Dan Ackerman of C-Net's "The Download Blog" discovered just that recently when he pitted an Acer Aspire One against the Kindle as an e-book reader.

"In the end, our Netbook was not a perfect substitute for the $359 Amazon Kindle 2. The Acer Aspire was heavier and harder to hold onto, and while the screen was bigger, unlike the Kindle's muted grey-on-grey, the bright glow of the LCD is tiring to the eyes after a while."

Ackerman still views netbooks as a suitable alternative, especially given the price of the Kindle, but as a pure e-book reader he admits that the Kindle wins.

Don't get me wrong. I like netbooks and would love to have one someday. But not for reading.

Multi-purpose devices are handy, but sometimes you want something that just does one thing -- and does it better than anything else.


Currently reading on my Kindle: Silas Marner by George Eliot.
Follow me on Twitter @phigginbotham.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tips and Tricks for Kindle 2.0 Owners

For those readers who own a Kindle 2.0, here is a list of tips and tricks, courtesy of Amazon's own Kindle Blog.

Sleep/Wake: slide and release the power switch

Show the time: press 'Menu' and the time shows at the top of the screen

Want to jump from page 1 to 5 of your Home screen? Press '5' then press the 5-way controller

To bookmark: ALT-B

If you'd like to quickly jump to the Web, type in your search terms and move the 5-way controller to the right and then select 'google'.

To search Wikipedia, select 'wikipedia' as the search category.

To search content by a specific author: @author [author's name] in the Kindle Store search bar

To view summaries of the articles in a newspaper or magazine, while viewing the section list, click on the number showing the number of articles in a section

To jump quickly through a newspaper or magazine, move the 5-way controller to the right to advance to the next article

To play or stop an MP3: ALT-space bar

Advance to next song: ALT-F
Pause an Audible file: space bar

Play or stop Text-to-Speech: shift-SYM (note that the shift key is the up arrow)
Pause Text-to-Speech: space bar

Turn Kindle off: slide and hold the power switch for 4 seconds

Reset Kindle: slide/hold power switch for 15 seconds

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kindle for iPhone: Amazon's Gateway Drug

Last week Amazon introduced 'Kindle for iPhone', an application which enables you to read Amazon ebooks on your iPhone. The interweb buzz centered on the notion that the decision to launch this application was a reflection of Amazon's desire to sell ebooks, not devices (the Kindle). I disagree.

The people who already own Kindles and iPhones will realize how superior reading on their Kindle is to reading on their iPhone. The comparison will be made and 'Kindle reading' will crush 'iPhone reading.' Alternatively, the people who don't own Kindles and download the application to their iPhone are just putting themselves on the Kindle-buying launching pad. They may not be in the market for a Kindle right now, but come Christmas. . .

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reading Comfort: Kindle 2 vs. Kindle 1

I just got a message from a Kindleville reader who had this to say about the difference between Kindle 1 and Kindle 2:

Side-by-side, the K1 text is bolder and jumps out at you. It's as if the low fidelity, dot-matrix-like typeface of the K1 is better suited for the reading experience than the feathered, crisp, 16-shades of gray of the K2. After 30 minutes of reading on the K2, my eyes get tired and I actually experience mild dizziness, headaches. Never experienced that with the K1.
Is anyone else out there finding the Kindle 2 provides a less pleasant reading experience than Kindle 1?

iPhone Reading and Sync Now Available!

Amazon quickly and quietly rolled out its iPhone client yesterday. It's available in the iTunes App store right now.

I downloaded and installed the Amazon Kindle App for my iPhone. I plugged in my Amazon user name and password and all my Amazon books appeared instantly. Interestingly, the current novel I'm reading, Dogville, a free e-book that SciFi publisher Tor made available this past fall, did not show up, only purchases from Amazon.

Perhaps most interesting is the Whispersync feature, recently announced with the Kindle 2.0 roll out. Whispersync will synchronize your reading progress across the Amazon supported devices you own. For example, if you are on page 50 of a novel and pick up your iPhone to read, it will take you to page 50. If you read 10 pages on yoru phone and then return to your Kindle, it will track your progress and start you on page 60.

A deeper review of both Amazon's iPhone application and the Kindle 2.0 are forthcoming.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Now That Kindle 2 is Here, What Happens with Kindle 1 "Experimental"?

When I got my Kindle 1 last year I was curious to see how Amazon would add to and enhance the "Experimental" feature set of the device. (The Experimental main menu option is how you access the Kindle's web browser and music player, btw.) More than a year after Kindle 1 came out, Amazon has added zero functionality to the Experimental options. Zippo. Nothing. Nada.

Now that Kindle 2 is on the scene I can't help but think Amazon will completely abandon new features on Kindle 1. What a sham, er, shame. Early adopters flocked to Kindle 1 with the hope that Amazon would treat this area much like Google leverages their Labs. Take a look at Google Labs to see all the cool stuff going on there. It's a terrific place to preview the next tool Google has lined up in their plan for world domination. Amazon had the same opportunity with Experimental but they've laid an egg.

It's one thing to allow cobwebs to collect in this space, but I'm even more concerned about the features on Kindle 2 that could easily be made available on Kindle 1. Text-to-speech is a great example. Will Amazon ever offer that feature to Kindle 1 owners via a software/firmware update? If not, why not?

Come on, Jeff. Reward your loyal early adopters who sprung $360 for the homely Kindle 1. Are you really trying to force us to spend more than $700 total for two generations of the same device in about 12 months, just to get a couple of new features?

In all fairness, I really think Kindle 2 should have been called Kindle 1.1. Give me an open architecture where third-party apps can be added, where I can buy and download content from a variety of resellers, with great social networking functionality built that would be a second generation Kindle!