By Ben Rooney
One of the interesting start-ups that was seen on the recent TechTour was a small company in Berlin.
Readmill is doing some interesting things to add a social layer to reading, allowing a reader to annotate books, share those comments, track what their friends are reading, and generally have a very rich reading experience.
At the time of the TechTour, Readmill was in closed beta, but they have just launched a public beta, so anyone can now try out their product.
There is almost no social experience around eBooks. Yet book clubs are popular and readers love to share recommendations with other avid readers. This is a mismatch that Readmill aims to fill.
CEO Henrik Berggren, an expat Swede who moved to Berlin to work with fellow countryman Alex Ljung on Soundcloud (an investor in Readmill), modestly describes the iPad app as “the best way to read books on an iPad.”
It is a very elegant application and a great deal of care has been taken to keep the design clean and simple. Opening the app shows your library with clean displays of how much of each book you’ve read per session, how much time you’ve taken and an estimate on how much longer it will take you.
Clicking on a book opens it up.
Marginalia and annotations have been an incredibly rich source of extra information in conventional books since the days of Johannes Guttenburg, in fact arguably long before that, but the introduction of the eBook has made it much harder to do that.
Adding a note to a passage is a simple as highlighting the text and clicking a button. But then the clever part kicks in. Should you wish, you can either browse all of the annotations you have made to a book, hoping between them. Or you can see the annotations of the people you follow.
One particularly powerful addition, says Mr. Berggren, was one author who has added comments to his own book. “An author called Aaron Gustafson has added commentary to his own book. You buy his book, read it in Readmill and see his own comments, giving the extended story on some of the chapters,” he said.
It is not a huge leap from there to see that teachers could use the service to share notes on texts, or book clubs could exchange their views with each other. Readmill has adopted a Twitter-like sense of following rather than the Facebook model. That means following is based not on existing friendships, but on shared interests and likes. Following someone allows you to see their comments, as well as the books they have read.
The company has raised about €300,000, led by Index Ventures and Passion Capital. The business model isn’t completely clear, but there is talk about selling analytics to publishers, etc.
One of the key drawbacks for Readmill, says Mr. Berggren, is the closed world of the Kindle. Readmill works with the open ePub format. The company is hopeful it will be able to work with Amazon, and at the moment you can sync highlights from Amazon Kindle with the Readmill Bookmarklet.
Competition comes from companies like Goodreads, a Dutch start-up, OpenMargin and Amazon’s Shelfari.