Meet Glose, a brand new ebook reader for your phone, tablet and laptop. Glose is like the Kindle apps, but on steroids. Reading a book in Glose becomes a collective experience as you can discuss quotes with your friends and other Glose users, keep notes and more. You can also browse a feed of your friend’s annotations to get a taste of books you have yet to read. At heart, the team wants to create a small social network around inspiring books.
But it goes a bit further than that. Glose is also a new ebook store. On launch day, you will already find 300,000 books to buy from traditional book publishers, including 4 of the 5 major publishers — Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette and Macmillan. Prices are competitive with the Kindle Store and the iBooks Store. Like on other platforms, you buy a book once and you can read it on all your devices.
For its first early adopters, Glose recommends a few startup books to read with the community. It works a lot like a book club as you will find a lot more annotations in these books than in the rest of the catalog.
I read the beginning of The Hard Things About Hard Things from Ben Horowitz. Beta users left annotations, and it made me want to read the rest of the book after this post. Glose makes a lot of sense for non-fiction. For example, people working in tech can comment with their personal first-hand experience on the topics of the book.
“I kept a notebook with handwritten notes and key quotes that I wanted to learn by heart or read later,” co-founder and CEO Nicolas Princen told me in a phone interview. “This notebook — I lost it.”
Princen started looking for digital alternatives and wasn’t satisfied with Evernote and other note-taking apps. At the same time, with co-founder and CTO Julien Chaumond, they wanted to build a platform to connect readers who were reading the same book.
This is nothing new. Goodreads is a popular social website for book readers. But when you think about it, Goodreads is not really mobile, and not really interactive. It works more like IMDb — you look at these pages before or after reading a book, not while you are reading a book.
Overall, reading an ebook is still very much like reading the physical copy. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as I stay away from book readers that promise me interactive content and dynamic soundtracks. But Glose is not like that. You will read the very same book, but with more content from other readers.
Glose is available on iOS and the web for now, with Android coming soon. When you open the app, you are presented with your own profile, and your latest highlights and annotations. This way, you can see if people liked or commented on your highlights. In the middle, you will find the books you are currently reading. Other tabs will let you browse the store, or see a feed or your friends’ highlights.
The reading experience is basic but tasteful for now. For example, you can’t select your font, and there are only two font sizes and a night mode. But on the right, you will get numbers telling you if people highlighted this sentence or commented.
It works a lot like Medium’s inline comments and doesn’t interrupt your reading session. If you want to immerse yourself in the book, you can turn off these numbers on the right or restrict them to your friends only. Now, the real difference with the Kindle app is how you highlight content.
“From the very beginning, we realized that it was hard to interact with the text in existing ebook readers,” Princen said. “The first feature we developed was one tap highlighting. We analyze the text to cut it into sentences or short paragraphs. In one tap, you can highlight an entire sentence.”
At first, it’s not very intuitive and you end up accidentally highlighting content — every time you tap the screen, a sentence is highlighted. Then you get used to it and see the potential. I can see myself highlighting a lot more content in Glose than in other readers because of how easy it is. It’s like double tapping a photo on Instagram to like it — after a while, you forget how you lived without this shortcut.
“When we activated one tap highlights, our metrics went up by 3 or 4 times,” Chaumond said. “People now spend more time in our app because this interaction is very strong.”
And of course, you will find all your highlights on your profile, like in your good old notebook. Glose mixes a personal notebook-like experience with social interactions.
When you annotate something, you can add text, photos or even videos. Other people can upvote or downvote your annotations so that the next readers can easily find the best annotations.
Compared to other recent ebook startups like Oyster and Scribd, Glose doesn’t offer an unlimited subscription. As it is using a more traditional transactional model, it can access the current catalog of major publishers. In other words, Glose is playing a different game than Oyster and Scribd. It is competing with Amazon on features.
It remains to be seen whether existing ebook readers will switch to Glose for the community feature. The more people use Glose, the more interesting it becomes. For now, it is a well-designed app with a solid catalog. It is very promising to have a product-oriented team tackling the book reading experience. I hope that a strong community will embrace this new app.