Book Fans Get A Widget of Their Own

Here’s an interesting effort to make books — you know those things with covers and pages inside and no bits or bytes included? — sexy to social networking kids. HarperCollins had announced:

an innovative campaign to promote titles online through its digital warehouse. The Browse Inside widget enables fans and authors to embed sample pages of their favorite books directly onto social networking sites and blogs, marking the first time a syndicated reader for books has been available online.

“The Browse Inside widget is the most recent marketing tool we have developed using the capabilities of our digital warehouse to market our titles to the MySpace generation online,” said Brian Murray, Group President, HarperCollins. “We are extending our reach beyond the HarperCollins site to where many potential book buyers visit – on social communities, blogs or author sites.”

The widget provides simple code that can be copied and placed on a profile or blog. Currently, the standard browsable sample pages that are available include the covers, front matter, back matter and first three pages of chapters one and two.

“The Browse Inside widget – when spread through online communities – is today’s equivalent of picking up a book off of a friend’s coffee table and glancing through it,” said Josh Kilmer-Purcell, New York Times bestselling author of I Am Not Myself These Days (Harper Perennial). “It’s my electronic calling card to online communities.”

To harken back to the Robinson study about time use I mentioned the other day, it does seem that internet users in general do read more than people who don’t use the internet, but whether the “MySpace generation” is yearning for a book widget, I don’t know, but I bet enough are to make it at least interesting. With the HUGE exception of fans writing fan fiction based on books (Harry Who?), and the odd blogger blogging books, it has always seemed to me that print publishing has not made good inroads into the online communities of internet users. The basic principles of going where the buyers are rather than waiting for them to come to you and giving the people already into what you do the tools to tell others about it in engaging ways is certainly right on, but whether this will be the viral electronic calling card they hope for or just a cute gizmo for a few die-hards remains to be seen.

A Brief Interlude of Fandom

Today I ran across a quote someone was using in her ‘about me’ profile from Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs:

Songs are what I listen to, almost to the exclusion of everything else. I don’t listen to classical music or jazz very often, and when people ask me what music I like, I find it very difficult to reply, because they usually want names of people, and I can only give them song titles. And mostly all I have to say about these songs is that I love them, and want to sing along to them, and force other people to listen to them, and get cross when these other people don’t like them as much as I do…

… which really struck me because right now I am in the midst of a mad passionate sonic love affair with the eclectic collection of songs that is Radiola by The Fine Arts Showcase (aka Gustaf Kjellvander) and I just want to force you all to listen to those songs until you feel what I feel when you hear them. I will refer you to their Malmö, Sweden-based record label’s page for them, where you can stream their songs in glorious stereo streams and admire the newly unveiled web design work of Slivka while you’re at it.

In an effort to have some content other than personifying this blog’s topic by using the internet to gush effusively about how you All Need To Hear This Record Now, I will point out my irritation that their own website is totally lame — it has very little information or content, calls a “guestbook” a “forum” and, worst of all, refers you to a MySpace page, where there’s more content and a b-side can be streamed (ok, but why not let us stream it on your own site?). At least the official site gives his email address (would he write back?). I understand the need to have a MySpace presence, but it shouldn’t be any musician’s primary internet presence. The site under your own domain name should have at least as much to offer. Gustaf, I’m yours, don’t send me to MySpace.

Virb’s Slick First Impression

In my ongoing quest to explore music social networking sites, I spent some time over the weekend playing with Virb, which is yet another forthcoming MySpace killer social network that’s right now in an invitation-only beta. It’s somewhat music focussed — musicians and labels can create accounts and upload their music, it has a download plugin that logs iTunes listens and calculates top song, artist, album charts and can show real time listens. It has no streaming music except what bands upload, which leaves them wanting in comparison to sites like, MOG, and iLike. It’s Virbtunes plugin only tracks iTunes listens, not those using any other players or mp3 players which is also a major shortcoming, but it is blissfully invisible.

But Virb’s not meant to be a full service music site (the same company’s site PureVolume strives for that) and it does way better than any of the music sites I’ve seen at integrating blogging, video posting and picture posting. It also has a module-based design that they make very easy to customize — you can turn modules on and off, choose what their titles are, move them around, and mess with the color scheme to your heart’s content and still have a hard time making it ugly. It’s a nice format for a flexible range of self presentations, you can really choose what to emphasize about yourself. If you’re css-literate, you can muck with your code, and there are some really nice looking pages on there (and some that are, shall we say, less successful in their creative expression). Textonic has a good overview with screen shots. Mashable’s take:

Virb is what MySpace would be like if it actually worked: a nice design, simple and intuitive navigation and just as much (perhaps even more) customization – not only can you edit all your profile’s colors and fonts in the basic view, but advanced users can edit the css and html, as well as building custom modules (basically snippets of html that make it easier to organize the various items on your page). There’s photo sharing too, of course, plus video-sharing, tagging, groups, comments, messaging and all the other standard features. Coming from the makers of PureVolume, there’s also a strong musical element: a download called Virbtunes works like MOG or, tracking the music you listen to in iTunes and making recommendations. And just like on MySpace, bands also have special pages from which you can grab tracks to populate a player on your own profile.

As most of the beta testers have pointed out, it’s pretty impressive. There’s certainly some ill-will towards MySpace in the design and developer communities, and there’s already a buzz generating around the product that’s similar to the niche brand-power of 37Signals. There’s clearly no chance that the majority of MySpacers will switch, but the real question is whether Virb can roll out in time before the users go elsewhere.

I started a group (“Scandinavia!”), which attracted 2 members from Iceland who I didn’t know plus Avi (who invited me) joined it. I found one person I know offline on there and one I used to know. My initial sense is that unless you were invited into or used your invitations to import a social network you already built elsewhere, there is not enough going on there to make it super sticky yet, so I agree with Mashable that the roll out time is a key issue.

It gets me thinking about all kind of questions:

What is the upper limit in how many online social network sites a person can actively maintain a presence? You can craft an identity and refer people to other places on multiple social network sites, but there’s a cap on how many you can really spend time engaging.

Given that, and given that there are now hundreds if not thousands of social network sites to choose from, what makes people choose to invest in the sites that they do?

Is there a balance of specialized and niche sites in the portfolio of one’s online self?

What are the different strategies people use in choosing these sites to craft just the right multifaceted identity?

How and to what extent do those strategies and self presentations incorporate and rely on our fandom for music, for specific bands, for sports, tv, movies, sneakers, wine… ?

And what about the grownups?

Any thoughts on this from personal experience, things you’ve read, conversations you’ve had, studies you’ve done, etc welcomed. I’ve come to learn lately that there are more interesting people lurking on this blog than I knew, so tell us what you think.

Also, I have some Virb invitations left if you want to explore.

NASCAR gets a Social Network Site

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is spearheading the launch of Infield Parking, a social networking site for NASCAR fans. The cool thing about this one seems to be that they’ve got several drivers lined up to participate in advance of its launch:

Infield Parking is launching in concert with the start of the racing season. Nine drivers will be launching Infield Parking web pages this weekend in addition to Earnhardt Jr. They are Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Elliott Sadler, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin and Shane Huffman. Many other NASCAR drivers will be launching pages of their own in the coming weeks.

They’re calling personal profiles “parking spaces” which I have to admit is kind of cute. Says Earndhardt:

“Infield Parking offers fans a cool new way to interact with drivers and the opportunity to connect with other fans around the world,” said Earnhardt Jr., president of Infield Parking. “During the season fans get to watch us race and see us at the track, but Infield Parking will give them a more personal level of access to the drivers and other fans through photos, blogs and video clips. “We came up with the idea for Infield Parking last year and it’s pretty cool to see everything come together as we launch it nationally. With today’s launch, I can’t wait to see the fan response.”

Plus the site’s got a nice looking front page and right there Dale asks for “your help” in providing feedback to make the site the best it can be.

They built a NASCAR track not too far from where I live a few years ago and man, if you ever want to see fandom at its most passionate, check out that scene. For one, what was rural farmland is now a shopping mecca and it is not overstating to say that this track (and the Cabelas and Nebraska Furniture Mart that followed) have transformed the wealth of Wyandotte County, Kansas. For two — and this is the part that gets me all wowwed even though it’s not my scene — drive by on any race weekend and there’s an instant town that’s gone up of RVs belonging to fans who seem to be doing a Grateful Dead like instant community construction project wherever NASCAR may go. It’s clearly a lifestyle as much as a hobby for an awful lot of people, so I suspect this site is going to work out well for them.

MOG, the music social networking site, also makes a point of foregrounding the pages of the musicians who are on there. MySpace has, of course, been working this angle since its inception. If the celebs are really in there nteracting and making things available that fans can’t get elsewhere, then being there becomes a must for the die-hard fan. Add on to that the kind of passionate fan community where fans have already built deep networks of personal connections over the phenomenon, and unless someone blows it, it oughta be gold.

How to build for the long haul

The other day I seem to have raised a hackle or two with my post criticising’s upgrade. So I wanted to turn for a quick hot minute here to something they’ve done phenomenally right that just kind of slipped under everyone’s radar. A couple of months ago, with very little ado and as far as I can tell, no announcements, they launched new versions of in multiple languages. They had already launched in Japanese. Now you can view the site in German, Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Portugese, Russian, Chinese, and Korean as well. Here’s a screen shot from the lower right corner of any page: screen shot
In the end, if there is one thing that keeps head and shoulders above the competition, I think it is going to be this savvy about the internationalism of the phenomenon they’re working. It’s one thing to get the Americans and Brits using your site, but if you can make yourself the premier site in China and Brazil, well that might be all the eyeballs a site is ever gonna need.

It’s easy for people in English speaking countries to forget that most of the world and most internet users, don’t speak English and, even if they do, might well prefer sites in their own languages. If you’ve been looking at the pie charts of the languages of internet users over the years as I have, it’s amazing how quickly the English slice is shrinking while the others, especially Chinese, expand. The web’s future is not English-only and deserve praise and emulation for recognizing it.