Amazon is sitting on the next great social network, and they don’t even realise it

There has never been, so far as I can remember, a social network built on a hardware or commerce platform. Retail sites are constantly trying to introduce social hooks into their service (those annoying “Tell Facebook you just bought this item!” prompts), some with more success than others. An ecosystem-specific social network has yet to succeed.

Apple’s ill-fated Ping comes close, unfortunately it was badly thought out, and essentially served no useful function. Apple closed it down after two years.

Although Apple’s execution was poor, specialist social networks work. GetGlue has become popular with TV and Film fans, MySpace was the destination of choice for music lovers for many years, and Flickr has been the sensible home for photographers for ages.

Enter Amazon, manufacturer of the Kindle, the biggest eBook platform around. Although Amazon doesn’t release sales figures, we can make an educated guess as to how many Kindles are out there. If we apply the 90/9/1 rule to Kindle reviews on Amazon, the Kindle range’s roughly 74,000 reviews (only counting the US and UK sites) translates to around 7.3 million Kindle owners.

Kindle’s Android app falls into the 10m-50m downloads bracket, so lets take the median figure of 35m downloads.

Apple don’t show download figures on the App Store, but if we again apply the 90/9/1 rule to the Kindle app’s 176,000 reviews we end up with 17.4m users.

Add these platforms together and you have roughly 60m users in the Kindle ecosystem. Take into account older Kindle models, Amazon’s Cloud Reader and apps for other mobile platforms, the real number is probably greater than this. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were 75-80 million registered Kindle users worldwide.

Take the Kindle platform social and overnight Amazon would have a network twice as big as MySpace and Flickr, and three times the size of FourSquare. By building a social network on top of an already-successful commerce platform Amazon would also avoid the problem experienced by most social networks after they hit critical mass – “How the hell do we make money?”

That’s all well and good, but how could Amazon turn the Kindle ecosystem into a useful and engaging social network while avoiding a  Ping-esque user apathy debacle? The answer is simply to stop thinking like a retailer, and start thinking like a social network.

Public by default

Currently all Kindle purchases are private by default. Not only this but the options to make your reading status, notes and highlights public are buried deep in the settings of a users’ kindle.amazon.com profile, and are a pain in the ass to toggle. To make a particular book and its notes public, I have to tick both the boxes below on the right for each book -

Kindle sharing

Too much to tick

Think about how other niche networks deal with their medium of choice. Are the songs you listen to on Spotify or Rdio private by default? How about your check-ins on FourSquare, or Likes on Facebook? Kindle purchases and their associated notes and highlights should be public by default, with the option to make them private if a user so desires.

Spruced up, mandatory Kindle profiles

The Kindle profile page is currently a vague nod towards social sharing where it should be a hot-blooded thrust, encouraging users to become more involved with the reading experience. Here’s mine – not exactly inspiring is it?

Kindle profile

Yawn city

I used the Kindle service for, oh, a year or two before I even knew this page existed. The user profile should become an integral part of the Kindle experience, and must be set up when someone begins using a Kindle device or app for the first time.

Currently my recommended “Highly Followed People” shows one user with 780 followers, one with 112 (who has read only one book), and a third user with a fairly paltry 29 followers. These are laughably small numbers for a platform of Kindle’s size (JK Rowling has, by way of example, 1.5 million Likes on Facebook). With expanded usage of user profiles, social juices will begin flowing. Make every user set up a profile and run them through the “find friends” process and suddenly you’ll see plenty more following and activity.

Sharing to other networks

The current Twitter and Facebook integration is a start, but only offers automated sharing when you begin or finish a book, or sharing of “Your thoughts” from the page of individual books. There are clearly users (myself included) who want to share highlights and notes – there’s even a third-party service (Findings) that offered this service.

Social options should be expanded to allow sharing of any highlight or note. Amazon could even create a Kindle sharing widget, similar to an embedded tweet, allowing people to share their favourite passages in a standard format on their blog, complete with links back to the Kindle store.

Kindle Highlight

Consolidation of social and buying pages

For some reason that is completely beyond me, each Kindle book has two distinct pages on Amazon. Take John Sweeney’s excellent Church of Fear; here’s the regular Amazon page to purchase the book, and here’s the second, ‘social’ page for the book.

This can only be bad news for Amazon (and seems symptomatic of their odd approach to social on Kindle). The buying options on the ‘social’ page aren’t nearly as visible, and on the regular Amazon page all the enthusiastic activity going on around the book -the highlighting and notes – is hidden from view. There also appears to be two separate sets of reviews for the book – at the time of writing 49 on the Amazon page and 59 on the ‘social’ page.

Combining these pages will give new users a reason to set up a Kindle profile (so they can contribute their own highlights and notes), as well as consolidating users reviews and increasing sales by sending prospective purchasers to a page that converts better.

Gamification & Stats

The late Google Reader proved those who enjoy the written word are just as keen on a bit of gamification as those who listen to music or check-in to venues. Introducing badges or other rewards that users can display on their profile would improve stickiness, as well as spicing up those dreary user profiles.

A bit of tracking in the Kindle software could also calculate things like reading speed and time spent reading per week or month. Not much practical purpose, but a nice thing to have.

Amazon has another avenue of opportunity here due to Kindle’s hardware arm. How about if users who have read certain numbers of books “unlock” different Kindle hardware configurations? Someone who had read 50 books might get access to a bronze-trim Kindle reader, 100 books unlocks a silver trim, and 200 books gets access to a gold trim? An obvious (and slightly garish) example, but its a reward no other social network can match.

News feed

What are your friends reading? What have they highlighted recently? What books or quotes are trending across the whole Kindle network? An activity feed or hub could answer all these questions and provide a nice landing page for users.

Better Kindle

More social = more revenue

Amazon has made billions by fine-tuning its recommendation algorithm. Customers who bought X also bought Y, so every time someone buys X, let’s show them Y! Recommendation engines are great, but they still can’t beat human endorsement – that’s why Amazon makes such a big deal of user reviews.

By creating a social network wrapped around the core Kindle reading experience, with book purchasing neatly tied in, Amazon could increase their recommendation-driven purchases significantly. Clever inclusion of the Kindle Lending Library could even help them shift a few new Prime subscriptions.

Update

Not that I’m attempting to take credit or anything, but a mere three days after I posted this Amazon up and bought GoodReads. You’re welcome, Bezos.

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