Steve Hargadon hosted a panel discussion the other night on the topic of “The Future of Books and Reading” and I was honored to take part with Maggie Tsai of Diigo, Travis Alber and Aaron Miller of BookGlutton, and author Bob Burg. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Diigo, and during our discussion I started thinking what the ultimate in social reading might be. This is still thin thinking, but this is what I want for Father’s Day, kids.

I want to be able to buy a cloud book, that is a license that allows me to access my copy of the book from any device that gets me online. (This assumes, of course, that the book hasn’t been released with a CC license, in which case I just need the access.) As I read my copy, I want to be able to annotate it a la Diigo, but I also want to invite others who have a license to that particular title to join me in the reading and annotating. (This is what BookGlutton is doing with public domain and CC licensed books, though the annotations are not on the text itself like in Diigo; more on the margins.) I want to be able to see and interact with all of those notes from any device as well. In addition, I want to be able to see all of the annotations by people who are also reading, and since that might be overwhelming, I want to be able to sort what annotations I view by date, geography of the reader and by tags. This last one is the key. I know I’ve said this many times before, but if I ever got the ability to tag at the comment level, my ability to organize my reading, writing and learning life would increase exponentially. I seriously get giddy thinking about being able to create digital notebooks filled with pages created by pulling together individual notes from disparate sources around one tag that I’ve left somewhere, complete with linkbacks and reference information. If we taught kids to do that, imagine the notebooks they could construct over their school years. Imagine getting rid of all that paper.

Imagine.

Kevin Kelly wrote this three years ago in the New York Times, and it appears we’re getting there:

Turning inked letters into electronic dots that can be read on a screen is simply the first essential step in creating this new library. The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages.

While much of this will be done by the technology (the Semantic Web awaits) we’ll add the context, tweak the relevance. I know there is the potential for all sorts of havoc here, all sorts of breaking of tradition, all sorts of reading attention issues and much more. But maybe I’m an optimist to think that we could do this well, that it could be a value add, that while it will certainly be different, it could actually be better. I really love being at the beginning of all of this. Will be great fun to watch it all unfold.

(Photo “Sweet Home Under White Clouds” by tipiro.)