I have long been a pretty happy customer of Amazon.com. In fact I’ve often said that I could never have left the bookstores of Cambridge MA if it hadn’t been for the advent of Amazon. I use their credit card, subscribe to their “prime” service, and I even allowing myself to get suckered into buying their ill-designed Fire tablet. Although I have many reservations about the limited functionality of eReaders, I’ve taken my vanilla Kindle on every trip, and really enjoyed the instant gratification of having my literary and relaxation reading arrive instantly .(I stick to paper for scholarly works since the Kindle is still far too clumsy for taking notes.) But last month I lost my Kindle in the pocket of an airplane. and after a few weeks of using my iPad as a very poor substitute (too BRIGHT!) I have decided to order a new … NOOK.
1. I don’t want to live in a world with no bookstores. In fact, I want to live in a world where every Barnes & Nobles is as well stocked and intelligently merchandised as the one in Union Square New York. But since I can’t carry all the books I want to buy when I go to a well-stocked bookstore, I have to do the right thing and buy the electronic version from the bookstore folks.
2. I want a device that I can read night or day, north or south. The Nook has a built in edge light, so it can be read in bed without extra attachments but it is still readable in bright sunlight — such as outdoors or at my gloriously sunny Atlanta kitchen table (where the tablets are glared into information oblivion).
3. I want the same sense of curation and semantic shelving that I find in really well-managed bookstore. The B&N website, which I once dismissed as a pale imitation of Amazon.com, now offers a much finer granularity of information design reflecting deeper involvement with the actual content of books. Amazon is still a handy place for me to order snorkle goggles, adult bibs for elderly relatives, air conditioner filters in multiple sizes, eyebrow pencils in colors not available in my local drugstore, exactly the right pair of hard to find slipper-socks for my daughter-in-law, but it is much less specific about categorizing books than B&N, as these browse pages for the popular topic of “mysteries” make clear.
Amazon shows me 2 or 3 books at a time, and offers only 4 subcategories for filtering (see left menu bar).
Barnes & Noble by contrast offers 8-12 books at a time and over thirty fine-grained categories, such as “Historical Fiction” and “Women Detectives – Fiction.” They have a taxonomy of the field and a meaningful set of metadata terms that reflect a community of practice — editors, booksellers, readers.
4. My son, who has very high design standards, has long advised me that the Nook has a better interface than the Kindle. Since the Kindle is a disaster for anything beyond turning a page, the bar is set pretty low, but I look forward to trying it out.