Amazon's Social-Networking Site Doesn't Do Most-Needed Thing

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Kindlers can now follow their fellow tweeters' Public Notes, but still have to go elsewhere for lending and borrowing e-books

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Over the weekend, Kindle users started tweeting about Amazon's Kindle site's new social networking component, which integrates the e-reader's Public Notes feature with Twitter and Facebook contacts. Many readers are already grumbling about the integration going too far. As Tim Carmody puts it:

The new way is a little bit creepy -- particularly since there doesn't seem to have been any announcement from Amazon that they were changing how social media links were going to be used. (Amazon representatives haven't responded to my requests for comment.)

It's also a little bit creepy that the default for linking social media networks is set to broadcast your Public Notes activity on those networks to all your friends and followers. That option at least can be shut off; auto-adding the people you follow can't. If you link your Kindle public notes to Twitter or Facebook because you would occasionally like to share a passage or note from a book you're reading, you're stuck auto-following everybody else who wants to do the same.

Creepy is right. Hopefully Amazon will give users more discretion over whom we're following and with whom we're sharing, something like what Google+ is trying to do for status updates.

But creepiness aside, my real disappointment is that there's still no social network integration with the Kindle e-lending feature, something that would let me enter a title of a book I'd like to read and then see who in my network has it to lend to me. The reason for this seems obvious -- why would Amazon want to create a massive lending pool that would likely lead to people buying fewer books on its site?

But a well designed lending site could also fuel Kindle sales, and, in the absence of such a service coming from Amazon itself, other sites have sprung up to provide, such as Lendle and BookLending.com. The problem with these sites is that they capture only a small slice of the universe of Kindle readers, and it can be hard to find less popular titles (not to mention that a huge portion of books are not "lendable" on Kindle at all, a fact that should give Amazon some comfort were it to consider improving the lending system). In March, Amazon revoked Lendle's API access and then restored it the next day, indicating, at least at some level, that the lending service has Amazon's blessing, though perhaps a begrudged one.

I'm happy to have a disjointed Web experience when it comes to reading -- GoodReads for the recommendations of real-life friends, Amazon for the Public Notes of writers I follow on Twitter (if this catches on), and a variety of publications (e.g. New York Times Sunday Book Review, the New Republic, and my old stomping grounds the Wilson Quarterly) for great reviews. But the integration of Kindle lending with the Kindle site could be so seamless, it's too bad that for now the only options are elsewhere.

Image: ReillyButler/Flickr.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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