Social Reader

I came up with this idea a while ago, while thinking about the whole e-reader craze. Since it will not be going to fruition, I thought that I would just write a blog entry about it. Maybe someone might find more use for it that me. Afterall, I lack the wherewithal to work on this project on my own anyway.

The idea that I came up with was a social reader. Yes, most of you will argue that reading is a very personal activity and wonder why anyone would want to have a social reader. However, there is at least one scenario where reading becomes a more social activity – in a classroom setting. So, this applies more to reading text-books rather than say Tom Clancy or Patricia Cornwell.

So, I had three ideas on how to use e-book readers in a more social way and I will talk about them here. Since this is a technical blog, I will elaborate mention some of the more technical aspects. Most of the modes elaborated depend on the modes supported by the 802.11a/b/g/n wireless chipset.

In the first case, the reader works in broadcast mode. This mode is suitable for use in a classroom where we have a lecturer broadcasting information to a bunch of students. In such a scenario, the reader used by the lecturer could be set in master mode and the students’ readers set to connect to it in infrastructure mode. In such a situation, wireless bandwidth is effectively shared between all the readers but since only one device is doing most of the talking, it should be fine. The reader application can then be programmed to transmit notes and synchronise meta-information to the students. This could be easily accomplished using rsync, or other system, in the background.

In the second case, the readers work in peer-to-peer mode. This mode is suited to discussion groups and small group teaching. In such a scenario, all readers are set to ad-hoc mode. This will allow each device to talk to every other device in the group. The reader can then be programmed to push or pull annotation between devices. In the background, a distributed management system such as git, or any other system, could be used to easily share data in a structured and managed way. the ability to do a diff and patch to your notes and that of your friends, could prove invaluable in changing how group study works in the future.

The third mode is a local-reader mode. This mode is suited to reading in the local common room. In such a scenario, readers can connect to a local book store that holds books only accessible from that geographical location – the boundaries of which can be controlled via modulating the transmit power of the book store device. Readers can download books held at the store and even upload books to the store, allowing people to share books and to leave books behind for others to read.

Now for the bad news – battery power. All these modes require the use of wifi, which is pretty power hungry. However, this is where there is opportunity for innovation. The operating system software could be designed to handle power efficiently and to only activate the wireless when needed – such as during the beacon intervals. Additionally, the physical layer could be replaced with something low-power such as blue-tooth or zig-bee or even possible uwb when it makes sense to do so.

In order for such a social reader device to succeed, it would need to answer the problem of power. Readers are supposed to be able to last days if not weeks. However, all the wireless communication will kill it quickly, even if low-power wireless technologies are employed.

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Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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