in Books

The joy of Readmill

It has been over six months since I stopped using Readmill and I still think about it regularly. If you are not aware, Readmill was a social reading platform that let you track and log your reading, make highlights in ebooks (or if you were really enthusiastic type them in manually from physical books), ‘follow’ other readers, and have conversations about each other’s readings and highlights. They also made a simply beautiful ebook reader for iOS and Android. When they announced that they had sold the company to Dropbox and would be shutting it down I was heartbroken, an emotion that I don’t think I had ever experienced with a service on the web. They admitted that they had failed to create a sustainable platform and even if their (generally enthusiastic) users started to pay for the service they would not be able to make it viable. All of their work had a touch of class to it and this included the point where they left us—each reader was given the ability to download a beautiful Readmill ‘story’ containing details of all of the books they have read and highlights they have made and ‘liked’. I still go back to mine frequently when I want to refer to a particular quote.

For me, the joy of Readmill came from the conversations that a simple highlight could spark. I followed a large number of users, almost all of whom I didn’t know before I started using the service. The resulting activity feed showing all of the books they were reading and the highlights they were making was always worth scrolling through and I spent many hours browsing these as well as contributing my own as I went along.

Up until the point that I found Readmill I had always considered myself to be a reader but in truth I spent many more hours in front of Twitter or Instapaper than I did with books. Readmill changed all that for me and soon became my favourite activity. It got me reading books again—a lot of books—which is probably the highest praise I can give it.

Since Readmill disappeared I’ve been searching for a replacement with limited success. The Marvin iOS app was the obvious place to go to read my large backlog of ePub books; it’s a brilliant reading app but it completely lacks the social features and website that made Readmill so great. Glose looks interesting and is one to keep an eye on—it has social features and looks very similar to Readmill but at the moment you can only read books available on their store and not upload your own. I’ve also been trying out The Pigeonhole which takes things in a slightly different direction—you sign up to a book which is then delivered to you over a number of weeks in the form of ‘staves’ along with additional related content such as videos, author insights etc. and the ability to discuss the staves with other readers. Publishing books as a series is very reminiscent of how Charles Dickens’ works were originally released in periodicals and indeed they are making Great Expectations available in this format for free so you can try them out.

The folks at Readmill had really made something special and it was such a shame it didn’t work out. Six months later I am still in contact with a few of the ex-users as we stumble across new reading services and platforms—it’s as if we’re all trying to find a new place to live. Sadly, we haven’t found anywhere quite as nice just yet.

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