Kindle: not your parents’ eBook.

On November 19, Amazon.com announced its first foray into hardware: a portable eBook reader called the Kindle. Amazon hopes the Kindle will become the iPod of books – a portable personal library you can take anywhere.

Amazon Kindle (image courtesy Amazon.com)

That same day, the National Endowment for the Arts announced the results of a new study: young Americans are reading less.

So it makes sense that despite obvious similarities, the Kindle and the iPod target very different markets. Whereas Apple turned the iPod into an icon of digital native culture, Amazon is aiming the Kindle squarely at digital immigrants.

Look at the features Amazon is touting. A display that mimics the look of ink on paper. A built in wireless book store so you never have to touch a computer. The ability to change text size. In short, it’s designed for people who hate using computers and have bad eyesight.

Meanwhile, with a screen saver featuring the likes of Jane Austen and the Gutenberg printing press, along with what the popular technology blog Engadget calls “a big ol’ dose of the ugly,” the Kindle is almost aggressively unhip. As one analyst told the Wall Street Journal, “No one is going to buy Kindle for its sex appeal.”

Moreover, digital natives tend to be more comfortable reading from traditional LCD screens than their parents are. Indeed, some of us, myself included, actually prefer reading from a screen. I’d much rather read a book on, say, an iPhone, than have to carry a separate device.

But as the NEA study (3.3 MB PDF) makes clear, most readers aren’t digital natives. If older consumers take to the Kindle in droves, perhaps they could become the digital natives of literature, defining the new paradigm for how we read digital books.

In a sense then, whether knowingly or not, Amazon is performing a large scale social experiment. We can’t wait to see the results.

-Jesse Baer

CNN YouTube Debates

Tonight, CNN and YouTube hosted the republican complement to the successful democratic debate they hosted last June. The premise is the same: allow anyone to submit a question on YouTube, and then pose selected ones to candidates. Many would agree that this is a good step towards a participatory democracy (see John Palfrey’s post about it here), but some still want more. The New York Times has a series of Op Eds about what a “real, new-media debate would look like.” The responses range from cynical to creative, with some well planned enough to see possible implementation. Here I’d like to discuss some of the most thought provoking.

Kevin Kelly, an editor at large for Wired magazine, notes that “the truth becomes something you assemble with the help of friends” and on a continuous basis. He suggests having the lives of candidates constantly documented so citizen journalists can fact check and note not only the “oops” moments but also the “aha” ones.

Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry, the co-founders of TechPresident.com, offer a simple and effective way to better cull the videos submitted by users: let other users vote. I agree that, in theory, this would be more representative of the population, but it allows for viral videos to overtake other ones that may be more important to ask. But who currently decides what is most important to ask? Right now, the answer is still a panel of journalists that review the submissions and try to cover the most salient issues. The panel selects videos in light of viewing all the rest, whereas a voting public likely will not.

Matt Bai, contributing editor for the New York Times magazine, proposes that the candidates have laptops behind the lecterns and type comments that would be displayed on an overhead monitor while the other candidate answers a question. In his full Op Ed piece he provides some comical examples of its use.

Obviously, the suggestions in the collection of Op Eds were designed as fantasy; an imaginative view of what a super cutting edge debate would be. Who knows how many of the ideas will be implemented, in one way or another, in the future as more DNs become politically active and engaged in elections.

What are your ideas for making the debates truly participatory?

-Tony P.