Web site offers a way to read that is not by the book

By Bonnie Stiernberg

There’s a good chance you’re reading this article online. These days, you can find almost anything on the Internet: the assigned readings you skim before class, the blog post you secretly hope finds its way onto JuicyCampus and now, that book you’ve been meaning to read.

Local business partners Travis Alber and Aaron Miller have created BookGlutton.com, a new social networking site where users can read entire books online, post comments and make notes about what they’ve read.

“We thought we could integrate the book and the ability to talk about the book into the same Web site, which resolves the conflict of not being able to talk to friends about the book on a greater level, and it also solves the problem of being able to read a book that is 300 pages long for a change,” Alber said. “There’s nothing more annoying than a 100 page PDF.”

The pair was inspired by the desire to recreate the in-depth literary discussions of their college years.

“Basically, when you’re an English major, you kind of go into it because you love books, so you read a bunch of books and you go to class and talk to a bunch of people who also love books, and then you leave college and go out in the world and realize that it’s not so easy to find people like that,” Miller, a University alum, explained. “That was a big motivation we had, like, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a good way to have all the advantages of being online and have a sort of social network surrounding that book?'”

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The Web site is still in beta, and Alber and Miller are rolling out new features on a monthly basis. For now, the site has mainly public domain works published prior to 1923. Users can also format and upload their own writings or fill out a request form to let the webmasters know what they’d like to read. Ultimately, Alber said, the two hope to strike a deal with publishers that would allow more contemporary, copyrighted material to be accessible online.

Unlike most online documents, BookGlutton.com allows users to make annotations on the books they’ve read.

“It’s kind of like writing in the margins, but it’s a more organized way of doing it,” Miller said.

Becky Taylor, a sophomore in FAA, said she appreciates the convenience of reading online.

“I go to school out of state, so I have to fly a lot, and when I was looking at the site, I thought it was great,” she said. “If I’m at the airport, I can read a book on my laptop, so I think that’s really convenient and will help people have an easier way to read.”

Miller said he hopes to see more local interest in BookGlutton.com.

“If the University of Illinois community, like professors and students, started using this for their classes, it’d be great to see how that works out,” he said. “We’d love to see people in the local community start using it.”

BookGlutton.com is not currently set up to offer textbooks online, but “eventually we’d like to do that,” Miller said. Currently, an undergraduate class from New York University is reading “King Lear” on the site.

Taylor said she’d like to see textbooks become available online.

“Textbooks are so expensive, and you don’t usually read the whole textbook, so it’d be nice to be able to just look at parts of it online,” she said.

Alber said she plans on collaborating with Illinois schools in the future.

“We’re hoping to partner up with more schools in Illinois,” she said. “We have a lot of interest in the East Coast but have yet to develop partnerships locally or with schools in the Illinois area, so we’re hoping to bridge that gap.”

Taylor said she was impressed with BookGlutton.com’s sense of community.

“I think it’s bringing back the book club in a more modern and convenient way,” she said.