Adios Ugenie

About 1.5 years back I made a decision. It was drastic. It was unexpected. Frankly, I wasn’t giving it too much thought and was trusting my intuition. A few people called me up telling me not to. I had decided to switch jobs – quit an extremely successful career in IBM and join a startup.

The recession was expected to hit and it was supposed to be a bad time to switch jobs.

It was a roller coaster ride right from the beginning but I enjoyed it thoroughly. The first all hands meet (all hands meets in startups are NOT about going to a fancy hotel and spending the day playing games), we discussed the recession that was about to hit and several alternatives were discussed to cut the costs and extend the runway. Things didn’t work out as expected and the next all hands I saw the team strength reduce to roughly half!

Right from the beginning, I liked the “openness” culture that was part of the company. Engineers got to decide to a large extent the roadmap and product features, and also interact with and learn from the users directly. A lot of what was being built was being determined based on user feedback. We had a whole bunch of success stories on the way.

4 months into my job, I came to know that we were about to be acquired. It came as a surprise to me, because things appeared so drastic. We had only started tasting success. Why this sudden decision? What about my dreams of working in a startup? Will Ugenie continue to function like one? How will things be different? Will our dreams be crushed by this parent company? Will there be a change in culture?

However, things didn’t change a lot – if anything it got better. While we did gain some financial stability, which allowed us to think about and execute longer term projects (measured in weeks instead of days), things didn’t change drastically in terms of work and the responsibilities that people had. Plus, we got to work with an excellent team over at Lulu spearheaded by Bob.

Now when I look back, I feel, making the switch was one of the most important decisions I took in my life. The last 1.5 years has been such an experience that I could not have expected from IBM.

So, after this wonderful journey, here I am, making the next leap in my career. I have accepted an offer from an early stage seed funded startup and am beginning work early next week. Why the decision? Well, it just feels right and I am mentally prepared to take up the responsibilities that this job entails.

During the course, I made some amazing new friends each of whom is unique in their own personal way. I would like to thank every one of you, who I have interacted with directly or indirectly, for the many things that I have learnt from you. It was a pleasure to know you.

A parting quote:
…, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. –

Steve Jobs

weRead – what’s new?

Ever since I blogged about iRead back in April, a lot has changed. We have introduced tons of new features, and there is really not one place where we have captured all of them.

So this is my attempt to describe the features to our readers.

  • iRead is now called weRead and we have partnered with Lulu
    This post from our official blog has more details.
  • We now have a destination site
    You don’t have to login to Facebook or some social network to access weRead. You can directly access your bookshelf from our destination site. If you have already used weRead in Facebook or one of the social networks, you can link your account and access the same account from the destination site.
  • Connections – find people like you
    This Facebook feature allows you to find people who have similar book tastes like you. You can look for people of a specific gender, people in your network and people in specific age groups.
  • We now have friend activities in the homepage
    We now show activities from your friends on weRead in the homepage. This helps you keep track of which books your friends have been reading, and if they have participated in any discussions.
  • Book discussion boards
    This is the place to discuss with your friends and network about your favorite books, what you liked, what you didn’t like, why someone should or shouldn’t read a book.
  • Author discussion boards
    If you want to discuss about a specific author, talk about what works of an author are good, or what you would expect his next book to be like, this is the place to do it. Check out the latest discussions here.
  • Author profile claim
    Are you an author? Then you should be on weRead. weRead makes it ultra simple for you to setup a profile and interact with your readers. Writing a new book? Want to know who might like it? Want to get suggestions from your readers? Want to promote your book on various social networks? Start here
  • New catalogs
    We now have catalogs from Amazon, Google and OCLC integrated into weRead. This means you have a whole range of books to choose from. More catalogs are coming soon.
  • weRead is now available in multiple languages
    weRead is now available in 6 different languages – English(US), English(UK), German, French, Spanish (on Hi5 only) and Portuguese (on Orkut only). We have more languages being added soon. Want weRead in a local language? Help us translate weRead here.
  • We now have limited previews of books from Harper Collins and Google Books and full preview of some books from Gutenburg
    This will give you some sort of a ‘bookstore experience’ by allowing you to preview books.
  • See how a book fares in your network
    Curious to know how a book has been rated by people in your network? We now give you near realtime statistics about a book – how people have rated the book in your network, how many people own the book, how many have marked it favorite etc.
  • Readers now have a profile page which displays their bookshelf
    Each weRead user gets his/her own personal page that they can then share with their friends, bookmark, etc. In order to set up your own profile page, link your account from Facebook to our destination site and click on the “Profile” link in the top blue bar. Check out my profile page here.
  • Readers can showcase their bookshelf in their blogs and other sites
    Want to advertise your bookshelf in your blog? It’s simple! Go to your profile page and then click on ‘Take weRead with you’, get the code and put it in your blog. You also have some customization that you can do before you get the code. Check out a demo here.
  • The Facebook Wall application allows you to post information about books, write reviews etc directly from the Facebook Wall.
    You can now chuck a book at your friends directly from the Facebook wall. Go to your Facebook profile page: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php. Under the Wall tab, you should see the Books iRead option. Clicking this opens a dialog that allows you to pick a book from your shelf or search for a book and chuck this at your friend.
  • Similar authors
    Under every book detail page, we show similar authors that will help you discover authors who write books similar to the one that you are viewing.
  • Mis-spelt searches
    weRead now has builtin suggestions in case you make a misspell some work while typing your query.
  • See more like this
    We have launched some kind of a ‘Stumble upon’ feature. When you are viewing a book in weRead, you will see a button ‘See more like this’, clicking which, takes you to a random but related book.
  • External integration with OCLC
    We now power the OCLC related books and reviews.
  • We have also moved to bigger and more powerful servers, which means a better user experience for all our readers.

As you see, we have been busy! We have tons of new and exciting features lined up and we promise to provide feature updates as frequently as possible. A lot of these features revolve around making weRead a truly social application.

By the way, you can get some quick updates on weRead in our Twitter page.

Happy reading!

PS: Features and feature names are subject to change.

It’s official – Lulu partners with weRead

So finally the news has been made official.

Lulu today announced partnership with weRead (iRead).

Lulu is a platform that enables wanna be authors, musicians and other creators to bring their work directly to their audience. Publishing is free, and the lack of middlemen means that the freedom lies in the hands of the creator. Lulu was founded by Bob Young, co-founder of Red Hat and an extremely successful entrepreneur. Lulu is the world’s fastest-growing provider of print-on-demand books.

With this partnership, there are several exciting things that we are looking at.

With weRead, Lulu users now get a simple way to make their creation available on all popular social networking sites and promote their work. As for weRead, users get a much larger catalog of books, some of them which are not available anywhere else.

Well, this is definitely just the tip of the iceberg and we see several other exciting things ahead.

News about the partnership from the Lulu site:
“Lulu (www.lulu.com), the world’s largest marketplace for individual, educational, and corporate authors and publishers to bring their books directly to market, announced today an alliance with weRead (www.weread.com), the leading social networking application for books where readers can easily discover and recommend books to their friends on social networks and therefore, the world.”

Over the next few weeks, you should see several new features on weRead. There is one theme that we are concentrating on – make weRead more social, which is why we thought it makes better sense to name it weRead rather than iRead.

The future now looks promising!

iRead – a social book discovery revolution

It has been a while since I thought I should write a review of iRead.

weread logo iRead is a social book discovery application. It has been quite successful on Facebook and has a very large userbase. Currently iRead has a total install base of about 1.4 million users, mostly from Facebook.

So what do we mean by social book discovery?

iRead is not just about maintaining a bookshelf online. It tries to bring the social aspect into picture. ‘social’? iRead depends a lot on your social network. You can share your bookshelf with your friends, learn what your friends are reading and what their reading tastes are. You can discuss about books in various book clubs. You could participate in Quizzes or even add your own. You can find out how compatible your reading tastes are with other people in the network. iRead does not require a separate registration. It is available right in your social network. (As of now the application is available in Facebook, Orkut, MySpace, Hi5 and Bebo.) So when we are talking about friends, we are talking about your friends from the network where you are using iRead. So if you use iRead in Facebook, you see your Facebook friends in iRead, while in Orkut you see your Orkut friends. Many a times, all it requires is to just add the application to your profile. ‘book discovery’? For one, iRead provides recommendations based on your reading tastes. Then there are various other mechanisms by which you can discover new books to read. Let’s explore some.

Several ways to browse

* You could first start off by searching for books and adding them to your bookshelf. This helps us learn about your tastes and recommend books that you may like. * When searching, you could either enter the name of the book, or its author, or if you know the ISBN, you could enter that. * If you want to just browse through the application you could start off by looking at what other iReaders are doing. The home page shows the most recent activity in the network.

* So let’s say you find some interesting book. Just click on the book and you are taken to the book details. Here you get to know how many readers the book has, how many reviews people have written for the book and get some instant user reviews and an editorial review. You can also find out similar other books.

* If you see that the book is interesting, just click on the ‘See All’ reviews link. This will display all the reviews for the book. Read the ones you like and you will soon learn what the book is about.

* Since there are multiple ways to reach your data, your reviews are never buried. So even if you are writing a review for a book, that already has a thousand reviews, you can expect your review to be read by other iReaders. * If the book interests you, you might want to check out other books by the same author. Just click on the author’s name. This will show all books by the author. You could also click on the small icon next to the author’s name to search for the author in Author’s corner. This will give you other details like the profile of the author, what others think about the author, how many fans the author has etc.

* Author’s corner is a forum for readers to interact with their favorite authors. So if you are the author of a book and are looking for a forum to interact with your readers, this is where you should be. Author’s corner allows authors to maintain their profile, and also learn about their readers’ expectations. * While reading reviews, you might find that the review from a particular user is very interesting. You might now want to look at this reader’s bookshelf. Many a times, I have found this to be a good mechanism to discover new books. You can get an assurance of how close your tastes are by looking at the number of common books amongst you. Ok, now you might want to look at other reviews by this reader. * You could also contact the reader by leaving a wall post/scrap. * You may also want to check out who among your friends is on iRead and what they are reading. Click on the Friends link in the header. If you want to know about your friends’ reading tastes and they are not yet on iRead you could invite them to add the application.

* For selected books, you could even browse inside the book. A lot of out of copyright books are available for free online viewing. Some other selected books are available for limited preview.

Other features worthy of mention

Take your reads with you


So what if you are in all these networks and want to use iRead everywhere? iRead has a feature to import your bookshelf from Facebook to Orkut, MySpace and/or Hi5. Once imported, you will see the same bookshelf in all the networks. However the friends shown to you depends on the network you are currently in.

Import books from other sources


If you have been maintaining books in some other place, you may want to try importing books using the import books option. The link to this is found below the search box.

Add a book

Can’t find a book you want to add to your bookshelf? You can add it to our catalog. The link to add a book is found below the search box. So what’s more?! Happy iReading! Disclaimer: I work for Ugenie and am part of the iRead application development team. The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of Ugenie.