I have noticed that the Barnes & Noble Nook Cloud service seems rather half-baked. I’ve been comparing different cloud services to each other and I’ve noticed that there is a distinct functionality deficit between many services on one side and the B&N service on the other.
It comes to user-added content. Every cloud service maintains a file storage area online and then establishes a sync using client software to tie it all together. In certain cases this difference has never actually been present, such as with Dropbox. Anything you store there are your own files and the sync client can display them (or play them sometimes) on any device that is attached to the Internet. Some of the more interesting examples are actually more contemporary than Dropbox, as it’s rather well-tread and venerable.
Specific services such as Apple’s iCloud are definitely centered in my sights for comparison sakes. With Apple’s provisions you could opt-in for iTunes Match which will assay your iTunes library and match the files with standardized files on their service. In an effective way if not in a literal way, Apple allows user submitted content to be stored on their service and then spread across the network amongst your connected devices. In Apple’s case you have to buy in to iTunes Match as a service, but I don’t see this as being a barrier to adoption and it fits squarely in the “Fair Dealing” camp as I would expect such a service to be paid and I applaud Apple for their letting users do such a thing.
Google was next on the scene with Google Music. It is a direct competitor to iTunes Match and is actually a more compelling service than what Apple provides as you upload your own music to Google’s storage system and then you can stream that information across the network to any of your devices. This service is free and Google is, along with Dropbox, embracing the true sense of cloud storage as far as I’m concerned. This service that Google provides (and arguably along with Dropbox) is the most stinging rebuke against what Barnes & Noble provides.
Now to the core of it, the Nook cloud infrastructure is half-baked because it is split in half. The division is visible on the Nook devices and Nook Apps that sync with the service. The Nook is all about books, so instead of music types like MP3 or AAC we’re instead talking about PDF and EPUB types of files. The fully baked Nook experience comes when you buy an eBook from Barnes & Noble. B&N stores the ePub on their cloud infrastructure and all your attached devices and apps can see everything in this storage area and enjoy the secret sauce of being able to track reading position between devices. Each device (or app) that you work with watches how far you’ve progressed in an eBook and synchronizes that back to the B&N cloud infrastructure. This is the core of the magic as far as I’m concerned with B&N’s entire Nook experience. It doesn’t seem like a very compelling feature, but to be able to escape from the tyranny of the bookmark or the dog-eared page is very valuable to a reader like me who reads in short little fits and spurts. Now where this goes from fully baked to not baked at all comes when the user approaches the B&N cloud infrastructure with their own eBook collection. The visible division I wrote of earlier on the devices is actually a kind of lame fairness conceit by B&N. You can certainly add extra storage to all the B&N devices and then store your own files on that add-on component, and for most people this would be an acceptable compromise. It is not for people like me. It denies my user data the access to the secret sauce of bookmark synchronization. I wouldn’t be so prickly about it if B&N wasn’t so pricky about how they assemble their devices. Every Nook has an amazing amount of storage on the device, but in the fine print you discover that the storage space for user data is pitiful. This forces end users like me to buy extra parts, specifically microSD cards to beef up storage on our Nook devices to compensate for B&N being an arguable dick about how their devices are designed. It is not pro-consumer, it is pro-company. So here it is, B&N only will allow you to store ePUB and PDF data on their service if you buy it from them. They even put the lie to the argument: “They do this because you should pay for the storage” because you can “purchase” free eBooks and they end up on that side of the cloud divide just fine and can take advantage of the bookmark sync functionality. What then for end users like me who come to Nook with gigabytes of ePub content? What is it that I’m after? I want to upload my ePub content to B&N so I can sync it amongst all my B&N cloud connected devices. Specifically I want to be able to read-anywhere all my books, not just the ones I purchase or “purchase” through B&N! I have to start asking “Why does B&N do it this way?” when it’s obvious that other cloud companies go about it in a much more pro-consumer approach?
There are ways to address this from the B&N mothership. They could offer a “My Library” service for $20 a year which would then provide customers with 5GB of complimentary data storage on the B&N cloud infrastructure. This product would not be compatible with B&N’s LendMe service, and I’m fine with that, as it is fair, but it would allow end users like me to upload our ePub content onto our B&N cloud accounts and then read that content anywhere. I think that would really address the concern I have and maybe others do too of the Nook being a pro-company and anti-consumer device. This would help even out the field, and its fair dealing because the value of the data storage and the bookmark sync functionality I would peg at $20 per year. It’s a lot like iTunes Match in that regard.
While Barnes & Noble keeps their cloud infrastructure closed in this odd fashion I will be dissuaded from using it. By allowing user data on their devices, and then the conceit of adding microSD to make the device honestly equitable between company and consumer they create a kind of leper colony for books. I don’t want to use it because I can’t use it the way I want to use it. It used to be that companies dictated to consumers what they could and could not do with the products that the company sold, but in this age of service competition and device jailbreaking the consumer really is empowered to demand and expect that the devices we purchase will do what we want first, and whatever the company suggests to us can be acceptable or skipped altogether. I have six books in the leper colony in my Nook and a great deal more on my microSD card. On one side of the Berlin Wall in my Nook are all the free books in the west, and all the jailed books in the east.
So what of it? What if B&N ignores what people like me have to say about their cloud service? They’ll miss out on a new subscription model of service and a steady flow of $20 per user per year for what amounts to being a button-press. The real danger will come when someone creates a new Android firmware set for the Nook devices allowing customers like me to buy a Nook from Barnes & Noble and then eliminate all traces of Barnes & Noble from that device and go with a competitor who offers what I want. What if a company starts up, offers a truly equitable cloud infrastructure system and provides a download link for their own Android firmware that will work on any Android device? Just because Barnes & Noble put their marks on the Nook doesn’t mean that the device isn’t an Android device. So end users can just download the file, use the Android SDK tools to jailbreak the Nook devices and eventually get what they want.
What does it all come down to? Liberty, for our data. Being able to buy eBooks in ePub format wherever we like, such as Barnes & Noble and put them on our devices and sync them amongst all our devices… OR we can download books for free from Project Gutenberg and read those on our devices and sync them amongst all our devices.
Either B&N can benefit by liberating their service or consumers will do it for them.