How a love of reading turned into new features for Play Books
Have you ever wondered how new features are developed at Google? We start with a problem that needs to be solved, then consider what the best solution might be, so that our products can be more helpful. And, when we can, we like to get feedback from you (and Googlers themselves) before we officially launch so we can refine and improve.
Beta Features is new from Play Books, and it lets you test out experimental features on the web. This project originated with Dan Kimberg, a software engineer who joined the Play Books team to perfect a product he’d been a longtime fan of. Self-proclaimed bookworm and lifetime lover of literature, Dan was eager to personalize his library and make it easier to browse and organize his collection of books. He knew that other readers out there probably felt the same way—so he got to work.
These features may lack a bit of polish; they might evolve, improve, disappear or transform into new Play Books product updates. They’re experimental, and Dan and the team want to hear what’s most helpful to you. We sat down with Dan to learn more about the inspiration behind Beta Features.
What led you to the Play Books team?
I’ve been an avid reader my whole life, but I wasn’t always working in the world of books. I've been a software engineer at Google for eight years on different teams. And before coming to Google, I spent nearly 20 years as a researcher in cognitive neuroscience, using brain imaging to try to understand how the mind works.
Before joining the Play Books team I filed around 50 feature requests, and I'd been thinking idle thoughts about how technology could improve reading, listening, (and writing) since I was a teenager.
What inspired you to develop Beta Features?
As a constant reader, I used to go on vacation and pack 20 books because I didn’t know what I’d end up wanting to read. Throughout my years of reading physical books, there were some fundamental frustrations that inspired me to think differently about how technology can make reading more enjoyable. Physical books don’t give you the flexibility of selecting the right font size for you, not all printed books are well bound, page size varies and long lines of text may not be conducive to your reading style. Now, with the help of technology, I can try to solve some of those frustrations for others (and now I can bring as many books as I want on vacation).
Which Beta Features are available now to test out—and which is your favorite?
First, there’s Custom Shelves—my personal favorite and the most frequently requested feature from our users. It lets you organize your shelves in a more useful and personal way. For example, I’ve titled one of my Custom Shelves "Re-read me"—this is for books I've read but would like to revisit, so they don't get lost in the jumble of other books.
You’ll also be able to search quickly for a particular book within your library, or sort your library using different criteria—like author, title, last read and price. The last Beta Feature is a new shelf called Ready to Read, which shows you the books you haven’t finished yet to help you quickly pick up where you left off.
How can you get started testing?
Head to play.google.com/books, click the Settings button, and select “Beta Features” to get started. You can enable all features or just the ones you find most useful. If you’d like to submit feedback on the Beta Features after you’ve tried them out, or want to send us a feature request you’ve been dreaming up, click on the Settings icon and then select Send Feedback.