If your library is anything like mine, it’s likely filled with great books that you’ve only half-read. You bought them with the best of intentions, but it’s just hard to find the time to read all the books that come out. Plus, it can be rather expensive to keep an up-to-date tech book library.
Safari Online, started in part by O’Reilly Press, has been the online tech library of record for years, with an extensive catalog of books from O’Reilly, Wiley, Peachpit, and more for your online reading pleasure with a subscription. And now, they’ve reinvented themselves with the new Safari Flow. More than an online eBook library, it’s an attempt to make longform books relevant to the Twitter generation of professionals.
A Library for Geeks
The original Safari Online is all about having a massive library of over 24,000 books and videos available online with a subscription, quite the accomplishment in itself. Safari Flow, however, is all about the web app that enables you to discover and read the books you need. It features a curated library of the best tech books today — including titles from A Book Apart, O’Reilly Press, Wiley, and more — organized by the most popular subjects today, from web dev and mobile apps to entrepreneurship and UX/IA. It’ll set you back $29/month, but then, seeing as many of these books can cost that much more more (case in point: O’Reilly’s new Programming iOS 7 book that costs $39 on its own), it can easily save you money if you often purchase the books included in Safari Flow.
It’ll also change your reading habits, and likely help you learn more in less time. Safari Flow is like iTunes Genius for your tech reading. Tell it the subjects you’re interested in, and it’ll recommend the most popular sections of the best books for you, complete with how long it estimates you’ll need to spend reading that section. You can save sections you think look interesting to your queue, so you’ll have something interesting to come back and read whenever you have downtime. Then, as you continue reading, Safari Flow will automatically suggest new sections of books and training videos for you that’ll continue your education.
The reading experience itself isn’t anything terribly special; Kindle Cloud Reader actually has a nicer reading interface, and even Instapaper.com has far more options to make text look the way you want. But it’s not a bad reading experience, per se: you can increase font size, and images are typically just large enough to make out the details. It’s responsive, too, so you can read on the go and even keep your reading location synced. The average online reading experience is still sub-par, and independent writers have made better experiences so far, but overall, Safari Flow gives you a decently nice place to read all of the books you’ll discover.
Update: I’ve discovered via a Twitter conversation with Peter Collingridge from Safari Flow that the Safari Flow reading interface is actually designed by Frank Chimero, the writer/designer behind The Shape of Design book. Due to the wide variety of books and the number of glyphs used in Safari Flow, however, using newer web typefaces wouldn’t be possible, so they’ve standardized on the nicest web safe font: Georgia. They’ve also confirmed that they’re looking into making images zoomable, something that’d vastly improve the current interface for illustration-heavy books.
And discover you will. Everything, from your home page to the search results to the footer under your current book section, is filled with the books Safari Flow thinks you’ll want to read, broken down into the sections that should interest you. If the future of the web is cards, Safari Flow’s showing us how that can apply to books. It’s broken down books into their simplest sections, but in a way that still delivers meaningful information. It’s books, reinvented for the Twitter age.
Devs and Web Designers: Go Try it.
Now, you’re not going to find everything here — the content is aimed at web and mobile designers and developers, with a sprinkling of extra entrepreneurship and UI design content. The first search result for Photoshop is “Scripting in Photoshop” from a book on HTML5 game development, and the only results for Windows are about Windows Phone app development. Linux, however, returns over 300 book results, CSS returns over 230, and there’s already books available on iOS 7 development. And if that’s the type of books you read, you’ll find Safari Flow amazing and well worth the entrance cost.
Now, I’d personally love to see the same type of idea applied to every book out there. I’d easily pay $29/month for a library that had every eBook in the Kindle or iBooks libraries, especially one that could recommend new books this nicely (though somehow, the whole sections idea wouldn’t work that good with fiction). But even for just tech books, this is exciting, and something I happen to think I’ll have to subscribe to again if I can ever get time for more coding.
Safari Flow is
still in private beta now open to the public, but be sure to signup for the free trial and check it out. It really is the neatest thing to happen to tech books in a long time.