Ina Fried

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Kno Taking Electronic Textbooks to Web, Facebook

After shifting its focus to software, electronic textbook seller Kno now has set its sights on making college students’ homework a lot more social and interactive.

The company is this week announcing plans to allow those who buy textbooks from Kno to read them on Facebook and via the Web, in addition to its current iPad app. On the iPad front, the company is also adding features, taking the product beyond just an electronic version of a traditional textbook.

Among the new features: The ability to automatically turn any book diagram into a quiz by blocking out various elements; another creates a separate journal out of all the highlights and annotations one makes in a book. The company also hopes to add the ability to include audio recordings and handwritten notes.

“This fundamentally changes how a student interacts with a textbook,” said Ousama Haffar, Kno’s VP of marketing. Beyond just lightening students backpacks by digitizing books, Haffar noted that Kno’s software reshapes the way students take notes and, ultimately, how they learn.

Kno announced its iPad app in June, along with a catalog of tens of thousands of textbooks available for purchase.

Beyond the iPad, Kno is trying to make its books more accessible, adding both the Web-based reader and a Facebook app. These apps allow reading of books, but not the more advanced features like highlighting and annotations. That, Haffar says, is coming.

The company hasn’t disclosed download figures, but says that the numbers are in the tens of thousands, with a goal of reaching a million downloads by the end of this fall. Kno’s rivals include the publisher-based CourseSmart and San Francisco-based Inkling, which last week announced it had raised $17 million in Series B funding.

Kno originally fancied itself a hardware maker as well, but has since exited that business. These days it has about 50 employees — smaller than before — and is focused entirely on software.

Haffar said he is not worried about competing against large companies like Amazon, insisting the $9 billion textbook market has room for several players. Plus, he said, Kno is focused on doing one thing well.

“Our focus is singularly on building the best software for the education market,” he said. “We’re not selling diapers. We’re not selling electronics.”


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik