The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

‘Trembling with excitement’

I feel like we’re suddenly faced with a glut of these great how I read blog posts from The Atlantic and (I did one) and elsewhere. Now the service called Findings has started pitching content into this pile, and their latest post, featuring Clive Thompson, is, I believe, the greatest of the genre to date.

Two things jumped out at me. One…

How do you annotate, and why?

I annotate aggressively. If I’m reading a piece of really long fiction, I often find that there are these fabulous things I want to remember. I want to take notes on it, so I highlight it, and if I have a thought about it, I’ll type it out quickly. Then I dump all these clippings into a format that I can look at later. In the case of War and Peace, I actually had 16,000 words worth of notes and clippings at the end of it. So I printed it out as a print-on-demand book. In short, I have a physical copy of all of my favorite parts of War and Peace that I can flip through, with my notes, but I don’t actually own a physical copy of War and Peace.

…I want that book! I want my highlighted passages from any Kindle ebook rebound as a slim volume that I can leaf through anytime. I want that in my collection more than I want a physical version of the book, and maybe even more than I want a digital version of the book. I want the reduction.

And two…

How social is reading for you right now?

It’s extremely social, in part because I grab every tool possible in order to make it so. […]

I’m almost trembling with excitement, because I foresee this point when we surmount some of these design challenges and we’ll be able to have different ways of reading a book. You’ll have a digital book, and if you want, you’ll turn off all the comments, read in solitude — “everyone shut up” — or you can say, show me the most awesome comments, show me the highest-rated comments, show me everything, show me the firehose. What have my friends or people I care about said about this book? Are there any actual people reading this page right now that I might want to have a live conversation with about it? There’s so much fun someone could have with these layers, ranging from classic, total isolation to like rollicking bar-party conversation.

… “I’m almost trembling with excitement,” he says. That is both 100% Clive Thompson and 100% correct. You’ve simply got to be able to see past the present lameness (such as, e.g., the fact that Amazon won’t let me tap into any sort of Kindle API to create the highlight book that I want so badly above) and into the future possibilities, which are really more than possibilities, they are certainties, and it’s just a matter of when, and how, and who. Do that and you will tremble, too.

Addendum: You know, I just realized that Sonia Saraiya is behind both the series and the Findings series. I’m not sure exactly how that works, but I should have known there was a how I read mastermind lurking in the margins. Good work, Sonia.


I tweeted about this a month or so ago, noting that @snarkmarket has probably already talked about it. I should have said ‘will’ talk about it -specifically, the following:

How cool would it be to pay a small fee to access Amazon’s library of popular highlights on a book-by-book basis, not the whole book, just the popular highlights?

Also, and this is stated in the second quote, but I want to highlight it: Robin, imagine Matt, Tim, and you read the same book, highlighting your favorite passages. Now imagine scanning through the book with all of your highlights overlapping in different colors. Maybe Tim caught something you might have missed, or perhaps you curious why a specific section interested Matt so much.

When this happens we will enter the golden age of book clubs.

Yes to all of this! I want it. And it’s so eminently doable—like sorta ridiculously doable.

What’s it going to take to get Amazon to start treating the Kindle like a platform? I honestly can’t figure out what’s holding them back. I don’t need to be able to build a whole Kindle “client”; I just want the highlights and the notes.

Our personal highlights should definitely be available Now. I imagine accessing the collective’s highlights and reductions will likely face challenges similar to (but much harder than) iTunes getting record companies/artists to offer individual songs, not just whole albums. But the shift could drive sales in totally new ways. For example, I will be the first in line to purchase Snarkmarket’s reduction of The Information.

Dirk Geurs says…

Isn’t Readmill providing the service you are looking for? I have been using their platform over the last couple of months and am really excited about it. Basically it’s social annotation for books done right.

So far I have only tried their own iPad app, which I think has most of the features mentioned above (highlighting, sharing, API etc). Because of the closed nature of the Kindle platform, they are not able to feed highlights back to your device. However, it is possible to import your Kindle highlights into Readmill through some sort of bookmarklet.

Here’s my profile if you want to look at some examples:

I suggest you give it a try.. 🙂

What do you read in Readmill, Dirk? I mean—what is the source of the books? Is it just public domain ebooks, web content, etc.? Or is there some way to bring books purchased from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. into the app?

Dirk Geurs says…

Personally I use the Readmill iPad app, which takes any ePub that doesn’t have DRM. Not every book is published without DRM though, so I tend to strip the Adobe DRM of my purchases so I can read them in the app.

I haven’t used it myself, but I know they have bookmarklet to import your highlights from kindle books. They also have Android / iPhone apps to keep track of your offline reading. Basically they are trying hook into as many platforms as possible.

So yes there are certainly ways to bring your purchases into Readmill. From the books on my profile only two are public domain books, the rest has been bought around the web.

Dirk Geurs says…

I wasn’t aware that you wrote some books yourself, but look people have been reading and highlighting them:


Jason says…

You can also do this with Findings:

Ah, nice! Good to know. Makes both of these apps a lot more interesting…

Robin, thanks so much!!

Yeah, the concept of having insto-print-on-demand copies of one’s annotations and notes is another giddy fun possibility here. I was talking with someone the other day about print-on-demand and realizing there’s a big opportunity for someone to make a drag-and-drop content-management-system for making quickie print-on-demand books. I used Blurb’s book designing app for making my War and Peace compilation, but it was kind of a bear to use … not very well designed, sluggish, and devoid of the sort of Blogger/Movable Type/Wordpress-style templates that would help you make something look awesome, quickly. The book looks pretty blase, frankly. They ought to offer an auto-book-cover generator, frankly.

Dirk, I’d heard about ReadMill but hadn’t seen it in heavy use yet … your highlights for Hackers and Painters are wonderful! … I particularly dug this one: “If you think you’re designing something for idiots, odds are you’re not designing something good, even for idiots.” A good lesson to keep in mind as we roll out social reading and bookmaking software!

Dirk Geurs says…

Thanks! I really enjoyed that book.

It was Coleridge’s wholly sympathetic friend, Lamb, who invented the category of ‘biblia abiblia’, books that are not books, not readable: the Notebooks are packed with superb observations and ideas, some of the most rewarding included here, but they remain notebooks, reminders of the importance the fragment and the ruin had in Romantic aesthetics.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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