Publishing News: Curation for the Kindle

Curated Kindle content, digital lessons from a web documentary, and the pursuit of concise categorization.

Here are some of this week’s highlights from the publishing world. (Note: These stories were published here on Radar throughout the week.)

Web content curation welcomed a new platform — your Kindle

DelivereadsA new project called Delivereads curates interesting content from around the web and delivers it to your Kindle, via your Kindle email address. At the time of this writing, Delivereads was sending out selections like GQ’s “Out on the Ice,” The Atlantic’s “The Lazarus File,” Washington Monthly’s “The Information Sage,” and Time’s “Zach Galifianakis Hates to Be Loved.”

In an email interview, Delivereads founder Dave Pell (@davepell) talked about the project’s origin:

Everyone who worked on the product, including designer Brian Moco and developer Alex King of Crowd Favorite, did so for free because they were excited about the idea and are subscribing to it themselves.

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Pete Meyers on how “Welcome to Pine Point” creates a truly digital reading experience not mired in nor based on print

I’ve been writing about and helping create digital books for about 15 years now and I don’t think I’ve seen anything as innovative, as well executed, and as plain lovely to look at as “Welcome to Pine Point.” No disrespect to the great work done by teams at Push Pop (Our Choice), Touch Press (The Elements), or Potion (NYPL Biblion), but all those projects take the print page as the starting point and ask: how can we best recreate that reading experience onscreen?

“Pine Point,” instead, is an example of something that couldn’t exist in any other medium. Its creators describe it as “part book, part film, part website,” which sounds about right; it mixes audio, video, still photos, prose, and movable images to tell the story of a Canadian town that was abandoned, and then demolished, in the late 1980s. But as most people reading this blog know: that multimedia stew’s been cooked before.

Title page for Welcome to Pine Point. Click to enlarge.

So why is “Pine Point” such a success?

Quality, for starters. The team behind this project — Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons, aka The Goggles — have sweated the details on how to integrate all those various media elements in a viewer-friendly way, one that immerses the audience in the story. A story that, not incidentally, touches on themes (abandonment, aging, environmentalism) moving enough to reward the time it takes — about 30 minutes — to watch it.

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George Oates on how a minimum viable record could improve library catalogs and information systems

MVRAt first blush, bibliographic data seems like it would be a fairly straightforward thing: author, title, publisher, publication date. But that’s really just the beginning of the sorts of data tracked in library catalogs. There’s also a variety of metadata standards and information classification systems that need to be addressed.

The Open Library has run into these complexities and challenges as it seeks to create “one web page for every book ever published.”

George Oates, Open Library lead, recently gave a presentation in which she surveyed audience members, asking them to list the five fields they thought necessary to adequately describe a book. In other words, what constitutes a “minimum viable record“? Akin to the idea of the “minimum viable product” for getting a web project coded and deployed quickly, the minimum viable record (MVR) could be a way to facilitate an easier exchange of information between library catalogs and information systems.

In the interview below, Oates explains the issues and opportunities attached to categorization and MVRs.

What are some of the challenges that libraries and archives face when compiling and comparing records?

George Oates: I think the challenges for compilation and comparison of records rest in different styles, and the innate human need to collect, organize, and describe the things around us. As Barbara Tillett noted in a 2004 paper: “Once you have a collection of over say 2,000 items, a human being can no longer remember every item and needs a system to help find things.”

I was struck by an article I saw on a site called Apartment Therapy, about “10 Tiny Gardens,” where the author surveyed extremely different decorations and outputs within remarkable constraints. That same concept can be dropped into cataloging, where even in the old days, when librarians described books within the boundaries of a physical index card, great variation still occurred. Trying to describe a book on a 3×5 card is oddly reductionist.

It’s precisely this practice that’s produced this “diabolical rationality” of library metadata that Karen Coyle describes [slide No. 38]. We’re not designed to be rational like this, all marching to the same descriptive drum, even though these mythical levels of control and uniformity are still claimed. It seems to be a human imperative to stretch ontological boundaries and strive for greater levels of detail.

Some specific categorization challenges are found in the way people’s names are cataloged. There’s the very simple difference between “Lastname, Firstname” and “Firstname Lastname” or the myriad “disambiguators” that can help tell two authors with the same name apart — like a middle initial, a birthdate, title, common name, etc.

There are also challenges attached to the normal evolution of language, and a particular classification’s ability to keep up. An example is the recent introduction of the word “cooking” as an official Library of Congress Subject Heading. “Cooking” supersedes “Cookery,” so now you have to make sure all the records you have in your catalog that previously referred to “Cookery” now know about this newfangled “Cooking” word. This process is something of a ouroboros, although it’s certainly made easier now that mass updates are possible with software.

A useful contrast to all this is the way tagging on Flickr was never controlled (even though several Flickr members crusaded for various patterns). Now, even from this chaos, order emerges. On Flickr it’s now possible to find photos of red graffiti on walls in Brooklyn, all through tags. Using metadata “native” to a digital photograph, like the date it was taken, and various camera details, you can focus even deeper, to find photos taken with a Nikon in the winter of 2008. Even though that’s awesome, I’m sure it rankles professionals since Flickr also has a bunch of photos that have no tags at all.

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