Back in September Amazon issued a cease and desist to Findings
to stop us from using a chrome extension and bookmarklet to let people get their Kindle highlights out of Amazon's system. I didn’t want to write anything about this at the time because I was employed by Findings-Betaworks (I worked on Findings from oct 11 to dec 12), and I didn’t want to screw with the signal-to-noise ratio. But I still think about it.
By “system” I mean Amazon’s Kindle website. There’s no API. That’s the only public exposure highlights have. SO, just to be clear, the highlights you make in the books you’re reading are available to you, officially on the web, through only one place, and not in a friendly format, on Amazon’s website. Can you rip out the text file from the device and post it somewhere? Sure. Welcome to 1999.
It is a huge amount of suck. The Kindle site is a token gesture, a placeholder.
Earlier in the year there had been a meeting between Findings and Amazon where Amazon gave a quiet nod of approval, they knew we were getting the data out the only way we could, which was basically scraping the page and parsing out the resulting clips into something storable, shareable. We were doing this with the users consent, initiated by the user. We were helping people get their stuff out.
Liberating your highlights.
Not being able to get what you’re reading into the same social flow, or even just into distributed storage, as easily as everything else these days is flat out BIZARRE. Perhaps that’s the web app myopia I have. While I've got a bookish background (worked as a librarian and book conservationist before the web) I know there are still lots of book and or publishing people just becoming acquainted with the possibilities. Or ignoring them. After all, there’s a thousand years of books as keystone to our culture to consider, there’s deeply held feelings and beliefs. Books are culturally magical objects, or, well, they used to be.
Findings was unusual in that it tried to cross that reading spectrum, web and books together. We’d rebuilt the site (@laurenleto
) brilliantly IMHO, and as soon as it went up we were getting some very respectable traffic, and attention.
Something there gave Amazon jitters. Understandably, there is a lack of fine-grain control grabbing data without an API. (OK, there is demonstrable need, make an API available.) Extracting content (not "data", i know it's confusing) from an html page has never been good online manners, or rabidly illegal if your name is Aaron Swartz. But it happens, and continues to happen in cases especially where the organization maintaining the content or data (that differentiation is another post) fail so miserably at making it extensible and readily available that etiquette needs to be overlooked.
Did Amazon get nervous about what publishers think? Did Amazon get nervous about what users may do with the extracted highlights? Or did our extracting it reflect badly on the brand in some way? Could be. Don’t know. Speculation. I think there is zero argument about monetary impact via letting you collect and share your book highlights through other parties. I never heard details, just the stark legal politeness of a cease and desist letter.
Like so many other things, the primary issue can only be fear of lack of control. A case example, for instance, the Kindle reissue of an edition, replacing (deleting) whatever previous editions existed, for author agreement or legal changes, would be exposed if there had been linkable highlighting outside of Amazon’s site of that previous edition. A litigious world leads to insane control mechanisms. God knows, we wouldn’t want anyone to be embarrassed. This is the petri dish Amazon thrives in, so I blame the environment more than Amazon.
Yeah, so you know, a little bit bitter.
Whatever the details are, there is clearly a sense at Amazon of needing to control what you do with your highlights on the Kindle. And since Kindle is the ten ton gorilla of digital book reading, this desire for control means a subsequent lack of options for the people using the Kindle.
Letting go of control mechanisms means long term exploration, innovation, and yeah sometimes friction and certainly the unexpected. You can insert any number of “current state of publishing” rants here. Lots of them are appropriate.
For me, there is nothing left to develop at Findings, while I love the site, (the collections function and themeing is amazing have you tried that?) the feature set has been built out as much as it can without book highlights, anything added would be cruft. If you want tools for books that do what Amazon should be doing, checkout Readmill, they kickass.
linksA “Moment of Temporary Insanity”? Amazon Orders Findings To Stop Importing HighlightsUse Readmill