As part of Bryan Alexander’s online book club, I’ve recalled that GoodReads.com allows users with linked Amazon accounts to make their Kindle highlights and notes publicly available. Though I expect that I’ll post most/all of them here on my site over time, I thought I’d still add a link to my highlights and annotations for Weapons for Math Destruction here and use this as a reminder to others in the group who might want to take advantage of this functionality as well.

Details on the functionality can be found at Share Your Kindle Notes and Highlights with Your Friends (Beta).

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Title-less Status Updates for Micro.blog

Micro.blog just launched in beta recently and one of the biggest things burning up the airwaves there is how to easily post content from one’s own site as notes without including titles. Why? If a post has a title, then micro.blog thinks it’s an article and just posts the title along with a permalink to it rather than the desired content of the status update.

In the long run and for easier mass adoption, I’m hoping Manton can figure out how to parse RSS feeds in a simpler way so that users don’t need to do serious gymnastics to import their microblog posts from other sources. I’d imagine it’s far easier for him to adapt to the masses than for the masses to adapt to micro.blog. At the very worst, he could create a checkbox on the RSS import feeds to indicate which feeds are status updates and which aren’t and this would quickly solve the problem for the average user as most CMSes allow users to define custom feeds based on content type.

While there are a number of people doing things from simply adding date/time stamps (which micro.blog ignores) to functions.php tweaks to to custom plugins, some of which I’ve tried, I thought I’d come up with my own solution which has helped to kill two proverbial birds with one stone. (Note: I’ve listed some of these others on the Indieweb wiki page for micro.blog.)

The other day, I’d had a short conversation about the issue in the Indieweb chat with several people and decided I’d just give up on having titles in notes altogether. Most people contemplating the problem have an issue doing this because it makes it more difficult to sort and find their content within their admin UI dashboard which is primarily keyed off of the_title() within WordPress. I share their pain in this regard, but I’ve also been experiencing another admin UI issue because I’ve got a handful of plugins which have added a dozen or so additional columns to my posts list. As a result the titles in my list are literally about four characters wide and stretch down the page while knucklehead metadata like categories needlessly eat up massively wide columns just for fun. Apparently plugins aren’t very mindful of how much space they decide to take up in the UI, and WordPress core doesn’t enforce reasonable limits on these things.

So my solution to both problems? If found a handly little plugin called Admin Columns with over 80,000 users and which seems to be frequently updated that allows one to have greater simple control over all of the columnar UI interfaces within their sites.

In just a few minutes, I was able to quickly get rid of several columns of data I’ve never cared about, expand the title column to a reasonable percentage of the space so it’s readable, and tweak all the other columns to better values. Even better, I was able to add the slug name of posts into the UI just after the title columns, so I can leave status update titles empty, but still have a field by which I can see at least some idea of what a particular post was about.

My first title-less status update with a descriptive slug
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PressForward and Hypothes.is Work Great Together

I’ve just noticed that the metadata PressForward scrapes is enough to allow highlights and marginalia from Hypothes.is on the original web page to also appear in my copy on my own website! How awesome is that?

Example: http://boffosocko.com/2017/01/19/obamas-secret-to-surviving-the-white-house-years-books-the-new-york-times/

#ownallthethings

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🔖 AMS Open Math Notes

Open Math Notes (ams.org)
AMS Open Math Notes is a repository of freely downloadable mathematical works in progress hosted by the American Mathematical Society as a service to researchers, teachers and students. These draft works include course notes, textbooks, and research expositions in progress. They have not been published elsewhere, and, as works in progress, are subject to significant revision. Visitors are encouraged to download and use these materials as teaching and research aids, and to send constructive comments and suggestions to the authors.

h/t to Terry Tao for the notice.

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Notes, Highlights, and Marginalia: From E-books to Online

Notes on an outlined workflow for sharing notes, highlights, and annotations from ebooks online.

For several years now, I’ve been meaning to do something more interesting with the notes, highlights, and marginalia from the various books I read. In particular, I’ve specifically been meaning to do it for the non-fiction I read for research, and even more so for e-books, which tend to have slightly more extract-able notes given their electronic nature. This fits in to the way in which I use this site as a commonplace book as well as the IndieWeb philosophy to own all of one’s own data.[1]

Over the past month or so, I’ve been experimenting with some fiction to see what works and what doesn’t in terms of a workflow for status updates around reading books, writing book reviews, and then extracting and depositing notes, highlights, and marginalia online. I’ve now got a relatively quick and painless workflow for exporting the book related data from my Amazon Kindle and importing it into the site with some modest markup and CSS for display. I’m sure the workflow will continue to evolve (and further automate) somewhat over the coming months, but I’m reasonably happy with where things stand.

The fact that the Amazon Kindle allows for relatively easy highlighting and annotation in e-books is excellent, but having the ability to sync to a laptop and do a one click export of all of that data, is incredibly helpful. Adding some simple CSS to the pre-formatted output gives me a reasonable base upon which to build for future writing/thinking about the material. In experimenting, I’m also coming to realize that simply owning the data isn’t enough, but now I’m driven to help make that data more directly useful to me and potentially to others.

As part of my experimenting, I’ve just uploaded some notes, highlights, and annotations for David Christian’s excellent text Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History[2] which I read back in 2011/12. While I’ve read several of the references which I marked up in that text, I’ll have to continue evolving a workflow for doing all the related follow up (and further thinking and writing) on the reading I’ve done in the past.

I’m still reminded me of Rick Kurtzman’s sage advice to me when I was a young pisher at CAA in 1999: “If you read a script and don’t tell anyone about it, you shouldn’t have wasted the time having read it in the first place.” His point was that if you don’t try to pass along the knowledge you found by reading, you may as well give up. Even if the thing was terrible, at least say that as a minimum. In a digitally connected era, we no longer need to rely on nearly illegible scrawl in the margins to pollinate the world at a snail’s pace.[4] Take those notes, marginalia, highlights, and meta data and release it into the world. The fact that this dovetails perfectly with Cesar Hidalgo’s thesis in Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies,[3] furthers my belief in having a better process for what I’m attempting here.

Hopefully in the coming months, I’ll be able to add similar data to several other books I’ve read and reviewed here on the site.

If anyone has any thoughts, tips, tricks for creating/automating this type of workflow/presentation, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Footnotes

[1]
“Own your data,” IndieWeb. [Online]. Available: http://indieweb.org/own_your_data. [Accessed: 24-Oct-2016]
[2]
D. Christian and W. McNeill H., Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, 2nd ed. University of California Press, 2011.
[3]
C. Hidalgo, Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies, 1st ed. Basic Books, 2015.
[4]
O. Gingerich, The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2004.
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A New Reading Post-type for Bookmarking and Reading Workflow

Thoughts on post types/kinds relating to reading within the Indieweb construct

This morning while breezing through my Woodwind feed reader, I ran across a post by Rick Mendes with the hashtags #readlater and #readinglist which put me down a temporary rabbit hole of thought about reading-related post types on the internet.

I’m obviously a huge fan of reading and have accounts on GoodReads, Amazon, Pocket, Instapaper, Readability, and literally dozens of other services that support or assist the reading endeavor. (My affliction got so bad I started my own publishing company last year.)

READ LATER is an indication on (or relating to) a website that one wants to save the URL to come back and read the content at a future time.

I started a page on the IndieWeb wiki to define read later where I began writing some philosophical thoughts. I decided it would be better to post them on my own site instead and simply link back to them. As a member of the Indieweb my general goal over time is to preferentially quit using these web silos (many of which are listed on the referenced page) and, instead, post my reading related work and progress here on my own site. Naturally, the question becomes, how does one do this in a simple and usable manner with pretty and reasonable UX/UI for both myself and others?

Current Use

Currently I primarily use a Pocket bookmarklet to save things (mostly newspaper articles, magazine pieces, blog posts) for reading later and/or the like/favorite functionality in Twitter in combination with an IFTTT recipe to save the URL in the tweet to my Pocket account. I then regularly visit Pocket to speed read though articles. While Pocket allows downloading of (some) of one’s data in this regard, I’m exploring options to bring in the ownership of this workflow into my own site.

For more academic leaning content (read journal articles), I tend to rely on an alternate Mendeley-based workflow which also starts with an easy-to-use bookmarklet.

I’ve also experimented with bookmarking a journal article and using hypothes.is to import my highlights from that article, though that workflow has a way to go to meet my personal needs in a robust way while still allowing me to own all of my own data. The benefit is that fixing it can help more than just myself while still fitting into a larger personal workflow.

Brainstorming

A Broader Reading (Parent) Post-type

Philosophically a read later post-type could be considered similar to a (possibly) unshared or private bookmark with potential possible additional meta-data like: progress, date read, notes, and annotations to be added after the fact, which then technically makes it a read post type.

A potential workflow viewed over time might be: read later >> bookmark >> notes/annotations/marginalia >> read >> review. This kind of continuum of workflow might be able to support a slightly more complex overall UI for a more simplified reading post-type in which these others are all sub-types. One could then make a single UI for a reading post type with fields and details for all of the sub-cases. Being updatable, the single post could carry all the details of one’s progress.

Indieweb encourages simplicity (DRY) and having the fewest post-types possible, which I generally agree with, but perhaps there’s a better way of thinking of these several types. Concatenating them into one reading type with various data fields (and the ability of them to be public/private) could allow all of the subcategories to be included or not on one larger and more comprehensive post-type.

Examples
  1. Not including one subsection (or making it private), would simply prevent it from showing, thus one could have a traditional bookmark post by leaving off the read later, read, and review sub-types and/or data.
  2. As another example, I could include the data for read later, bookmark, and read, but leave off data about what I highlighted and/or sub-sections of notes I prefer to remain private.

A Primary Post with Webmention Updates

Alternately, one could create a primary post (potentially a bookmark) for the thing one is reading, and then use further additional posts with webmentions on each (to the original) thereby adding details to the original post about the ongoing progress. In some sense, this isn’t too far from the functionality provided by GoodReads with individual updates on progress with brief notes and their page that lists the overall view of progress. Each individual post could be made public/private to allow different viewerships, though private webmentions may be a hairier issue. I know some are also experimenting with pushing updates to posts via micropub and other methods, which could be appealing as well.

This may be cumbersome over time, but could potentially be made to look something like the GoodReads UI below, which seems very intuitive. (Note that it’s missing any review text as I’m currently writing it, and it’s not public yet.)

Overview of reading progress
Overview of reading progress

Other Thoughts

Ideally, better distinguishing between something that has been bookmarked and read/unread with dates for both the bookmarking and reading, as well as potentially adding notes and highlights relating to the article is desired. Something potentially akin to Devon Zuegel‘s “Notes” tab (built on a custom script for Evernote and Tumblr) seems somewhat promising in a cross between a simple reading list (or linkblog) and a commonplace book for academic work, but doesn’t necessarily leave room for longer book reviews.

I’ll also need to consider the publishing workflow, in some sense as it relates to the reverse chronological posting of updates on typical blogs. Perhaps a hybrid approach of the two methods mentioned would work best?

Potentially having an interface that bolts together the interface of GoodReads (picture above) and Amazon’s notes/highlights together would be excellent. I recently noticed (and updated an old post) that they’re already beta testing such a beast.

Kindle Notes and Highlights are now shoing up as a beta feature in GoodReads
Kindle Notes and Highlights are now shoing up as a beta feature in GoodReads

Comments

I’ll keep thinking about the architecture for what I’d ultimately like to have, but I’m always open to hearing what other (heavy) readers have to say about the subject and the usability of such a UI.

Please feel free to comment below, or write something on your own site (which includes the URL of this post) and submit your URL in the field provided below to create a webmention in which your post will appear as a comment.

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