LibraryThing. Del.icio.us for Books. And maybe better yet...

LibraryThing is a useful tool to catalogue all your own books onto a website.

This is one of these brilliant ideas that looks neat but only really comes through once you actually try it. Because it links all your own books to those of other users. And their ideas and thoughts. And because the whole thing is based around "tags", you can quickly follow up everything that interests you and see what like-minded people are reading and where their interests took them. This has much of the appeal of del.icio.us, but as applied to the printed word (and, let's face it, the printed word isn't history yet...)

But it gets better - because the site now offers a very smart "Talk" feature which uses tagging/linking from within comments (in a similar manner to Wikipedia) and then aggregates these links against your own Library so that all the comments made about a particular book or author appear in context - even if those comments were made on another page and by another user. I guess this works in a similar manner to the "Lists" that Amazon displays, but at a more granular level - and with a more contextual presentation.

Seriously interesting...

Find more here: Introducing LibraryThing's new Talk feature.

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The Future of Books

Scan This Book from yesterday's New York Times is lengthy but well worth a read. It's written by Kevin Kelly from Wired.

Synopsis:

1. All the world's books will soon be available in digital form. Google will do much of the work. Likewise Amazon. They can offshore to India to get much of the actual scanning done. The Chinese will pick up most of the stuff that the rest of us are told is still in copyright. It is cheap and easy to scan a book. $10 per book...

2. "Turning inked letters into electronic dots that can be read on a screen is simply the first essential step in creating a new world library. The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages."

3. "Once digitized, books can be unraveled into single pages or be reduced further, into snippets of a page. These snippets will be re-mixed, re-used and re-sequenced. Just as the music audience now juggles and reorders songs into new albums (or "playlists"), the universal library will encourage the creation of mashed-up books on virtual bookshelves."

4. Old fashioned publishers won't enjoy this one bit.

5. New-wave consumers won't care about old-fashioned publishers.

6. It's iTunes for books...

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Everything Bad Is Good for You

Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter
Steven Johnson
0713998024

It's a great book - with the basic thesis that a new world of fast television, challenging video games, texting, e-mail and on-line activity is producing a generation that thinks quickly and makes connections rather faster than their elders and betters.

And in a world where information is free to all - but connections are where the smart money will move..., well, that's a pretty important thesis.

Read it. You won't be disappointed.

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Amazon to print books on demand

This not only sweeps up the long tail, but potentially creates a market "upload" publishing through Amazon. That's a much bigger market than it was. Look at all the bloggers...

Online retail giant Amazon.com has acquired US-based print-on-demand company BookSurge LLC.

The privately owned inventory-free book printing and fulfilment company based in South Carolina already provides a print-on demand service for out-of-print or hard-to-find books, available for sale on Amazon.com or as a service to other publishers and authors.

And other retailers, wholesalers and distributors use its wholesale platform, called BookSurge Direct.

But Amazon hopes the deal will primarily allow it to offer more a wider range of more rare titles, including foreign language translations, to its readers.

'Print-on-demand has changed the economics of small-quantity printing, making it possible for books with low and uncertain demand to be profitably produced,' said Greg Geeley, Amazon.com media products vice president. 'Thanks to print-on-demand, "out of print" is out of date.'

Link: vnunet.com.

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Writing, Briefly

Paul Graham, author of Hackers and Painters, writes beautifully.

Occasionally he writes about writing...

I think it's far more important to write well than most people realize. Writing doesn't just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you're bad at writing and don't like to do it, you'll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated.

Link: paulgraham.com

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Peopleware : Productive Projects and Teams

If you are trying to manage teams then this is worth a read.

Review at Amazon.com by David Walker

Summed up in one sentence, Peopleware says this:

give smart people physical space, intellectual responsibility and strategic direction.

DeMarco and Lister advocate private offices and windows. They advocate creating teams with aligned goals and limited non-team work. They advocate managers finding good staff and putting their fate in the hands of those staff.

They write:

The manager's function is not to make people work but to make it possible for people to work.

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Schools 'fail to teach the joy of reading'

Children are being deprived of the opportunity to enjoy books because schools are obsessed with their position in league tables, the head of Ofsted said yesterday.

David Bell said he found it "worrying" that many reading problems identified 30 years ago had not improved. Reading should be about pleasure, but teachers could lose sight of this under pressure to improve test results, he said.

Many schools were not doing enough to improve the reading and writing of pupils whose attainment was low when they went up to secondary school, he added.

In a speech to mark World Book Day today, Mr Bell called on the government to set up a National English Centre to promote good teaching and remind teachers of other subjects to respect language.

Himself an avid reader, he said it was disappointing how few pupils mentioned "the joy of learning".

"Reading has always been seen as a source of considerable pleasure for many. This is important, but perhaps has been forgotten by some schools in their pursuit of higher tests results that will improve their position in the league tables.

"You will find no pleasure in books if you cannot read, but it is equally possible to be able to read and derive little pleasure."

Mr Bell said the Bullock report on reading in state schools set out many failings. "That was 30 years ago but, worryingly, many of the concerns about reading expressed in the report still exist today."

Link: Guardian Unlimited, Rebecca Smithers.

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The war on words

Guardian Unlimited Books.

Reading is a democratic activity, argues Philip Pullman, and theocracies discourage it.

I start from the position that theocracy is one of the least desirable of all forms of political organisation, and that democracy is a good deal better. But the real division is not between those states that are secular, and therefore democratic, and those that are religious, and therefore totalitarian. I think there is another fault line that is more fundamental and more important than religion. You don't need a belief in God to have a theocracy.

Here are some characteristics of religious power:

  • There is a holy book, a scripture whose word is inerrant, whose authority is above dispute: as it might be, the works of Karl Marx.
  • There are prophets and doctors of the church, who interpret the holy book and pronounce on its meaning: as it might be, Lenin, Stalin, Mao.
  • There is a priesthood with special powers, which can confer blessings and privileges on the laity, or withdraw them, and in which authority tends to concentrate in the hands of elderly men: as it might be, the communist party.
  • There is the concept of heresy and its punishment: as it might be, Trotskyism.
  • There is an inquisition with the powers of a secret police force: as it might be, the Cheka, the NKVD, etc.
  • There is a complex procedural apparatus of betrayal, denunciation, confession, trial and execution: as it might be, the Stalinist terror under Yezhov and Beria and the other state inquisitors.
  • There is a teleological view of history, according to which human society moves inexorably towards a millennial fulfilment in a golden age: as it might be, the dictatorship of the proletariat, as described by dialectical materialism.
  • There is a fear and hatred of external unbelievers: as it might be, the imperialist capitalist powers.
  • There is a fear and hatred of internal demons and witches: as it might be, kulaks or bourgeois deviationists.
  • There is the notion of pilgrimage to sacred places and holy relics: as it might be, the birthplace of Stalin, or the embalmed corpses in Red Square.

And so on, ad nauseam. In fact, the Soviet Union was one of the most thoroughgoing theocracies the world has ever seen, and it was atheist to its marrow. In this respect, the most dogmatic materialist is functionally equivalent to the most fanatical believer, Stalin's Russia exactly the same as Khomeini's Iran.

It isn't belief in God that causes the problem. The root of the matter is quite different. It is that theocracies don't know how to read, and democracies do.

[...]

The democracy of reading exists in the to-and-fro between reader and text, when each is free to engage honestly with the other. The democracy of politics needs the same freedom and honesty in the public realm: freedom from lies and distortions about other candidates, honesty about one's own actions and programmes and sources of information. It's difficult. It's strenuous. The sort of effort it takes was never very common, but it seems to be rarer now than it was. It is quite easy for democracies to forget how to read.

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