Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reading Dematerials

My Library on Google Books

A few years ago I spent a good few hours scanning the barcodes of my (huge) collection of books, cds, dvds etc using a lovely little bit of software called Delicious Library. It's smart: it uses your built in webcam as a barcode reader, and grabs cover images from Amazon. It also told me interesting things - for instance, I own six books whose second hand value is currently over £100. Alas, even under current circumstances I think I could only bear to part with one of those.

The drawback of the software, however, is that it seems to be very much tied in to a desktop paradigm: something I've noticed is fairly common with Mac apps. The latest version has a 'publish to web' option which spits out rather over-designed HTML. It's a database: what I'd like is a way of syncing a list of identifiers with services that are already out there: listal, LibraryThing perhaps. Both of those sites got fed a long list of ISBNS, or a hacky XML file a while ago, and show a frozen snapshot of my library in time.

I wonder if Google Books 'My Library' might be impetus to get this sorted. Syncing a list of ISBNs shouldn't be too hard, and an API is out there already, and there are some lovely tools coming from the team that help dematerialise physical objects and spread them on the web.

I'd love an application that sat on my phone, let me add books to my local library with the phonecam, synced to my desktop application then updated the various sites where I've stored information over time. As more books go online within the Google Books site, suddenly I have a way of searching across the big, physical knowledge backup system I've been carting around and building upon since I was 5.

I don't think I could ever get to a point where I'm able to box up my books and leave them in storage: I'm too in love with them as physical objects; they're too totemic. But as physical authentication tokens for locked online data stores, they're also pretty interesting. If you could access a digital version of a text only through holding the physical object up for recognition... Hmn.


Paul Mison said...

"I'd love an application that sat on my phone, let me add books to my local library with the phonecam"

Unfortunatly, until recently you've had a choice between phones with decent cameras that no mortal could install applications on (and even if they could, they couldn't make a business out of), or a phone that had a nice deployment path with a rubbish camera.

Fraser Speirs (of various Flickr/Mac projects, including Darkslide) posted some barcode photos with the camera from the iPhone 3GS, and it seems good enough, even in low light, to be usable for scanning: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fraserspeirs/3640641635/

There's also now a Delicious Library app for the iPhone, which doesn't scan (yet, anyway), but which does sync with the desktop app's library.

In other words, from my (admittedly Apple-centric) point of view, give it another few months and Delicious Library + iPhone 3GS might be there. Otherwise, perhaps Google Books + an Android app will do the same thing.

kim said...

I've had a serviceable barcode reader on my n95 for 2 years, and tbh if the 640x480 iSight can read barcodes, the old iPhone should be able to!

The key thing which hasn't been cracked is the sync between local data store and cloud - that's more the thing that exercises me. Data exchange and updating across services is so useful, much more so than spitting out static HTML pages... and it should be relatively easy with guaranteed UIDs in ISBN numbers!