Kindle 3 is a good little research tool

I am finding that the Kindle 3 is a great little learning or research tool. I’ve had mine for a couple of months now.

It keeps your place, so you can have numerous books on the go at the same time. And as you are reading you can highlight areas of text and add notes. These are then assigned to a file called “My Clippings.txt”. Every clipping or note has a header giving the title of the book, the location in the book and the time and date.

There are nevertheless a number of problems in using a Kindle which reflect the half-arsed proprietary way that technological progress occurs under capitalism. The Kindle is tied up with Amazon wanting you to buy their e-books, so you can’t read DRM locked books you have bought from other e-book sites. Although anything without a lock on it can be read albeit often requiring format conversion. The other even bigger problem is that there are a vast number of academic books not available in electronic form. This is a problem generally not just for the Kindle. There are millions of in-copyright titles that should but are not available electronically. This includes a lot of out-of-print ones. They probably will be eventually but even then there will be efforts to force people to pay prices that are beyond poor students in Lagos or Ramallah. (The deal that Google Books is working out with US publishers will only allow for reading online after making the purchase and only for American residents.) There will then be further delays because those committed to setting knowledge free will have to devote considerable amount of time getting around this problem. Nudge nudge wink wink. There has already been a bit of this as you will see if you check out P2P.

Every now and then I import the Kindle clipping file into a data base called Zoot which I highly recommend. Each clipping is separated by a short row of equal signs that I use in the program’s extraction feature to split each one off into a separate record or item. You can then add a keyword field if you want. You can also give each book or document a short title and then give each item an item number. So the clippings from a book with the short title Smith2006 would start with Smith2006 0001. To add these numbers you have to export the items as a csv file, process them in Excel and then re-import them. In Excel you just create a column entitled item_number, type in the first number in row one, then select the cell and drag it down with your mouse cursor until every row has a number. If you are not sure what I mean just open Excel right now, type in Smith2006 0001 and then drag the cell down. You get Smith2006 0001, Smith2006 0002 and so on. I used this technique when doing research for a book called Bright Future some years back, However, whenever a publication was physical rather than electronic I had to pencil sideline the sections of interest and then scan and OCR them. That was quite time consuming.

While I am extolling the virtues of Zoot, I will also mention that it has its own clipping feature which you can use while you are reading web pages or PDF files on your computer. Selected text becomes an item in a Zoot folder. And you don’t have to remember where it comes from because it automatically includes a URL or some other source information.

So, I would definitely check out Zoot (it’s free to try, nagware I recall) and whatever e-book reader you get make sure it has a clipping and annotation feature and not just bookmarking.

2 Responses to “Kindle 3 is a good little research tool”

  1. 1 Arthur

    Checkout Zotero add-on for firefox and Calibre for ebook library (including synchronization to kindle etc).

  2. 2 Bill Kerr

    I was struck by the spectacular irony experienced by the Kindle readers of George Orwell’s 1984, which was suddenly remotely deleted by amazon, after being bought.

    However, by all accounts, Kindle 3 is the best ebook reader around. I hadn’t looked at this for a couple of years and was surprised at how rapidly the Kindle has progressed, resulting in improved technology and cheaper ebooks.

    There is a good review here which outlines lots of strengths but also does not hide the weaknesses – No Color , No Touchscreen , No ePub Support , No SD Card slot , No replaceable battery , No number keys , No lending ebooks

    I’m not so sure about the Touchscreen issue (at least to the exclusion of other means of access) since I’ve spoken to David Wallace, a quadriplegic (disability access is a hardware design issue) who was frustrated about touchscreens marginalising the disability group he belongs to. Disability access is meant to be mandated by law but somehow that does not apply to the development of new technologies by Amazon, Apple etc.

    The colour issue will be resolved by pixel qi (site, blog), the company founded by Mary Lou Jepson of one lapttop per child (OLPC) fame.

    David mention two negatives in the context of ebooks. DRM lockout and Copyright law. These are fundamental, the real Orwellian issues that require more discussion and most likely a different social system. How will we pay authors in a system where information is free? (as it should be)

    In the interim, the issue of libraries is a good one to raise, as Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive does:

    … Kahle, who founded the Open Content Alliance, and Open Library project, a digitization program, offered a strong message to librarians: don’t let a few powerful corporations take control of the digital future. He expressed his longstanding concern over Google’s efforts to scan collections “and sell it back to us,” and urged libraries not to give up their traditional roles. “What libraries do is buy stuff, and lend it out,” he said, suggesting that libraries “digitize what we have to, and buy what we can,” but not to let the promise of licensed access turn libraries into agents for a few major corporations. “We do so at our peril.” …

    Libraries are being undermined and this is more difficult for them to get around than individuals with access to torrents etc. This isssue is discussed in more detail here: Will Kindle ever add support for library books?

    Zotero (Zoot substitute) at the moment is tied to Firefox use but I notice they are now developing a standalone version which can be linked up to any browser. Amongst other things it offers the opportunity to interact with other people researching the same topics. See the people page. No reason that Zotero can’t be used for research not done with a browser, eg. books.

    Many issues to discuss here but I would advocate that where possible we use technologies that are consistent with our social goals (open source). The locked in stores of Apple and Amazon are a very bad model even though some of the things these companies do are amazingly good.

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