Building better book apps - sharing ideas; convening a roundtable…

Hey all, I wanted to create this topic as a starting point for discussing various ideas and experiments with book / reading apps.

Lately I feel like more and more I’ve been seeing not only a lot of people dreaming about Goodreads alternatives, but quite a few actual apps and experiments in that direction — things ranging from minimalist reading list creation, to surfacing better recommendations, to facilitating online book clubs…

You will note that is not one thing but several!

In following these conversations one of the biggest things I’ve come to see is how Goodreads is really kind of an insane behemoth…and a lot of the newer experimental book apps I’ve seen that feel most promising, I actually like because they only try to tackle one or two specific things, and do it well, vs trying to do it all.

As I’ve been playing around a bit with ideas for Antilibraries, and researching what’s out there, I’m getting excited by many of the projects swirling about and emerging in this space. I’ve also been chatting with @tomcritchlow @jaredpereira @davidklaing and a few others about possibilities.

So, thinking it may be useful to put our heads together! We may want to:

  • figure out common formats / data structures that we could benefit from sharing
  • avoid duplicating efforts; see where it might be best to focus and uniquely add value
  • test out some ideas and have fun seeing what everyone’s working on!

Kicking it off for discussion here — to start, how about we each briefly share a few sentences below on what we’re working on, and/or what aspect(s) of engaging with books we’re most interested in exploring?

FYI you can click the reply icon in the upper left of the composer to “reply as linked topic” if you’d like to start a separate topic for a particular project or big question. I can also split into new topics as needed.

Another thing I can work on is compiling some notes I’ve got started (on existing apps, interesting technologies, etc.) and try to organize and publish in some useful form.

Finally, I’d like to convene a sort of casual roundtable (by which I mean: Zoom call) to learn more about what others are working on, chat about particular areas for further exploration, and see how we may be able to collaborate.

Update: chat scheduled Thursday, Apr. 16 at 3 pm ET — sign up here! (Zoom link TK)

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I am working on learnawesome.org. While I do love books, all the design choices I have taken derive from me thinking hard about what it is that I actually care about the most. For me personally, “Books” was replaced by “Reading” which then got replaced by “Learning”. I realized that even though I was not reading many books lately, I was still reading a lot on the Web and more importantly, learning things more than ever. And that was most important.

So, my project is happy to delegate all the books-related features to existing sites like OpenLibrary, GoodReads etc by simply linking to them, and instead prioritizes features that can help in learning. The internal knowledge graph cares about the ideas in a book, and not the book itself. For example, if the author of a book has expressed the core ideas of her book in a TED Talk or a podcast, LearnAwesome shows those links prominently as well as summaries written by others. So that users can learn very effectively (and dive deep into the book when necessary).

For purely an alternative to GoodReads alternative, my first choice would be OpenLibrary.org. It’s being built by Internet Archive, and has a strong community behind it with the right ethos.

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I’m working on building a decentralized Goodreads - made up of a thousand independent sites all using some kind of common “book” protocol. Right now I’m building up an MVP around a “library.json” file that people can publish:

https://tomcritchlow.com/library.json

Week-day daytime slots best for me to chat!

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While not specifically book or reading app, over the weekend I built a spatial audio chat designed for casual meetings: house parties, conversation salons, virtual coffee shops, poetry readings, book clubs, etc. Where everyone can move about a virtual room and only hear the people who are closest to them spatially - so it’s possible to break into seperate conversations by simply walking to a different area of the room.

One thing that is in my brainstorming notes for this but I haven’t implemented into the meeting space yet is to have a bookshelf in the virtual space where people can add their favourite books or ones which they are currently reading. Then anyone can go up and browse through these books (and who added each of them) which could spark conversations “hey I saw you’ve read X book…”

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Okay I should say a bit more about my own ideas for Antilibraries, as there’s a lot I’ve been thinking about for the long term roadmap that’s not reflected on the site.

Antilibraries started as my own personal book list of stuff to read or at least be aware of / come back to later. But I’m exploring how to grow beyond that and develop a more broadly useful resource. Maybe some combination of collecting the best books I can find on various topics / fields, and also just having fun sharing more weird fascinating sui generis finds.

This is also an ongoing tech learning project for me; I’ve been using WordPress and extending with various simple customizations, and may eventually try to do more e.g. importing data from various book APIs, user accounts, custom list features, and so on TBD!

Very interesting, thinking about what makes sense as a “node” in a wider network, and what level of fidelity to prioritize. One thing I’ve been thinking of is adding an “ideas” page type for Antilibraries and then could interlink between both books + books / books + ideas. I think it would definitely be cool to make more legible both what books are great and what core ideas are part of what defines their importance.

And then for “ideas”, similarly as with “books”, I find there’s some tension between wanting to highlight what’s broadly important (foundational books/ideas) and ones that are more niche (e.g. an obscure conceptual term of art used just by a particular author) that may be more fun / surprising to highlight.

Agree, I really like Open Library too, but I also think this is a good example of how there’s no ONE great alternative to Goodreads — for example I think the best thing about Open Library is the aim to be an open source of book data, and the lending library aspect is kind of cool too albeit a bit confusing. However it’s not really a great alternative for closely tracking your own reading, or for starting book discussion groups, or various other things, which is why I’m excited by other projects that may be smaller in scope but more laser focused.

This sounds super cool, and I love the idea of a basic common data format (a la Indieweb) that makes it easier for lots of different book-related apps to link together. I know you’ve thought a ton about blogging and online networks and it feels like this could tie in really nicely with other open web stuff.

One thing I’m curious about and will make a note to research further is what existing efforts may be out there along these lines (probably some stuff e.g. librarians would know about but may not be common knowledge even to most book / tech nerds!) Getting good book data is hard but also interesting challenge!

Nice, this sounds very interesting too! Really like the idea of a more organic way to join / split off different sub-group conversations, and I can see how audio only + spatial visualization could work better for this than e.g. Zoom chat where it all feels rather rigid and unnatural. Would love to test this with a book discussion at some point.

Hey all, really hyped for this conversation and all these ideas.

My own experiments have mostly sat around documenting my library on my site, and trying out some very light e-reader hacking.

I’m especially interested in manipulating highlights and annotations from books. Also v into p2p protocols so defining a format, and building a set of tools to go with, for books is something I’d love to help with.

Love the idea of this forum as a focal point for all these experiments as well!

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Hey all! This is super exciting for me as I’m right there with you. I’m a power kindle user, but I’m really tired of my current workflow: import “My Clippings” to Calibre, run a few (hacky) shell/python scripts to convert to different formats for the web, then write blog posts and such around these cleaned up clippings and notes. I’ve been thinking about better pipelines in addition to better virtual bookclubs, faster and more focused GoodReads alternatives. I’m really into the virtual shelving system of GoodReads, and think that this should be a clean site on it’s own, though I am interested in integrating shelves/lists with notes/comments/highlights/conversation. Would love to collaborate.

To see a silly artsy project (under construction) borne from a set of highlights, check this out. This is me thinking about fun ways to engage with my highlights and notes after I’ve finished the book. I want to work on something that eliminates the friction between reading and conversation. Seems like we all have similar goals. Social reading!

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Hey all - I’m excited to jump in on this thread and join the conversation. I’m working on a new startup company - Italic Type - to address many of the issues @Brendan and others have raised. We are creating a new platform that offers readers deeper engagement with books and better connections with book-loving friends.

We are one part “better” Goodreads (clean UI, no ads, no Amazon) and one part virtual book club community – where you can invite friends to read the same book together or send and receive personal recommendations from the readers you care about most.

Ultimately we promote better discovery, personal curation, and help readers realize more learning, motivation, and satisfaction from books.

We are beta testing now and working towards public release later next month. Excited to share more with this community!

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Italic Type looks lovely!

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Would love to jump in on a call for this! I am not working on anything book app related but have been patiently waiting for something that would allow me to take advantage of the tools I currently use (blog, Are.na, etc). That’s why I am excited for some kind of extendable web standard that @tomcritchlow’s library.json project is pushing towards.

Excited to chat soon!

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Wow! Italic Type looks awesome. I started a project last year called Bindery to try and do something of the same. But…life got in the way of continuing. Would love to chat about ways to all of this collaboratively.

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Thanks @gabekelley! Looking forward to sharing more. Couldn’t agree more w/ your take on Bindery and the need for simplicity. There isn’t a lot of tech out there that prioritizes the reader experience. Glad to meet other folks thinking about this.

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Sweet! Turns out there are a lot of interesting topics here :smiley: Haha I think we’ll have to branch out with some other linked topics soon to get into specific things further.

Great point, I like the idea of better pipelines for making it easy to work with your own personal book data in interesting ways…something like Zapier for books…but more open web…

Thanks for the project link, book highlights as chat thread is great! At first seeing the length of that scroll bar I thought this was like an entire book just split into paragraphs…could be a clever way to trick me into reading something super long. Reminds me of this great viral article: The Time I Spent On A Commercial Whaling Ship Totally Changed My Perspective On The World

I will just briefly mention here that I’ve started beta testing Italic Type and it’s looking great — indeed a faster nicer looking version of the essential parts of Goodreads (search, lists, ratings), and as Emily mentions some very cool social features in the works which is actually the part I’m most excited about! Very cool to see this project develop.

Great point here as well, tying in with the above mention re: book data pipelines…I think what a lot of us particularly nerdy types are looking for isn’t like one magical app, but a flexible ecosystem of tools that let us do more powerful and personalized things with our own data, but without having to independently hack up janky one-off custom solutions. At least I can definitely relate!

Look forward to talking more Gabe! Really like the minimalist approach with Bindery, perfect example of extracting one slice of the “manage your reading” problem in a super fast, focused way.

:joy: i’d never come across this! this is a work in progress, won’t be so long when it’s done, and it’s pretty ridiculous how much less pressure I feel responding to the text in this format… will post again when it’s shortened and my responses are posted :slight_smile:

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I just wrote up my spec and started a thread for it here:

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Hey there,

I’m a used and rare book dealer in Wisconsin. I will just say that there is a huge absence of software/aps for bookdealers that are not 20th century tech. I would suggest keeping the bookstores in mind as you imagine this project. While not a developer, my dream is to help birth a cooperatively owned sales/auction/social book site that both dealers/stores and readers/customers would co-own as a multi-stakeholder cooperative. create a fair and equitable marketplace and social space while enabling the next generation of book dealers to realize the dream of having a store. Excited to hear more.

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Hello and welcome, thanks for joining!

This sounds fascinating and I’d love to hear more / discuss further. I try to keep up with at least some of the big online bookselling sites, from AbeBooks and Biblio.com to newer efforts like Bookshop.org, but I have no idea what the software picture looks like behind the scenes.

As an enormous fan of both independent used bookstores, and the networked potential of the internet, I’m very curious about both what sort of software exists and is commonly used by booksellers today, and what possibilities you envision.

Please feel free to create a new topic for further discussion on this!