Aggregating online references from books

I’ve started to tag all the external references in Adam Greenfield’s new book, Everyware on del.icio.us. I did it for Peter’s Ambient Findability when it came out too. The reason why I did it was because I was checking all these references as I read through and I thought how nice it would have been if someone had 1. already presented me with the full references online, and 2. cross-referenced them with the pages I was reading in the book.

All references in these two books are interesting, but typing up long URLs suck. We are lazy people – I think we are less likelly to check the references for more information if we see that long boring link printed on the page. Maybe we’ll check a few, but imagine how much more interesting it would be to experience these books if you could easily access any references and glance through them all as you were reading?

I don’t think this applies to all kinds of books, but these two in partcular discuss a new reality and in many ways require you to think about a world that doesn’t exist yet. It’s not sci-fi, it’s just a near-future that hasn’t been revealed, so the more support you have in reading them, the most you can make out of them. Thus the tagging frenzy.

References from Everyware
http://del.icio.us/livlab/everyware

References from Ambient Findability
http://del.icio.us/livlab/ambientfindability

My entirely non-scientific method of observation and talking to people tells me that there are two reason why one would go online to check a reference from a book: To learn more about a topic the book explores to some extent (dig deeper), or to learn about the background on something that’s referenced in a book (high-level) that you don’t really know much about.

I’ve found that I’m more likelly to do the first because it’s more fun (“hmmm interesting new/cool/exciting thing, let me find out more”). However, I will definitely go for the second when my ignorance about the topic is making me struggle with the book at hand (“oh so it’s like UML? Nice, but I can’t remember the first thing about UML. Let me recap…”)

If I can go somewhere and see the aggregated references sorted by the order I am reading the book, it becomes so much easier to do any of these things. When are publishers going to start doing this as part of the publishing process?

Post-scriptum: I failed to mention I am NOT a del.icio.us fan and I never really saw much value in it for me personaly. It was only when I started to tag these books that it became meaningful to me. I still think the method used to tag references is rudimentary and could be lightyears ahead.

Note: I’m getting tired of the word tagging already. It’s used to represent so many things that it’s losing meaning. I’m only talking about the action of adding an identifier – a tag – to something.

8 thoughts on “Aggregating online references from books

  1. adam

    Well, it can’t be said often enough: thank you. I’m delighted that you’ve taken the time and trouble to do this. It’s a real service to the readership, and to me as well.

  2. Livia Labate

    Oh how cool. Thanks! Looks like a step forward from del.icio.us.
    Post-scriptum: This is brilliant, I’ve been playing with it for five minutes and I’m ready to dump del.icio.us

  3. adam

    You kinda have to sorta love a place where one of the top tags is “yeast.” That said, I can’t imagine this replacing del.icio.us – for me, anyway. But then, I’m not an academic.

    A few words, Livia, in defense of del.icio.us: it’s been an invaluable tool for me as a discovery agent during the writing of Everyware. It’s come closer, in fact, than any other tool or service to being a real-world instantiation of some of the stuff Thomas Vander Wal talks about, and in a way that was particularly relevant to what I was working on.

    The reason has a lot to do with the nature of the “ubiquitous computing” field at the time I started writing. It was so contentious, and people would think of things as being sort of parceled out among a scatter of domains and subdomains: *this* was “ubiquitous,” *that* was “pervasive,” yet another was “rfid,” and so on.

    By paying attention to the patterns of tag usage – and especially by seeing which alternate tags people used to describe the same link – I developed a really rich appreciation for the problem space. It definitely helped me focus my thinking and writing on some areas over other lines of inquiry I had intially been pursuing, because del.icio.us helped me see how tangential they were to the thing I “really” wanted to discuss.

    I’ll never be in the position of telling someone they’re wrong about a given tool – de gustibus non disputandum est – but I’ve found del.icio.us invaluable, and they’re also really response to comments and feature requests. For the life of me, I don’t understand why e.g. Magnolia think that what they have to offer is a meaningful improvement: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  4. willard

    just to add a couple of notes on citeulike.
    1. Its not trying to be delicious.
    2. its real power is how you add references – it does the filling out of the various parts of a reference for you. (a reference is a lot more complicated than just a url and a title)
    3. it allows export to bibtex. a pointless feature for most. invaluable for the academic.

    nb: I use delicious for links. citeulike for references. simple as that. there are two camps using citeulike – 1. to find other similar academic references within a shared community – much like what you are discussing adam and 2. as a reference manager.
    the mixing of these two approaches doesnt always work – but seperating out the wheat from the chaff is certainly easier than trolling throuh google scholar or the numerous other academic engines..

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