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Personal KM: Quotes from e-books live with Findings

This article appears in the issue March 2012 (100 Companies) [Vol 21, Issue 3]

In my column on data exhaust in the October 2011 issue of KMWorld, I looked at the differences between Kindle and iBooks and getting your highlights out (Kindle is capable and iBooks does not permit it), as well as your own annotations (capable on both services, in different ways). Since that time, a new service has launched that includes the ability to take your Kindle's highlights and annotations that you make public (Amazon gives you the choice per book/publication) and provide Web access to them. This new service is Findings.com.

One frustration I encountered in my ecosystem with Kindle annotations and highlights was that they were all bundled on one page. I really wanted them as individual snippets ... well, not just individual snippets, but as distinct information chunks I could pull, with a feed or other stream I could capture, so I could pull them into various repositories and aggregate them as needed through search and/or tagging them. This is part of what Findings does, and does really well.

Let's look at why this capability is a gem in the personal knowledge management ecosystem. Running across snippets of information that are quotable is a chore for me, and when I talk with others about how they do things, it is an imperfect world, or has been. In university, I would keep note cards or notepads that were just quotes out of books and journals I was reading for class. Those would often get dumped into my word processor (yes, that was the term, it was WordStar on my Osbourne Executive, if you really must know) as snippets of an outline. I would arrange the quotes into some order that would start framing a story and logical pattern and push the remainders to the end. This in 1984 was my equivalent of note cards with quotes in a stack.

As this relatively small world of digital information massively expanded into the Web and the addition of a myriad of digital information repositories of formerly print offerings, the ability to simply highlight a snippet to quote was lost. Instead, it was substituted by grabbing documents whole. That great quote or two, the contextual reason we hold on to the whole, is swimming in the sea of other helpful information possibly with some other context. Getting back to quote level grabbing and parsing has been possible for Web pages since at least Clipmarks (bought by Forbes) in 2005, and later Diigo. But, books in e-book form have been more difficult in a legal manner. Having the ability to use a digital highlighter as you read and have those markings as distinct extractable chunks to be held and assembled as needed-all while linking back to the exact source to properly credit and annotate our own writings-is something out of science fiction to my 1984 mind.

Findings is now for me a service that pulls the highlights in e-books (if only somebody would do this for the hundreds of physical books I have), parses them as individual quotes out of the kindle.com/your_highlights page and brings them into the Findings site. I can make them private; Findings adheres to the permissions I set in Amazon for my Kindle sharing settings. (If I am working on a white paper or strategy document for a client on a future roadmap for their products, I may want to keep some things quiet for a bit.)

Findings also provides a feed for my own clippings, which allows me to pull them into DEVONthink, my personal catchall and prime search location. I can then tag the quotes there for subject context or use context to ease aggregation locally for me. Grabbing highlights out of books has been a problem I've hoped and tried to solve many times. Findings made that simple.

An added feature of Findings is the ability to grab quotes from any Web page with a nice little bookmarklet. I can see other people's gems and add them to my collection, if they look promising, as well as follow the link directly out to the piece they came from to read more and verify context. Or I can add the item to my Instapaper (instapaper.com) or Readability service queue.

This really is the future to me as I wished for it in 1984.


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