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Getting value from e-book exhaust

Most of us do not consume information passively. We do things with it. We highlight it, write notes on it and about it, and use attributed quotes from it. When considering what we do with information we consume and create, we really must consider all of it. That includes the bits and pieces that are side products, annotations, syndicated sharing and other value-added extensions of our actions and activities in today's social and digital tools.

The extra data and digital footprints we leave around the Internet and across our devices are where some nice value can be extracted. Jerry Michalski labeled those extra elements "data exhaust," which others have morphed into "digital exhaust" and "exhaust data." Its value is a benefit not only to others in a data feed form or as aggregated information created from it, but also to us.

The value to us depends on two things: finding it, and being able to use it. Many of the services we utilize can be enabled to feed data streams between them and new value created by the services taking that data and packaging it with different things. But, that is not the case for everything we intentionally or unintentionally produce. Some of our actions in some services seem to be locked away or very difficult to access.

It's helpful to assess how easy it is to access what we generate before selecting a new device, service or product. But, often we find derived value in the primary product or service itself, so we have to dig to get the answer after we are using the service.

E-book readers

One product type where this is incredibly relevant is the e-book reader, which often has the capability to highlight text, as well as to annotate in or around the text. In fact, with the latest round of e-book applications and devices, it is easier to annotate and highlight than ever before. Getting to what we add, however, is not easy or straightforward on all platforms.

Two services that are at near opposite ends of the spectrum are Amazon's Kindle and Apple's iBooks application  (only available for reading on its mobile iOS platform devices). With the Kindle, our augmentations are stored on the Web as snippets in Amazon's Kindle site at https://kindle.amazon.com/your_highlights. That site shows what was highlighted in the Kindle application, provides a direct link to where the highlight or annotation is placed in the larger text so you can drop into the text (if you have a Kindle reader loaded on the device you are browsing on), or add an additional note to the highlight or annotation. The snippets are organized by publication (book or other resource), and the owner of the snippets can opt to share them with others on a publication-by-publication selection basis.

Theft protection

With iBooks, it is far more cumbersome to find our added notations and less elegant. The notes we make in iBooks can be e-mailed or printed one by one, but the highlights are stored in a file in the iOS device, and access to it can only be grabbed out of a backup. And the format of the magical iBooksData2.plist file is far from easy to use. With iBooks' mindset, highlights are a means to steal text and are under DRM, so the application protects against that.

While finding and getting access to our data exhaust is helpful, it is only part of the value. I know many people who use Evernote to store information and manage it to some degree so the pieces can be aggregated and searched. There is a nice walk-through for getting Kindle highlights and annotations into Evernote as one large chunk for each book. While that is less than optimal, it starts pulling the data exhaust around e-books into something on which we can build.  

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