Today at betaworks we are launching findings, a platform for sharing and discovering what people are reading. You can see my bookshelf of what I’m reading here – this includes books as well as web pages from which I have clipped highlights that interest me. You can see the quotes I have highlighted here, or the same collection as an xml feed. All these quotes are then placed into a social framework where you can explore who I follow on findings and who follows me. Users of findings get to choose whether to make their collections public or private. The default is public because at betaworks we believe that making data open and sharable adds value to the data in its entirety. I’m not sure if it’s a squared relationship but I do believe that it’s more than linear.
Building findings was a slow brew or a “slow hunch”. Back in 2005, Steven Jonson wrote a great blog post about his use of DevonThink software and how he was using it as his personal Memex. The piece resonated with me. At the time I had a flatfile system with years worth of collected quotes and clips; it was searchable but the happenstance of the discovery tool that Devon offered opened up a whole new dimension to my collection. Steven and I started to develop the first version of findings about four years ago with the goal of creating a platform to help people collect, share and discover things they were reading.
Along the journey Steven found this wonderful quote from Robert Darnton about the commonplace book:
“Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.” (You can see the origin of this clip and others by Darnton on this page.)
This quote exemplifies how I read, and write, today. Despite this, the tools and the language of sharing quotes and marginalia are still only loosely formed. With findings.com, we take a step forward (or back!) to this future.
Back in 2007, there were no ebook readers, no kindles, no iPads – not even a nook. The iPhone was barely six months old and had no apps – unless you decided to jailbreak. In short, it was too early for findings so we bought the domain and shelved the development. As a side note, we originally started with the domain findin.gs but that was a mouthful so we moved over to findings.com. A bit easier to pronounce. The project sat on the shelf for about 18 months.
About two years ago, Steven Johnson and I again started talking about the need for a common platform where quotes and marginalia could be shared, re-organized and re-combined. With devices that enabled “networked” long-form reading on the market, the potential behind the findings idea seemed both timely and unbounded. About a year ago Corey jumped on board and the three of us got to work; Corey built another beta. Once again, we didn’t ship this second version; rather we tested, trialed and kicked it around at betaworks. We kept asking ourselves how to make this useful, how to retain the context of the book yet give the atomic unit (aka quote) a place to exist independently…and with social context. Today we are launching findings. The experience is simple yet the meta-data that is processed in the background is complex. I hope you will give it a try. Sign up for an account and clip and synch your highlights – let’s see what we can build around digital marginalia.
Since we started working on findings people like James Bridle have helped construct a roadmap. As James has written, marginalia is a vital and vibrant part of the reading experience. It’s both personal and social: “digital technologies do not just disseminate, they recombine, and in this reunification of our reading experiences is the future of the book”. Thanks to James and others for their insight, we are collectively just starting to understand what is possible and what reading will be in the future.
Thanks to the current team of Steven, Corey, Jason, Jeffery, Neil and Alex its great to see findings live. And thank you to the original development team of Nate, Neil and Trevor. Sometimes ideas need time to develop, simmer and brew.
And a final note, please be patient with us the site had a lot more traffic than we expected today.
Steven’s post on the launch is here.