Sunday, October 2, 2011

More on the Kindle for Academia

In recent weeks, the Kindle world has been focused on the new devices Amazon has announced - the Kindle Touch and Touch 3G, the low-end Kindle 4 and the new Kindle Fire "fondleslab" (to borrow The Reg's neologism for tablets). However, Amazon has quietly been beavering away, working on what I believe is its core strength - the server end of the e-reader ecosystem.

A few evenings ago, I wanted to look up the title of a book I'd read, and rather than do it on the Kindle itself, since I was sitting in front of my computer composing an email, I thought I would do it by logging in to the web back end: https://kindle.amazon.com/ , which contains the list of books in what Amazon now refers to as your "Library", rather than "The Archive". This change makes sense - the Archive is all the books you've bought from Amazon which are not on the Kindle, but rather warehoused at Amazon, while "The Library" is all the books you've bought, regardless of where they happen to be.

There are some interesting features on the Kindle site, like the "Daily Review":
Daily Review is a tool to help you review and remember the most significant ideas from your books. It shows you flashcards with either your highlights and notes or the Popular Highlights from one of your books.
Only books that you have marked as "read" are eligible for review, and Daily Review will take you through all of your read books, one per day. 
I don't have enough finished books with highlights to make this particularly interesting - at the moment it's just reminding me of some fairly obvious facts from a Java Pocket Guide - but the potential is there as a pre-exam review tool. It's a fairly simple flash-card style tool, but the fact that the cards are built automatically from your book highlights means it's painless to set up.

Figure 1 - The "Your Highlights" page, showing "Read more at ..." links
But what really caught my eye was the "Your Highlights" page, which lists highlights and notes - and more particularly the link under each highlighted section of text - it uses a "kindle:" protocol in the URL, like this: "kindle://book?action=open&asin=B0035IID08&location=2129". Unfortunately, when I first tried this (with K4PC Version 1.7.1), it didn't work. Clicking on a link leads to the dialog shown below, directing me to Customer Service - who weren't much help. Version 1.8.3 wasn't much better.

Figure 2 - The "Unable to Open Item" dialog.

However, I just (March 30th, 2012) got version 1.9.2 (38420), and the feature now works. This is rather neat; it means that students can now use an online interactive database of notes which automatically link to the book.

Link URL's typically look like this:

kindle://book?action=open&asin=B006ORT3KG&location=951

In this case, the ASIN is for the Kindle edition of Schneier, B. (2012). Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive (1st ed.). Wiley. (I just dragged that citation straight from Zotero), while the location argument points to a quote about non-kin cooperation. Without the location argument, the book opens to the previous location.

This is rather neat; it opens the possibility of new browser-based applications which can link directly to your Kindle library on the PC.

Once the Kindle app has registered itself in Windows as the URL handler for the kindle: protocol, it can be used from within other applications as well. I've tested it with EverNote, and it works just fine. I've also tested it in the URL field of the Zotero bibliographic database, and it works fine there, although that's not what the field is really intended for. However, although Zotero's note editor supports links, it currently provides no way of following them. Hopefully, that situation will change.

With its https://kindle.amazon.com/ site, Amazon has the beginnings of something much more useful for academic Kindle users, but the kindle: protocol provides intriguing possibilities for hacking on various applications which will make the Kindle app (and the Kindle) much more useful.

Oh - one other nice little "easter egg" - but this one doesn't involve the server end of the equation: if you highlight some text in the Kindle for PC application, you can now copy and paste it, complete with a citation. And best of all, in version 9, this feature finally works for international users!
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