Two years ago yesterday, I asked "Why is the Kindle so anti-social?"
"There’s something consipicuously absent from the Kindle, though—other people. Reading and shopping from the Kindle is a disappointingly closed and solitary experience. I can’t see what other friends of mine are reading from Amazon. I can’t tweet my latest purchases. I underline portions of books, but those clips just sit dormant on the device, completely unsharable. What I’d really like to do is share all my book quotes on Tumblr. "
Sure there were sites like Goodreads, but all of them required manual input--and in a world where you're reading short form, long form, novels and blog posts, having a site just be about reading books didn't really cover my reading experience well.
On top of that, the atomic element of the reading experience isn't the book or the post--both of which match the atomic element of the web, the URL. It is the quote. Quotes are singular, finite ideas that stand out, inspire us. give us pause and make us think. People have been saving quotes and underlining undoubtedly as long as we've been putting books on paper.
Enter Findings. Findings is a "tool for collecting, sharing and discussing clips you find on your Amazon Kindle and from any website on the internet."
It could be a lot more, though--and given who is behind it, I'm sure there's a bigger vision. Findings is a Betaworks company and Steven Johnson, author of "Where Good Ideas Come From" is a part of it, too. In his book, he talks about software that he uses to capture quotes and ideas called DevonThink. He explains how technology can turn random snippets into inspiration:
"I keep all these quotes in a database using a program called DEVONthink, where I also store my own writing: chapters, essays, blog posts, notes. By combining my own words with passages from other sources, the collection becomes something more than just a file storage system. It becomes a digital extension of my imperfect memory, an archive of all my old ideas, and the ideas that have influenced me.... Having all that information available at my fingertips is not just a quantitative matter of finding my notes faster. Yes, when I’m trying to track down an article I wrote many years ago, it’s now much easier to retrieve. But the qualitative change lies elsewhere: in finding documents that I’ve forgotten about altogether, finding documents that I didn’t know I was looking for. What makes the system truly powerful is the way that it fosters private serendipity. DEVONthink features a clever algorithm that detects subtle semantic connections between distinct passages of text...
I use DEVONthink as an improvisational tool as well. I write a paragraph about something—let’s say it’s about the human brain’s remarkable facility for interpreting facial expressions. I then plug that paragraph into the software, and ask DEVONthink to find other passages in my archive that are similar. Instantly, a list of quotes appears on my screen: some delving into the neural architecture that triggers facial expressions, others exploring the evolutionary history of the smile, others dealing with the expressiveness of our near-relatives, the chimpanzees. Invariably, one or two of these triggers a new association in my head—perhaps I’ve forgotten about the chimpanzee connection—and so I select that quote, and ask the software to find a new batch of passages similar to it. Before long, a larger idea takes shape in my head...
...the fuzziness of the results is part of what makes the software so powerful. The serendipity of the system emerges out of two distinct forces. First, there is the connective power of the semantic algorithm, which is smart but also slightly unpredictable, thus creating a small amount of randomizing noise that makes the results more surprising. But that randomizing force is held in check by the fact that I have curated all these passages myself, which makes each individual connection far more likely to be useful to me in some way."
This, in my opinion, is the potential for Findings. It's more than just clipping stuff. It has been built by people who understand the potential for random, seemingly disconnected ideas to inspire creativity, connect likeminded people, and lead us down paths we wouldn't have followed on our own. It's the potential that Delicious never got to fulfill.
This is why sites like Github are so important to innovation. Github and other open source depositories, took what was otherwise a relatively solitary experience--coding--and opened it up. You could now find bits and pieces of other things people were working on and get inspired by what you could build on top of them or using pieces of what they had done. You had more patterns to mix and match--and you could meet people as well, people who had their own ideas. Steven talks about the importance of having a person be the curator of the ideas, for the purpose of increasing relevence--if you picked out all the "random" ideas, there's a strong liklihood that there are connections between them you didn't notice. Taking that one step further, the ideas that stand out of other people who think about, read about and find interesting the same stuff that you do are more likely to be connected to thinks you're pondering. It's why the New York City tech ecosystem is so creative--because the social ties at meetups and events foster idea sharing between likeminded people.
I'm fascinated to see where Findings goes and look forward to being inspired by it.