Building the Network

Beat Generation Internet Culture News Publishing Technology
1. I checked out Shelfari, a new book-oriented social networking site that's getting some buzz based on Amazon.com buying a stake. I even joined up and built myself a bookshelf. On the positive side, I like the highly dynamic Web 2.0 interface, and the search engine seems to have a deep reach. On the negative side, I wish every AJAX site in the world didn't have to look like Digg, what with all the bright colors and giant fonts. I think a more aesthetic design would better suit the book community.

Random House also announced an innovative "browse widget" service, Insight. From a technical point of view, this is much less impressive than Shelfari. It relies on a browser plugin for Flash, which means that Random House's technology managers and consultants are about five years behind the times. Flash widgets are out -- AJAX/JSON is the superior technology in every way (and requires no browser plugins). At least Shelfari's techies got the memo.

Whether using the latest methods or not, both Shelfari and Random House are working towards a worthy long-term goal: a networked world for book publishers, book sellers, book distributors and, most importantly of all, us book readers. None of these new services seem like home runs to me, but I think they're all steps in the right direction.

2. Bloomsbury, home of Harry Potter and John Banville, is going to publish the novel Harry, Revised by Mark Sarvas.

3. The world according to Kerouac, and the world according to Disney.

4. Robert Birnbaum interviews the increasingly interesting Martin Amis.

5. Here's the latest news on Publishers Group West: the idiots in AMS management who caused this noble book distributor to default on payments to numerous independent book publishers think they should be getting a bonus this year. Somebody please string these criminals up.
12 Responses to "Building the Network"

by stevadore on

FloridaThat Kerouac article on Orlando was pretty cool. I can't tell you how many times I've driven past the ramshackle Orlando on my way to taking the kids to see the Mouse, and felt my heart tug in the other direction.

by firecracker on

Shelfari vs. Insight WidgetThe problem is that the Shelfari display script (since they also have a widget service) looks like something out of an elementary school bookfair and the Insight widget looks more like something savvy adult bloggers might actually use. Also take the fact that in some cases there is limited compatibility in platform for both, yes, including the AJAX/JSON feeds for sites that absolutely do not allow it. For real. Don't even get me started on widgets, son.

by brooklyn on

True, true. Shelfari's widget is no better than Random House's (and yes, it looks worse), but I think the widgets play a smaller role in Shelfari. In both cases, they should have stuck to the straight and simple methodology that serves RSS feeds: javascript widgets and XML feeds. No image files, no PDF's, no Flash, no Quicktime. Just three things: text, XML and javascript. That's all they need to do this right. Hallelulah, holla back.

by firecracker on

Well you know that and I know that, but the more practical issue is most ready-made spaces (MySpace time!) won't allow javascript. Ghetto revival!

by brooklyn on

Maybe we should take this tech meeting offline, but ... are you saying that there are spaces that will accept a Flash widget but won't accept a javascript widget? If so, I didn't know that. My take on this service is that it's most likely to be used not by individual social networking site members but by site developers who would put the widgets into nav bars, similar to, say, blog ads or blog feeds. In this case, I think javascript is clearly the right choice. As for the MySpace users of the world, I don't really know what types of limits are placed on them in terms of widget integration.

by danjazz on

Not for Me ....At the risk of sounding like an old fart -- I looked at Shelfari and have no desire to return. I know what my friends are reading; we discuss it. I don't much care what the world at large is reading; the NYT list is enough dreariness for me. If there were filters so I could find readers who shelved the kind of stuff I like I could maybe go to those shelves and find new books to read. I predict the site won't last long but maybe I'm out of step. No, who am I kidding -- I'm *sure* I'm out of step.

by firecracker on

Yes, that's precisely what I'm saying. Also, I sort of think that these widgets generally get more use on profiles, hosted blogs, etc. vs. more traditional publisher/author sites, regardless of their original intent. And that's not really anything to sneeze at either, since there are gobs of authors and publishers networking on these spaces.

by brooklyn on

That's interesting and I'm glad you clarified that about MySpace. For situations like this, I think it would make sense for companies like Random House to offer two versions -- javascript for web developers to integrate into their sites and Flash for community site members to integrate into their pages. I still say, as a developer, that I would not want to make my site visitors rely on a browser plugin, and I also think a text-based XML feed service will have infinite possible uses whereas an image-based Flash service seems like a technical dead end. But I can agree with the logic that companies should offer both versions for maximum compatibility with all possible users.

by Stokey on

I think this could work, Dan. For example, I'm interested in what Levi has on his shelf - because of his knowledge of literature. It's like a recommendation; a way to spread the word. Dr. Peter Flom (plf515)and others (cfk)have been doing this at Kos for awhile now, with quite an active following.

by Billectric on

I agree with Stokey. I think it's fun to see what other people have on their shelves.

by Stokey on

what's in a name or shelfThe title sounded so familiar...then I realized "Beyond Good and Evil"...Nietzsche. So I wonder, why Nietzsche on Levi's shelf? (Nietzsche's on my bookshelf, because I agree with his concept of self, and most everything else.)

by brooklyn on

Stokey ... Hah. Every book on that bookshelf is there for a reason.