Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kindle collections

The new version of the Kindle software is finally available and I've just spent the last hour cheerfully cataloging my 120+ books. There are some ways in which the implementation is a bit clunky, the way you expect a first release to be, but by and large it's lovely.

I was afraid that we'd get some kind of "folders" solution which would be far less useful than a "tags" solution, and I argued potently for a "tags" solution. This is a perfect example of where tags beat folders. What's the difference? A single document can have multiple tags but can be in only one folder. Folders are more familiar, but tags are far more appropriate, because I might want to look at a list of the books I haven't read, or the sci-fi books, or the books that are samples I have yet to evaluate... and the same book could easily fall into all three categories. With folders, how could I choose? No way to tell if, next time I'm going to want to see a list of books that includes this one, I'll be thinking of one or the other categorization criterion. But since we have tags (Kindle calls it "collections") there's no such problem. I have a collection for Dresden Files books, and another for RPGs, and another for unread books. So Changes shows in Unread, and the new Dresden Files RPG in the RPGs collection, but they both appear in the Dresden collection, too.

It's kind of slow and tedious to categorize a hundred books, but that's a one-time problem. From now on, each book will be catalogued as it arrives. (It would be nice, actually, if they let me specify a collection that new books fall into by default, but if you view By Collection then those show up together anyway since they have no collection, so it's no big deal.) It might be nice if they came up with a way to organize your books on the PC side, just to help you get through that first cataloging, but that's not too important and I'm glad they didn't hold back the release while they developed it.

About the only thing I hope they change soon is that the list of collections uses up a lot of space on the screen. You only get to see nine at a time. Right now I have nineteen of them, so that's a lot of next-page flipping. No reason I can see why the collection names have to be double-spaced or in a single column.

There's a bunch of other new features in this update that I probably won't use. PDF Pan and Zoom is certainly essential if you insist on reading PDFs on the Kindle, but ultimately, reading a PDF that you have to pan and zoom on is a bad idea. PDFs are the most popular ebook format and also the worst, since it was originally designed for an application (printing) that is opposite in design from ebooks. Amazon has to work on making the Kindle better at PDFs to compete, but at the same time, we all have to hope that the whole issue goes away as we move away from PDF ebooks. (Though it might not be too bad on the DX, if your PDF is grayscale.) I don't see myself password-protecting my Kindle any time soon (it's not like I've got a bunch of porn on it). Even bigger fonts are good for some people but not me. I've never wondered what parts of books other people are highlighting. And while I might like to post thoughts about books to Facebook (though not Twitter), I doubt I'd do it on the Kindle's keyboard. Still, these are all useful for someone, and make the Kindle a better product.

I still wonder why they aren't letting us set our own "screen saver" images, though. When the Nook got that months ago I thought we'd finally get it. Kindle 1 allows it through a hack, but they closed off that hack in Kindle 2. What's the big deal?

Now if Kindle can just square away the stupid pricing that a few publishers are forcing on them in an attempt to kill ebooks, we'll be all set.

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