Amazon Kindle’s Clippings Helper – review

UPDATED: 11 Jun 2009.  They have actually added a “view all on one page” feature. Go Amazon!

A couple posts back I noted an email where Amazon announced they are giving web access to the clippings and notes that you make in your Kindle when reading.  And as you will recall, I believe the highlighting/notes feature is the best “game changing” feature of the Kindle so I was anxious to see what they have done.  I have since logged on to the site, and given it a test drive.

I must say I am not all that impressed.

When you first log on you get a listing of the books you have purchased, called a “reading list.”  (See graphic below)


As you can see it lists the books (in this case, sorted by most recently accessed) and even gives you your rating, and the average rating of others.  Interesting, but honestly, I think I already know what I thought, and I checked the ratings of others (if I cared about that) before I purchased the book.

What is potentially the most exciting thing here though is the little pen, and paper, that you see in the bottom right.  The pen indicates that I have “highlighted” some text and the notepaper shows that I have typed in notes about the text.  Hey, that shows promise!  How does that work?

And here is where the real disappointment comes in.  As I have noted before, the Kindle myclippings.txt file actually makes the clippings readily accessible as digital text.  The draw-back (and hence my writing the macro) was that it wasn’t sorted in any useful manner.  It was all entered sequentially, based on when I actually highlighted or wrote the note.  Thus, since I read (and highlight) several books concurrently (work, pleasure, and the like) I have a jumbled mess of texts.  My macro sorted that all out (but as has been pointed out–doesn’t work in anything but MS Windows.  But a new solution is coming! More on this later…)

The Kindle website solves the major problem of sequencing, in that it makes your highlights and notes available by book. In addition, the site shows you a quick summary count of your notes and highlights,  So for instance, in the book “Everything is Miscellaneous” I have:

kindle_highlight_summary That is interesting.  I didn’t know I had 41 sections highlighted, nor that I had 9 notes.  But when it comes to actually accessing my notes, the presentation of the text is weak.  They break it down into “screens” or “pages” of information, and my combined 50 highlights and notes are in 10 “screens” or pages.  And as you can see below, the text is presented in a rather simple way:


This is a start, but I find the access to the information to be rather cumbersome, requiring many clicks, and still keeping me from being able to get my hands around the information on the whole.  I personally like the idea of being able to have “documents” that are my notes and highlighting. And while I do like having the notes and highlighting together (that provides context, after all) I would appreciate the ability to get one, or the other.

There are a few simple things that I think could really improve utility of the site:

  1. Allow the user to determine how many clippings to show on a screen. This would let us see as much, or as little, of the content as we wish, providing the context we might want to have. NOTE: as of 11 Jun 2009, they have added the option to view all the notes and higlights on one “page.” Consider this one down…
  2. Provide an export feature. Having the text sorted by book is helpful, but if I could then get it as another usable file, it would be better.  Let me download the single book’s highlighting as a text file (to let me use/quote the material when writing), or perhaps pdf?
  3. Give a formatted citation option.  Speaking as an academic, I want to be able to quote, and reference, the materials I read.  Providing me with a formatted citation (MLA, APA, etc) in the summary section would be quite helpful.  Better yet, include it in the exported file (see #2).

Honestly, I think what Amazon has done is a good start.  They have provided a web-based solution that keeps me from having to connect my Kindle to a computer.  If I am working at another workstation, or heaven forfend I have not brought my kindle or my cable with me, this is a great way to quickly get to my notes.  But there are so many other great things that can be done with this information.

And as a teaser, let me say this–there are some great things still TO COME!

My techie friends at Penn State are starting work on a project to manipulate the Kindle myclippings.txt file that will not only sort the information but provide many different ways of using the data.  And most importantly, they are creating a solution that is “OS agnostic!” Yes–it should ultimately work for any OS.

I hope to have more information from them to share later, and in a dedicated blog post.

Until then–happy reading!