November 12, 2004

· Internet

Delicious Monster is a two-person company out of Seattle with a good pedigree in the Apple development community—even though half the company is eighteen years old, he’s been writing good software for the past three years. They have just released Delicious Library, a cataloguing application for books, music, movies and computer games. John Siracusa has a detailed review at Ars Technica. As Siracusa points out, an application designed to keep a catalog of your books and whatnot is fundamentally a boring idea. Yet Delicious Monster has managed to make it cool.

They do this by cleverly taking full advantage of the capabilities of the Mac OS and Amazon’s Web API. If you (like me) have an iSight Camera then Delicious Library can turn it into a barcode scanner. You scan the code, Delicious Library looks it up on Amazon, downloads all the details available for it (including a summary and the cover art) and the item is added to your shelf. It can also point you to similar items on Amazon, and if you happen to own them you can just drag them over to your shelf. The result is that you can build a pretty big database really fast, because there’s no typing involved. The result looks like this. It’s like creating an iPhoto or iTunes library on the fly for the books on your shelf. It’s absurdly satisfying to use, even though it’s basically useless in its current form. I mean that you can’t actually do anything very much with the data besides sort it every which way and print it out nicely. Well, that’s not entirely fair. You can sell the items you own on Amazon. And you can keep track of any books you loan out to people.[1] But that’s about it right now. I imagine there are a lot of obsessive geeks out there who just want a catalog of their stuff, of course, and some people may well have a collection worth cataloguing for its own sake. What I really want from future versions is the ability to (a) output nicely formatted web pages (or PDF files) with selected books and any annotations I want to add, and more importantly (b) output data to a BibTeX file (or Endnote for the great unwashed), preserving annotations and ISBNs, etc. That would make it really useful. There’s a free application called Books that can do some of those things. Combining that functionality with DL’s eye-candy and iSight-scanning would turn it into a really killer application.

fn1. This is pretty useful, actually, because graduate students love to borrow books and never return them. DL puts a little yellow “Out” stripe over the corner of books you’ve loaned out, keeps a shelf of loaner books for everyone you lend to, and puts a reminder in your calendar to go get them back.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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