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Want to collect quotes from your Kindle or the web? Findings can help.

Interview 2.0

Sometimes when reading a good book, you stumble upon a quote so lovely or so insightful that you have to jot it down for posterity. Now, a new tool called Findings helps you replicate that experience in the digital world. Findings lets you collect, share and discuss text you find on your Kindle or from anywhere online. I recently sat down with Corey Menscher, co-founder and head of product at Findings, to learn more about the new service and how it might impact digital publishing.

What inspired you to start Findings?

People have been collecting marginalia for hundreds of years. The actual inspiration for Findings comes from commonplace books, which were very popular in the 19th century. Authors such as Charles Darwin and John Locke had journals where they wrote down quotes they had found from books they were reading. These were really jam-packed diaries about books. They would then use these journals to write their own books.

What we like to say is Findings is the commonplace book for the 21st century. It allows you to collect quotes, annotate them and also connect with other people’s clips. One of the things at Findings that is very popular is called a “re-find,” which is very similar to a Facebook “like” or a save. I can see a quote from a book you’ve read that maybe I haven’t. If I like the quote, I can bring it into my notebook. One click, and it’s there. It’s almost like doing your own research, or visiting someone else’s library.

How exactly does Findings work?

There are two main avenues for collecting quotes. The first is through e-books – and we do focus on the Kindle, but we hope to expand to other platforms soon. We have a Findings button that you can add to your browser. Then, there is a page on Amazon.com that contains all your quotes from the Kindle. All you have to do is log in and click the button, and we import all of these quotes into the Findings service. And this includes your annotations, too. So if you took notes in your Kindle with your highlights, Findings will import those, as well.

Using the same Findings button, we also have a web bookmark for any text you want to capture online. Whenever you click on any webpage you’re on, the Findings button will open up a sidebar that lets you capture highlighted text on the page and send that to Findings. When that happens, we pull metadata from the page as much as we can. If there are images or an author associated with the article, we pull that in and link it to the quote. We really believe that attribution is paramount. For example, if you use our tool to share content on Tumblr, we don’t let you edit the content. You can’t go in and change the quote. You can’t change the author, or the title, or the content. We want that attribution to be accurate.

We’ve written here on Lean Back 2.0 about the “badge effect,” whereby people might read The Economist as a badge of intelligence and worldliness. How might Findings replicate this effect?

One of the things that people often complain about with Kindles and other digital devices is the loss of the social signal of what you’re reading because no one can see the cover. One of the things that we see Findings doing is replacing that social signal, at least online. Not only do you get a sense of what people are reading, but what inside of a book or article people find interesting. That’s actually a much richer social signal than just a cover.

What do you think the future of publishing is?

It’s certainly digital. Print will always be here. I have two kids, and children’s books alone will keep print going. As much as they love the iPad, there is nothing like having a physical book and lying in bed to read. But the affordances that digital books provide – such as metadata about the works, the ability to change works over time, bringing in discussions from readers and the author – that’s all really going to change what we consider publishing to be.