James Governor's Monkchips

On Declarative Living and the Virtual Coffee Table

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Today Kathy Sierra writes that being able to see what books people have read (or would like us to think they have read) tells us something valuable about the person.
One of the best ways to get to know someone is to look at their bookshelf. Or at least their coffee table. I heard a story (can’t remember where) about a new manager who was taking over a role where he knew the team was unhappy about the situation. Rather than do the usual “let me introduce myself” speech, this manager walked into the conference room with a pile of books he was reading, or that had been favorites, and laid them on the table and said something like, “Here, take a look at these and you’ll know more about me than I could ever explain. Borrow anything you like.”
To externalise your reading list is a fine example of declarative living
We do it with music – the Last.fm
We do it with pictures – flickr
We do it with web content – del.icio.us
We even do it with books – some people use allconsuming
Reading lists are delivering some of the most interesting social applications, which is why I strongly recommend you subscribe to Alex Barnett’s blog. He is at the forefront of understanding the phenomenon, and rather than just talk about it – he likes to aggregate screencasts and so on, in order to show what he means. He will boil the ocean so you don’t have to.
Call it Reading lists, call it structured blogging, or call it declarative living. It all depends on what books, blogs, or people you have been reading…
Suffice to say we’re seeing de facto standardisation of the personal metadata we tag ourselves with in order to help navigate the forest and trees. One final example – the good old blogroll.


  1. More interesting than allconsuming is http://librarything.com since it captures your whole library.

  2. cheers gregor! i dont use allconsuming, so i was wondering about alternatives..

  3. I keep a record of my library locally using the rather decent Readerware, and have fed an import of my current catalogue up to LibraryThing – at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/sbisson – interestingly you can get an RSS feed from it, too. Links are on the user profile pages…

  4. Indeed, its all very neat and exciting, I’m a big fan of last.fm not because I’m telling other people what I’m listening to, but the way I can navigate the pool of information that results. There remain a number of constraints, not least that technology integration remains an issue, and indeed the technologies are still very primitive. I know I can back up my WordPress, but equally I haven’t done it yet because it requires installing scripts (and you’ve already mentioned some of the shortfalls of Blogger). For these things to reach the mainstream, they’re going to have to become much easier to administer and more flexible in use.

  5. easier to administer? what like a windows pc? are you on acid jon… 😉

  6. Dodgeball in Denver, Anyone?

    No, I don’t mean in the Ben Stiller/Vince Vaughan sense – nothing that would be broadcast on El Ocho. I’m talking instead about the social SMS Dodgeball service, which might be of interest to some of the Denver Tech Meetup…

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