Upgrading Books

Book summaries are getting a new format, featuring original content and shorter word-count. Also during mid-2019, I will be working on a dedicated feature within collado.io to surface its content even more.

If more information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.

—— Derek Sivers

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I love reading books. Alongside with podcasts, they are my go-to media type for continuous education — since they are not only a great source to learn new ideas but to revisit and connect old ones.

One of my lifelong frustrations, though, has always been my inability to remember retrieve, just-in-time, the right piece of information. For a long time, I thought of “more reading” as the solution to this problem. Yet feeding the brain with more raw data ultimately failed to turn this data into an actionable outcome. “More information”, as Derek Sivers would say, “is not the answer”.

That’s ultimately the reason why this year I started to work on pansa — a memory-taking app that, hopefully, will help me (and its users) to create, organize, find and connect memories, so we don’t have to worry about forgetting anymore

Prior to pansa, I stumbled upon the Books project from Derek Sivers. The idea behind it is both dead-simple, yet at the same time, extremely powerful — in his own words:

At sivers.org/book I have a collection of my notes from the 250+ books I’ve read since 2007.

His reading process was not limited to rushing through the book, cover to cover, put it back to the shelf and call it a day. Instead, he took some time right after finishing it to write down the notes and highlights he took during the reading, and finally, publish them online.

The idea resonated with me the very moment I heard of it. I immediately felt the need to do the same with “my collection”.

Since then, I’ve started to summarize and publish the books I’ve read (and also re-reading and migrating the notes from old ones) in order to create a knowledge base of sorts — independent from pansa, of course.

The way to keep track of this library so far has been to follow the tag ‘books’. And despite it kind of works, I ultimately see it as a suboptimal solution for a problem that has huge potential.

This update aims to address this problem through a couple of things I’ll be focusing in the upcoming months.

Improve Summaries

Until now, when it came to creating each book summary, I was mostly copying and pasting the Kindle highlights plus adding additional some notes of my own. Furthermore, I also created a custom mapping to enable some features on top of markdown.

Yet the outcome of this process was missing the point, resulting in summaries that were not only too long but also difficult to distill the most important takeaways from each book.

In my mind the final output of these summaries can be considered successful if it accomplishes two premises:

  • Its reading is able to retrieve the main book ideas, through a cohesive narrative, in less than ten minutes.
  • Throughout the summary, there is an easy way to connect its ideas to other books or content I had written.

In order to deliver on these two requisites, I’ll completely change the way book summaries get delivered.

First, book summaries will be limited to 1.000 words and will feature only original content (i.e. my own words). Copy and paste won’t be allowed anymore with the exception of quotes — that will be appropriately marked as such.

Second, before book summaries are published, I’ll make sure to link to all relevant content using the aforementioned “mapping system”.

The idea behind the process is simple: force myself to think and formulate the author’s thoughts in my own terms. This will surface the most relevant ideas, connect them with other sources while keeping the summary short enough that it will be digestible in ten minutes, or less.

Despite the output of this one is way less defined than the previous action, its outcome is clear enough: present and surface the book summaries’ content in a way that it promotes discoverability and connection across books.

Think of a pansa within collado.io.

As a matter of fact, when I decided to move collado.io I already mentioned as one of the reasons the ability to build new features and capabilities that could go beyond blog post publishing.

Right now collado.io is just a personal blog that could be hosted elsewhere without the hassle of taking care of the entire site. It is reasonable to argue that, for the sole purpose of writing, Squarespace is a better bang for the bank. True, but collado.io has big plans for the future and wants to move beyond “basic blogging” and Squarespace was not the right tool for the job anymore.

This is the perfect opportunity to leverage the fact that collado.io is built on Gatsby (React in its core) to create a dedicated feature to make a feature out of great content — that is already available and it will do nothing but grow.

I’m still not sure how this new feature will look like at the end, but I aim to make it one of my side-project priorities during mid-2019 — it will actually make its way into the Now section.

First published on February 27, 2019