In this sixth post in my Kindle “shakedown” series, I find that the Kindle shakes and falls when it comes to note-taking.
Reading my first book on the Kindle, I was satisfied with the way it let me highlight text. The functions for entering and editing notes were also acceptable. One immediate limitation I found was that notes must be linked to a particular location in the text. When I wanted to jot down a general note, I improvised by creating a general notes section at the beginning of the text. Jumping back to it was a bit of a pain. It is possible that a reader will never want to do another thing with their notes, other than view them again on some future re-reading of the book. Good old-fashioned marginalia. If so, that reader may be satisfied with the Kindle’s note-taking functions. Many readers like myself make notes so we can do something with them: homework, research, a book review, or a journal entry. These tasks require copy-pasting the notes into other files, operations not easily performed on a Kindle.In order to use the notes, I had to find a way to transfer them to my computer. I plugged the Kindle into my computer and inspected the files on its disk. Each book is associated with an “.azw” file, Amazon’s protected file format. You can open the file with the free Kindle for PC software. I was delighted to see the book content with highlights and notes neatly lined up beside it. I then discovered that I could not copy-paste from it! Furthermore, the software is tied to my purchased books. I cannot use it to view other files I may have read on the Kindle, nor does it show my newspaper subscription.
The Kindle has an unprotected file, “My Clippings.txt”, in which I found the highlights and notes for all my books and subscriptions. I could copy-paste this content. The notes are associated with the location numbers of the original book text, so I can, in principle look up the original text for further reading by using the “Go to Location” feature on the Kindle’s menu; another pain. I would prefer that the Kindle create a separate text file for each book, but notes for every book are lumped into the single text file.
A Kindle book is also associated with a “.mbp” file, Amazon’s mobipocket format used to store user notes. This format is supposed to provide content protection, though software referenced at Wikipedia provides a way to extract the notes. The software extracts notes for a particular book, but there is data loss in the conversion.
The kicker about these limitations is that they are artificially imposed by Amazon. We invented digital technology to enhance our information processing capabilities. We wanted ebooks because they would bring the wonders of digital technology to our books. Copy and paste are the simplest of note-taking functions, but Amazon has deliberately limited them to protect their product, even though copyright law legally entitles people to copy content for personal research. At the same time, Amazon does not seem to care much about the privacy of my data. The Kindle does not provide password protection, so anyone who comes across my device can read my notes. When I use the Kindle for the PC software, I see my notes. Amazon has uploaded my private notes to their server! A disappointment.
Editor’s Note: This article, the sixth in a series, is reprinted, with permission, from John Miedema’s blog. John is a graduate of the Master of Library and Information Science program at the University of Western Ontario. In October, he presented at the Library of Congress on his recently published book, Slow Reading. He also developed open source software which links bibliographic data from Open Library to web pages and library catalogues. Articles on the software were published in Information Standards Quarterly and the Code4Lib journal. PB