Bookish Technology

Webcam mashup with Amazon API - the best user experience ever

Screenshot of my Delicious Library Collection

Amanda, my ex, has decided to join the Spinney community again. Means we have to clean out the study where my books have been shelved for a few years, and it's given me a chance to try out Delicious Library - a piece of software which I've been tracking for a few years but could never justify buying before.

Delicious Library costs money, about $50 or so. It is a perfect example of a well-executed mashup and I think I can say provides the best user experience that I've ever had with a piece of software. The idea is simple - help people manage the information about the books and media that they own, by taking advantage of the built-in iSight camera in modern macs, and the Amazon database. It means that the barcode can be read from the back of your book, DVD or CD, and you don't have to type in the title, author or any other info - it's all loaded for you from the internet.

Perfect for the Job

Given that I have to store all my books in boxes for the time being, this means that I can put all the books into catalogued groups, print out the covers and stick them to the side of the boxes so I know where everything is. As a by-product I can get the full list of Genres, Authors, Titles etc all as XML which can be wired directly into my blog.

After downloading and installing the program it took me about 2.5 hours to catalogue all 350 books in my collection. The only issue with the software was trying to get the light level right so that the iChat's contrast could pick out the barcode. I found that the auto-adjust of the contrast sometimes got in the way. It means that you should thrust the book at the camera whilst it is still adjusted for a darker ambient light level (over-sensitive). Once the camera's adjusted to the light level of the actual barcode, it's less likely to scan correctly.

An Unexpected Payoff

One benefit of the elegant software design embodied by Delicious Library is that I can now access all the Amazon information on my books as local XML files, meaning I can incorporate my book collection into my website if I want (which is based entirely on XML tools as outlined here). I'm very tempted to do this as there are plenty of books I'd be happy to give away which have just been gathering dust. This should allow me to share the whole repository and invite friends and colleagues to take their pick. You can even use the software to 'check out' specific titles to named individuals.


delicious library