Using a physical bookstore to discover Kindle books

A few weeks ago I went to a real bookstore for the first time in a long time. I took a pile of books to a sofa so I could flip through them and see if I wanted them. I did – but not on paper. So as a natural thing I opened the Kindle web store on my mobile. It was hard work typing in a long title only to find out the book is not on Kindle, so I decided to go home and see if I could change that experience.

The prototype uses the zbar open source barcode scanner (the fastest and most robust scanner software I’ve seen) and opens a browser window to display information about the book. It also uses the Goodreads API for reviews.

The field test
I took it to a bookstore to see if I had it right. It turned out to be a lot of fun connecting the real world with the internet, especially the reviews were helpful.

DVDs. I found out I also wanted to scan other items in the store, namely DVDs. So I build in a DVD mode that finds the corresponding trailer on Youtube:

(I know, it should add the item to my Netflix instant queue, I might do that later).

Language. Being a non-German speaker in Switzerland I also noticed that I wanted to scan German books and see the English original or translation. So I built that in.

Log. Then there’s the pile. I still want to collect a number of titles and then sit somewhere and look at them. But it doesn’t have to be the sofa in the bookstore if only I could make the pile digital. So that’s what I did. The app shows a list of all your scanned books at the bottom of the display.

Reviews. The reviews were great, but I wanted to get to know the reviewer to be able to trust them. I added the reviewer’s profile image.

Other items. The low friction made me want to scan everything, including the water bottle in my hand. After a few hours on the AppStore the log data shows that I’m definitely not alone; users are scanning more non-book items than books! This could go in a lot of different directions, but for now I decided to let users write a short message to the other users scanning the same item. It’s easy to begin thinking of a “Foursquare for barcodes”, but several projects are out there doing that, including barcoo and Stickybits.

You can find the app by searching for “Kindlescanner” in the AppStore on your iPhone. It’s free.

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