Seeing how long it takes to read a book with a paper clip and a browser extension

Online bookstores lost one of the most important reasons to buy or not buy a book — here’s how you can get it back, right now, right in your browser

This man is attacked by information the minute he picks up a book from the bookstore’s bookshelf. Weight. Smell. Graphic design. And in some cases the one factor that decides if we wants to read it or not — its thickness.

With this information, he instantly calculates how long it will take him to read the book, and if he can afford paying attention to it for that long.

Compare that to Amazon’s version of the bookshelf:

Then, the digital equivalent of picking up a book and holding it in your hand:

The summary is comparable to flipping the book and reading the backside, maybe also checking the price. But how long will it take me to read it?

Amazon does in fact tell you how thick a book is. In numbers, somewhere in the specifications section. This and that many inches. Two-hundred-and-fifteen pages. That’s very useful, if you’re a computer.

So how could we get the thickness data into Amazon? How about comparing it to a ubiquitous global object that everyone knows the size of? We thought of lighters, matchboxes and CDs, but they are all kind of dying, so I asked Twitter.

I got some interesting suggestions, really fast: Pingpong balls, tea lights, bottle openers, LEGO bricks and mini figures. And this one:

Paper clips are not necessarily exactly the same size, but their shape is instantly recognizable, and most people have one nearby should they get in doubt. So maybe something as abstract as this might work:

Kenneth opened his laptop on the spot and wrote a Chrome extension that calculates this and shows it every time you view a book on Amazon. When the first version was running, we were in a coffee bar, no books or coffee clips nearby, so we were quite surprised when we came by a bookshelf and some office supplies. Look at this:

Right on the millimeter. Here’s how to try it out yourself:

  1. Install the Chrome extension
  2. Go to any book page on Amazon.com, like this one and look for the size widget below the book cover image

It’s an ultra-portable measurement tool

As a side effect you now have a book reading time measurement tool in the top drawer of your office cabinet. Bring it next time you go to a bookstore.

Or an airport bookstore

3D, virtual shelf, time-filters, and Kindle integration

If that Sunday afternoon had been dramatically longer, we could let you compare new books to books from your order history. We could figure out a way to show a 3D version of the book, right where the cover sits today. We could show searches like bookshelves. We could add a “4 hour flight” filter to searches. It would be fun to add a “My reading speed in pages per day” option, so we can tell you a realistic estimate, or maybe tap into your real-life reading speed from your Kindle.

Get the Thickbook Chrome extensionand follow @auchenberg and @mortenjust on Twitter to see what else happens on Sundays in Potrero. Bookstore photo by Kenneth-Luoto.