BookLamp’s Book Genome Project

So this is an awesome little project I’ve only just heard of. Hands up if you’ve heard of Pandora, the music recommendation engine? If you haven’t and you live in Australia, then you probably can’t use it. Unless you decide to spoof your IP address to get access to it. Either way, Pandora’s Music Genome Project has delighted many for the past few years by predicting the kinds of music you will like based on the music you already enjoy. This sounds pretty standard for anyone used to using Apple’s Genius playlists on iTunes or (or many other similar services). Where Pandora is different is that it uses computers (and people) to analyse the content of music for themes, pitch, tonality and a long list of other features to compile the ‘genome’ of a particular song, artist or album. Similar music recommendation services use an algorithm based on what other people like to recommend new stuff to you. Pandora uses an algorithm to create an on-the-fly radio station of songs similar to what you’re after based on what they actually contain (and not the ephemeral tastes of other people). If you haven’t tried it, trust me – it’s awesome.

BookLamp and the Book Genome Project are now doing essentially the same thing for books. Perhaps this sounds like a Skynet-style artificial intelligent takeover of our book-recommendation habits. That’s probably because it TOTALLY IS:

The key focus of the Book Genome Project is to use computer intelligence to extract and quantify, on a scene-by-scene basis, useful information about these key elements of books. Consequently, we created a “gene structure” for each of the three primary elements that we analyze.

The genomic analogy is imperfect but useful nevertheless: we defined the three elements of Language, Story, and Character as the literary equivalent of DNA and RNA classifications. Each gene category contains its own subset of measurements specific to its branch of the book genome structure.

Language DNA, for example, is made up of components that we call Pacing, Perspective, Description, Density, Motion, and Dialog, and each of these is an amalgamation of alleles which capture the expressions of different aspects of linguistic style.

They are using alleles. I mean, what is that even? Do you know? I don’t. I dropped science classes in Year 10.

At any rate, BookLamp has launched its consumer facing website and will soon be taking books on from publishers to add to their database. It’s not very big at the moment, and that affects the variety of books it can recommend (and the ultimate usefulness of the service), but when it gets up and running there’s no telling how good this engine will get. The best thing about it, from my perspective, is that it gets us out from under the yoke of customer-based recommendation engines like Amazon’s. Amazon’s service is great, but as I’ve written about before, it isn’t necessarily without bias.

What do you think of BookLamp’s offering? Will you be sticking to good old word-of-mouth, or will you give it a go? Sound off in the comments.

The Revolution Will Be Digitised

Some rights reserved by Todd Berman


As Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, has noted in a recent column in the Wall Street Journal, ‘software is eating the world’. Hewlett-Packard, a PC maker, is considering dropping its hardware business to invest more heavily in software. Google, a software company, has bought up Motorola’s mobile division. Dominant music, video and book companies are now software companies (or their influence is based on software technology): Amazon, Apple, Google, Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora and many others. As Andreessen says:

Over two billion people now use the broadband Internet, up from perhaps 50 million a decade ago … In the next 10 years, I expect at least five billion people worldwide to own smartphones, giving every individual with such a phone instant access to the full power of the Internet, every moment of every day.

Try to imagine the ten years after that. There will come a time, not too far away, when almost everyone on the planet has access to the internet from the palm of their hand. Try to imagine how that might influence our cultural consumption. There has never been a more important time to get our literary heritage digitised. Paper book apologists are thick on the ground these days, and I can see why. Paper books are a great technology. But if we want to save books as a mainstream cultural artefact – what’s in them, not the paper they’re printed on – we need to get serious about making them available to future readers. The problem isn’t that paper books might not survive the coming transition – it’s that the content in books of any kind might not be able to compete with social networks, viral videos and whatever media is created in the future to service the needs of audiences. To survive, books need to be just as accessible.

Those of us who care about books need to get passionate about digital books, because the companies that are making books available now are not. Amazon – the world’s biggest bookseller – could have sold anything. Apple uses content to sell devices and perpetuate their platform. Google feeds off information – but it doesn’t have to be book-based. It’s clear that the passion for the book has to come from us – readers, writers, editors, publishers, agents and booksellers. If we don’t make it a priority, if we don’t passionately embrace the future of the book, then it will disappear or be marginalised through sheer disinterest. And none of us want that to happen.