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Betaworks’ Findings shifts to web clipping, as Amazon bans Kindle clips

Findings, the year-old content-sharing site from untraditional VC firm Betaworks, was built on the ability to sync and share Kindle highlights. But Amazon(s amzn) told Betaworks last week that this function violates its terms of service. Findings is shifting its focus to web clipping.

The Kindle highlights feature lets reader select and “clip” favorite quotes and passages from the ebooks they are reading, then access those highlights online later. At launch, Findings’ main feature was the ability for users to easily share those Kindle highlights with others by syncing their Kindle account with the Findings’ web bookmarklet. Applications such as Evernote also let users sync and save their Kindle highlights.

Findings maintains that web clipping has become an increasingly important part of the service it provides, though Betaworks CEO John Borthwick acknowledged that the ability to share Kindle highlights was the reason many people started using Findings in the first place. He said that Amazon had known about Findings for a year and had been fine with the service until now. “I don’t want to intuit what Amazon’s motivations are,” he said, but suggested that the decision was driven not by Amazon but by book publishers: “This is probably what publishers want.”

That sentiment is echoed in a blog post from Findings general manager Lauren Leto. “Amazon has to abide by what publishers demand, and this is sometimes at odds with what users want,” she writes. “As a small startup we had no choice but to comply with their demand that we discontinue the feature that allow users to import and sync Kindle data in Findings.”

I’ve asked Amazon for a comment, but does it makes sense that this decision would be driven by book publishers? They are already able to restrict Kindle highlighting: they have the ability to limit the amount of content clipped from an ebook (and Evernote users who wanted to save their highlights have been blocked from saving too much content). It makes sense that piracy-fearing publishers don’t want users to “clip” too much of a book and share it. Scanning the content shared on Findings, though, it’s clear that most users aren’t sharing more than a paragraph of text.

Amazon itself lets readers share their highlights and clippings through a feature called “Public Notes,” and it’s possible the company is cracking down on competing services like Findings in an effort to promote its own service. Considering that “Public Notes” is relatively under the radar, that seems somewhat unlikely. But the new Sony Reader lets users share passages through Evernote, and Amazon may be planning to make its own sharing features more robust.

Finally, Amazon simply may not want third-party apps accessing Kindle highlights. If so, we should expect to see services like Evernote cutting off that functionality soon.

8 Responses to “Betaworks’ Findings shifts to web clipping, as Amazon bans Kindle clips”

  1. I love my Kindle…. is great.. but the MyClippings function was complicated. I development a Web aplication:
    a easy way to manage and share your quotes, notes, clips and bookmarks.. just import the clipping file (myClippings.txt) and the aplication import and categorize all content for your use..

    • correct me if I’m wrong, but My Clippings.txt only shows you the highlights and notes you made on your actual Kindle device, such as the Kindle Touch, which is what I use. However, if I make a highlight and a note on my Kindle app on my iPad, it will never appear in the My Clippings.txt file, even after synching. Let me know if I’m wrong.

      • George Rajiv

        you can try k-highlights in iphone app store. it’s pretty new but works well for me to get up to date on books that i’ve read while ago. I highlight ALOT though, for personal reference =)

  2. Generally publishers love viral sharing of content because it can drive sales. But it’s possible some publishers may want Amazon to control clipping and sharing because extensive clipping (not to mention reaggregation of those clips out of context) can violate author, model and photographer contracts they hold with third parties.

    Yes publishers can control it to an extent, but they do not have the time to control every aspect of the content detail. As someone who works for a publisher I know this to be very much part of the legal reality.

    Adrienne Kinney, Director of Editorial Rights & Licensing, Rodale

    • Joe Wikert

      You raise a good point, Adrienne, but I say shame on those publishers whose contracts don’t allow this sort of excerpt-sharing activity, especially when it’s in the interest of increasing visibility/marketing. I get it that there are agreements like that in place but those publishers affected should quickly address this issue on a go-forward basis or risk losing out in the future where social media becomes even more important to book discovery.

      I still doubt publishers are the reason behind Amazon’s directive to Findings. I suspect the concept of fair use would apply to most of this anyway. So if I can write a review of the book and include a couple of short excerpts from it on my blog (thanks to fair use) why shouldn’t I be able to share those same excerpts thru a service like Findings?

      • I love what Joe Wikert has to say here. I completely agree. There’s this old school stigma where those in power want to squeeze and hold onto things tightly. Like highlights on the Kindle.

        Just when I had hope that Amazon might start making note-sharing and highlight-sharing more social, they go backwards and lock it down further. That’s not the direction Amazon should be going.

        Given Amazon’s perspective on this, as a book reader, I am seriously going to start considering buying my books elsewhere. Ultimately, I want a platform where I can share my notes and highlights with others.

        Instead we have old-fashioned minded book readers in charge who think that the act of reading is a completely solitary one. While you might be in solitare while reading, what’s most important is what happens when you process the book in your mind. When you share what you enjoy. It seems that Amazon is prohibiting the complete sharing of what you enjoy.

        This runs parallel with Twitter. Twitter is holding their API with a tighter and tighter fist. Originally Twitter was built on an open platform. It grew and grew due to people being able to share short tweets. You could have many different readers. You can analyze your tweets in all formats. You could count how many people follow you, at-reply with you, etc. It was an open system. Now Twitter is cracking down on the very developers that made them big in the first place.

        Twitter wants more control over where people can see their tweets, so they close off outside parties to the ability to display and analyze tweets. Just as Amazon is closing off their system for people to be able to read highlights.

        Readers want open systems. Those in power don’t want open systems.

  3. David Thomas

    I second Mr. Wikert here: I seriously doubt book publishers would object to e-book consumers essentially promoting their products with small portions of legitimately acquired content. The ability to share wisdom, laughs, poignancy and facts discovered in books is very best advertising that money can’t buy.

  4. Joe Wikert

    I read Lauren’s separate blog post and I find it hard to believe publishers are the reason for this change. Findings helps with the discovery process by letting readers share interesting excerpts. There’s no piracy issue here. What’s at stake is Amazon’s complete ownership of the content discovery and consumption experience. As a reader I’m disappointed and as a publisher I’m outraged by this situation.