catalog news 001: a catalog
by glenn poppeaugust 11, 2023

hello friends,

stewart brand wrote in how buildings learn "a building is not something you finish. a building is something you start." so i'm excited to share the start of something new: we're building a catalog!

rory and i think of the catalog as something like a community-built digital metadata library that can help connect us and our friends to the stories we care about together, mapping not only books but also people's relationships with them. we're focused specifically on organizing the networks of people who care deeply for books, ie. book people, and take inspiration from sites like the open library, letterboxd, and wikipedia.

we kicked off the project last month, and we'll be sending out periodic notes with learnings and stories as we go. you're on this list because either rory or i thought you'd be into this, but you can always unsubscribe here. and please send along to others you think might be interested!

conversations we're paying attention to

#1 care networks for books:

my wife published her book last month and i was lucky to have a front row seat to see how a family formed around it. over the past decade i watched as amy's careful attention was joined by her colleagues and friends, her editor and academic readers, the cover artist and indexer, libraries and booksellers, and now readers, reviewers, and interviewers.

unfortunately, it's often hard to trace these care networks today. most of our tools for connecting books and book people have been distorted by money and power. amazon pages are optimized for sales conversion, the least interesting thing about a book. politicians and publishers choke access through bans and lawsuits, corporations enclose our commons online, and we suffer the slow enshittification of our digital libraries and bookstores.

these issues motivate our building as do stories of care networks around other shared objects, from deep dish pizza to the night shift. we'll be collecting and sharing examples of resistance and alternatives, wherever they may come, even from barnes and noble.

#2 personal digital libraries:

my house is packed with books so their dis/organization is a regular topic of conversation. we sort by color as does rory (who writes about the benefits of such chaos here), but i'm always curious how others curate for themselves (or maybe leave it to the professionals). i like how our neighbor's little free libraries sometimes offer a peek.

recently we've been discussing how to share our shelves online, particularly the books we're reading now. we maintain digital bookshelves as do many others (e.g. venkat rao's "now reading" lists, indieweb examples) and we're curious to explore more. how do you organize your bookshelves or reading lists? shoot me a link and/or notes about what you're reading and how you sort it out.

#3 the third wave internet:

ben tarnoff and ethan zuckerman's discussion touches on a growing movement of technologists who are both deeply conscious of web 2.0 critiques and motivated to imagine and build better alternatives. i'm a fan of tarnoff's book internet for the people and zuckerman's work at umass amherst (e.g. freq), which rhyme with efforts to build decentralized public goods (e.g. ethereum, kernel, dweb), and this conversation about a politics of "building" connected dots for me to marc andreesen's it's time to build and supply-side progressivism.

recent favorite books and papers

  • the anti-ownership ebook economy by sarah lamdan, jason m. schultz, michael weinberg, and claire woodcock – a detailed history from NYU law school of how publishers and platforms are reshaping how we read and access books.
  • palo alto by malcolm harris – a marxist history of california capitalism and the recent ascendance of the bay area to global power seat.

upcoming events

  • we're starting up a bi-weeklyish movie club to watch book movies together virtually. we'll kick off with the booksellers documentary next friday august 18th at 12 pm pt / 3 pm et. join our discord server to chat while we watch together!

buidl on!