Kindle is a Helpful but Crippled Research Tool

The Kindle's value as a research tool has intrigued me. Amazon's announcement that Kindle notes and highlights are available on the web piqued my interest. The ability to convert notes and highlighted passages into a word document or a content management tool is a powerful research tool. Powerful because it means that highlighted text and notes are easily transportable from format to format. Powerful because those notes and highlighted passages are in a format that is guaranteed to be legible (unlike my handwriting at times ... OK, most times). Powerful because those notes and highlighted passages can be easily incorporated into a manuscript. Perfect!

Amazon's handy 'email to' your kindle feature is perfect for the myriad white papers and technical reports I encounter, frequently download, sometimes, print, yet rarely read. By putting these reports on my Kindle, I actually do read them. An added bonus is that these documents are typically written in a way conducive to stepping into and out of. This makes them perfect for filling an odd 5 minutes while waiting at Northern on Main for my sandwich, or when waiting for a flight.

With all of these thoughts in mind, I sent the Aspen Institute's intriguing white paper Identity in the Age of Cloud Computing to my Kindle via Amazon's handy email-to feature. Content rich with intriguing observations, I highlighted many passages. Notes flowed from thoughts spurred by ideas presented. Many of the passages and notes should be useful for my Winter quarter ecommerce course.

Document read, now to archive into a word document. Hmm ... the document isn't listed among the items in my "Kindle Reading List." Switching to Amazon.com's "Manage My Kindle" page, I find the paper listed under the "Your Individual Charges" section. Hmm ...bummer. It appears that, at this point in time, highlights and notes are available online only for books purchased from Amazon.com.Highlights and notes are not available online for items, such as white papers and other PDF or Word format documents, that are emailed to the Kindle.

Bummer! The inability to access highlights and notes on content other than Amazon.com Kindle books severely limits the utility of the Kindle as a research tool. Yes, the notes and highlights can be viewed in summary form on the Kindle, as with Kindle books purchased from Amazon. However the prospect of having to then manually transcribe those notes and highlights -- which are already in digital form -- into another system (e.g., a text document) is an unexpected, time consuming, and unnecessary step. One might as well type the notes and transcribe the passages directly into a document.

Perhaps this is a temporary state. Perhaps Amazon will soon turn on web accessible highlights and notes for Kindle documents other than Kindle Books purchased from Amazon.com. Given that the Kindle produces highlight and note summaries for these documents, it seems arbitrary that Amazon has chosen to not make them available on the web.

When (if?) Amazon.com makes notes and highlighted passages on user uploaded Kindle documents accessible on the web, the Kindle will be a very compelling complement to my arsenal of research tools. Until then, the Kindle is a helpful, but crippled, research tool.