The disruptive engineering spectrum, and "booktalk", an AllConsuming app

At one end of the spectrum, along which building blocks for future cooperative web applications lie, we have the library software vendors who were unwitting participants in a great web service experiment “LibraryLookup” built and described by Jon in a recent InfoWorld column. While I’m sure everything is fine now, I don’t think their initial reaction to their participation was favourable. Fair enough.

At the other end of the spectrum, enter Erik Benson and his creation allconsuming.net, a very interesting site which builds a representation of the collective literary consciousness of the weblogging community by scanning weblog RSS feeds for mentions of books (Amazon and other URLs, specifically ISBN/ASINs) and collating excerpts from those weblog posts with data from other web sources such as Amazon and Google. Add to that the ability to sign up and create your own lists of books (currently reading, favourites, and so on) and you have a fine web resource for aiding and abetting your bookworm tendencies.

A fine web resource not only for humans, but as a software service too. In constructing allconsuming.net, Erik has deliberately left software hooks and information bait dangling from the site, ready for us to connect and consume. Moreover, he encourages us to do so, telling us to “Use [his] XML” and try out his SOAP interface.

So I did.

While allconsuming.net can send you book reading recommendations (by email) based on what your friends are reading and commenting about, I thought it might be useful to be able to read any comments that were made on books that you had in your collection. “I’ve got book X. Let me know when someone says something about book X”.

So I whipped up a little script, booktalk, which indeed uses allconsuming.net‘s hooks to build a new service. What booktalk does, crontabbed on an hourly basis, is to grab a user’s currently reading and favourite books lists and then look at the hourly list of latest books mentioned. Any intersections are pushed onto the top of a list of items in an RSS file, which represents a sort of ‘commentary alert’ feed for that user and his books. It goes without saying that the point of this is so that the user can easily monitor new comments on books in his collection by subscribing to that feed, which, aggregated by Blagg and rendered by Blosxom, would look something like this.

Of course, the usual caveats apply – it’s experimental, and works for me, your mileage may vary.