Open Book Talk

“A booktalk in the broadest terms is what is spoken with the intent to convince someone to read a book.” Wikipedia

Whilst putting together yesterday’s post about personal art collections online (for a wider take on this, see Mia Ridge’s The rise of the non-museum (and death by aggregation), which offers all manner of food for thought around personal collection building…), I started thinking again about how we might use recorded discussions or book talks focussing on particular books as a component in the “content scaffolding” around works that might be used as resources in an informal learning context.

(For an earlier foray in to the book talk world, see my post on BBC “In Our Time” Reading List using Linked Data.)

So the (really simple and obvious) idea is this (and I fully appreciate other sites out there may already exist that do this: if so, please let me know in the comments): how about we build a lookup service that allows you to search by author, book title, ISBN (or cross ISBN), and it returns details for the book as well as links to audio or video recordings of book talks around the book.

I’ve started trying to cobble together a few resources around this, setting up (a not yet complete set of) scrapers (in various states of disrepair) on Scraperwiki to collate books and book talk audio links from:

It might also be appropriate to try to pull in “quality” book reviews* to annotate book listings, given that part of my idea at least is to find ways of enriching reading book references with discussion around them that can help folk make sense of the big ideas contained within the book, as well as maybe encouraging them to buy the book (the all required sustainability model: in this case, Amazon referral fees! Note that several of the sites use Amazon referrals as part of their own sustainability model. So it would only be fair to use their affiliate codes at least part of the time if their playable audio content was embedded on the site (even if that content is openly licensed… Share and share alike, right?! That is, trickle back a portion of any income you do make off the work of others, even if it is openly licensed for commercial use;-)

Another strand to all of this, of course, is sensemaking annotations around books pulled from “OERs” (what is is about education that makes the sector want its content to be somehow regarded as “special” and deserving of all sorts of qualification?!;-)

*Maybe the Guardian Platform API or one of the New York Times APIs could play a role here?

So, as ever, I’ve made a start, and as ever, that’ll probably be the end of it…. Sigh… Nice thought while it lasted though…

PS if I were to do next steps, it would probably to take the scraped data and try to normalise it in some ad hoc way in a triple store, maybe on the Talis platform? Note that in the current incarnation, some of the scraped BBC data contains multiple book references in a single record, and thise should be spearated out; also note that a lot of book references are informal (author/title), though I did manage to grab ISBNs (I think?!) from the IT COnversations/Tech Nation pages.

PPS In passing, I note that some of the older archived episodes of A Good Read have been split into chapters covering the different books reviewed in the programme? Was this some sort of experimental enrichment, or just the start of a more general roll out of chapterisation…?

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

2 thoughts on “Open Book Talk”

  1. Liking the use of the excellent ScraperWiki here but left with a few questions concerning licensing and Terms of Use.

    Should I “report” Tony on the Scraperwiki site ( as the scraper used to scrape the BBC content may break ScraperWiki terms 5 & 6 ( in connection with the grey area regarding these “forkable” scrapers being for personal or business use in relation to the Terms of Use of BBC Online Services, particularly section 2 (

    Or, after looking at the useful content/data that is being scraped, “lobby” the BBC to put this type of content under an open licence to encourage scrapers like this that repurpose the content for uses that effectively “markets” the BBC’s podcasts etc. whilst retaining the links for downloading via the original BBC scraped site (where the BBC retains all metrics for these downloads and referrals from other sites).

    The BBC are happy uploaded these podcasts and metadata to iTunes for distribution so logical step would be to make some of the content (particularly text) on the site more open for “scraping” such as this?

    1. @James Thanks for the comments. The intention behind all the scrapers referred to in this post is to create a searchable database of audio/video content than can be linked to book references with a view to providing a service that can enrich book pages or reading lists with discussions and “book talk” around the particular books in question. The aim is therefore to find a way of providing hooks/links/relations between different forms of content using books/ISBN as a pivot/common key.
      Where services support embedding of audio/visual content, the aim would be to provide embedded a/v players alongside book references, or within a particular book page, along with a link to the original a/v source. Where services or licenses do not allow for embedding of the a/v content, the aim would be to link back to the a/v source. (Of course, being a click away would make it far more unlikely that anyone would ever click through to listen to the content.)
      A couple of the services I identified – ITConversations and Philosophy Bites – use Amazon affiliate codes to generate revenue. If these sites supported the use of embedded players to syndicate there content, I was imagining an annotation service that would make for easy embedding of the content in an appropriate player based on book identifier, along with an Amazon affiliate link to a product page for the book in question, that would at least some of the time carry the affiliate code for the original publisher /whether or not their original terms and conditions require it/. This follows a pattern I have seen elsewhere that allows a publisher to generate widgets that make use of a user’s own affiliate code but every so often provide a hat/tip to another affiliate code (such as affiliate code for the original widget designer/developer).

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