Kindred: The Development of a Social Network for Books

Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa considered narratives to be central to defining ourselves as human beings. “We are stories, telling stories”, he said. Humans occupy innumerable stories, from different perspectives, at different times, in varying places, moods and tastes. Books, too, I believe, tell not just the stories within, but a whole host of stories without.

In my current project for the Asia Pacific Design Library, I am intrigued by the connections between books. I want to encourage APDL readers to explore these links. Kindred is a sort of social network for books (Book Facebook, if you will). A book that shares the same author is connected—that’s obvious. But three books produced on The Strand in London are also connected. So, too, are four books written in the same year. Theme might connect five books about Alvar Aalto with five books about Le Corbusier, three of which may have also been published on The Strand in London. This data, these connections—which I think are akin to seeing books as kindred spirits of others—are countless, often invisible, and highly fascinating.

Data like this can reveal a great deal about the habits and fondness readers have within the Asia Pacific Design Library. This week my wife attended a conference called Story+ as part of the Brisbane Writers’ Festival. She tweeted during the speech (this is encouraged during #bwf13) about the keynote, delivered by James Bridle, a UK technologist and writer, who talked about this many and varied adventures into data-driven storytelling. One of his projects was A Ship Adrift, curated in 2012. It was a ship. On a roof. With a view of the London Eye. Bridle added a weather station to read wind currents and direction. While it was possible to stay inside the tiny one-room vessel, many more engaged with the story of The Ship via Bridle’s ingenious mapping and tweeting of its journey as though it was actually adrift on the sea. A map of the globe shows its “route” east of London to Poland, then down through the Middle East, across parts of Asia and finally to the north-western coast of Australia, where it beached itself. It’s an extraordinary way of showing the connections between objects and the places they’ve been—particularly when Bridle decided to include Wikipedia entries that are catalogued with coordinates (when the ship sailed the Aral Sea, readers learnt about the Aral Sea).

With Kindred, I’m hoping to engage with readers of APDL in a similar way. What stories can the connections between texts tell us that are beyond the stories they are telling themselves? I think these books are stories telling stories telling stories.