Uptonian Thoughts

Seth Godin, Bibliography, and Usefulness in Today’s Technology

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Seth Godin recently posted about his trouble generating a bibliography for a student friend of his. This got me thinking.

With all this hoo-hah about Web 2.0 and AJAX and GTD and this or that new buzzword, I feel that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that all of this technology is supposed to help us. Sometimes I get so bogged down with the newest web-based utility offering from Google or the next new feature on Flickr that I forget that I actually don’t know what this is all for. Don’t get me wrong: there are some awesomely useful apps out there (Gmail, Quicksilver, Adium, NetNewsWire, etc.), but they can all be so overwhelming in their newness that we forget how to take advantage of their usefulness.

Seth Godin comes up with a great point: no one has come up with one of the most obviously useful applications for one of the most obviously mundane and useless tasks that students are required to do. Who actually looks at a bibliography, and cannot function if it is not meticulously written and formatted perfectly? Sure, it’s useful to see sources, but not in that form. Like Mr. Godin says, cities of publication are not intrinsic upon knowing the material.

However, the fact remains that bibliographies are used in scholarly papers and middle school book reports alike. They are a necessity. So why hasn’t anyone built a simple little webapp that queries an ISBN and page numbers, and returns a bibliography. While we’re at it, why not include an automated bibliography for web pages, too?

Kudos to the person who does this and gets it right. We all need it. Just make sure it has enough eye-candy and extra whistles and bells to keep us away from those papers just a bit longer.