Writing reviews instead of collecting

by DSimon1 min read17th Feb 201123 comments

13

Personal Blog

I have a problem with developing attachments to the books, movies, games, and other media that I enjoy. For example, after I finished playing the new Prince of Persia title via rental, I enjoyed it so much that I went out and bought my own copy, even though I knew I would be unlikely to play the game again for at least a year.

This is wasteful in a lot of ways. The media takes up unnecessary space, and makes moving from one place to another more difficult; the last time I moved, easily 3/4 the boxes contained media, primarily books which have especially low information-to-weight and information-to-volume ratios.

More importantly, my magpie habit uses up money, even though there are numerous free or inexpensive long-term rental services like NetFlix, GameFly, and my old favorite the US public library system.

I've decided to get around this by trying to transfer my sense of ownership from the item itself to the memory of the experience of enjoying it. So, I've been writing up reviews of all the games, movies, and books that I own, and also all those that I can remember enjoying in the past even if I don't currently own them. I want this "collection" to feel complete, so that I'm not tempted to go and spend $40 on some old SNES cartridge for the sake of posterity, or to buy any more books that I'm not actually expecting to read often enough or on short notice enough to offset the tiny cost of going down to the library and checking it out when needed.

I've been trying to look around for some computer application or net service that can help me do this, but to my surprise, pickings have been pretty slim! The only one that seems vaguely close is blippr, which exhibits a number of good ideas:

  • Keeps reviews limited to a very short length (140 characters), allowing me to write reviews more quickly by preventing me from descending into essay-length epic poems describing the many admirable qualities of The Blues Brothers or whatever.
  • Allows you to add new media to the system, and update descriptions for existing media. It's particularly smart about finding box art for new items.
  • I can easily see a list of the items I've reviewed, with thumbnail images of boxart, greatly contributing to the "this is my stuff" feeling that I'm aiming for. The fact that it's online, and so I could therefore give somebody a link to my list and "show off", also helps that feeling (though I'm unlikely to have any need to actually do that).
  • Tracks items that I'm interested in looking at later, which is handy because I seem to get recommendations from friends at about 2 or 3 times the rate I can follow up.

These things are all great, but unfortunately blippr is badly marred by poor responsiveness and a terrible user interface design. It also seems as though development on it has effectively halted for the last year or so, and the source is unfortunately not available for me to contribute improvements myself. I've managed to review a couple hundred items anyways, but it took much longer than it should have, and I'm losing patience with its quirks fairly quickly.

My questions for y'all are:

  1. Has anyone else encountered this particular problem, and if so, have you found a good way to work around it?
  2. Are there any other services or apps that accomplish the same things as blippr, but without the problems?

13

23 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 7:07 AM
New Comment

I use text files for this kind of thing. If there's a reason you need a specialized app for this, it's not obvious to me.

I am a sucker for visual displays of media; being able to see the boxart makes my inner magpie happier. However, I'll probably fall back to text files if I can't find an app that's at least as convenient.

If you don't really care about contributing to someone else's bottomline, then it seems to me that Amazon is what you want. You can rank pretty much everything, can write short public reviews, get recommendations, maintain wishlists, see a pretty list of your existing stuff...

Amazon's interface really is pretty good, but unfortunately it doesn't allow reviewing stuff for which there isn't physical media (i.e. games which are only available online, such as Minecraft, or free games, like much of the Interactive Fiction scene).

This kind of contradicts my original reason for needing to keep an online review tracker, but it's significant: I need to be able to think of this as a (at least potentially) thorough log of experiences in a given media, or I don't think it will satisfy my magpie instincts.

I've noticed a bit of this in myself when it comes to books, but the existence of electronic books makes this not too onerous.

books were my last holdout. getting a kindle and enjoying a bare room is worth far more than the $140 outlay. I'm almost down to bed, desk, firearm, motorcycle, smartphone, laptop, kindle, clothes, and toiletries. Still have textbooks, and I'm hoping a decent electronic format for textbooks becomes available in the next few years so I can ditch those as well.

As I've worked towards stoicism my happiness and health have both improved.

I've found that even for academic books at least 50% of them are available online (not always legally).

Out of all the gross market abuses committed using the leverage of copyright, the textbook racket is as direct an incentive to piracy as I can think of.

Edit: A couple of disabled friends suggest the ridiculous difficulty in legally obtaining audiobooks and ebooks for the visually or physically impaired as worse. I am inclined to agree.

Bloody oath. See How to lose four hundred kilograms for my attempts to deal with my own artistic albatross.

Books are STUFF. And STUFF is a CURSE. NO DAMN ATOMS! Make your atoms pay rent in non-anticipated usefulness!

I heart the Kindle and similar devices, but ye hairy gods electronic books are overpriced. I understand why new releases are expensive, but I can buy a copy of (to pick an arbitrary example) Catch-22 at any used bookshop for $0.50; why I do I need to pay Amazon $13?

My usual solution to this problem is to buy things in some legal way and then go and get the pirated version anyways for the added convenience (lack of DRM on music, lack of unskippable previews on movies, having all my DS games easily available, etc.). However, that won't work with books if my goal is also to reduce space consumption. :-\

Depends what books you read. Very few of my three and a half thousand books are available electronically, and not because they're especially old. I would really like to be able to fit all of my books onto my 80 yards of library shelving, but until someone markets at an affordable price whatever Google uses to turn books into PDFs, I'm stuck with piles of dead trees.

ETA: I just bought four more on Amazon, none with electronic editions. Now I have to find four books I currently own to discard.

Why "discard" rather than "store inconveniently in cardboard boxes, pending my ability to afford a larger place to live"? Have you completely 100% maxed out your storage space?

Yes, I have. There are already stacks of cardboard boxes filled with books. For everything that comes into the house, something must leave. Better if several things leave, so that I can once again have empty space and uncluttered surfaces.

I scanned all my old photographs and threw out the originals. I'm doing the same with my audio and video cassettes, after which I can get rid of the cassette deck and VCR. I might get rid of the television, as my computer can do everything I need a TV for. (I haven't watched broadcast television in years.)

Move to a bigger house? If I could afford to, I would. But that would just put off the problem for a while, and lack of storage space isn't even the main problem. The real problem is that stuff takes not just physical space, but mental space. Those old photographs are now organised by date and location in a folder on my hard disc, where I don't have to see them. I know exactly where they are if I need to find one, but they aren't a drain on my mental energy the way the boxes full of 3,000 pictures were. I have umpteen mid-ranking SF novels that I dump as fast as I read them, because a few notes in a bibliography file to remind me what was in them is all I want to keep.

I have no ambition to live with fewer than 100 things, but I live and work best in a clean and uncluttered environment, and looking round my computer room right now, that is not what I have.

  1. Thankfully, I've always failed to find any appeal in collecting anything. I even play Magic: the Gathering yet don't bother keeping any but the cards I know I could use.

  2. I would just find any general-purpose media manager (here's a few, but googling "manage your collection" will give you TONS of hits). Almost all are going to have a "comments" or "description" entry which you can use to write your reviews, and you will probably find one or more with a character limit for it.

I would just find any general-purpose media manager

This is a good idea! For some reason, I've only been googling around for apps to track "reviews" of media, which is a pretty limited subset. However, if I also include things that manage my "collection", that includes lots more applications.

A blog with a good search function! Really. That way you can get better at setting out your thoughts on aesthetics in writing, as people might read it.

I have quite a few friends who journal every book they read, with a few paragraphs of review, on LiveJournal or Dreamwidth. Just do this and you won't block on "but I need X software first." You don't. Start writing.

I used to write an indie rock fanzine and get paid money for music journalism. I started feeling like I had to justify going to a show or listening to a record by writing about it. If I hadn't, then I didn't quite know what I thought of it (even if I changed my mind later). Is that the sort of feeling you mean?

(I now have an occasional music blog. I should probably try writing about every note that passes my ears, just as an experiment and to flex the music critic muscles once more.)

I started feeling like I had to justify going to a show or listening to a record by writing about it. If I hadn't, then I didn't quite know what I thought of it (even if I changed my mind later). Is that the sort of feeling you mean?

Not quite. I tend to think "If I really enjoyed this, then I should keep it around in case I want to ( loan it to friends || experience it over and over again || glance at it lovingly in reminiscence when I pass by )." It's as though just sending back something I really enjoyed is somehow doing the work, or its creator, a disservice.

Yup. Blog it. Just blog it. You don't need special software, you just need to make an account on Blogger or Wordpress and start writing. Do it now before you catch yourself.

I actually already started writing a while ago, and have managed to keep it up as I encounter new stuff. So I'm already over that (non-trivial!) barrier of just getting to the productive part of the process.

However, running into issues lately has made me decide that a software switch is necessary. Besides the blippr interface issues I already mentioned, it's getting tricky trying to remember any significant proportion of the past stuff I've enjoyed, so that I can write down my feelings about them. I keep thinking of the same 20 old movies or so, even though I'm sure I've seen and enjoyed many times that number.

It's kind of a chicken-egg problem; part of the point of writing down my feelings is to keep this sort of nostalgia-buffer-overflow problem from happening in the first place! I'm hoping that some kind of app with an amazon-like "Maybe you'll like X too!" suggestion system will become evident.

Okay then! I thought you hadn't started on the writing :-)

Yeah, that's a good question. What would make a better review engine than a plain old blog for (a) the writer (b) the reader? I'm actually quite interested in the answer to that one. Something Amazon-like doesn't quite make it for me.

Recently found a better site, ShortReviews. It appears to be blippr but with a decent interface, which is just what I was looking for. I will also follow up on recommendations made in comments; thanks very much, everybody!

What about LibraryThing and similar? Last.fm for music?

Yes, I've encountered this problem, but my main reason for writing reviews is to give myself feedback of what I gained from the book, and provide a mental path back to it.

source is unfortunately not available for me to contribute improvements myself

This is actually a business idea in my "potential todo" pile (some money can be made by referral links, at least enough to "support the habit"). I reserved a nice domain for it a while ago. Let me know if you (or anyone else here for that matter) have an interest in developing or writing for it. We can set up a scheme with x% of links going to SIAI.