The Future of Bookqueue

A new chapter is about to start for Bookqueue!  As highlighted in a previous post – “Bookqueue, we have a problem”, new challenges presents new opportunities. How the journey will end is unknown as of this writing, but at this time Bookqueue is continuing on.

Bookqueue was originally created to serve my family since its inception in 2012. The family and community has been great supporters of the application over the years and finding this new challenge has not made anyone particularly happy.  Especially my spouse and you probably know what they say “When Mommy isn’t happy…”. So, we are going to work on getting Bookqueue back to making everyone happy!

Short-term

There are short-term bug fixes and updates that will come to Bookqueue to remove crashes and provide better error information. This will include removal of localized Amazon countries where Bookqueue usage was low and subsequently blocked. The outcome of these changes should bring some stability to the application although its capabilities will be limited in nature under current constraints.

Mid/Long-term

Ideas are starting as to how we can bring Bookqueue capabilities back to full throttle. These include ways for how our family and community members can help drive advertising revenue activity within a continuous 30-day timespan to satisfy the Amazon Efficiency Guidelines and not be throttled. We are still seeking to limit the ‘book sell’ feature of Bookqueue but may have to move from a passive to a semi-active process to meet Amazon guidelines.   Alternatives to utilizing the Amazon advertising system as the content provider are being considered but at a low priority as Bookqueue’s value has been directly attributed to Amazon’s backend systems.

I plan to provide periodic updates when available, but welcome community feedback if you have suggestions as to how Bookqueue can thrive in the new norm. Happy reading!

Bookqueue, we have a problem

Bookqueue, we have a problem. I have recently observed and been notified by Bookqueue users of crashes and error messages stating that it is submitting requests too quickly. Initial symptoms indicated a bug in the application but once I started to debug I discovered that (beyond bugs) the issue runs much deeper.

The main problem that has come up is that Amazon has changed its request throttling logic as of January 23rd, 2019 based on new Efficiency Guidelines. Though the change in Amazon’s guidelines has directly impacted the usability of Bookqueue, I want to stress this is NOT Amazon’s fault.  Instead, the impact is caused by opposing design intents between Bookqueue and Amazon.

To give some history, Bookqueue, came about in 2012 based on a family need to help better find and manage books. We were/are avid eBook readers (particularly my spouse) using Amazon Kindles and found ourselves buying books on a continuous basis. The continuous basis ended up creating a pre-purchased queue of books for future reading. This ‘pre-purchased queue’ created an opportunity to not only help our bank account but also our mental buyers remorse of not reading a previously purchased book when coming across a new book of greater interest. Many applications were available at the time to solve this, such as goodreads, but we were interested in something more targeted to our needs. Hence the first release of Bookqueue for Windows Phone 7 in 2012.

Bookqueue v1

First Bookqueue release on Windows Phone 7

Bookqueue Information Architecture

Original Information Architecture design for Bookqueue

As we were targeting Amazon’s Kindle book catalog, Bookqueue takes advantage of a public application programming interface that Amazon utilizes for its affiliate partners to advertise its full product catalog, not just books. It is this interface that is impacted by the new Efficiency Guidelines. Back in 2012 and up until January 23, 2019, there has always been an effective throttle limit adhered to by Bookqueue as to how frequently it could call the interface for book searches, descriptions, author searches, similar book searches, etc.

Until now, frequency, has been the only factor applied to the throttle limit for using the advertising interface. The new guidelines adds a second factor in the form of – generated advertising revenue. This advertising revenue is generated by Bookqueue if a user chooses to go through Bookqueue’s link to view the book on Amazon and subsequently purchases the book on the Amazon website.

Some Bookqueue users have utilized this feature to purchase books in the past which provided small advertising revenue to buy a book every now and then and has been greatly appreciated. However, direct advertising revenue was not a driver for Bookqueue because its primary design function was to create value for the book reader, not selling books. Selling for revenue was the lowest priority of Bookqueue, hence the reason it started out and remains free of in-app ads.

This brings us back to the beginning of how Bookqueue is impacted by the new Amazon efficiency guidelines. As the new guidelines are in effect, Bookqueue has not generated advertising revenue in 30-days which has triggered the multi-factor throttle limit on requests. Additionally, inactivity (no usage) in countries with localized Amazon regions has caused the advertising interface to be closed completely.

Now what?

Without doubt, Bookqueue’s value for the past many years has been completely attributed to Amazon’s incredible product advertising system. It is also understandable that Amazon has to manage their operational efficiencies and balance the cost of supporting an advertising system against its generated revenue. This balance places Bookqueue in a challenging position to its future as to whether it can be successful under these constraints.

I don’t have an answer yet – but will offer the following suggestions to existing Bookqueue users:

  1. The Future of Bookqueue – outlines current thinking to what changes Bookqueue will see should you choose to follow us further in the reader journey
  2. Export your Bookqueue books – provides a step-by-step guide as to how you can retrieve all your books from the app in case your Bookqueue journey ends now

Regardless of your decision to continue or leave Bookqueue, I would like to thank the community for the incredible feedback and support you have provided through the years. Our family’s reader experience has benefited from your many feature suggestions and input. As always, your comments/feedback to this post and the future of Bookqueue is much appreciated.

Thank you!

Note: this article also applies to Bookqueue’s sister application, Moviequeue.

Librarians and Bots

It’s been a while and time to get going again! Been looking into Bots which has recently been a conversation topic of Facebook and Microsoft.
LibrarianBot
The underlying idea is that a Bot could be used as an assistant to help answer or do different tasks on your behalf. Looking at the history of Bookqueue it made me consider what is one of the primary capabilities of the application, searching for books. Before we had Personal PC’s, I would go the Library for a similar capability and ask my local librarian if she could find a book for me. Hence, the birth of the LibrarianBot.

Take it for trial run and ask it some questions you would have asked your librarian before the Personal PC:

'Find books by George R. Martin'
'Lookup ISBN 1439501661'


Should you get stuck, try entering ‘help’ to get instructions of phrases the bot can understand. Give it a try and please leave your feedback.

Using Bing News and Windows Azure as a News Solution

The purpose of this post is to illustrate the news customization of Bing News in Windows and how it can be paired with Windows Azure as a content source.  The result is a powerful aggregation of news sources personalized to me and available across my Windows 8 devices.

Digital news come from a variety of sources and formats today spanning news companies to corporate bloggers and twitter feeds.  With the proliferation of device options and application stores, we, the recipients of news often utilize a diverse set of readers ranging from web browsers to specialty purposed apps that are accessible across our devices.  Prior to Windows 8, I used to have a list of URLs for my favorite news and blogging sites and combined them in mash-up on my.msn.com.  It worked but it was a little bit of a clutter as my news feeds were intermixed with my stock feeds, sports scores, etc.  What I really wanted was a single place with a single purpose for my various content, such as news.

The Microsoft News application for Windows, aka Bing News, is one of these specialty purposed applications focused on aggregation and single pane presentation of news across data sources.  Bing News comes with a standard set of news sources covering over a hundred (100) popular sources.  This allows me to customize the presentation surface to only include the sources of interest to me.  However, the data source options for Bing News does not end there, the Bing team provided an extensibility option to consume data from any RSS feed.  It is this capability that opens Bing News up to aggregating data from more personalized news feeds, such as Blogs.  I am now able to use a single News application to pull my own news sources together.

BingNewsSolution

Bing News

To illustrate the RSS integration capabilities of Bing News, let’s start with a small example from a known data source.  For example, at Microsoft several product groups have team and personal blogs as a means to communicate product information to the public audience.  One of the team blogs that I subscribe to is from the Windows team and is called, Blogging Windows

BloggingWindows

In order for me to read Blogging Windows along with my other daily news I can include the RSS feed link for Blogging Windows as a new Section in Bing News.

BloggingWindowsRSS

With the RSS feed URL copied to the clipboard, I turn to Bing News and customize it for a new section.  Right-Click/Swipe Down from edge to get the Customize button in Bing News.

BingNewsCustomize

Add a new Section to Bing News

BingNewsAddSection

Paste the RSS Url to search for and add the data source

BingNewsEnterUrl

Blogging Windows RSS feed is now available in-lined with my other news sources.

BingNewsWithAddedSection

Done.
This works great as I now have a single view into my daily news interests.  An additional benefit of Windows 8’s roaming settings, is that the customization I just made to Bing News on my laptop now follows my profile and shows the same news sources on my Windows tablets.
Now reversing the roles and taking on the responsibility of a news provider, I now have a client platform that I can contribute to as long as I can provide an RSS feed for my content.  Take the scenario where I have a written a small App called, Bookqueue, and would like to promote it to users interested in knowing what comes next and provide them the ability to give feedback.  Based on this scenario I have identified the following requirements:

1) Provide news updates for the Bookqueue App
2) Present news in RSS format (for inclusion to Bing News)
3) Allow users to comment on the news

There are many options available to satisfy these requirements, but for my needs I looked to a blogging platform that would fulfill all of these in one, WordPress.  With that solution in mind, I also needed an infrastructure to host WordPress and looked to Windows Azure.

Windows Azure

Windows Azure is an open and flexible cloud platform that enables you to quickly build, deploy and manage applications across a global network of Microsoft-managed datacenters.  One of the capabilities that exists in Windows Azure is a Gallery of website templates that allows users to quickly provision turn-key solutions, including WordPress.
After having created my Azure account, I accessed the Windows Azure management portal to create a new web site.

Create a new Windows Azure Web Site from Gallery

AzureWebSiteFromGallery

Select WordPress as the web site template

AzureWordPressWebApp

It took Azure about a minute to provision the web site and configure it with WordPress.  Once completed, I was able to browse the WordPress administration site and configure my blogging environment.

WordPress administration page running in Windows Azure

WordPressAdministration

I added a couple of blog entries for news samples.

WordPressBlogEntries

Once my blog was completed, I followed the similar process as above for getting Blogging Windows’ newsfeed into Bing News by locating the RSS URL for the blog entries and adding it as a new section to Bing News.

WordPressRssSubscription

Add Section to Bing News and Voila!

WordPressBingNews

Summary

To summarize, Bing News provides an extensible news reader that allows for a personalized News experiences across the content of interest to me.  As a content provider, understanding the news reader capabilities also allowed me to easily distribute news to my readers by exposing my information from a RSS based repository such as WordPress hosted in Windows Azure.  Hope this was helpful in creating your own personalized News experience.