12 December 2011

Business/Education Thought

If I were Amazon, I would curate reading lists for different topics and make the whole set available as a single product.

Perhaps pair up with The Great Courses or one of the universities like Stanford or MIT who are embracing online learning to generate them. Maybe get a nobel laureate or other luminary to sign off on the list in a subject they're familiar with.

I need to shore up my knowledge of statistics. I can go out there and read reviews and use the Amazon ratings systems and so on to find the best stats books, but that takes time and is hit-and-miss. That distributed, peer-driven recommendation system works great for novels and niche non-fiction, but for large topics like Data Structures there are some more-or-less canonical books. I want someone to quickly point those out to me so I can get started.

I want to be able to go to Amazon.com and have them give me the three or four best books on Linear Algebra so I can dive in without having to poke around in reviews and ratings and so on.


  1. That's a brilliant idea, but you'd almost need three lists, one each for: the ad-hoc-educated looking to get a true grounding, the knowledgable-in-related-fields, and the true neophyte.

    I've actually had this problem when looking at dynamics texts - some assume way too much theoretical and practical knowledge on my part, but are truly canonical in the field. Others assume I'm totally new to math and engineering as a whole, and spend all their effort demystifying things I already know.

    The process would be a heck of a lot more straightforward in the humanities, though. The classics there have less jargon to learn.

  2. I hadn't thought of that!

    I've run into the same problem, though. I can't tell you how many times I've picked up a book called something like "Signal Processing with Matlab" that started with either several chapter describing what a matrix is, what an if statement is, etc. or assuming I could already do fast fourier transforms in my sleep.

  3. You know, there's nothing stopping anyone from making a web page that points to the books at Amazon.com. If they got set up as an affiliate (takes about ten minutes, as I recall), they would even make a bit of money if people started using the web page.

    That wouldn't be as elegant as having it all at Amazon, of course...

  4. True, true. The problem is that if you do get this to work, it would be very easy for Amazon to recreate the same feature and steal your business out from under you.

  5. Yeah... You can't exactly patent a reading list.

  6. Great idea.

    There's a meta-idea behind your idea, which I've been thinking about a lot recently: what people crave is the strong sense that they're getting Good Solid Advice(tm) and Things Will Just Work(tm).

    There's a small project I'm working on in my shop right now. I've googled on it, and dozens of other people have done the same project, and some list plans, and others list parts lists...and nothing makes sense, and there's no one place to buy all the parts, and I'm left with the feeling that I'm a neophyte and all I want is one competent person to guide me by the hand and say "this is what you want, and THIS is the one button that will charge your credit card and ship all the parts to you".

    The markup here can be fairly dramatic, and I'd still pay it.

    I'm not spending my money to purchase PARTS, I'm spending my money to purchase (a) convenience, and (b) certainty.

    So, anyway, I'm going to try to solve this on PARTICULAR problem by researching the heck out of this one particular problem and selling kits online for, I dunno, 2x the price of parts.

    If it works, I'll do more.

  7. An online version of The Whole Earth Catalog?


    Travis - can you get set up as a dealer and buy all the needed parts at 40-50% off retail? I'm working on something similar; designing basic model train car bodies for sale on Shapeways


    and having a second one-stop retail source for purchasing all the decals, paint, trucks, couplers and other details needed to finish the car:


    Luckily the decal manufacturer also sells almost all the other needed parts so I won't have to set up my own retail store.

  8. @TJIC, Yes, this really is part of that meta-problem now that you mention it. And that's something I've certainly experienced myself. One of the biggest attractions for becoming wealthier for me is the ability to sidestep these problems by throwing money at them. Future-me wants to be able to pay that mark-up for some kit to avoid having to deal with the run-around and uncertainty and delay.

    @ScottH, I've never actually seen a Whole Earth Catalog myself, but I understand them to be a curated collection of tools (with "tool" loosely defined), so yes, that seems like a good comparison.

  9. I've got the 1988 'Signal' Whole Earth Catalog (it's listed under the 'Books And Other' tab). Take a look at the link I provided; all the magazines and catalogs are available for viewing online.