Q&A with Aaron Asaro, KinSync Founder
So, in a nutshell, what is KinSync?
KinSync is a webapp, built on top of the Mendeley API, which automatically sends documents from your Mendeley account to your Kindle e-reader. It aims to “Get documents from your Mendeley account to your Kindle. No wires. No fuss.”
How was the app developed?
At first we wanted KinSync to completely do away with the need to print an academic paper. To achieve this, we sent PDFs to a users’ Kindle e-reader. Once we had that mechanism working, we sought to find efficient ways to annotate and highlight the documents with the Kindle. The trouble is that they’re not designed for ‘active’ reading, so we couldn’t find a good way to make that work. The first live version was therefore a bit limited.
What was the initial user reaction like?
Users seemed to like the idea at first, but stopped using it after a while because the use case we were pushing (a total replacement of printed documents) didn’t gel with their experience. This was additionally problematic as our approach to marketing has always been to build a great product and rely on people telling their friends / colleagues.
What changed, and how are users using the product now?
After about 12 months we pivoted to a free product with a set of features that more closely matched our own behavior – using KinSync to catch up on recent literature. For example, instead of printing out 20 or 30 papers each week to skim read, our users now send the papers to their Kindle. If the papers prove interesting or valuable they are then printed for more active reading (i.e. attacked with highlighters and pencil).
One feature that has helped us to attract users is “document optimization”. To begin with, PDFs were quite cumbersome to read for anyone that didn’t have a Kindle DX. However, we implemented some pretty nifty technology that breaks these documents down into the columnar components – making them a lot easier to read (as shown below).
What was it like working with the Mendeley API?
The API hasn’t always been the easiest to work with, particularly from a documentation standpoint. However, where this fell short the community support from the Mendeley Dev team more than made up for it. A while ago we were a little concerned that, following the Elsevier takeover, the API would be depreciated. However, we have been pleasantly surprised that Elsevier/Mendeley have instead deployed even more resources – and over time the API seems to have become more robust.
What does the future hold for KinSync?
Ever more people are getting Kindles and Amazon are doing great things to bring the technology forward and prices down. We are hoping Amazon will open up the Kindles a little more so that we can deploy some of the features that have been on ice for way too long. Until then, we will continue to experiment with different ways of best delivering this service.