Books of a feather flock together

You know what’s great about a Kindle?  You can have a thousand* books on it at once.

You know what’s bad about a Kindle?  You can have a thousand books on it at once.  🙂

Why is that a bad thing?  It’s tough to find what you want.  Imagine your Kindle as a backpack, and all the books are just stuffed in there.  Oh, the ones you read most recently would tend to be on the top, but try and find something your read a week ago, or that you haven’t even started yet.

“But wait,” you say, “a Kindle isn’t like an inert backpack.  It’s like a computer, right?   I’ve got a million files on my laptop, and I can find those.”

Well, your computer has these things called folders… 😉

Ever since people began building up libraries on their Kindle 1s, they’ve been looking for a way to organize them.

While I can’t give you folders, I can give you an alternative technique that I’ve been using for some time.  In fact, Amazon Customer Service gave me kudos for it more than six months ago.  🙂

Quick steps (more details below)

1. Add a note to the book with your “tags” (kFantasy, kRead)

2. Search for that tag: you’ll get a nice clickable list

Tags versus folders

Actually, folders are a little old-fashioned.  🙂   Oh, they are still the most widely used organizational tool on computers, of course.

An up-and-comer, though, is a different method called “tagging”.  It’s what you’ll see on wikis (user-contributed encyclopedias, like Wikipedia), and for that matter, on blogs. 

Folders are “location-based”.  Tags are “document-based”.  

When you use a folder, you go to a particular place (like “weekly meetings”), and you find all the files that have been put in there.  If you link to one of those documents, you are linking to a specific place (“mycomputer\ilmk\meetings\weeklymeetings\June242009.doc”).   If somebody moves the file out of that folder, or renames one of the folders along the way (if you work for a big company, you may have had that happen), your link doesn’t work.

With a document based system, you link to a specific document, and it doesn’t matter “where it is” in the system.  If it gets moved, your link still works.  That has some disadvantages as well.  You can’t have two documents with the same name in the whole system, for example.

In the real world, many people naturally organize things into groups.  Dump a bunch of those foam building blocks on a table and leave somebody sitting there.  Some people will put all the ones of the same color together.  Some people will put all the ones of the same shapes together.  Some may put all the big ones together and all the small ones together.  Oh, wait…maybe that’s just geeks like me.  😉

So, if you don’t have a folder for “mysteries” and a folder for “science fiction”, how do you find all the ones that have something in common?

You tag them.

When you tag a document you add a little label to it (or several labels), and then ask the computer to find those labels.  It would be hard for you to find blocks with little Dymo labels on them, but computers are really good at that.

That’s what I’ve been doing with books on my Kindle.  I’ve told other people about the idea, and gotten some good feedback.

It does take “extra work” on your part, and it won’t be for everybody.  If the Kindle did have folders, lots of people would use those…probably including some who are tagging now.  Still, you may find it helpful…I do.

Adding a tag

While you can’t change the documents you get on your Kindle, you can add notes.  Those notes are stored in a separate file…two of them, actually.   Each book has an “associated information” file (ending in .mbp or .tan), and notes are also stored in MyClippings.txt in your Kindle’s documents folder.  Those notes are further backed up by Amazon (for the ones you get from the Kindle store), and you can access them at

When you first open a book, click Menu-Add a Note or Highlight.

Then, start typing your tag(s).  I strongly recommend that you use unique words.  Don’t use “mystery”, use something like “kmystery”.  The “k” is for Kindle…you know, like “Batboat” or “Batmobile”.  You can use whatever you want (your own initials, for example). 

The reason you don’t want to just use “mystery” is that, when you search, you’d find all the times that “mystery” shows up…even in the middle of the book, when somebody says, “It’s a mystery.”

It doesn’t matter if you capitalize the word or not.  It’s not “case sensitive” as we geeks (and the “nouveau geeks”) like to say.   When you search for it, it’s going to find it anyway. 

Feel free to make more than one tag in a book.  I’d just separate them with a space, so the Kindle can tell they are different words.  You might want to label them with a genre, whether you’ve finished them or not, as sad or funny or meaningful, or “epic” or “popcorn”…you get the idea.   I don’t think you can specify in your search that you want books that are science fiction AND unread, though.

Then, just save the note (you’ll see that choice).

Finding the books

I usually go to Home before I search.  On a K2 or KDX, the default is to just search the book you are in when you search (the K1 doesn’t have a “search this book only” feature).   On the K1, click the Search button.  On the K2  and KDX, just start typing.  You’ll see a choice to search.

You’ll get a nice clickable list of books with that tag.  That’s one reason why you want to do it at the beginning of the book, so you can jump there when you want to read it (again).  It will automatically show you the title of the book, so you don’t need to worry about that in the tag.

Editing the tag

If you want to change or remove the tag later, you can select it (on a K2 or a KDX).  You just have to get to it.  You’ll see a choice to either edit it or delete it.


  • Last I heard, .tan files (the “associated information” files for Topaz books) could not be searched, so they wouldn’t work.  Amazon was working on it, though, and I haven’t tested it recently
  • Unconverted pdfs on the KDX can not be annotated, so no tags
  • Samples can not be annotated
  • It may need to index before it works.  I’ve had people say it took a few minutes to work

Again, it’s not for everybody, and I’m sure many people would prefer folders.   Works well for me, though.  🙂

Why no folders?

It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to put some kind of folder or hierarchy on the homescreen.  In fact, we do have them already, we just can’t add our own there.  We have a “folder” for Archived Items (on the K2 and KDX), and for Periodicals: Back Issues.  We can’t “drag and drop” into them, but when we do remove a Kindle store book from the device, it goes into that “folder”.

Those aren’t exactly folders, though…they are more like links.  Hook your Kindle up to your computer using your USB cord: you won’t see an Archived Items folder. 

By the way, you can make folders inside your documents folder on the Kindle: you just won’t see them in the homescreen.  You will see the books in them, though.  Some people do that, just for ease in looking at them when it’s connected. 

If you created folders outside of documents, your books won’t show on the homescreen.  You could move books out of those to the documents folder when you want to read them.  If you do (and you want your notes and such), also move the .mbp or .tan file.

For some of you, your heads might be swimming a little bit at the last paragraph.  That’s apparently why Amazon hasn’t put folders on the Kindle already.  They don’t want to complicate the experience.  The success of the Kindle, in my opinion, has come partly from its ability to appeal to readers who aren’t techies.  For those people, Amazon wants to keep the experience simple.  Maybe if they called them “bookshelves” instead of “folders”…  😉

Finally, some people use the SD card on the K1 as a folder.  They may have several SD cards, one for each genre, for example.  I’ve read a lot of stories about SD cards causing problems on the K1, and I’m guessing that’s a contributing factor as to why the slot was removed on the K2 and KDX.  However, they generally work well, and it’s a good option.

That’s it.  Create a note, and search for it.

I’ve suggested to Amazon that books could be pre-tagged with some standards words, like the genre.  That would really be up to the publishers, of course, and I don’t think they’ll send you the book with an associated information file. 

Let me know what you think about it.  I’m interested in hearing from people who try it, don’t like it, and why.  If you do like it…well, I always like to hear that as well.  🙂

* NOTE: Amazon estimates the Kindle 1 can hold about 200 books…in its onboard memory.  SD cards considerably expand that.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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