Gutenberg gaffe: when someone good does something bad

Gutenberg gaffe: when someone good does something bad

I consider Project Gutenberg one of the great unselfless acts for the good of the community in the history of humanity.

I really mean that. In a way similar to the public library system, Michael S. Hart’s brain child has made public domain books available to virtually anyone at no cost.

That’s why it really pained me to see the site direct me to a “review” of the Kindle Fire which was (in my opinon) negative about the people who have bought it or received it as a gift, and ignorant as well.

It particularly saddened me because this is by their webmaster, and it validates the stereotypes many people have of geeks who act as though they are intellectually superior and enjoy making those they see as less intelligent suffer and feel bad about themselves.

I’m a geek, and like many others that I know, I love helping people. If I see someone who could benefit from something I know, I want to assist them, to make their lives better…not leave them wallowing in a pool of tears.

As you can tell, I’m emotional about this one…and I think it’s because I see Project Gutenberg as doing so much good in the world, and this, in my opinion, sullies their site. This “review” will probably discourage some people from donating to the project, and that’s a shame.

Read it and judge for yourself:

Project Gutenberg Kindle Fire review

Note that the review says it is by Project Gutenberg; the organization takes responsibility for it.

This excerpt is one of the main problems I have with it:

  1. Don’t buy a Kindle Fire. Buy the very similar Google Nexus 7 instead, that costs the same and is not locked down.
  2. If you have already bought a Kindle Fire, return it, and then buy the Nexus 7 instead.

At best I can describe that as insensitive.

I called the review ignorant. Now, there is nothing wrong with being ignorant, it just means you don’t know something. However, one can always hope that a person writing for public consumption knows when they don’t know something, and will frame a statement to indicate that.

According to the site, the page was last modified on November 27, 2012. That is well after the ability to opt out of the ads on the Kindle Fire was made available.

That means that at that point, a customer chose to see the ads in exchange for a discounted price, or paid the full price not to see them. Yes, the default on the site is for the more popular version (the one in which advertisers help defray your cost of the device), but that’s really how it works.

The review indicates that the writer, a webmaster, could not figure out how to get it to stop showing ads…not even buying out of them, by the way, but just getting it to stop displaying. The person claims that even turned off, it turned itself back on to show an ad. Now, it’s possible that the device updated and rebooted, but if it was really off, I’m hard-pressed to see how it would have turned on. My guess is that the device wasn’t off. If it was having electrical problems, it seems excessive to thereby condemn the entire model (and those who purchase it or give it as a gift). Amazon is very good at replacing defective Kindles, when that does occur (and it has happened to me).

Second, the writer suggests that Amazon has made it difficult to get free books onto the Kindle Fire from outside sources.

I”m not sure what the author found so cumbersome. I just tested it (admittedly, I tested it on my 2nd generation Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G LTE Wireless 32GB, which is what I had handy when writing this). I long-pressed (held my finger on it for about a second) the book I wanted on Project Gutenberg. It told me it was downloading. I went to the notifications (as is typical). I tapped the book: I could start reading it.

Of course, Amazon makes it easy to share public domain books, like those from Project Gutenberg, through its free

Kindle Personal Documents Service

You can start reading your Project Gutenberg book on one device, pick up where you left on another and sync your notes and bookmarks…with up to 5GBs of material stored for you for free.

Project Gutenberg could make this easier by adding an “e-mail link” to the books (as, say, the Baen Free Library had done), but even without that, e-mailing it doesn’t seem that difficult.

A public service organization such as Project Gutenberg shouldn’t, in my opinion, post needlessly cruel “instructions” on their website.

Here’s the kicker.

The last item in the “review” is that they have a free app for the Kindle that makes getting Project Gutenberg books on to it even easier than it already is.

I thought it had a very nice interface, although I didn’t find downloading particularly easier that way (after I’d found the book, which was easier) than with the Silk browser.

I will continue to support Project Gutenberg as I have done in the past, but my hope is that they remove that “review”, or rewrite it substantially. The intended result seems to be to make Kindle Fire users feel bad, and that doesn’t seem to fit Project Gutenberg’s mission.

I’m going to include here the place where you can donate to support their efforts:

If you do donate, and I hope you will, you might want to mention how you feel about that review. I know you may not feel the same way I do, but regardless, expressing yourself is a good thing.

What do you think? Am I overreacting to some not atypical online snark? Am I being oversensitive because this is anti-Kindle and anti-Amazon? Do you think I wouldn’t have reacted the same way if it was a NOOK “review”? Do you feel like the webmaster has the right to say what they want to say? Does having the review muddle Project Gutenberg’s public image, or does it really not matter? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.

Update: I have edited this post to remove language which I think was overly inflammatory on my part. I used an especially negative term, and I think one of my commenters correctly called me on that. I think I was being overly defensive about Project Gutenberg. My hope is still that the “review’ is either rewritten or removed.

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

31 Responses to “Gutenberg gaffe: when someone good does something bad”

  1. Emily Says:

    I find the kindle fire review confusing because it just isn’t true. I decided to test how hard it is to get a book from project Gutenberg on my kindle fire hd and it took me about 60 seconds to download A Christmas Carol and start reading it. Is it possible he just didn’t know how to use his fire?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Emily!

      Yes, precisely…it’s quite possible, and that’s part of what makes this so strange to me. Why would Project Gutenberg put this on the homescreen, and have the organization take credit for it, without at least finding out if other people have the same experience? Well, I don’t know that they didn’t do some research, but it feels to me like it was just born out of personal frustration.

  2. Emily Says:

    The other thing I was wondering is if maybe he had a cover on his kindle that had a magnet in it that shuts it down when you shut the cover. I have one of those and if I press the power button and THEN shut the case, it turns my kindle back on. Maybe that was what was happening!

  3. Brian Says:

    I strongly agree with you on this. As someone who has a Nexus 7 and a Kindle Fire I can say that they are both very different devices. They do allow me to access different content ecosystems, so I feel for an Amazon user a Fire is better. For someone interested in a cutting edge Android experience and/or rooted access then for 200 bucks a Nexus is where it’s at. But, IMO the honest answer to nook/kindle, fire/nook/nexus/iPad, should be: it depends. It really discredits a review to see such onesidedness and I usually skip it when I see it.

    I used to be very anti nook until I started reading your blog. It opened my eyes to the reality that without the competition none of our favorite devices would be as good as they are today.


    Blog post was read on a Kindle TTouch (subscriber), comment composed on a Nexus 7 (wife is watching Sons of Anarchy on the fire).

  4. Pam Says:

    Wow! That review is ridiculous! Can Amazon come after them for that? I can’t imagine that their Board, which I assume Project Gutenberg has, would agree to post this review! He almost sounds like a Nexus salesman as the review seems so forceful! The hardware that a person chooses to use is none of their business!

  5. Susan Says:

    I saw this review the other day as well. I wondered if you saw it, I thought not because I couldn’t imagine seeing nothing about it in your column. Personally I was appalled by it. What an insult, and how ignorant. If a person is going to
    Write about something at least get your facts straight. It does sully the reputation of Gutenberg to me anyway. I’m very disappointed such a literary organization would stoop to such tactics. I did a lot of research on readers before deciding on the Kindle line and have been extremely happy with not
    Just the product but also with customer service from Amazon. I wonder if he has such a poor opinion of the Kindle did write a suitably scathing review on the Amazon site? Different people have different needs I don’t condemn my friend for using the Nook(her sanity maybe):)
    Yup that fella made me a bit hot under the collar, as my Pop would say. I absolutely do not think you are hypersensitive or overreacting to such drivel.

  6. ccabek Says:

    I went to the Gutenberg site and read the blog.
    I don’t think you are overreacting. I do like the fact that there is a disclaimer letting readers know that the opinions have nothing to do with Project Gutenberg.

    The person who has written this blog must not have read the Kindle buying site, or the directions. There is no possible way (if he had) that he couldn’t turn off the Fire completely. I purchased the KT paperwhite and can easily switch off my PW.
    I also knew when I purchased the PW that it came with ads. I wanted the discount in price.
    Talk about overreacting…putting the Fire upside down on a rug covered by a newspaper and he was still obsessed with the ads?
    I just think he might be an adv. himself for the other ebook reader. His information is so wrong about the Fire.
    Which Kindle is the 3 he is writing about? He seemed to like that one. He referenced it at least two times. One would think he would have some working knowledge of Kindles. Perhaps it was not that easy to bring over other ebooks on the K3.
    Unfortunately, he really makes himself look like a
    fool to anyone who owns a Kindle. Yet he is so strongly againt the Fire one has to wonder about his credibility.
    I think your reaction to his blog is perfectly correct.
    It would be nice to send him you blog about his blog…”let the games begin, and may the odds forever be in your favor”

  7. D. Knight Says:

    The webmaster does have the right to say what he wants, although not necessarily on the Project Gutenberg website. However, I think it’s less than honest calling this a review. Normally a review makes some sort of intent to be objective and tries to delve into multiple features.

    This is more of a opinionated rant like many of the one star reviews where the person got angry about something and decided to get revenge. That may sound harsh, but what else would do you think when someone hones in on one aspect, rages about it without any consideration of the potential audience, and then decides to call it a review?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Roger!

      Oh, I agree…the webmaster could have said this to friends and family…totally understandable. Putting this on the website, though:

      Kindle Fire Review
      From Project Gutenberg, the first producer of free ebooks.
      A Review of the Kindle Fire by our webmaster. This review is not an official position or advice from Project Gutenberg or the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.

      Note that it says the review comes from Project Gutenberg, even though it then repudiates it. My guess is that the Webmaster has the ability to link to the “review” from the first page without much oversight, although I don’t know that’s the case.

      • rogerknights Says:

        Bufo Calvin Says:
        December 18, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Reply
        Thanks for writing, Roger!

        That wasn’t me, that was “D. Knight.” (But I wish I’d said it!)

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Roger!

        Whoops! Sorry for the confusion…at least I didn’t confuse you with Knight Rider. 😉

  8. Jack Bunce Says:

    FWIW I downloaded and installed the Gutenberg Kapp to my original Kindle Fire and tried downloading three different books in mobi format and the downloads failed on everyone.

    Then I tried downloading them in mobi format using Silk and then long-pressing on the notification once the download completed and they all failed to open. I thought this used to work for me? Perhaps I was downloading in them previously in pdf format.

    Usually I do the mobi download with Calibre and then transfer them onto one or both of my Kindles. I will admit the need to follow this process does make me a little grouchy but on the positive side it does mean I have readily available backups of my Gutenberg books.

  9. B.Kessel Says:

    The review is not a review; its more of a rant or op-ed piece. I wasn’t even sure which Kindle Fire he “reviewed”. I’m assuming the original Kindle Fire from a year ago?

    That said, I did attempt to download directly from my daughters original Kindle Fire. The file downloaded, appeared in my notifications, but when selected I received the message “Cannot open file”. So downloading material is difficult than it should could be.

    I don’t utilize this service (Gutenberg) very much. I just get it from Amazon or even purchase a $.99 version. I appreciate having the book in the cloud. Also, many times the Gutenberg version had too many text wrapping and formatting issues.

    I’m embarrassed for the organization really. Its an awkward “protest” on their homepage. Pretty unprofessional.

    I’m not against Nexus or criticizing Kindle or Amazon, but seems like someone had a chip on the shoulder starting out, got frustrated and made a shouting rant.

    Wow, with each passing minute, I’m more and more embarrassed for them. . .

  10. finrind Says:

    Frankly, I think you’re overreacting. They are entitled to their opinion, and their webmaster is definitely entitled to theirs. They are not calling anyone stupid, so don’t make this thing into a tragedy. Yes, it’s not a review, more like call to arms. Yes, it’s ignorant – write to the guy to enlighten him. Woudl I be offended by this if it concerned my tablet (or if I owned KF)? Not in the least.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, finrind!

      I appreciate you respectfully disagreeing with me: that’s my favorite thing. 🙂

      I agree that the webmaster is entitled to an opinion, but having the opinion, and linking to it from the front page are two different things. For example, you may have the opinion that the outfit someone is wearing is unattractive. You would certainly be entitled to that opinion. Stating it to the person moves it to another category. Stating it to everyone in the room moves it to yet another. Identifying yourself with your employer first, and then saying it, is still another level. Finally, saying, “I’d like to give you a critique of your outfit, through my association with my employer: it sucks, and I can’t figure it out,” is different.

      I have written to Project Gutenberg, although not directly to the webmaster. Why? My concern here is not for what the webmaster said, but where it is said and how it might impact an organization which I consider to be one doing great public good. Also important to me is how it impacts other people members of the public who read it. While I would like to help the webmaster, I have a greater concern for Project Gutenberg and those individuals in this case.

      I wouldn’t be particularly concerned myself if it was just a matter of somebody saying they couldn’t figure out how to turn off the advertisements on a tablet that was the same model I owned. I often help people with those kinds of questions. However, when someone does so from a position of authority, and with the obviously foreseeable circumstance that it will make people feel bad, that makes me less sympathetic.

      I would have been quite happy with the webmaster saying publicly, “I haven’t been able to figure out a few things on my Kindle Fire. Does anybody have any suggestions for fixes?” Ideally, I’d like the person to say something like, “If you are having difficulty downloading books from Project Gutenberg for your Kindle Fire, here are some solutions.”

      Again, I appreciate you expressing your opinion. It’s likely that other people share it.

  11. Ed Foster Says:

    I agree with all that has been said so far, and would ask if there is something more going on here?

    Has Amazon done something to offend Project Gutenberg? The stridency of the tone here seems impulsive and aggressive rather than a reasoned and honest appraisal of the product. Suggestion number 2 in particular is unnecessarily offensive.

    Were downloading books to a Fire as difficult as the reviewer claims a suggestion that another device might be handier would make sense, but this seems to me to be more personal and angry than an attempt to be helpful, in particular since the review is factually inaccurate.

    So, again I am left to wonder if Amazon has done something to offend the good folks at Project Gutenberg? I haven’t seen any scuttlebutt amongst the Amazon haters in this regard, but then again, I read them as little as I can get away with…

    Am I reading to much into this? Or is there something more going on here than meets the eye?

    • B.Kessel Says:

      Ed –
      I totally agree with your assessment on the tone. Not very reasoned at all. It carries a very personal, affronted type of tone. Not even or level headed at all.

  12. Tom Semple Says:

    I’m guessing this person has to handle all the cries for help from Kindle Fire owners who run into problems, and he (or she) is just frustrated about it. And I have to agree about one point, direct download doesn’t work smoothly as it does on non-Fire Kindles or on generic Android devices. Downloads go to Downloads folder, and you have to move it over to Documents with a 3rd party app, and it doesn’t actually seem to appear in the Documents list until you restart the Fire, or force stop the Kindle app. Don’t know if it is different with newer Fires, mine is a 1g Fire.

    But some sort of helpful FAQ laying out some options would go further to resolve this than a ‘review’ of this nature (really a rant).

  13. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I get really annoyed with people who pay the lower price in exchange for the ads and then complain about the ads! I have two Kindle Keyboards. One of them has ads and the other doesn’t. I had originally intended to give the older one to a friend, but I made the mistake of “upgrading” the newer one to the latest operating system which I totally hate, so I’ll probably end up giving her the newer one with the ads. I find the upgrade way more annoying than the ads because it has turned so many books from left justification to full justification, which on larger font sizes often leaves gaping holes in the lines of text that make it harder for the eyes to track!

  14. JJ Hitt Says:

    I’ve had the problem with the Kindle refusing to be turned off and turning itself back on. In my case, it was a defective charger (never happened running on batteries).
    Replaced the charger and it went away.

  15. Bill Says:

    It seems to me that we all overlooked one thing. The guy was/is a Kindle Fire owner. Seems like he had a bad experience and over reacted. Don’t post while angry is a good rule of thumb.


  16. The Kindle Chronicles - TKC 229 David Lynn Says:

    […] “Gutenberg Gaffe: when someone good does something bad” post by Bufo Calvin at I Love My Kindle […]

  17. oldiesuz Says:

    Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Healthy New Year to Bufo and fellow readers,

    While I agree the ‘review’ on the Project Gutenberg website was completely incorrect on many issues and downright irresponsible in regard to what the device will and will not allow, I can only go back to my own negative impressions upon receiving the Kindle 7″ HD upon it’s original release (something I commented on with my first response to your blog after many happy hours of reading it!) and believe that the sorry state of the original interface, the intrusive ads that were everywhere, the removal of the favorites app from its original default place on the screen, and most damaging the “recommendations” which remained even after paying/opting out of the ads could not help but, at best, disguise all the numerous benefits of being part of the Amazon eco-system, especially to people who are new to it. If a long time happy Kindle owner such as myself (and even longer Amazon enthusiast) could be disgruntled enough by this as to return the tablet after a few days I can only imagine what a newcomer, or even more problematical a reviewer with a chip on their shoulder towards Amazon, would make of it. (A friend of mine who also disliked the tablet referred to it as being in the middle of an Amazon department store the day before Christmas!)

    Also, in terms of the difficulty of downloading books, when the Fire was released a lot of applications worked differently than on the original, and there were no readily apparent guides from Amazon that addressed many of these issues. Videos that had played flawlessly on the original Fire refused to transfer to the new HD. And no matter how many times I tapped for the menu that was across the top of the screen it wouldn’t show without much effort. I later learned (and not from Amazon) that in the new HD you ‘swiped’, not ‘tapped’, for the top menu, and that personal videos now appeared in a different folder than the Videos folder the Original Fire used. I know this caused several friends to return it originally – Amazon cannot make changes like this and not address them somewhere. So perhaps the blogger at Gutenberg had a similar issue.

    Luckily, I continued to read the boards and blogs and learned Amazon had fixed much of what I had been unhappy with. I purchased the Kindle HD 8.9 and immediately thought ‘Welcome Back!’ I am thrilled with it. By the way, I also own a Google Nexus. I also love it as well, and spot very little differences between the two in terms of usability and enjoyment.

    Anyway, in my long winded way, I can only say that I do believe the original Kindle HD did a lot of damage to the reputation of the Fire franchise. Many who reacted the way I did probably went over to the equally fine Google Nexus 7 and will now not return to Amazon. I suspect this may well be what is behind the (in want of a better word) downright nasty and mean spirited missive on Gutenberg.

  18. yahman Says:

    Good grief. The original review is correct. Books downloaded from Gutenberg onto the kindle fire hd are viewable in the notifications section not in the books section where they should be. Moving files around is only possible with third party programs such as file manager ES. On older Kindles the process of downloading and viewing from Gutenberg was seamless and intuitive.. Also half the videos on youtube are not viewable because kindle fired hd does not support flash and also a lot of stuff isn’t viewable because it is seen as a mobile device. The kindle fire hd is all about selling amazon product. Still, not a bad tool given price and quality build of product. You can always root your kindle if you know what you are doing.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, yahman!

      I appreciate you taking the time to add your opinion.

      On the Kindle Fire, the Books tab is for e-books from Amazon: the books from Project Gutenberg would show up under Documents in their system (which is similar to the way they sorted on reflective screen Kindles).

      As to the Kindle Fire not having Flash on it, that’s because of Adobe’s decision not to support it on mobile devices. Amazon does, though, let us install apps from outside sources, so it’s easy enough to add Flash, if you want. First, you install a browser that uses it (such as Dolphin, or Maxthon), and then you install Flash. You can do it from here:

      The assertion that “…The kindle fire hd is all about selling amazon product” is frequently made, but seems to be refuted by Amazon allowing outside apps as I indicated above, and by the presence of apps to get content from other sources (some of which directly compete with Amazon) through the Amazon Appstore. Netflix, for example, is a competitor for streaming video with Amazon’s Instant Video, yet Amazon approved their app for the Amazon Appstore. There are several other examples, and Amazon even has a page specifically for getting e-books from other free sites (although that one isn’t specifically for the Fire):

      Kindle Store link to free book collections

      Again, the instructions there are for the reflective screen Kindles, but I include this to show Amazon’s openness.

      I would also suggest that there is no particular reason to root a Kindle Fire in this case, since, as the review says, Project Gutenberg has an app you can use if you like. I don’t find it hard to work with the free ES File Explorer, but for people who do, that’s an option.

  19. Irene Says:

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I was dejected when I discovered that I could not download the Gutenberg ebooks. It was part of the reason I bought the Kindle Fire. But I have faith in the Geeks who shall inherit the earth. I researched more and found this article. It totally renewed my zest for my new piece of technology. Thank you again. And you did a great job with the directions. It’s super easy..

  20. dhw Says:

    It is pretty ridiculous that when I open up the Kindle Fire bookstore app there isn’t a way for me to specify that I want to browse public domain books.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, dhw!

      Using the Shop app, it works the same way that it does on Amazon’s website. You can type

      +domain (and another search term, like “history”, if you want)

      to get public domain books, and


      to exclude them (something I never do).

      It’s not 100%: it can return false positives (but not many) if the book actually has the word “domain” in its title, for example.

      You can also bookmark

      in a browser: it has a sophisticated search tool which lets you set your public domain options using a dropdown.

      I was curious and took a look at Barnes & Noble and Kobo, and didn’t see a way to specify public domain books there…are you aware of an e-book e-tailer that has that as a search option?

  21. Ladybug Says:

    Won a Fire…last October – church raffle. Came with no instructions. New to me. Haven’t used. I would like to I guess but not motivated when no clue.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Ladybug!

      I think you’d find it fun and useful. 🙂 The first thing is to figure out what kind of Fire you have:

      Once you do that there are a lot of ways, even free ways, to get help…including at those Amazon help pages.

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