Keywords and the Future of Book Collecting
Now you have something to visualize for the Kiss of Death!
By Tom McKinney
For those not familiar with Matchmaker, it is a service that lets Americana Exchange members input keywords & phrases, and authors, titles & dates, into our system. We then take your interests on a daily basis, and look for new matches on ABEBooks, eBay, ILAB, ZVAB (choosebooks.com), and both Americana Exchange Books for Sale and Upcoming Auctions.
Over the years, my father has used the service, and has adapted it to his experiences using it. One feature that was brought along after the service launched is the Kiss of Death. This was created for one reason: to combat the thousand-keyword bookseller.
It's easy to see why people are inclined to include long lists of keywords. Listing sites and sellers equate large numbers of matches with a proportionally larger number of sales. My father and I have our own experience selling periodicals on eBay, and our thinking was, "the more keywords we have, the more likely they are to be found." The chances are better. And that methodology remains true for buyers who continue to find material the old-fashioned Internet way: manually searching various keywords, authors, titles, dates, etc., on one or more book-listing sites. This also remains the way most people find their books - using inefficient and luck-necessitating individual searches on individual sites.
But for the minority of AE members who have begun to use the collecting tools of the future, these large number of keyword matches are a major negative. Matchmaker takes the labor out of searching, and it does it on a daily basis on multiple sites; not a feat possible by a single person. Instead of hoping to find an item by searching days on end, Matchmaker allows you to plug in your interests, and forget about them - forget about them, that is, until the match you want appears. But Matchmaker isn't impervious to keywords - the listing sites decide what fields can be matched, and it was first on eBay that this problem arose.
My father had the Kiss of Death coded into the website because he occasionally found specific eBay sellers who appeared to have copied an encyclopedic amount of information into each of their listings. Matchmaker is about saving collectors time, and about helping obscure material find its way into the right hands. Having to sort through long lists of irrelevant matches began to erode some of Matchmaker's benefits. Thus the Kiss of Death was born.
Keywords and the Future of Book Collecting
My Matchmaker Matches.
And now we have new problems to solve with another listing site. ABEbooks has two problems when it comes to the buying and selling of rare books: 1) rampant proliferation of facsimile copies, and 2) apparently in moving to updated versions of their HomeBase 3 software, they added publicly-invisible keywords. Where Matchmaker used to match an entire keyword phrase, now I see matches for "Indian gold rush" matching records only containing one of those three words. The implication is clear: ABE allowing keywords gives sellers the opportunity to fill their listings with unrelated and irrelevant keywords.
I'm not saying all booksellers are guilty of keyword spam. The vast majority is not; but there is a small number that takes advantage of listing sites allowing them. This is why Americana Exchange will never support keywords fields for listing books. If a keyword is merited, then that same content can find itself to the correct field in context: description, comments, provenance, etc. Simply adding "gold rush" to every Native American item because of their general proximity in time or location is irresponsible, and in the end does more harm than good: already I look less at my ABE matches than from any other source.
I firmly believe the future of collecting services lies in the mechanism the Americana Exchange has developed for Matchmaker. Once a member begins using the service, the old way won't make sense to them again. There isn't a more efficient way on the planet to find obscure printed material. People are free to choose inefficient collecting methods and they do every day. But once you've experienced the effectiveness of the service, you won't be keen to give it up. Who doesn't like to save time?