Book Data Could Turn Libraries Into Scavenger Hunts

Novel Projects, which has been analyzing books since 2003, now has plans to turn its data into a reading game.

Book Data Could Turn Libraries Into Scavenger Hunts

Detecting the exact components of a good book is as difficult as deducing a recipe from a finished dish. Unless, of course, you’re a machine.


A company called Novel Projects has built a business on its algorithm for book “recipes.”

Its assessment of A Game of Thrones, for instance, starts with a Medieval Weapons and Physical Injury base. George R.R. Martin mixes in horses, castles, and old city infrastructure, adds a bit of pain and fear, a dash of winter environments, and stirs until the lumps are gone.

This type of analysis, first conceived in 2003 as a research project at the University of Idaho, is useful to publishers who are tasked with picking and marketing the next Game of Thrones series. They use Novel Projects’s data services to understand which audiences a specific book might appeal to based on books like it.

Aaron Stanton

But recently, Novel Projects’ CEO Aaron Stanton had another idea for how the proprietary book-recipe tool could be used.

“It could create a scavenger-hunt mentality within the physical stacks of the library,” he tells Fast Company.

His plan is to make reading books a game. Using the data on about 100,000 partner publisher books, he’ll assign books fun badges. The “Clunky, but Cruising” badge, for instance, might reward someone for reading a book that contains both cars and knights in the same scene (a circumstance that most often occurs in museum scenes). The “Nerdy Vampire badge” would be assigned to the four books in Novel Projects’s catalog that combine science and vampires.


Because Novel Projects’s technology actually scans books in their entirety, it is uniquely situated to point out these odd combinations.

Earning specific badge combinations would complete “Journeys.” Meanwhile, players would earn “experience points” for reading any book and level up in the topics they read most often. “I’m a level 4 vampire reader” could become a bragging point.

“It’s a way to compare and engage around books without messing with the core reading experience,” Stanton says.

Novel Projects put the Game of Books project on Kickstarter to assess its appeal before launching. If launched, it would work similarly to a library reading program, with game boards and sticker badges being doled out by teachers, librarians, and parents. The data portion of the game–cards for books that explain the badges and points earned by reading it–would be accessible through a smartphone app.

Whether the campaign is successful or not, the company has no plans to make library reading champions its new primary customers. Rather, The Game of Books is a new way to demonstrate Novel Projects’ technology. It’s similar to the strategy of the Pandora-like recommendation system for books called BookLamp the company launched last year.


“We could say [to publishers] you can trust our system, because your customers are using the same system,” Stanton says about that project. “It took the burden of proof off of us.”

The Game of Books project, however, has the added bonus of encouraging kids to explore the stacks at their local libraries.

“It is something I’m nostalgic about,” Stanton says.

[Image: Flickr user Sébastien Barré]

About the author

Sarah Kessler is a senior writer at Fast Company, where she writes about the on-demand/gig/sharing "economies" and the future of work.