Betaworks’ Findings shifts to web clipping, as Amazon bans Kindle clips

Findings, the year-old content-sharing site from untraditional VC firm Betaworks, was built on the ability to sync and share Kindle highlights. But Amazon(s amzn) told Betaworks last week that this function violates its terms of service. Findings is shifting its focus to web clipping.

The Kindle highlights feature lets reader select and “clip” favorite quotes and passages from the ebooks they are reading, then access those highlights online later. At launch, Findings’ main feature was the ability for users to easily share those Kindle highlights with others by syncing their Kindle account with the Findings’ web bookmarklet. Applications such as Evernote also let users sync and save their Kindle highlights.

Findings maintains that web clipping has become an increasingly important part of the service it provides, though Betaworks CEO John Borthwick acknowledged that the ability to share Kindle highlights was the reason many people started using Findings in the first place. He said that Amazon had known about Findings for a year and had been fine with the service until now. “I don’t want to intuit what Amazon’s motivations are,” he said, but suggested that the decision was driven not by Amazon but by book publishers: “This is probably what publishers want.”

That sentiment is echoed in a blog post from Findings general manager Lauren Leto. “Amazon has to abide by what publishers demand, and this is sometimes at odds with what users want,” she writes. “As a small startup we had no choice but to comply with their demand that we discontinue the feature that allow users to import and sync Kindle data in Findings.”

I’ve asked Amazon for a comment, but does it makes sense that this decision would be driven by book publishers? They are already able to restrict Kindle highlighting: they have the ability to limit the amount of content clipped from an ebook (and Evernote users who wanted to save their highlights have been blocked from saving too much content). It makes sense that piracy-fearing publishers don’t want users to “clip” too much of a book and share it. Scanning the content shared on Findings, though, it’s clear that most users aren’t sharing more than a paragraph of text.

Amazon itself lets readers share their highlights and clippings through a feature called “Public Notes,” and it’s possible the company is cracking down on competing services like Findings in an effort to promote its own service. Considering that “Public Notes” is relatively under the radar, that seems somewhat unlikely. But the new Sony Reader lets users share passages through Evernote, and Amazon may be planning to make its own sharing features more robust.

Finally, Amazon simply may not want third-party apps accessing Kindle highlights. If so, we should expect to see services like Evernote cutting off that functionality soon.