Sunday, November 13th, 2005

Author pages—you control ‘em

Sharp-eyed users will notice a new feature—author pages. Author pages, linked to from within your catalog and elsewhere, list an author’s books, who owns them and so forth. This is a toe-in-the-water announcement. Coming days will see more features, including “similar authors” and a Wiki-like ability to add author home pages. Suggestions are, as always, encouraged.

There’s something daring in how the feature is implemented: users control the catalog. Some of you have noticed problems with two editions of the same book not always being counted as the same. Well, the problem is even worse with authors. Not only does LibraryThing draw on five Amazons and 30+ libraries around the world, but as anyone familiar with Library of Congress searching will tell you, author names often vary within a single catalog. Is Joanne K. Rowling the author of Harry Potter und der Orden des Phönix the same as J. K. Rowling the author of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? A computer can’t tell, but I’ll bet you can.

In fact, the computer guesses pretty well, presenting a list of likely aliases for in the “Also known as…” section. You can check these authors out by clicking on their names. If they’re really the same, and you’re feeling generous, go ahead and click “combine.” The authors will be smoothed together, with the more common name winning. I’ve gone through some of the better-known authors—the rest are up to you.

Be bold! The system is self-correcting. If you screw up and combine two authors who aren’t really the same—eg., Thomas Wolfe and Tom Wolfe—someone will notice. Clicking “separate” will break them apart again.

Finally, although combined on a global, statistical level, user data is NEVER changed. Call her Jenny Rowling for all I care. Nothing’s going to change that data.

Again, they’ll be some improvements, but the core functionality is there. I’m eager to see how it gets used.

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