Archive for November, 2005

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005

Consultant hires engineer to make an “exact clone” of LibraryThing

Cole Consulting recently posted a request on GetAFreelancer.com for an engineer to produce “an exact clone” of LibraryThing, giving $100-300 as its desired price. An Indian engineer won the bid at $260. (The engineer gave his hourly as $10, which makes for 26 hours of programming. I wish him good luck with that!)

Some things for Mr. Cole to consider:

  • People can of course makes sites like LibraryThing in many ways, but an “exact clone” would certainly infringe on my intellectual property.
  • I have added a strong anti-reverse engineering clause to the terms of service. These terms are enforceable in New York and Texas (Cole’s whereabouts are variously given). I’m not sure about Amritsar.
  • LibraryThing is social software. You’d need to clone a lot more than the code…

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Sunday, November 6th, 2005

New: Tag pages and related tags

UPDATE: I also added a section for the “most recent books tagged xyz.” RSS feed to come.

At 10:42 Sunday evening, LibraryThing acquired its one millionth tag. (hapgood applied the tag writing to the book On Writer’s Block.) In celebration, I have added a new feature: tag info pages.

Tag info pages resemble the tag pages on Deli.cio.us (a new service people are calling “LibraryThing for websites”). A tag info page lays out who uses the tag, the books mostly frequently tagged with it and the tags “related” to the tag. I find tag info pages both vaguely pointless and wierdly fun.

Some examples: divination, short stories, glbt, humor (also humour, which is different*), chick lit, cthulhu, evolution, alexander the great, jesus, depression and slavery. Also check out some of the biggies, like fiction, science fiction, fantasy, history, religion and biography. Some of the personal tags are interesting too. Is it surprising that the Silmarillion is the top book in unread? What does it say that half the books in twaddle are about the French philosopher Derrida? (Okay okay, I’m the only one using that tag right now, I admit it.)**

As you can tell, it has a slightly different look than other LT pages. You’ll see this design spreading through LT gradually—less clutter, more info.

*Clay Shirky’s essay / talk “Ontology is Overated” has a section on why it doesn’t make sense to alias user metadata, taking LiveJournal’s movie and cinema groups as an example:

“The cataloguers first reaction to that is, ‘Oh my god, that means you won’t be introducing the movies people to the cinema people!’ To which the obvious answer is ‘Good! The movie people don’t want to hang out with the cinema people.’”

Humor vs. humor is another great example. America (the Book): A citizen’s guide to democracy inaction is “humor.” But How to be a Canadian, even if you already are one is definitely “humour.”

Incidentally, the cinema vs. movie thing holds up at LibraryThing. Cinema includes academic/critical works like There must be a Lone Ranger: The American West in film and in reality. Movies starts with The Princess Bride, presumably because it was made into a movie.

**Also see crap, junk, trash and even bullshit. Others are now jumping on the twaddle bandwagon. I need something new—piffle, balderdash, malarky?

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Saturday, November 5th, 2005

Rating improved; half-stars added

Update: It’s working on everything now. No errors, I rpomise.

I liked the way I stars worked, but I was in the minority. You no longer need to click five times to give a book five stars. Little gray dots now show up showing you where to click.

In another change, the system now allows half stars. I’m still torn on this topic. (Somehow it feels more choice made the decisions harder, not easier!) But big-time book blogger (and Classicist!) Debra Hamel wanted it, as did some others.

It’s pointless to explain something like this. Just fiddle with it. You’ll find one click makes a star, another makes a half star, a third zeroes-out the stars. Incidentally, everyone said I should copy iTunes. I largely did, but it has no way to zero out the stars. Once you give a song a rating, you’re stuck giving it some rating or other. What the heck!

If you’re not viewing your own catalog, stars show up without the guide-dots, e.g.,

Comments encouraged. They don’t call it user-centered software design for nothing.

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Thursday, November 3rd, 2005

How to do a LibraryThing forum

I’ve been thinking about a forum. In his comment on the last post, Felius raised some important issues. He asked for a forum that was…

“… integrated into LibraryThing and uses the same user profile. And maybe lets us discuss books as well (“See what are people are saying about Cryptonomicon” for example), and maybe doesn’t really distinguish between the two, but kind of integrates the general idea of “discussion” into the whole site.”

This is very much what I was thinking. The reason LibraryThing doesn’t have a forum yet is precicely because I don’t want to slap up a PhpBB board on with its different look and user system. (For the same reason, I have resisted using my own Mothboard site.)

I am also interested in how the forum can be integrated into the rest of the site so, for example, a forum conversation about The Lion the Witch and the Wardobe is somehow referenced on the book page. There are, after all, 145 LibraryThing users who have that book, but only a select few read the blog. At the same time, I don’t want to add a “mini forum” to every book. Most books just don’t have the necessary critical mass. Have you looked at the fora that are attached to every film on IMDB? Blech.

Felius’ closing comment also deserves quoting:

“Because, like it or not, LibraryThing is no longer just about cataloguing your books — it’s about mixing with the sort of people who think that’s a wonderful idea. ;)”

I’m torn on this. I do not want LibraryThing to devolve into a general book site. I do not want to scare away people who “just want to catalog their books.” There are a lot of such people—perhaps a majority on the site now. Whatever solution I choose must be and feel completely optional, and not change the main focus. Social features have surely become more important—and I am conscious that, to be a success, LibraryThing must keep at least some people around after they have entered their collection—but cataloging remains the core. It is what LibraryThing does best.

Some random thoughts:

  • A forum should allow users to embed links to users, tags, books and authors (a real author system is coming). Doing this so that it’s easy will be an interesting UI challenge. Perhaps each thread can be tagged, and anyone can add tags.
  • The system should highlight conversations about books you own. This information should be available in the forum and via RSS.
  • Perhaps a forum should display user names with the number of books they share with you after it, or a similarity percentage yet to be introduced. This will solve my main objection with an open book discussion:I don’t care what most people think; most people have different tastes than I do. Of course, I care what all of YOU think! :)
  • The system should sharply distinguish between past and present conversations, at least on a book page. You don’t want to be breathlessly told that people are talking about a book and then discover the conversation is two years old.
  • I am dead-set against multi-threaded discussion. I hate hate hate it. I expressed this view before and one user disagreed—former user, I should say, but I know nothing about his tragic, unusual and bitterly ironic death.

Comments welcome. Adding forums is an exciting change, but also a big one. Social software is tricky—I can write the software well and still produce a miserable failure. I’d rather do it right.

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Tuesday, November 1st, 2005

Humorous one-star reviews

On the topic of ratings, I must pass on this link to Amazon one-star reviews of classic literature. My favorite is the review of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

“I bought these books to have something nice to read to my grandkids. I had to stop, however, because the books are nothing more than advertisements for ‘Turkish Delight,’ a candy popular in the U.K. The whole point of buying books for my grandkids was to give them a break from advertising, and here (throughout) are ads for this ‘Turkish Delight’! How much money is this Mr. Lewis getting from the Cadbury’s chocolate company anyway? This man must be laughing to the bank.”

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