Archive for August, 2006

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Your author gallery

The new author image feature is going well, with 749 author images added so far. That’s enough to introduce your author gallery! (Or see mine.)

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Monday, August 28th, 2006

Happy Birthday LibraryThing!

Today, LibraryThing turns one. Last week we had cupcakes in honor of the five millionth book being added; today, we celebrate with book piles!

The moment you’ve been waiting for—if you check the homepage, you’ll see the regular bookpile has been replaced with ottox’s winning submission, which came complete with a story! It was witty, relevant and brillant. Congrats to him.

We got a really good response to the birthday book pile contest. (So much that we’re inspired to make holiday-book pile contests a regular thing.) It was hard to pick just one to feature on the homepage for today. They were festive, interpretive, celebrations of growing older, and of classic youth. A special mention goes to lilithcat, whose photo was pure genius (hint: read the lined up words in the titles in a line down), but a little too blurry.

The two runners up, who each take home a year’s gift membership, were staffordcastle (look at the first letters of the
book titles
) and, for the delectable combination of wit and photo retouching, Rachael (who also nailed us on a love of cupcakes)!

Thank you to everyone who entered—and to everyone on LibraryThing for reaching this milestone with us.

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Friday, August 25th, 2006

Author photos

Robyn has added a nifty author picture feature. As with many of LibraryThing’s cataloging features, users—that’s you—are encouraged to help.

Here are some of the recently uploaded pictures.

Anyone can add a picture, so long as you stay within the copyright guidelines. If problems arise, users can flag problemmatic pictures. There’s also an author pictures group for discussion.

As you might expect, finding a good, out-of-copyright image of, say, Charles Dickens is easy. Living authors are harder. Sometimes authors explicitly state that a set of pictures is released for promotional use. Flickr is a good source for author signing photos, although you have to be careful about the license. More often, the author (or photographer) needs to be asked. We’re coming up with an image-begging form letter thingamabrarians can send to their favorites.

Without clicking, how many of these can you name?

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Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Five million books!


Liam’s mom made the cupcakes.

LibraryThing has hit five million books. We hit four million on July 19. That’s one million books in just over a month!

The 5,000,000th book was Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family by Patricia Volk. It was entered at 4:02pm by cookingthebooks, “a theatre professional” and “Londoner by birth now living in rural Scotland.” Cookingthebooks already has a lifetime account, so we’ve sent a gift account.

More statistics:

  • The five million books fall under some 1,157,797 distinct “works.” (All editions of the Odyssey are counted as a “work.”) There are 1,282,535 distinct ISBNs.
  • LibraryThing users have added 6,930,554 tags to their books.
  • By coincidence, we also hit 70,000 users today. The 70,000th user, jean_luc_carpentier, only entered three books. We gave him a free account too. Why not?
  • If LibraryThing were compared to a traditional library–let the lovin’ begin!*–it would now be the 34th largest library in the United States, edging out the University of Virginia (source: ALA Fact Sheet 22).
  • Less than 1% of the books in LibraryThing are by J. K. Rowling.
  • More statistics here.

We’re having a party at headquarters tonight. We plan to have a go at some of the over-buy beer from the LibraryThing barbeque, plus cupcakes and pizza. We’ll post pictures when we’ve got them.

With apologies to all, we’re going to be insufferable from now until August 29th, when LibraryThing turns one year old. Although the blogosphere made LibraryThing–which has never advertised** or hired a PR firm–we’re still hoping for a New York Times article, or a mention on Slashdot or NPR. — Nancy Pearl! David Pogue! Where are you?! — We figure the confluence of five million books and our first anniversary might be the best shot we get.

ABBY SEZ: Remember the Birthday book pile contest!

*As has been pointed out, LibraryThing is not a “real” library. You can’t borrow books from it, for starters. We do, however, think LibraryThing has something to contribute to discussions going on in the library world. We’ll leave that for the Thingology blog, however, and to the handful of speaking events we’re scheduled at.***
**We did do Google Adsense for a few weeks. Meh.
***Check out where the Wisconsin Library Association is having it’s annual conference! Abby and I divvy up things so that she gets most of the library events, but nobody told me it was going to be at a water park!

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Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Add to LibraryThing from… anywhere

While we nervously await LibraryThing’s five-millionth book here’s another small but important feature.

Announcing a new way to get books into LibraryThing. Just use this URL, changing the ISBN to the one you want to add, or using a keyword search instead.*

http://www.librarything.com/addbooks.php?search=0066212898
http://www.librarything.com/addbooks.php?search=Every+Visible+Thing

That’s pretty pointless, right? Well, for YOU, yes. But OTHER websites can implement the URL, making it easy for their users to add a book to their LibraryThing account. We’re thinking particularly of swap sites*, book review sites, even–we hope–some forward-thinking libraries. Programmers can use it to make fascinating new bookmarklets and plugins.

It’s fairly straightforward. If you’re not signed in, or not a user, it will route you through the sign up/in screen. The URL can also specify one of LibraryThing’s 50+ sources, like so:

http://www.librarything.com/addbooks.php?search=0066212898&source=Amazon.ca
http://www.librarything.com/addbooks.php?search=0066212898&source=Library+of+Congress

If you don’t specify one, it will route you through a screen where you can set your default. If you’re signed in, have a default library and search for something unique–like an ISBN–it’s a one-step process***. If you search for something with multiple results, you’ll get a chance to pick one.

Now, as MMcM pointed out, this will be a much better feature once LibraryThing has explicit “wish lists.” That’s coming soon, and when it does, we’ll update this feature for it. But we’ve been sitting on this feature for a while, and we thought we’d put it out there to see what people would do with it.

If run a website and you end up implementing these URLs let us know and we’ll do what we can to help your users too.

*Those are for my wife’s new novel, which won the Elle Reader’s Prize this month. I’m very proud of her.
**More on this topic later.
***Someone tell Amazon’s patent lawyers!

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Monday, August 21st, 2006

Backup and import from Vox / Import synching

Backup/import from Vox. SixApart‘s LiveJournal is a favorite of LibraryThingers, who even formed their own LibraryThing community (338 members!).

SixApart’s new “personal blogging” platform, Vox, is also drawing some interest. Vox has a nice, but very rudimentary book tracking feature. We don’t think of Vox as a competitor. They’re more of a “gateway drug.” :)

To seed the addiction, I have created a Vox backup / import feature. LibraryThing/Vox users can keep their accounts better in synch. And non-LibraryThing users get a simple way to backup their Vox books. And, when you’ve done that, why not throw them into LibraryThing and see what happens? (LibraryThing will help you create an account in the process.)

The Vox import isn’t instant. Vox uses a proprietary number for each book, so LibraryThing needs to “go into” each book page, searching for the links to Amazon (which have ISBNs in them). To avoid annoying Vox’s servers, we fetch one page per second. So a Vox library of 60 books will take a minute to load. We have prepared suitable entertainment to hold you over.

From what we gather of Mena and her team, SixApart believes in openness and making their users happy. We hope they feel as we do: You own your data. Vox users should be able to make backups and cross-list their books. But if Vox shuts us off, we’re counting on the Vox/LibraryThing and LiveJournal/LibraryThing community to rise up and take to the barricades! Aux armes citoyens!

Synch your books. I’ve improved the import feature. You can now choose only to import NEW books. Thus, LibraryThing now “synchs” with offline cataloging applications. I only realized how useful this would be when I started scanning in books with Booxter.* I thought “Wow, I need a synch feature!” Hit me; this feature should have come months ago!

*Booxter is a nice ap. Not quite as beautiful as Delicious Library, but, like LibraryThing, Booxter cares about good data, for example mining some libraries for data. Raise your hand if you think LibraryThing and Booxter should be friends!

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Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

Forums are broken: Introducing LibraryThing’s new Talk feature


Talk showing what the conversation is about, and whether it overlaps with my library.

This post introduces the Talk feature.

Although still developing, we think Talk is our most significant addition since LibraryThing started mining for book recommendations and similar libraries.

I’m also writing this for a somewhat larger audience than usual, because Talk is (as far as we can tell) a new way of approaching that most common—and most vexed—of website feature, the forum.

Talk is a forum system with a difference. Instead of being essentially separate from the rest of the site and organized by vague preset categories, Talk is deeply integrated into LibraryThing–the stuff and the talking about stuff wriggling around each other like amorous octopi—and organized the same way the content itself is organized, book-by-book and user-by-user.


Forums are broken.

Forums are broken. “Regular forums” are broken. There’s too much to wade through, and most of it isn’t really want you want. Creating subforums for “Romance” or “Current reading” helps, but beg the question of appropriate organization in a fixed, confining way.* Divide the word differently? You’re out of luck! And if a community forms around the preset topic, getting to know the other members of the community is a long, and not necessarily pleasant process. Because they require so much time and energy, traditional forums tend to favor “loudmouths” and worse. And the whole enterprise spoils faster than milk. Nobody digs through a year-old “Mystery” forum looking for posts about a midlist author who could equally well fall under another genre. Most don’t allow you to reply to old posts. What’s the point, when nobody else will end up reading it?


Amazon has a forum for “Historical”—and someone even posted a message!

Product forums. At the other end of the spectrum, companies like Amazon and IMDb have experimented with “product forums.” So, you can, for example, post messages on a board devoted to the hardcover edition of Freakonomics or to another–entirely separate–one for the paperback edition. If you talk about another book, you can be pretty sure nobody will ever know. Amazon tries to escape this by converting BISAC codes (a commercial alternative to LC subjects) to forums. So my wife’s upcoming Every Visible Thing points you toward the “Women’s Fiction” board (which is a little insulting). Her The Mermaids Singing gets a “Family Saga” board—boy does that board sound like fun! Product and BISAC forums get at some of the “aboutness” of forum messages, but in a very narrow way, and at the expense of community. They create a multiplicity of lonely little boxes. Oh, and who wants to talk about important things at a store?

How Talk changes things. Talk attempts to solve “the forum problem” in a simple way, with a simple (and optional) markup system. When you put brackets around “Lolita,” “Huckleberry Finn” or “Borges” you create “touchstones.”** When your message is posted, touchstones become links, making it easier for people to check out the books and authors you’re talking about.

Because they improve the message people seem not to mind adding them. Crucially, the system doesn’t require exactitude; you can type “Twain” or “Jonathan Strange” and still expect it to work. Touchstones appear to the right of your message, so you can easily spot and correct mistakes.


Talk is popping up all over.

Because LibraryThing knows what a message is about, it can provide multiple entry points to the discussion. So, a discussion of Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman is referenced on ALL these author’s pages, as well as that of the books in question–Amazon’s lonely boxes get hallways between them!

Best of all, because LibraryThing also knows what books YOU have, it can show you only the forum discussions that touch them. This is what the “Your books” link does. If someone out there starts talking about Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, I’ll know. (Oh, RSS feeds are coming, of course.)

Deep intregration also solves some of the other problems with forums. Because Talk is also tied into the social system, it’s easy to find out who you’re talking to. You can do this by clicking on profile names, of course, and we’re considering adding little “similarity percentages” after names. But you can also check out the shared books in a given group. If a group’s library looks interesting, you’re probably going to like their conversation too.

Lastly, embedding “aboutness” makes old posts still relevant. You can find just the posts you want. If you end up adding to an old conversation, it won’t be “lost in the aether.” So long as people have a book, the conversation stays live. I predict that, for obscure books, conversations will become somewhat asynchronous. It might not be possible to have a lively, multi-person discussion of Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II this week on LibraryThing, but one may well develop over the longue durée. If you’re a fan of an obscure book, you’ll wait.

Groups. The last element is the most conventional. Back in July we added Groups (blog post). Groups have shared, searchable libraries, making them great for lovers, friends and clubs. But they also work for more vague “interests,” and not surprisingly many of these have sprung up. (We’re at over 500 now.)

The original plan was to have groups, and then add forums. But the explosion of groups has made us reconsider this. Instead, we’ve decided to let groups take on much of the community aspect that “preset” forums would otherwise have. We think the wildness of fluid posts appearing wherever they intersect with other site content is nicely counterbalanced by community-based groups.

The Fruit. Talk features have been coming in since we introduced groups. First flat message boards, then multi-topics boards, and so forth. In this time, some 7,200 messages have been posted, and about the same number of touchstones. That’s pretty good for an unannounced feature! Better, usage seems healthy. Of 1,900 users who have looked at more than one topic, 50% also posted. That’s very high. By focusing in on what actually touches people, LibraryThing has brought more people into the conversation. That’s a healthy community.

Get started. To get started with talk, go to the Talk tab above. Or wait for it to come to you. Links to conversations appear in book and author information pages. They’ll be showing up in your catalog soon too.

What’s left? At LibraryThing we don’t release finished features. We release interesting features, and see how things go and people react.

We’d love to see your comments here, on new groups like Recommended Site Improvements or on the Google Group (although we’d like to start moving that over). Feel free to discuss bugs, features or the whole “problem” of forums. A number of us will be watching the chatter and jumping in when it makes sense to us. Talk whttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifas another team effort. Abby, Robyn and I worked out the concepts, I did most of the forum-level programming, and Robyn did much of the interaction with groups as well as message flagging, editing and deleting.

A last note of caution. Talk is a new idea. We’re not sure it’s going to work–some users feel it’s too fragmented–but we thought it would be worth the time to find out!

*In the new world of tags and user-created site architecture, where you decide what you want to see and how its organized, forums are a throwback to unnaturally cloven tree-and-leaf structures. Real conversation does fit into non-overlapping buckets. How often have you read something like “A very similar discussion is going on over at …. “?
**No, not in the literary-critical sense.

UPDATE: See David Weinberger’s post, and a developer at Microsoft. There’s been some spirited discussion on the Google Group and the talk forums. Needless to say, this way of doing things is new, and not fully worked out. Your input will help.

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Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

Birthday bookpile contest

On August 29th, just three short weeks away, LibraryThing will turn one year old! To celebrate, we’re having a birthday bookpile contest.

Here’s what you have to do to enter:

1. Take a photo of a pile of books – like the pile on the home page (aim for a white or light background, so we can easily clip it out in Photoshop).
2. Be witty and brillant and relevant. Genius is a word Tim and I like to toss around the office* – aspire to make us proclaim it about your photo.
3. Upload your photo to Flickr, and tag it LTcontest.
4. Email me (abbylibrarything.com) with the URL, and your user name on LT.

The prize: the winning bookpile will be featured on the home page on Tuesday August 29th. Winner will also get two free annual memberships. Two runners-up (provided we get at least three entries!) will get one free annual membership.

The deadline: August 27th at midnight (EST) – we need to have time to actually look at all of the submissions, after all.

The not-so-fine print: by submitting your photo, you agree to allow LibraryThing to use it, or anyone else, as long as they’re talking about LibraryThing or the contest.

*no really. literally. it’s on a post-it note. it gets tossed.

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Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

EveryVisibleThing

Today’s the publication date of Every Visible Thing, by LibraryThing author—and my wife—Lisa Carey (website). Every Visible Thing and LibraryThing are actually contemporaries—she was finishing it up while I was coming up with the idea. The fact that they both have “Thing” in their titles is, however, coincidental.*

Pre-pub reaction has been encouraging. Library Journal and Kirkus gave it coveted starred reviews. Entertainment Weekly just gave it a short, rave but somewhat gross review—Lisa’s prose is said to “blossom like a bruise”—and it won the September Elle magazine Reader’s Prize (not yet online). I’m very proud of her, let me say.

Check out her website or publisher for more. In brief, here’s the end of the flap copy:

“A moving, lyrically written novel that captures the darkness of adolescence and the complex relationships within a family, Lisa Carey’s Every Visible Thing is a story born of grief and disillusionment that is ultimately a testament to the power of hope, faith, and love.”

*Her title is from Augustine, mine from Lovecraft. Different, those two.

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Monday, August 7th, 2006

MobuzzTV does the LibraryThing

Popular, perky vlog MobuzzTV did a great piece on LibraryThing (third on, after the Al Gore cartoon).

Amanda Congdon (late of Rocketboom) has my vlog heart, and giggly Cali Lewis of GeekBrief is a guilty pleasure, but Mobuzz’s Karina is no slouch.

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