Archive for March, 2007

Monday, March 5th, 2007

LibraryThing recommendations on Abebooks

Today Abebooks.com unwraps a new feature–LibraryThing’s book recommendations. Selected books sport up to six recommendations, which link to books offered by Abe’s 13,500 independent booksellers.

It’s a relief to see our recommendations finally escape! We’ve known for a long time that they were good and getting better every day. Personal collections and personal tags are an amazingly rich source of recommendations. Abe was an ideal venue. LibraryThing people and Abe people are hard-core book-lovers, and LibraryThing’s focus on collections acquired over time matches with Abe’s unmatched strength in the long tail of out-of-print books.

You can see LibraryThing recommendations on books like:

SOURCE AND COVERAGE. The data comes from the “combined” recommendations visible on work pages. These are drawn from LibraryThing five distinct recommendation algorithms, including our “people who have X also have Y” algorithm, our tag algorithm and the mysterious “special sauce” algorithm.*

As of today, LibraryThing recommendations appear on about 10% of Abe titles. That’s just to start. We’ll be scaling up the coverage dramatically in the weeks and months to come. We’ll also iron out a few kinks, and take advantage of the 25% growth in LibraryThing since the last time we generated the combined recommendations. So far it’s US and UK-only, but Abe’s non-English sites are a logical next step.

CONCERNS. Now is a good time to repeat and reaffirm what I said back in May when Abebooks bought a minority stake in LibraryThing:

“There is no down side. LibraryThing’s stringent Privacy Policy remains intact and in effect. The contract forbids LibraryThing from giving Abe ANY user data—not one user name, real name or email. Reviews will not leave the site without explicit permission (ie., not some buried legal clause). LibraryThing will not suddenly sprout Abe ads all over the place or prevent you from buying from other booksellers. Rather, LibraryThing will provide Abe with certain anonymous and aggregate data, like book recommendations or tag clouds, to help Abe users find books they want.”

None of this has changed, nor will it. We’ll see about tag clouds on Abe? (Can I hear an amen?)

MEANING. Today’s announcement doesn’t change anything on the LibraryThing site. But it means something even so. On a practical level, it’s good news for our growth–another step along the road to world domination.** More interestingly, it puts the collective intelligence of readers at the center of the Abe experience in an utterly new way. And it advances “Social Cataloging,” “Social Networking,” “Web 2.0,” “crowd-sourcing,” “the long tail,” “folksonomy” and other trendy—and not totally bogus—buzzwords.

Now that Abe is out of the door, Abby, John and I are going to be turning our attention to getting LibraryThing data into libraries—recommendations, tags, tagging services, and whatever else they’ll take—and for a fraction of what they’re paying now for services like NovelList.***

Me? I’m going to Legoland! That’s right, I’m sitting in the Copenhagen airport right now, waiting for a flight to Århus, where I’m talking to Danish Librarians about LibraryThing and library catalogs. The organizers of Mit Bibliotek (My Library) saw my blog post Is your OPAC fun? (a manifesto of sorts) and wanted me to turn it into a talk. For a chance to visit Denmark, I’d turn it into a juggling routine!

*Apparently the phrase “special sauce” causes our non-English site translators no end of grief.
**World domination through work combination!
**Anyone want to help me find a URL for NovelList that isn’t a password-protected link to the service? It’s seems—dare I say it—ungoogleable.

UPDATE: The Abebooks blog covered it, stressing that Abebooks has always been about finding the exact book you’re looking for. Visitors arrive with a book in mind, not to browse. Search is still their strength, but BookHints adds some browsing to the site.

Labels: abe, abebooks, recommendations

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

The New York Times covers LibraryThing

Today’s (Sunday) New York Times has a wonderful article on LibraryThing, A Cozy Book Club, in a Virtual Reading Room by Anne Eisenberg (Business section, page three).

It’s everthing we could have hoped for—sympathetic, book-focused (albeit in the business section), member-focused (way to go kageeh), and with none of the common misunderstandings.* I knew they were going to run something, but I thought it was focused on tagging, with LibraryThing as the first example. But it’s all about LibraryThing. And boy is it positive!

It goes without saying that I’m a bookish guy. But most of my non-book reading has shifted to the Web. I don’t get magazines anymore, except National Geographic, and my opinion of the “mainstream media” is not what it was when I read three papers a day and had never heard of an RSS feed. But the Times is the stable point. I read it from an absurdly young age. I have flash-bulb memories of a half-dozen front pages. I have the edition from my son’s birth wrapped up for preservation better than the Codex Sinaiticus. When, as the Economist** said, the last newspaper reader tosses aside the last newspaper, it’ll be the Times, he’ll be me, and he’ll keep it in a pile in the living room for months—dipping in now and then—until his wife threatens to recycle it, and he moves it surreptitiously to his office.

So Vivat New York Times, and thanks for noticing us.

*LibraryThing is for dating. LibraryThing is about competition. LibraryThing is about selling books. LibraryThing is a tech story, etc.
**A magazine I’d like to get, but it’s so expensive!

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