Archive for September, 2007

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

BookMooch Forever

UPDATE: The Discussion forums still work too.

John Buckman over at the book-swapping site BookMooch recently announced a prolonged downtime. They caught some database corruption and will be down for a day or more.

A word about them: BookMooch is only the first of the eleven swap sites LibraryThing integrates with (swap page). We let any swap site integrate with us, and we rank them by an objective metric, so if another site gets more popular, BookMooch will lose the top spot.

But I can’t disguise that I have a big crush on BookMooch and on its founder, John Buckman. Of course, we praise in others what we love about or want to love in ourselves.* In this light BookMooch represents what I want LibraryThing to embody too. These are:

A card sent to John in a book shipment (blog post). It encapsulates a lot of this. You can tell John loves books because he’s using his own service. You can tell he’s human and open because the writer even knows his wife’s name. And you can tell he got community right because the librarian’s first impulse is to talk about the site with others.

Passion. The whole site breathes a love of books and reading. It’s not faking it like a few book-related websites I’ve seen. John also cares about good design, and about making users happy. By all accounts, he’s not in it for the money. He sees the power of the idea** and wants to take it as far as he can. I think he will.

Openness. BookMooch publishes all its metrics. If BookMooch’s rise were to stall out for a time, everyone would know. That sort of openness is, however, one of the reasons BookMooch has continued to grow so rapidly. John publishes his APIs. He blogs about everything, even the bad stuff. Most companies don’t get this stuff—that the default position should be “open.” John does.

Community. Cataloging and swapping are not necessarily that social. Cataloging wasn’t social until LibraryThing and some other sites made it so. Book-swapping was, but swapping online doesn’t need to be. And because of the potential for fraud, abuse, lateness and so forth, online book-swapping can bring out the worst in people. The community can become dysfunctional. Instead, the BookMooch community has become a model one, working out their problems together and even reaching out for charity work. Shirky got it right: Love matters. And communities love very well together.

Humanity. John doesn’t hide behind a “contact” link. He doesn’t have some marketing guy blog pablum. He speaks in his own voice, with personality and humor. People know him. He’s real. I probably overestimate the importance of this since I’m in an analogous position, but I think having a human face helps the other factors to work their best.

So, congratulations to John for what he’s accomplished so far, and many good wishes as he works to bring the site back up. He’s already logged many hours, and will probably log many more. This stuff is stressful. We know.***

Finally, some ideas for what to do while BookMooch is down.

(Send more suggestions.)

*The ancient historian M. I. Finley says somewhere that, since the Phoenicians didn’t leave much in the way of written documentation, we know them primarily through the Greeks. What we know is all about their prowess in sailing, colonization and trade, which is to say what the Greeks saw in themselves too. I always think of that when I hear someone praise someone.
**I also appreciate that Buckman takes his ideas on the road, speaking all over the world. I just finished his talk at “The user is the content” in Belgium.
***We’d offer to help—and did—but our systems are too different. BM is written in TCL. Mad!

Labels: bookmooch

Monday, September 10th, 2007

WikiThing: A wiki for LibraryThing

We’ve had the whole team up in Portland, ME, getting to know each other, brainstorming, planning and working on projects. We chose two projects to work on all together. We wanted something that could engage the talents of the whole team.

The first release is WikiThing*, a full-featured wiki for LibraryThing. A wiki is, of course, “a collaborative website which can be directly edited by anyone.” You can use them for lots of things. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. DiscourseDB tracks published opinion pieces. So what’s WikiThing for?

We’re not sure! But we’re kicking it off with:

  • FAQ. We’ve put our static Frequently Asked Questions pages up on the wiki, where everyone (including us) can edit them. If it works out, we’ll get rid of the static pages, or reduce them to a few questions, and link to WikiThing.
  • Help. We’ve got a few Help pages that aren’t FAQ pages.
  • Bug tracking. This was a tough one. We do not want to move all bug conversations to the wiki. Bug tracking can seem like a simple record, but it is generally a conversation, with questions and answers back and forth. Feature requests are even more so. At the same time, a simple list of bugs, with links to Talk posts, could be a big help for everyone.

What do you want to do with it? Leave a note here or on the Talk: New Features post about ThingWiki.

How do I do it? Editing is super easy. Just go to a wiki page and click the “edit” link at the top, or one of the “edit” links by a section.

WikiThing is based on the MediaWiki engine, the same software that runs Wikipedia. So, if you know how to edit Wikipedia, you know how to edit WikiThing. If you don’t, it’s easy to learn. Mostly you just type. If you need to do something fancy, like insert a link, we have a Wiki help. If you screw up, don’t worry. Someone else will come along and fix it.

What about a “content” wiki? We thought long and hard about having a “content wiki.” A content wiki would have wiki pages for all works, authors and so forth. It would cover often-requested fields, like the year of original publication for a work and series information, and hitherto unrequested ones, like the name of the acquiring/literary editor. Members would be able to edit them and the edits would get picked up and put on work and author pages.

After a lot of thought and experimentation we decided that MediaWiki wasn’t the right tool for the job**. We needed a true “fielded wiki.” We looked at options like Aaron Swartz‘s Python-based Infogami, which also runs Open Library.****

In the end, we decided to do it ourself, and it turned out easier than we thought.

We’ve got one more day together, and plan to make the most of it. Whether we can finish it up today or now, we should get it out this week.

*I was overuled on the name. I wanted ThingWiki, in keeping with ThingISBN, ThingTitle and so forth. Casey and Chris** were against it.
**The individual formerly known as “Christopher” (ConceptDawg) shall henceforth be known as “Chris.” Although friends call him Chris, we were calling him Christopher because we also had a Chris (Chris Gann), but Chris Gann is long gone, and Chris—the Christopher Chris—wants his name back! Who’s on first?
***We also decided that tools like Semantic MediaWiki and WikiForms weren’t there yet.
****Since Infogami runs ThingDB—yes, he used the name first—we were thinking of calling our product ThingGami!

Labels: fielded wiki, infogmi, new feature, new features, open library, wiki, wikithing

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Some videos

We’ve added work-page links to forty-four promotional videos from Simon and Schuster and

The videos are a mixed bag. There are some good ones, but many have a superficiality and gloss to them that I find grating–more 2am infomercial than, say, Booknotes. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the company that made them, TurnHere, makes similar spots for luxury homes and fitness clubs. But kudos to them for posting the videos to a blog, with comments on.

In the last few months, publishers have been going in some interesting new directions with viral marketing and social media. Some ideas, like the HarperCollins and Random House widgets, make sense. Some, like VP Book Club, don’t.

In this case, the publisher could get as more impact, and pay a lot less, if they pointed a cellphone video camera on one of their authors at a reading. Then again, regular people will do that without prompting or payment. Check out all the YouTube videos of Neil Gaiman reading at book shops.

Labels: bookvideos, new feature, new features, simon and schuster, turnhere

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

September batch of books for Early Reviewers

The September batch of books for LibraryThing Early Reviewers has arrived! This month, we’ve got titles from two publishers: Unbridled Books and Nimble Books.

What is this? LibraryThing is teaming with publishers to provide advance copies of books to you, in exchange for reviews. The publishers are supplying the books, you get to read and review them, and we play matchmaker!

How it works:

  1. Sign up for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
  2. Check out the list of available books and indicate which one(s) you’re interested in reading and reviewing. You can apply for as many books as you’d like, but you can only apply for each book once.
  3. Wait and see if you’ve won a book!

Deadline: The deadline to request a book is Saturday, September 15th (at noon EST).

This month’s books:

Check out the Early Reviewers group to learn more about the program and discuss the books.

Read the complete Rules and Conditions.

Even more books from more publishers coming in October, so stay tuned!

Labels: early reviewers

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Add a dynamic signature line to your email

Wouldn’t it be neat to tell the people you email with what you’re reading now? I saw this on emails from friends over at AbeBooks, and thought it would be cool to have it done dynamically, and from LibraryThing data.

Email clients don’t allow scripts or for example RSS feeds, so I created a way to do it, based on images that many (but not all) email clients allow you to include in your signature.

Here’s what I’m talking about, with the signature line called out in yellow:

To play with the feature, click here. (You have to be logged in.)

Some notes:

  • This feature will get a lot more useful when we have a proper “currently reading” collection feature (coming soon). You pretty much have to use tags now.
  • No complaining about “fluff” features, please. Chris Gann first made this feature almost a year ago. I dusted it off and hacked together a user interface. It didn’t distract us from making your favorite feature.
  • We need your help! We’re going to need to come up with directions for adding this to different email clients. Some just won’t allow it. I’ve started a thread for discussing this.

Labels: email, new feature, new features

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

Tag-based recommendations

I’ve added a simple drop-down menu on members’ LibrarySuggester page, allowing you to see recommendations based on the books that fall under just one tag.

It’s not the everything—an ideal solution would have includes, excludes, percentage-interests, and so forth.—but it’s still pretty cool. Certain topics I’m interested in—as here Alexander the Great—get swamped by more numerous interests.

I’m also excited by the effort to put Thomas Jefferson’s library into LibraryThing. See the Thingology Blog.

Labels: new feature, new features

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

More small catalog improvements

I’m redoing the catalog extensively so that wish lists and “collections” aren’t tacked on Rube Goldberg-style. Most of the improvements are on the “back end.” But two are on the front, and have been eagerly anticipated for some time:

1. Subsorting. As most (but apparently not all*) members know, you can click a column in your library, such as “Title” or “Author,” to sort by it. But how do you sort by two columns? Well, you couldn’t, but not you can. We adopted the common but hardly universal convention of subsorting by the last sort. So, if you want to sort by author, and title within author, click “title” to sort by title, and then “author” to sort by author and subsort by title.

2. Suggested display styles. You can now set a “Suggested display style for visitors to your library.” Visitors then get this as an option to use this when they look at your library.

“Suggested displays” was introduced last week, on Talk. Users have come up with very good recommendations for improving it. I indend to take them up on some of them.

Labels: new feature, new features