Archive for October, 2007

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Early Reviewer books on NPR

Two LibraryThing Early Reviewer books have been mentioned recently on NPR, so we figured that deserved some notice here.

The story ‘Identical Strangers’ Explore Nature Vs. Nurture is about Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein’s* Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.

And Disease, Politics Permeate ‘The Air We Breathe’ is on Andrea Barrett’s The Air We Breathe.

We’re still/perpetually looking for more publishers to join our Early Reviewer program—more information here: http://www.librarything.com/forpublishers/

And for aspiring readers/reviewers, we’ll announce the November batch of available books soon!

Oh, and Tim wants me to remind everyone about the latest book pile contest (below): Twenty-million books and/or Halloween…

*Paula Bernstein is, incidently, also an official LibraryThing Author.

Labels: early reviewers, LT author, NPR

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Photo contest: Twenty-million/Halloween


Back when we had five million books!

We’re about to hit twenty-million books cataloged. It should happen Monday or Tuesday. Then Halloween is coming up later in the week.

So we’re doing a photo contest (see past ones)! Some ideas:

  • Make a spooky halloween book pile. Scary books and severed hands?
  • Make a twenty-million pile, or better, I’d love to get photos of people blowing out candles on books or whatever. Since we’re all virtual now, I’m going to ask all the LT employees to blow out something on a cupcake. Come join us and we’ll make a big montage of fire and puffed cheeks.

We’ll give out a winner (lifetime account) and two runners-up (year’s account) for each of the two categories. And glory, lots of glory.

Directions:

  • Post your photos to Flickr and tag them “LT20millionhalloween” (also tag them LibraryThing). If you make a new account it can take a few days for your photos to be publicly accessible, so post a URL to them here or do 2.
  • Or, post your photos on the wiki here.
  • Or, if all else fails, just email them to tim@librarything.com and I’ll post them.

Contest ends MIDNIGHT Thursday, November 1.

Labels: 20 million books, book pile, contest, halloween

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Pirates and haikus and contest winners

At long last, the contest winners!

Pirate book piles

I’m giving out two awards for the Talk Like a Pirate Day book pile contest, so congrats to
-Mr-Dustin-, with Treasure of Knowledge, and Emma*, for Here be Pirates—a delightful combination of books plus skull.

See other photos on Flickr, under the TLAPDLibraryThing tag, linked to in the comments of this blog post, or here on WikiThing.

Haikus

Are pirate haikus
truly art? Or attempts to
bring meaning to bilge?
-megacoupe

The age old question. Well, I love the LT haikus. More than words can describe. Especially now that I get emails which start “The haiku told me to email you about…” Priceless.

Here are a few of my favorites—gift memberships are winging their way to the authors of these gems.

But no one must see
all my birdwatching manuals!
Hide all your books here.
-gemmation

New to LibraryThing.
The day is gone. Tomorrow,
A new boss awaits.
-peter.g

Though ye sail under
many flags, your Tag Mirror
shows yer true colors.
-SilentInAWay

Cutlass, cannon, argh!
The never-ending battle.
Splitters and lumpers.
-larxol

Common Knowledge is
Uncommonly addictive
Leaves lie yet unraked
-tardis

Look at all the LibraryThing Haikus on WikiThing—there’s help in haiku, general LT haikus, Library 2.0 haikus, and even Talk Like a Pirate Day themed ones.

Look, even Thomas Jefferson approves!

I delight, knowing
That my library lives on,
On the Internets.
-ThomasJefferson

*email me (abby@librarything.com) – I don’t know who to give the gift membership prize to!

Labels: book pile, contest

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Common Knowledge explodes

It’s been 48 hours since we introduced Common Knowledge, our “social cataloging” initiative and it’s been a HUGE success.*

Six-hundred and fifty members have contributed an edit, making 17,437 edits total (adding multiple characters, for example, counted as a single edit). Check out the changelog and watch it happen.

It’s our job to support what you’re doing. Apart from obsessively adding facts ourselves–Chris and I both made the top 20 contributors!–Chris has been working on UI improvements, and we’ve both been very active discussing it, bugs, new fields, the gender issue and other topics. There’s a lot to do.

More statistics. The top contributor was shortride with an astonishing 1,383 edits. English got the lion share of edits, with second-place German coming in at 441 edits. (We’re still working on how to show information from other languages.)

Top contributors Top fields
Shortride 1383 Awards and honors 4412
MikeBriggs 614 Character name 3398
fleela 458 Gender 2297
realSandy 383 Important places 2255
PhoenixTerran 350 Places of residence 1587
tardis 336 Birthdate 1197
sabreuse 311 Education 869
VictoriaPL 301 Date of death 552
tripleblessings 291 Organizations 430
AnnaClaire 277 Description 200
Rtrace 275 Disambiguation notice 116
andyl 247 Publisher’s editor 62
rorrison 242 Agent 60
timspalding 238
SqueakyChu 234
conceptDawg 228


*We’re pretty impressed by all the activity, especially considering it hasn’t been as blogged as much as some past features.** But I gave it a good push talking yesterday at the Ohio Library Council. (Come see me talk again today.) And something like this can only grow. APIs will be key.
**Tip of the hat, however, to Superpatron, Joshua M. Neff and Wicked Librarian.

Labels: common knowledge, new feature

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Common Knowledge: Social cataloging arrives

Chris has just released Common Knowledge, the innovative, open-data and insanely addictive “fielded wiki” we’ve been talking about for a month.

Common Knowledge adds fields to every author and work, like:

  • Author: Places of residence, Awards and honors, Agent
  • Work: Important places, Character names, Publisher’s editor, Description

All-told there are fourteen fields. But Common Knowledge is less a set of fields than a structure for adding fields to LibraryThing. Adding more fields is almost trivial, and they can be added to anything existing or planned—from tags and subjects, to bookstores and publishers. They can even be added to other Common Knowledge fields, so that, for example, agents and editors can, in the future, sport photos and contact information.* This can lead to, as Chris puts it, “nearly infinite cross-linking of data.”

Common Knowledge works like a wiki. Any member can add information, and any member can edit or revert edits. All fields are global, not personal. Common Knowledge diverges from a standard wiki insofar as each field works like its own independent wiki page, with a separate edit history.

Some example:

  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I’ve been conservative with characters and places. (See Longitude, worked on by Chris for the opposite approach.) But I wish I had her editor!
  • The history page for “important places” in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, showing improvement over time.
  • David Weinberger. Half-filled. He mentions his agent, but I can’t tree his major at Bucknell and the honors section is empty.
  • Hugo Award Winners. This is going to get very cool.
  • The global history page. Mesmerizing.

Right now we’re basically slapping fields on pages, but this structure is built for reuse. The license is also built for reuse. We’re not asking members to help us create a repository of saleable, private data. Whatever you add to Common Knowledge falls under a Creative Commons Attribution license. So long as you include a short notice (eg., “Powered by the LibraryThing community”), you can do almost anything you want with the data—take it, change it, remix it, give it to others. You can even sell it, if someone will buy it. Regular people, bookstores, libraries–even our competitors–are free to use it. We’ll be adding APIs to get it out there all the more. Go crazy, people.**

Common Knowledge isn’t the answer to everything. Some data, like web links, requires a more structured approach; some, like our “work” titles, works best when it “bubbles up” from user data; and some, like page counts, have yet to be extracted from the MARC and ONIX information we have. But the possibilities are great. Series information? Blurbers? Cover designers? Books about an author? Tag notes? Other classification schemes?*** Bookstore locations? Publicists? Venues? Book fairs? Pets? Pets’ vacination dates?

Anyway, we’ve done our thinking, but this is the ultimate member-input feature. We’re going to have to figure it out together. Fields will need to be added (and removed?). Rules will be debated, formatting discussed. Although the base is solid, the feature set is still skeletal.****

Go ahead and play. Chris, John and I spent the evening playing with it, and we guarantee it’s addictive. Or talk about. Leave a note here. I’ve also changed the WikiThing group into a Common Knowledge and WikiThing group. I’ve started a first-reactions topic and another for bug reports.

Why I’m excited. LibraryThing means a lot of things to a lot of people. Some come for the cataloging, some for the social aspect. A lot come for what happens between those two poles. As I see it, Common Knowledge is the perfect LibraryThing feature. I don’t mean it’s good; I mean it’s in tune with what makes LibraryThing work. It’s social, sure, but it’s based in data. It’s not private cataloging and it’s not MySpace-like “friending.”

LibraryThing is sometimes called a “social cataloging” site. When I used this term at the American Library Association, it became an unintentional laugh line. Social cataloging sounded impossible and funny, like feline water-skiing. This more than anything else got me fired up about doing this. True “social cataloging”; it was an idea that had to be tried!*****

Details, acknowledgements and caveats. Common Knowledge is deeply unstructured. This is going to give some members hives! Names aren’t in first-middle-last format, but free text. You can enter places however you want. We’ve arranged some careful “hint” text, and fields have a terrific “autocomplete” feature, but we’re not validating data and returning hostile error messages. We’re aiming for accessibility and reach, not perfection. This is Wikipedia, not the Library of Congress. It scares us too, but we’re also excited.

Abby, Casey, Chris and I planned this feature during the Week of Code. We worked through the issues together, and Casey, Chris and I all wrote the initial code. When we broke up, the rest of the coding and the interface design all fell to Chris. Although it was a team effort, this is really his feature. I’m very pleased with what he did with it.

We decided to work on this (and on our standard wiki, WikiThing, which grew out of it) because it was an ideal project for the entire group to tackle. This jumped it past collections. I still think this was a good idea, but there has certainly been some grumbling. We heard you. Collections is next on our list, with nothing new in between.


*So far we have only three data types—radio buttons (gender), long fields (book descriptions and author disambiguations) and short fields (everything else).
**Competitors who use it might want to stop asserting copyright over everything posted to their site. This was legally bogus already, but it certainly would conflict with a Creative Commons license… Incidentally, we haven’t decided whether to go with CC-Attribution Share-and-Share-Alike or straight CC-Attribution (discussion here), but it’s going to be one or the other.
***This particular one may happen very soon.
****And yes, we can discuss the whole radio-buttons-for-gender topic. See here, here. I’m of the opinion that two genders plus maybe “unknown” and “n/a” (for Nyarlathotep?) are the best you can get without consensus-splitting disagreement. You’ll note we aren’t including other potentially-contentious fields, like sexual orientation or religion.
*****In conception, Common Knowledge most closely resembles the Open Library Project, the Internet Archive‘s incipent effort to “wikify” the library catalog. Open Library is also a “fielded wiki,” based on Aaron Schwartz’s superior Infogami platform. You’ll notice that we’ve mostly steered clear of the “traditional” cataloging fields that Open Library is starting from. We do cataloging differently, and we don’t want to duplicate effort. Anyway, we’re hoping they and others mash up the two data sets, and others.

Labels: common knowledge, creative commons, fielded wiki, new feature, open library, wiki

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

LibraryThing at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Well, the rest of us didn’t get a trip to Germany, but Giovanni lucked out—he’s already there. So he gets to represent LibraryThing at the Frankfurt Book Fair.*

Look for him around the AbeBooks booth, and running a discussion: “LibraryThing.de: Meine Bibliothek im Internet.” That’s happening in the “Forum Innovation Hall 4.2 P421″ from 10:45 to 11:15 on Wednesday the 10th (which is today, if you’re in Germany).

*The world’s largest book fair. Tim went last year. Jealous? Me?

Labels: book fairs, Frankfurt, Giovanni

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

“Your library” tab now remembers

I made a small change, but a basic one. It may cause some confusion, so I figured I’d do a quick blog post about it.

The “Your library” tab now “remembers” where you were in your library, rather than resetting things. This recreates the dead (and much-mourned) “back to catalog” button, found on work pages until they were redone. So, if you are on the fifth page of your catalog, go to an author and from there to a tag, a help page, the wiki, your email, a YouTube video of laughing babies and then back to LibraryThing and the “your library” tab, you’ll find it where you left off.

Because it’s basic, there may be some hiccups. Report problems on Talk, here.

Labels: new feature, work pages

Monday, October 8th, 2007

Welcome Felius!

We’ve gone ahead and hired our first full-time, dedicated systems administrator. His name is John Dalton, but you know him as Felius, a LibraryThing member since September 14, 2005—two weeks after we launched! When he bleeds, he bleeds LibraryThing.

John’s mission at LibraryThing is simple:

  • Make things stable
  • Make things fast

John isn’t a miracle worker. A lot of our problems are in code, not systems (ie., blame me)*. Being without a dedicated, full-time “sysadmin” for so long has given him a lot of work to do. And our continued growth is scary. But we’re overjoyed to have him on board, and expect great things.

A few more things:

  • John lives in Tasmania, Australia. Seriously. This presents fewer problems than you might think. Although he’s fifteen hours ahead, everyone at LT works like a maniac, so our work days overlap a lot. And what is to our US and European members late-night maintenance and downtime takes place during his lunch hour.**
  • As we promised when we advertised for the job, whoever discovered our next employee would get a $1,000 book spree. We allowed people to find themself, which is what John did. Don’t you wish you worked for LibraryThing, or at least sent me a note about this guy Felius? He promises to be the first user of our upcoming wishlist feature. Then he’ll get his wish.
  • Favourite authors include Neal Stephenson, Arthur C. Clarke, Neil Gaiman, Bill Bryson and Simon Winchester.***
  • When not watching a dozen terminals or poring over columns of sar output, or reading, John’s interests include spending time with his wife and two young boys, gaming, playing cricket (badly) and occasionally performing in the Tenor section of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

*John is also a programmer, but we’re not going to be calling on these skills regularly. There’s enough pure systems stuff to do.
**Between John in Tasmania, Casey is Seattle and Giovanni in Germany, we can now officially claim that the “sun never sets on LibraryThing.” We can also claim some really complex accounting. John is even paid in Australian dollars, which fluctuate rather wildly against the dollar.
***He and I share Alfred Bester, Clifford Stoll and Paul Graham—right on.

Labels: employees, felius, john dalton, sysadmin, systems adminitration

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Free books: October Early Reviewer books

I’m thrilled to announce our October batch of books for LibraryThing Early Reviewers. This is by far our largest batch yet—12 publishing houses, 31 different titles, for a grand total of 578 copies to give out!

Thanks to the following 12 publishers, who contributed fiction, non-fiction, poetry and even children’s books:

See all the books and request the ones you’d like to review here: http://www.librarything.com/er/list.

And here’s a mash of all the covers:

The deadline to request one of these books is Wednesday, October 10th at noon EST.

What is Early Reviewers? How do I sign up? Where do I post my review? These questions and more are answered here, in the Early Reviewers FAQ.

There’s been some talk lately on how to score a book—so for the record, the basic algorithm is randomness, but other factors come into play. For one thing, LibraryThing’s matching algorithm will try to match up books with readers, based on the rest of your LibraryThing catalog. And if you complete a review—good or bad!—you’re more likely to get another. Finally, getting a free advanced readers copy comes with NO obligation. Under no circumstances will a bad review change your chance of getting another. More on this in the Rules and Conditions.

Labels: early reviewers, LTER, publishers