Archive for May, 2008

Friday, May 30th, 2008

LA meet up

We’re having a LibraryThing meet up at the Library Bar in LA tonight! Come join us for a beer around 7 pm.

It’s downtown, at 630 West 6th St (directions and a map here).

Labels: la, meet up

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

LibraryThing at BookExpo America

Tim and I are off to Los Angeles in the morning (in the very very early morning) to go to BookExpo America (BEA)—the US’s biggest book fair. It’s always a fun event, full of authors and publishers and booksellers and librarians and other book-industry-types.

The event is limited to people within the “book industry”, but that includes you, librarians, so come on down! Free advance copies of books, meeting publishers, conference sessions about programming events and new book titles—BEA is very librarian friendly. Online registration is closed, but you can still get in at the door.

If you’re at a loss for things to do (how could you be?) Tim is giving a talk (“Social Cataloging and Social Networking Experimentation: Insights from LibraryThing”) from 4-5 on Thursday (May 29th).

On LibraryThing, check out the BEA 2008 group and BookExpo America on LibraryThing Local. I started adding events to the listing on Local, but there are over 600 author autographing sessions so I gave up.

And if you’re going to be at BEA and want to set up a meeting (want to know more about Early Reviewers? Author Chat? Listing events or getting your bookstore into LibraryThing Local?), just drop me an email (abbylibrarything.com)

Meet up at the Library Bar — 7pm Friday night
While we’re there, we’re having an LA meet-up of LibraryThing members. So whether you’re in the area just for BEA, or you live there, it’s the perfect excuse to have a beer with us! Come join us at the Library Bar (630 West 6th St.—directions here) on Friday night (May 30th) at 7pm.

And everyone should check out the menu, even if you can’t come. The beer list is broken down into sections like “American Authors”, “Epic Novels”, “Women’s Studies”, and “Periodicals”. How can you resist?

Labels: bea, la, meet up

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Recommendations, part 2

I’ve added a few improvements to the new member recommendations:

  • You can now dismiss individual recommendations and never see them again.
  • I’ve added a checkbox to make member book recommendations reciprocal–so both books recommend each other.
  • The Recommendations Zeitgeist page is more complete.

Labels: new feature

Monday, May 26th, 2008

LibraryThing recommendations!



LibraryThing Recommendations—called “the best feature on the site” by one user—are back and much better than before.

You can find recommendations at the top of your profile page. Or check out mine.

The new recommendations include:

  • A large number of primary recommendations for ever member—usually 1,000—based on a single comprehensive algorithm.
  • Individual recommendation lists for each member’s tags.
  • Filtering of recommendations by popular LibraryThing tags.
  • Individual lists of other members’ recommendations (member recommendations were added two weeks ago)
  • Up to 500 so-bad-they’re-good recommendations, building off the LibraryThing Unsuggester, and called “Your Unsuggester.”* We hope “What I shouldn’t read” has some meme legs.
  • A “why” feature for each recommendation, laying out what the recommendation was based on.
  • A pony.**

I let the recommendations themselves out early—see the original talk post, with over 140 messages!—and members had mostly positive reactions. Those who don’t like them can perhaps be molified by the greater number and ways to filter and angle the recommendations.

Recommendations now change daily—faster if you are below 200 books and keep adding them. The system keeps track of all recommendations and when you received them. In the near future I plan to provide personalized recommendation emails based on new recommendations.

I’ve created a new Talk thread to discuss the changes, and suggest changes. My thanks to those who participated in the initial thread, influencing development in a number of important ways.


*If Thomas Jefferson is in Hell, I am confident the Devil is torturing him with books from Jefferson’s Unsuggester List—heavy on the chick- and tween-lit!
*With apologies to Last.fm.

Labels: new feature, recommendations

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Works, editions, ISBNs and cocktails


We got your Harry Potter and the Angus an Orchloch right here!

Short verson.I’ve just completed a major change in the “substructure” of LibraryThing’s data, the “works system” that links different editions together. The system is better and will allow more betterness down the road. It was the reason we were down most of last night. We regret that, but think the change will prove worth it.

Long version—What are “Works?” LibraryThing’s work system brings users together around the books they’ve read, not the peculiarities of publisher, format or even language. Works are created and tended by members, who “combine” editions together into works. Anyone can do it, but the die-hards created a large and active group—Combiners!—to trade tips, debate philosophy, muster effort—and complain about the system!

Combiners is a remarkable community, and one that has gone without a nod from me for some time. I hope these changes encourage them, and the prospect of future improvements built on surer footing.


The Combiners! know the stakes, as their group logo tells us.

Since the beginning I’ve promoted the idea of the “cocktail party” test.* This test answers whether two books belong to the same work by asking whether their readers would, in casual conversation, own up to reading the same book or not. So, for example, in such a context it wouldn’t matter if you had read a book in its hardcover or paperback edition, or listened to it on CD. If the cute girl with the backless dress mentions she’s fond of the Unbearable Lightness of Being, the edition is immaterial (but see this link). I also suspect that title differences occasioned by marketing considerations—eg., Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (UK) vs. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (US)—wouldn’t matter. Nor should language itself matter; few would turn a cold shoulder to a Finnish Tolkien fan merely because he read Tolkien in Finnish.**

What’s Changed? The core concept used to be that a work consisted of a discrete set of title-author pairs. We chose title-author to emphasize the loose, verbal nature of the cocktail party test, and because ISBNs are much less perfect than many believe.*** These title-author pairs we called “editions.”

Unfortunately, there are a small number of works that can’t be identified based on title and author alone. This happens particularly in science fiction and graphic novels. (Apparently the Fantasy Hall of Fame currently entombs two distinct works—same title, same authors but different contents and publisher. Someone should be punished for that.) My bête noire are Cliff’s Notes filed in with the works they “interpret.” No appletini for you “Great Expectations”!

The system still automatically assigns new editions based on author and title. But I’ve added ISBNs to the mix, so members can combine and separate editions looking at and according to their ISBNs.

Other changes:

  • Title-author-ISBN bundles are now distiguished by the smallest details, so you can separate “Hard Times” from “Hard times” from “Hard times” with a period at the end. It has vastly increased the number of editions in the system. (There are now more than 1,200 editions of the Hobbit!) This is was mostly a technical decision.
  • The original system produced a few “hash collisions,” utterly different books thrown in together unhappily. This has been a long-running defect—and complaint. The new system will allow their separation, although existing ones will need to be separated.
  • The Combination and Debris (renamed “Editions”) pages should be faster. Some will start—and stall!—on a message about updating edition information. Once the editions have been calculated, the page will be faster.

As mentioned above, the new system was responsible for our extended downtime last night. Between a few mistakes and a database just shy of 27 million books, it took longer than we thought. I hope that the changes prove worthwhile in and of themselves.

Being much better designed, the new system should enable:

  • Edition-level pages
  • Edition-to-edition and work-to-work relationships
  • Member and book matching that takes editions into account
  • An end to the “dead languages” exception to the cocktail party test.
  • More opportunities for me to discuss the Pop-Up Kama Sutra at library conferences.

I’ve created a Talk thread for members who want to discuss the changes.


*Perhaps wishing I’d get invited to a few more cocktail parties! Speaking of which, are you going to Book Expo America 2008 in Los Angeles? We are.
**Whether you choose to avoid the Finnish Tolkien fan at cocktail parties is, of course, up to you.
***In fact, publishers recycle ISBNs, steal ISBNs, make up ISBNs, print wrong ISBNs, apply ISBNs to large sets of seemingly discrete items and otherwise abuse the system all the time. Most of the time they work in a bookstore context. They aren’t really fit for a project of LibraryThing’s size and scope.

Labels: frbr, library science, new feature, work pages, works

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Import upgrade

Mike—welcome Mike!*—has completed a major upgrade to the import system. The improvements are:

  • Better user interface.
  • Import now reads files from LibraryThing competitors, so you can move to us or synch your accounts.
  • Depending on the site, we pick up tags, reviews, ratings and comments. If you already have the books in your library, you avoiding adding the books again, but synch your user data.
  • The sites include Anobii, Shelfari and Goodreads. If you use someone else—there are more than 35 of them!—let us know. If the offer export—not all sites do—we can work it out.
  • If your file is formatted properly—formatted like the LibraryThing export or any of our competitors’—we now import non-ISBN books.

Import is still based on the idea that—when possible—LibraryThing re-fetches the bibliographic data. This adds another step, an “import queue.” But it also allows members to import full records, which no other site exports, and to get high-quality library data, if they want it.

Tell us what you think on Talk. It’s probably going to take a while to spell out what it does and doesn’t do and to update the old Adding and Importing FAQs.


*Mike (member: notmydadslibrary) is a new intern up here in Portland. This was a doozy of a first project!

Labels: import, new feature

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Member book recommendations

I’ve just added a small new feature, Member recommendations. You can check it out under “Recommendations” here or here.*

Basically, you can now add your own recommendations to LibraryThing’s six (!) algorithmic recommendations. If you want, you can also leave a short explanation of your choice.

I’m throwing this one out pretty raw.** It’s available from the primary page of a work, and from its recommendation page, and on a single Member Recommendations page.

To be done:

  • A way to see all the recommendations you’ve given
  • A way to see all the recommendations others have applied to your books
  • Recommendation flagging
  • Up/down voting on recommendations?

Come talk about the feature and where it could go on Talk here.


*I hope to link to some better examples soon, one members start adding them. I find fiction recommendations very hard, so most of my recommendations so far have been off ancient history, which makes the feature seem much less interesting than it is!
**I’ve had this on ice for a while, while dealing with tags and scaling issues. I don’t think I’m going to be making major changes until Chris comes back from paternity leave later this week or next.

Labels: new feature, recommendations

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

LibraryThing at the Philadelphia Book Festival

This weekend I represented LibraryThing at the Philadelphia Book Festival*. We had a booth, where I got to geek out about books and LibraryThing with readers, authors, and various styles of bibliophile.

I also gave a talk on the fine, fine merits of LibraryThing.

I met some awesome LibraryThing members, and a number of people who I think will be joining our ranks.

I’m glad to have gone to such a book-lovin’ event, in a really cool city.

*Abby was originally supposed to go, but I went in her stead.

Labels: event, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Book Festival, Sonya

Friday, May 16th, 2008

Two More Legacies Finished

The ever-growing pantheon of Legacy Libraries now includes two new members.

LTers Larxol and moibibliomaniac have cataloged the library of Samuel Johnson from the 1784 sale catalogue of his books (which, while neither complete nor accurate, is the best list available of the good Doctor’s library in his later years). Not surprisingly, Johnson shares many of his 748 books with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams (168 and 63 books respectively). The overlaps are endlessly fascinating, I think.

My own latest and long-running project has been the library of the Mather Family. This collection was accumulated by (and then dispersed among) members of several Mather generations, from patriarch Richard down through several of his great-grandsons. So far as I’ve been able to tell, this is the first time this collection has been put together in one place (a 1910 bibliography included a fair portion of the books, but not all of them; I’ve tracked down all the ones I can find, but I’m sure there are more out there squirreled away in other libraries, so I’ll be on the lookout for additions. I’ve written a (probably much too) lengthy introduction to collection on the Mather Family profile page, and if you’re so inclined have posted a few more of my own musings on this library here.

As always, anyone is welcome to participate in the Legacy projects (or start your own!). Stop by anytime.

Labels: legacies

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Top ten suggestions


Member lilypadma suggested we hire more people. But finding new good people is hard, so we opted for cloning.**

Just over a week ago* we asked members to come up with their recommendations on “Ten Ways to Make LibraryThing Better.” We promised to pick twenty-five winners, including ten winning answers and fifteen random picks.

Members heard the call, writing 259 answers for a total of 45,000 words–slightly longer than Henry James’s Turn of the Screw. Last week Sonya, Abby, Casey and I got together to work on LibraryThing for Libraries. We took a break on Wednesday to (drink and) read through the answers. We couldn’t pick just ten winners, so I’ve expanded it to 17–32 winners total. We could have easily done 50 more.

The Prizes. Winners get to chose between (1) A CueCat barcode scanner; (2) A LibraryThing t-shirt; (3) First dibs on a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.

Winners should let Abby (abby@librarything.com) know what you want. If you want the Early Reviewer book, you’re also going to need to change your Early Reviewers picks to select just one book. We’re going to give you an “ER mojo” of a million, so whatever you pick, you’ll get.

The Winners. Random Winners: rfb, maryanntherese, jocainster, Imprinted, circeus, jabogaer, rastaphrog, claudiuo, jjmcgaffey, arnzen, trojanpotato, surly, phoenixfire, sigridsmith

sophies_choice (7): “Let us mark which books are our favourite.” I’m divided whether to make this work like author and venue favorites, or to make it a “collection.”

PhoenixTerran (31): “Update debris and author pages immediately after combining/separating has occurred” A big leap is going to happen here very soon, with the introduction of a more stable “editions” layer. I’m actually doing edition-level calculations in the background today, with an eye to inaugurating the system on a limited basis tonight.

Philtill (160): We all loved Philtill’s ten suggestions, which amount to “Make LibraryThing more like Tickle.” There are dangers to personality tests and statistical correlatons, of course. But we love to play with data, and “tell me about myself” is one of the main reasons people use LibraryThing anyway. So, expect us to take these ideas seriously.

jocainster (28): “Add a link to the book’s main page in the ‘Recently Added’ section.” Abby had to be restrained after reading this one.

parelle (44): Parelle wrote two related suggestions–LT bookmarks and a parnership with Moo Cards. dreamlikecheese focused in on sending cards to libraries and bookshops. This is one area we’re definitely going to look into.

sabreuse (152). “I was at a conference last week where I picked up several new books, but didn’t have internet access all day. And I realized that I want to be able to add books by SMS, the same way I can send photos directly to flickr or add events to my google calendar by text message, both of which I do all the time. I’d love to be able to add new ISBNs to my library while I’m out shopping, or traveling, or tied up away from a computer.”

nperrin (17): “Some ingenious way to link books to books about them. If I’m looking at a novel, I want to know how to find the best criticism of that novel or author.”

usquam (109): “Work with publishers to get better integration of their catalogues into LibraryThing. They should have covers, contents, editions, etc – as per the new ‘series’ area, it would be interesting to see what we have from a particular publisher, and then have them show other editions or titles we might like or are missing.”

susiebright (155): “I loved Secret Santa; it was the hightlight of my Xmas gift giving because it was so entirely unexpected. I think you should offer a ‘Birthday Surprise’ gift program of the same kind. You pick a ‘birthday kid’s name’ out of the hat, and send them a book based on what you glean from their library!’” We’re thinking that BirthdayThing could be hard to arrange, but doing a mid-year (June 25?) Secret Santa sounds fun. This time, members are doing the ordering!

yhoitink (9): “Add the European Library as a source.” Casey is squarely behind this one.

amysisson (87): “a virtual ‘badge’ or ‘ribbon’ (like LT author) for on the profile pages of people who’ve contributed over a certain level(s) of info, such as CK or combining” I’d love to do something like this. I’m attracted to the Barnstar model.

papyri (95): “Provenance, ex-libris (previous owner(s)) info listing (can be done like multiple authors). Possibly including dates and locations. Privacy option for this would be nice.” Sophies_Choice also suggested this be integrated with LT Local. Good stuff.

ssd7 (111) “Cross Source Searching. So, I would like to get my data from the LoC. But I would also like to just punch in an ISBN. These two desires are not always compatible since searching on ISBN’s often yields nothing from the LoC. When a search returns no results why not use the LT database or Amazon to find the title and then research for the user? Or at the very least let me set up a ‘priority’ listing of the sources so that if LoC yields nothing, it will automagically search Amazon.” ssd7 (111) also suggested “Open source the code.” This continues to interest us. No promises.

hegelian (16): “OpenID might be a smarter way to login for some people.”

_Zoe_ (24): “The ability to reset the unread marker at the message you’ve actually read up to.”

zcannon (25): “A widget that works on WordPress.”

TerrierGirl (34): “Could each book’s original copyright year be added to the my library, add to library screens? This would help interested potential readers place each book in time. Also, it would tell a reader when a particular book fell within that writer’s career.” I’ve wanted to do this for some time.

Notes on Method. We decided to leave off a small number of common topics, including collections, author disambiguation, HelpThing, tagging of groups, web links on book pages, more than seven columns, and a Facebook application. They are very much on our radar already. Seeing them over and over again had its effect, you can be sure.

We also left off suggestions for features completed since we asked the question, like better tags, and to avoid new features in favor of bug-fixing. It’s a delicate thing, and not one we’ve always gotten right, I’ll admit. I’ve been on a bug-fixing and performance kick recently.


*That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!
**The person you don’t know is Mike, a local Portland programmer working with us part-time for a few months. Note, I was supposed to be also sitting in the chair—reading Everything is Miscellaneous—but there was a tragic head/butt airspace issue.

Labels: employees, features, fun