Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Common Knowledge: Names, Relationships and Events

Chris and I have introduced four new Common Knowledge fields, for authors and works.

Author Names. LibraryThing’s author system is personally libertarian and globally democratic. You can change your own author names to your heart’s delight. On the global level author names are combined and separated by members, with the most common name ending up on top.

That system has two main problems. First, Library has no good method for separatin out homonymous authors. (It’s a big problem; it’s on our list.) And most-common logic has its limitations, particularly in picking the best name for an author and in laying out what the many variants mean.

To improve things we’ve added a number of optional name fields. “Canonical name” was already there, as a foolproof way to set the “most common” form. To this we’ve added “Legal name” and “Other names.”

“Legal Name” is provided for users who want to record the most accurate, most fiddly form of a name, eg., “George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron.” It can hold multiple names, to capture given names, and so forth.* “Other names” is for pen names, aliases, stage names, etc.

Two examples should illustrate the differences nicely:

Canonical Name: Twain, Mark
Legal Name: Clemens, Samuel Langhorne
Other Names: Snodgrass, Quintus Curtius
Canonical Name: Rice, Anne
Legal Name: Rice, Howard Allan Frances O’Brien
O’Brien, Howard Allen (given)
Other Names: Rampling, Anne
Roquelaure, A. N.

Relationships. We’ve also added a “Relationships” field, intended to capture when an author’s spouse, son or other relative is also an author (eg., Martin Amis). So far at least, it’s only intended to capture author-to-author relations, creating author-page links. LibraryThing can’t be a all-out genealogy site!*

The result can be rather fun. Starting from Isabel Fonseca, author of Attachment you can now go to well-known British novelist Martin Amis, to his well-known father Kingsley Amis, to his second wife, the British novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, to her first huband Peter Scott, a popular naturalist whose father was Robert Falcon Scott (Scott of the Antarctic) and godfather Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie, great grandfather of Kevin Bacon (not true).

Events. We’ve also added an “Important Events” field to works. “Important Events” now follows “Persons” and “Important Places.” It was designed for events like the Great Fire of London, World War II or the 2000 Election.

As with Important Places, it is useful to agree on terms. CK’s autocomplete function helps there. When in doubt, however, I’d go with the Wikipedia form for both fields.

*Porn names not allowed.
**I’m not so sure about “friend” relationships, although that’s currently allowed. I found it difficult enough to reach an end from Isabel Fonseca. With friends, I don’t think I could have ever stopped.

Labels: authors, common knowledge, new features


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