The Motive. From the beginning, LibraryThing members have used the site for different things. Some used it to list only the books they own, others what they’ve read and a few even just the books they wanted. Meanwhile, people like me used it for everything—owned, read, lost, destroyed, wanted—using tagging as our sole way of keeping everything straight. But even tag-zealots like me had to admit there were times you wanted sharper distinctions—”buckets” or “sub-libraries”—and ways to tie those to how you connected with other members and with book recommendations. New members, whether familiar with tags or not, were regularly asking for some way to do wishlists and currently-reading lists.
The Feature. The feature, literally years in the making, gives members the ability to separate out categories of books, like “Wishlist” and “Currently reading” more definitely than could be accomplished with tags. Each collections works like a mini library and can be separately viewed, sorted and searched. Other members can see your collections, on your profile and elsewhere. Features like member-to-member connection and book recommendations react to the new system as well. (See below on integration progress.)
As we offer users new flexibility, we avoid forcing members into “our” way of thinking about books. We’ve provided a number of default collections—Your library, Wishlist, Currently reading, To read, Read but unowned and Favorites. Data from these collections can be aggregated across all users, and their names are even translated on LibraryThing’s non-English sites. But you can also create your own collections, and remove ours. And you can ignore collections entirely, keeping everything in “Your library.”
A Work in Progress. As members know, we play things pretty fast and lose here. Our motto is “beta, forevah!” But collections had to be different. Before public release we subjected it to a month of testing in our large (and non-exclusive) BETA Group. We cannot thank that group enough for all the work they did, and the passion they showed.
We hope we got most of the major bugs, but the feature is not “finished”—and this is hardly the last blog post you’ll see about the feature! Most significantly, collections is now mostly a “cataloging” feature, with only limited reach to other areas of the site. Although you can specify how collections affects member connections and recommendations—so you can stop having your Wishlist or for that matter your husband’s books running the social and recommendation parts of the site—implementation is basic and, in light of extraordinary collections-related load, there’s a lot of caching in place. We left a few features out in order to get it the main features out now.*
We also think “unfinished” (we prefer not prematurely specified) features are the best way to engage users, and get the best for everyone. Come and contribute on Recommended Site Improvements and Bug Collectors. We also have a Announcement post in New Features.
*We had spec’ed out a complex interaction between reading-dates and “Currently reading.” But the system was probably more than most members wanted. And it certainly was taking a long time to finish, so, for now at least “Currently reading” is just a collection.
Credits: Chris (conceptDawg) headed up the project, doing most of the user interface and a majority of the back-end code. Chris and I (timspalding) designed the feature together, and I did some core back-end code. Abby (ablachly) didn’t code, but she dogged us about it for years. (I’m not sure what she’s going to do with herself now.) But the most important factor was the members. Members, particularly the BETA group, contributed to the effort as I’ve never seen it—not in any website or project, ever. Chris and I owe members an enormous amount. (I’ll be blogging about this specifically soon. It needs telling.)
Top photo by radiant_guy” (Flickr, CC-SA).