Archive for the ‘amazon’ Category

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Extended: Free accounts for new members

Since the Amazon news broke, we’ve been seeing an influx of Goodreads members checking out the site and adding their books—more than 500,000 so far. So we’ve extended our free accounts offer through Friday midnight. Sign up for a new account and we’ll give you a year’s free membership.

Here’s from the original blog post, describing why—in this “free” world—LibraryThing asks for money, even as little as $1/year.


In the wake of Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads, we’ve had some blow-back on the fact that LibraryThing charges for a membership to add more than 200 books. In fact, when you go to pay, it’s pay-what-you-want. The money helps pay for the site, and keeps us advertisement-free for members. Also, we believe customers should be customers, with the loyalty and rights of customers, not the thing we sell to our real customers.

However, some people don’t like it. And we want everyone. So, as a test and a welcome, we’re giving out free year’s accounts to everyone who signs up through the end of Sunday Now Friday midnight Eastern. We’ve also upgraded everyone who signed up since 4pm yesterday.

Here’s what the profile comment looks like. You should get it pretty quickly:


Photo by flickr member chamisa flower.

Labels: amazon, members

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Free accounts through Sunday

In the wake of Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads, we’ve had some blow-back on the fact that LibraryThing charges for a membership to add more than 200 books. In fact, when you go to pay, it’s pay-what-you-want. The money helps pay for the site, and keeps us advertisement-free for members. Also, we believe customers should be customers, with the loyalty and rights of customers, not the thing we sell to our real customers.

However, some people don’t like it. And we want everyone. So, as a test and a welcome, we’re giving out free year’s accounts to everyone who signs up through the end of Sunday. We’ve also upgraded everyone who signed up since 4pm yesterday.

Here’s what the profile comment looks like. You should get it pretty quickly:


Photo by flickr member chamisa flower.

Labels: amazon, fun, gifts

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Amazon buys Goodreads: what does that mean for LibraryThing?

Amazon announced yesterday that they’re buying Goodreads, LibraryThing’s younger brother and competitor. This has the potential to change things for LibraryThing. We’re interested in hearing your thoughts on how we can survive and thrive in a Amazon-Goodreads world.

See the open thread about this: LibraryThing: How to succeed in an Amazon/Goodreads world. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Labels: amazon

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

The Amazon policy change, and how we’re responding.

“Amazon Cardboard Boxes” by Flickr member Akira Ohgaki (Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Summary: Amazon is requiring us remove links to other booksellers on work pages. We’re creating a new “Get it Now” page, with links to other booksellers, especially local bookstores and libraries, and a host of new features. Talk about it here.

The challenge. We’re days away from releasing a series of changes to our book pages, both forced and intentional. Amazon is requiring all websites, as a condition of getting any data from them, to have the primary page link to Amazon alone. Links to other booksellers are prohibited. Secondary pages—pages you go to from the primary page—can have non-Amazon links.

Everyone at LibraryThing disagrees with this decision. LibraryThing is not a social cataloging and social networking site for Amazon customers but for book lovers. Most of us are Amazon customers on Tuesday, and buy from a local bookstore or get from a library on Wednesday and Thursday! We recognize Amazon’s value, but we certainly value options.

Importanly, the decision is probably not even good for Amazon. Together with a new request-monitoring system, banning iPhone applications that use Amazon data, and much of their work on the Kindle, Amazon is retreating from its historic commitment to simplicity, flexibility and openness. They won through openness. Their data is all over the web, and with it millions of links to Amazon. They won’t benefit from a retreat here.

But agree or not, we have to follow their terms. We thought long and hard about giving up Amazon data entirely, converting to library data only, in concert with a commercial provider, like Bowker or Ingram, and with help from publishers and members. Unlike our competitors, who are exclusively based on Amazon and who don’t “catalog” so much as keep track of which Amazon items you have, that option is available to us. But we’d lose a lot, particularly book covers. Ultimately, we’ve decided the disadvantages outweigh the benefits.

The Response. Most of all, we think we’ve found a way to give Amazon what they require, and continue to provide members with options: We’re going cut back our primary-page links to Amazon alone, and give people the best, most diverse secondary pages we can make. We are allowed to link to other booksellers, like IndieBound and Barnes and Noble on secondary pages, and we’re going to do it far better than we ever have. We’re going to take something away, but also make something better—something that goes way past what we did before, in features and in diversity of options.

The upcoming “Get it Now” page will go far beyond our current “Buy, borrow, swap” links, with a live new and used price-comparison engine, as well as sections for ebooks, audiobooks and swap sites. The page will be edition-aware, and draw on feeds or live data (so the links work). Many members have wanted live pricing data for the books they already own and these features can be used for that purpose too. We’ll also be doing some stuff with libraries nobody else has, or can, do.

Key to the upcoming Get it Now page is a “Local” module, drawing on LibraryThing Local, showing all the libraries and bookstores near you. Where possible, this list will incorporate holdings data and links to buy—the sort of information you never get from a Google search on a book. If not, we’ll give you their telephone numbers and show you where they are on a map. We’ll make the page customizable, and let members add sources to it.

We think the new page will make a lot of members happy. For one thing, LibraryThing has never been about buying books, so having all these links on a separate page won’t be a great loss. And if the new format doesn’t make members happy, we’ll listen, and together we can plan to take LibraryThing on a truly independent course.

Post your comment here, or come talk about this on Site Talk.

Labels: amazon, apis, google, open data

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

The Guardian on homophily

From Ethan Zuckerman’s blog post.

The Guardian (UK) yesterday carried a wonderful column by Oliver Burkeman, “This column will change your life” on a topic dear to our heart—and mentioning LibraryThing to boot.

The topic is “homophily,” the “faintly depressing human tendency to seek out and spend time with those most similar to us.” Homophily informs whom we spent time with and filters our understanding of the wider world. As the author writes, his American friends were sure Obama was going to win:

“[T]hey hadn’t met one person—not one!—who planned on voting Republican. They were right about the outcome, of course. But 58m people voted against Obama; it was just that you didn’t run into them in the coffee shops of Brooklyn.”

Quoting the Harvard sociologist Ethan Zuckerman that “Homophily causes ignorance,” Burkeman adds that it tends to make people more extreme. The internet can increase the effect, allowing dittoheads of various persuasions to “exist almost entirely within a feedback loop shaped by your own preferences.”*

Burkeman closes by recommending the LibraryThing Unsuggester:

“You don’t need technology to do that, but then again, technology needn’t be the enemy: Facebook could easily offer a list of the People You’re Least Likely To Know; imagine what that could do for cross-cultural understanding. And I love the Unsuggester, a feature of the books site LibraryThing.com: enter a book you’ve recently read, and it’ll provide a list of titles least likely to appear alongside it on other people’s bookshelves. Tell it you’re a fan of Kant’s Critique Of Pure Reason, and it’ll suggest you read Confessions Of A Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. And maybe you should.”

The topic is interesting to me from a number of different angles. First, as a social network that works largely through shared reading, LibraryThing gets the upside of homophily and is subject to the downside too.

Second, with Zuckerman, I’ve fascinated by the notion of serendipity, of “surprising someone helpfully.” As I’ve argued to library audiences in the past, both Amazon-style collaborative filtering and contemporary library catalogs are bad at serendipity—worse, in some ways, than browsing physical shelves can be. As Zuckerman notes, the somewhat mechanical process of subject assignment can break through the “flocking together” tendency of collaborative filtering. But I bet there are better ways too. Is a true “serendipity algorithm” possible?

Third, my own experience is characterized by some rather vexed homophily issues. Zuckerman mentions “02138″ at one point, no doubt baffling some internet listeners. It is, of course, the zipcode of Harvard and much of west Cambridge, where I grew up and spent most of my life. A popular t-shirt (I own one) proclaims “02138: The World’s Most Opinionated Zip Code,”** but there can be no mistaking that opinions largely go one way. Growing up in Cambridge, and attending a certain private school, taught me that respect for diversity was at the center of human virtues—something I still agree with—but that everyone had houses filled with books***, Volvo was the nation’s most popular automaker, that large families and stay-at-home mothers were suspect, that religion was for mental defectives, that Mondale was going to win in 1984, and so forth. In a very real way Cambridge taught me how to think—and I’ve spent the rest of my life thinking through what to keep and what to chuck.

For more on this topic, check out:


*David Weinberger has a very good reply somewhere—in Everything is Miscellaneous?—where David argues (as I recall) that this is an unrealistic notion. Conversations happen because of shared ground. I shall avoid thumbnailing any more because I shall surely get it wrong.
**See Flickr user Nabeel_H for the motto on a window, allegedly quoting the NYT. 02138 is now also the title of a Magazine for Harvard Alumni (see it). As a lifelong resident of 02138, but not a Harvard Alumnus, I am considerably irritated that four-years residence in that second-rate sausage factory gives people the right to claim my zipcode.
***Certain books, mind you. I am a great connoisseur of Cambridge bookshelves.

Labels: amazon, ethan zuckerman, homophily, social networking

Friday, January 9th, 2009

Will you like it?

I added something I’ve been working off-and-on for about a year*: “Will you like it?” Here’s an example, correctly predicting that I will like Nabokov’s King, Queen, Knave:

You’ll find the section on work pages.

Because it requires a lot of processing, you have to click to get the result. Here it is, correctly predicting that I would not enjoy a popular book about Knitting:

Each assessment has a “certainty” score (eg., “high,” “low,” etc.) based largely on how popular the book is. You can see the raw scores by hovering over the downward arrow.

How good is it? Meh. It’sokay.

This is a devilishly hard algorithm to get right. I have some ideas for improvement, but it’s fundamentally a lark and a conversation piece at present, so I don’t want to waste too much time on it.

How it works. In case you’re interested, it works completely apart from our book-to-book recommendation system, or the system that aggregates those recommendations into member-specific lists of 1,000 recommended books. Instead, “Will you like it?” works directly from the data, examining the users who have a book and how their books relate to yours.

As such, it isn’t very good at sussing out where your tastes differ from those of people who share your books. For example, my large collection of books on Greek history match me up with people who enjoy other ancient history, but I am not that interested in early Republican Rome, no matter what the algorithm thinks.

What’s interesting? I’m not going to claim it’s perfect, but it’s interesting that, to my knowledge, nobody’s every tried this before.

I think this is yet another case of Amazon limiting the horizons of what people imagine online, particularly in the online book world. Amazon pioneered book-to-book and user-to-book reviews. The work was groundbreaking but it was also routed in commercial success. User-to-book recommendations drive customers to books they’ll like and book-to-book recommendations help them find the perfect book, as well as increase the number of items in each order. Giving people honest assessments of whether they’ll like a book is murkier. Does Amazon want to tell a customer they won’t enjoy something? And what if they’re wrong?

Meanwhile, LibraryThing succeeds by being fun and interesting, not by selling books. It gives us a rare freedom to invent features that don’t sell books, like our Unsuggester—what books will you hate?—and now this.

I started a topic to discuss it.


*Don’t worry. This didn’t distract. I just pushed two combination/separation bug fixes, and Chris and I are hard at work on the catalog, in preparation for some larger changes (ETA: one week?).

Labels: amazon, new features, recommendations

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Abebooks news: The scoop for LibraryThing

Today Abebooks, the Canadian bookseller, announced that it was being acquired by Amazon, a company that needs little introduction. (See Amazon press release.)

Abebooks owns a minority stake in LibraryThing. This means that, after regulatory approval and finalization, Amazon will become, through Abebooks, a minority investor in LibraryThing.

I congratulate Amazon on a shrewd acquisition. Abebooks is a great company, full of wonderful people. They have accomplished great things (link). I have no inside info, but I can foresee Amazon’s extraordinary technical infrastructure giving Abe a big lift.
Here’s the scoop:

  • LibraryThing did not have any knowledge of or influence over this deal.
  • The majority of LibraryThing is in my hands. Abebooks holds a minority of the shares, with certain notable but limited rights. This situation does not change when Amazon acquires Abebooks.
  • Amazon will not get access to your data. The LibraryThing/Abebooks terms are specific. Abe gets only anonymized and aggregate data, like recommendations, and they can only use it on Abebooks sites (eg., Abebooks.com, Abebooks.de). Nothing has changed here.
  • Abebooks customers won’t see much a difference. The name will survive and the Abebooks.com site will continue. Both employees and management will remain in Canada.
  • LibraryThing remains LibraryThing. We will continue to uphold and advance LibraryThing values, including open data, strict privacy rules and support for libraries and independent bookstores.

As always, I want your feedback on how to make LibraryThing the best book site on the web. I’ve started a Talk post to talk about all of this, or you can comment here.

Stay tuned for two more blog posts, both major. We have rushed two projects forward that demonstrate LibraryThing’s commitment to open data and support for libraries and other book lovers.

Tim Spalding

Updates:

  • Check out the blog post of Boris Wertz, long-time COO of Abe and co-founder of JustBooks.
  • Local Victoria TV has a story with a good photo of Hannes, the CEO.
  • It’s funny to watch the news fly by. 90% of the news stories rehash the press release without pointing to it, as if they are engaging in reporting. Odd

Labels: abebooks, amazon, canada

Friday, August 3rd, 2007

Amazon Vine and Early Reviewers

Amazon has just announced Amazon Vine. Basically, it’s our LibraryThing Early Reviewers idea—a way to get publishers’ pre-release books to interested and vocal reviewers. As they put it:

“Vine helps our vendors generate awareness for new and pre-release products by connecting them with the voice of the Amazon community: our reviewers. Vine members, called Voices, may request free copies of items enrolled in the program and have the ability to share their opinions before these products become generally available.”

Apparently Amazon had experimented with sending-out ARCs before. But we suspect they were not unaware of LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program, which made Publishers Weekly, Pub Lunch and top publishing blogs. It makes a lot of sense for them to be doing.

So far the program is email invite only. They’re apparently basing invitations on being among their top reviewers. By contrast, Early Reviewers program is based around similar libraries, although we favor “vocal” members too. Ultimately, we think LibraryThing is in a better position to give books to the best readers, but there’s no denying Amazon’s scale and, if they put their mind to it, they’ve done remarkable things with recommendations algorithms before.

Lastly, Amazon is to be congratulated for stating unequivocally that will not be editing negative reviews:

“As with all Amazon reviews, we want your honest opinion of the product. Amazon will not edit or modify any reviews beyond small tweaks to fit within existing guidelines…”

This is in line with how Amazon has always worked. As James Marcus writes in Amazonia, their decision to show bad reviews was a gutsy decision at the time—a reminder of the “bad old days” of marketing! I hope they follow this up with what we promise: that negative reviews will not impact whether you continue to get Amazon Vine books.

Labels: amazon, ARCs, AREs, early reviewers