We hit the Wall Street Journal’s Quick Picks section, with a nice four-paragraph article about LibraryThing by WSJ reporter Ian Mount. In contrast to most pieces, this one puts emphasis on the cataloging side.
The article is very welcome, but its infelicities show how complex LibraryThing’s “story” has become. The books in LibraryThing, the books in the libraries we search, and the books in the stores that integrate with us are all different. It’s hard to get that across right. When you add the social side of LibraryThing, the story becomes impossible. And that’s not including the Early Reviewers program, the 700+ LibraryThing authors, the 39+ libraries using our data, the libraries of dead luminaries and on and on. Something we’re about to unveil will add a whole new dimension to the site.* We’re getting hairier.
The home page needs a redo. I want something that functions as both a gateway to new users and a springboard for users already on the site. I’m contemplating a shift of emphasis, toward “the world of books.” Somehow we need to communicate that LibraryThing isn’t a lightweight catalog program or a way to “friend” bookish people. It’s this ocean of stuff—books you have, books you don’t, book reviews, people who read books you do, conversations about books, authors showing off their books and their libraries, book stores, publishers, etc.
To me, the basic bargain (or “value proposition,” in web design speak) is “catalog some books and this teeming ocean lies before you.” But I can’t think of any way of expressing this without sounding glib and insincere, eg., “LibraryThing: The Ocean of Books!”
It would be interesting to ask members to design the home page. I’m guessing there would be little agreement on what to put there and what to leave out. There are members who only use LibraryThing to catalog, and don’t even like the whole “work” level. There are members who only use it to chat with other book lovers. There are even people—we know who you are, librarians!—who use the book-recommendation features frequently, but have never made an account.
I suppose these are problems you want to have…
*We’re developing a feature which, if I could, I would put after collections. But we agreed to do something many months ago and one of the titans of the internet has us by the ear over it. Seriously. We’re not going to have lunch in this town if we don’t finish it.