Archive for the ‘features’ Category

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

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Better default cover images?

There are a few small, but cool things about Google Book Search. I’m fond of book covers they show when a book doesn’t have a cover.

It’s quite a simple trick—a series of default images with HTML text over them. Here’s my shot at the same technique, using an image I found online, doctored somewhat.* (I’ve put it on the new work page I’m developing, a much simpler one.)

I think it would be cool to have a bunch of these, including ones with more personality, and to allow people to choose among them if they want.

Personally, I’d love to make one for my Loeb Classical Library books. Those are the read/green Latin/Greek books you’ve seen racked up at well-stocked Borders. I’ve got dozens of them. Most of mine are old and don’t have ISBNs. They show up as identical beige rectangles now. In the real world, they all look the same too, but they’re much more distinctive. (Martha Stewart Living** has a great photo of a set she bought for her daughter’s East Hampton cottage.)

This isn’t a priority obviously.*** But I think it would be fun to do at some point, I think—and to get others involved with. If anyone wants to help out, let me know. Either way, maybe we can do a contest for it later.


*Copyright doesn’t protect a faithful photograph of a cover such as this. Copyright requires an element of originality. Scans–such as the scans used by Google books and others–can’t be separately copyrighted either. The underlying book can be, if it hasn’t expired, but a perfectly faithful scan cannot. Sites like Google get around this problem by writing restrictions into the terms of use.
**Not a common read for me… I love the web. I found a reference here. Apparently decorating with Loebs is a fairly common thing. According to this link, Martin Scorsese has a decorative set as well. According to this link, Oprah has one too. She should do a Book Club on Silius Italicus.
***And no criticism about blogging this instead of doing [fill in bug or feature here], please. I’m pushing 14 hours today! :)

Labels: features

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Google Book Search Search…

I am voluntarily and temporarily suspending Google Book Search Search, our effort to distribute the task of collecting Google books IDs for LibraryThing members through a browser “bookmarket.”

I am talking with Google about some other approaches that they might be able to simplify the process of linking to Book Search pages. Google has communicated their desire to make it easy for sites like LibraryThing and libraries to link to Google books appropriately and successfully.

The GBSS bookmarklet showed the power of the LibraryThing community. In about a day more than 1,500 LibraryThing members (and many non-members) installed the bookmarklet and collected GBS link data for over 253,000 of theirs and others books. If we had solved more of the browser issues, I’m sure we would have collected many more.

The links members discovered will be kept, and the data is available. We will be adding new tools for members to edit and add Google book ID information by hand, if necessary.

As you may guess, we are going to be doing some listening, some talking and some thinking. I would be grateful for your continued support as we work through this.

Labels: features, google book search

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Google Book Search … on LibraryThing

Introducing something new we’re calling “Google Book Search Search.”

Google Book Search Search is a bookmarklet that searches Google Book Search for the titles in your LibraryThing library. It works not unlike the famous SETI@Home project. You set it up and searches Google Book Search slowly in the background.* You can watch, do something in another window or go out for coffee.

When it’s done you can link to and search all the books in your library that Google has scanned. You’ll find a “search this book” link on work pages, and a Google Book Search field to add to the list view in your catalog.

But this isn’t just a selfish thing. There’s a lot of searching to do, and you can help. If you choose, you can pitch in and help with others’ books. All of the data gathered is free and available to everyone. A lot of people want a reliable index of what Google has, not least libraries.

What do I do?

Google Book Search Search is a “bookmarklet.” You save it to your “favorites” or “bookmarks.” Then you got to Google Book Search and you click it. You can see what pops up on the right.*** Press start and it will start collecting information.

Here it is: Google Book Search Search

We’ve tested it on FF and Safari on the Mac, and FF and IE7 and IE5.5 on the PC. We haven’t tested it on PC IE6 yet. I have no idea about Opera.

Why a bookmarklet?

We’ve wanted to do this for a long time. But to link to a book on Google reliably you need its Google ID. For some reason Google doesn’t publish these, making it impossible to tell what they have and what they don’t, and impossible for sites like LibraryThing to send them the traffic they want. Secretive and self-defeating? Seems like it to me.

Efforts have been made to collect Google IDs before. The well-known Lib 2.0 blogger John Blyberg tried, as have others. We tried too. The trick is that Google Book Search—like the rest of Google—has a system in place to stop machine queries.**

Making a bookmarklet distributes the work. And because it takes place within a browser, it tends not to trigger machine-collection warnings.

Ultimately, however, Google can put a stop to this. The bookmarklet has a signature. And Google can send us a note, and we’ll disable the bookmarklets. Just as Google respects the robots.txt file, we’ll respect such a request.

Why not use “My Library”?

Last week Google introduced an interesting “My Library” feature, allowing people with Google accounts to list some of their books. A few tech bloggers saw an attack on LibraryThing.

LibraryThing members were quick to dismiss it. It wasn’t so much the lack of any social features, or of cataloging features as basic as sorting your books. It wasn’t even the privacy issues, although these gave many pause. It was the coverage.

Google just doesn’t have the sort of books that regular people have. Most of their books come from a handful of academic libraries, and academic libraries don’t have the same editions regular people have. Then there are the books publishers have explicitly removed from Google Book Search. Success rates of below 50% were common. Of these a high percentage are only “limited preview” or “no preview.”

The Google-kills-LibraryThing meme has another dimension. We WANT people to use Google Book Search. It’s a great tool. Being able to search your own books is useful, and LibraryThing members should be able to do it. Call us naive, but we aren’t going to be able to “pretend Google isn’t there.” And we aren’t convinced that Google is going to create the sort of robust cataloging and social networking features that LibraryThing has.

Our bookmarklet works by transcending ISBNs, using what LibraryThing knows about titles, authors and dates to fetch other editions of a work. In limited tests I’ve found it picks up around 90% of LibraryThing titles.

Information wants to be free

Our commitment to open data is long-standing. We’ve railed against OCLC for its desire to lock up book metadata.

But we’re not railing here. We think it’s perfectly fine for Google to control access to the scans it’s made. All we want to do is link to them, to send them traffic. It’s not clear to us that Google is trying to control access to its ID numbers.

You can see and edit the data here. Full XML downloads of the data are also available there.


*Come to think of it, it works like Google.
**The system is overzealous. It often refuses to show me Google Blog Search pages in Firefox because I look at LibraryThing’s blog coverage too much.
***It’s quite amazing what a bookmarklet can do. We could have never done it if Altay hadn’t shown us the way in this sort of Javascript. The script itself is, however, pretty amateurish–a notice attempt at what Altay did expertly.

As we put on the bookmarklet: “Google and Google Book Search are registered trademarks of Google. LibraryThing is not affiliated in any way with Google or the many libraries that have so generously provided Google with their books and bibliographic metadata, although we share a love of books, a desire to make information as freely available as possible, and similar opinions about evil.”

Labels: features, google, google book search, new feature, new features

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Happy birthday to us!

Today (we think) marks LibraryThing’s second birthday. We’re now officially in the terrible twos.*

A year ago we had just hit five million books on our birthday, today we’re just a few hours away from 18 million books.

Birthday feature [Tim] : You begged for us to release one of the top-requested features for the birthday, so we came up with setting your display style for visitors to your library. Yes, wish lists and collections are on the way!

Numbers and factoids:

  • We have 261,481 registered members. If we were a city, we’d be the 68th largest in the United States (Wikipedia), just above Plano, TX. We are on par with French Polynesia (population 259,800—Wikipedia). Unlike French Polynesia, however, we do not have an anthem. Yet.
  • LibraryThing members have applied over 23 million tags. If our tags were laid end-to-end, they would stretch to the moon.**
  • There are 389 reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on LibraryThing. The 1,000th-most popular book on LibraryThing is Le morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory, which still has 1,247 copies. Author number 1,000 is Margaret Drabble. (You know, Margaret Drabble, don’t you?)
  • Nine libraries have signed up for LibraryThing for Libraries. Five have gone live with it. The first nine LTFL customers have uploaded over 1.75 million books.
  • Our German site, LibraryThing.de, has 2,452 members. Our Dutch site, has the most active Talk. Finnish is our most-translated site, currently at 99.4% done.
  • If LibraryThing were a library (not a city, keep up!), we’d still be the second largest in the nation, behind only the Library of Congress (ALA Fact Sheet).

Twelve things that you didn’t know you could do on LibraryThing***

  1. Find out what your friends are reading. Connection News lets you see what books your friends have recently added, rated, or reviewed.
  2. Swap books. LibraryThing integrates with ten separate book swapping sites all over the world, so you can see at a glance which books are available or wanted, and move them back and forth. Check out the Swapping FAQ.
  3. Unsuggestions. Get fantastic (and humorous) UnSuggestions. Did you know, for example, that Mason-Dixon Knitting is the top UnSuggestion for The Satanic Verses, Peter Pan, AND Paradise Lost?**** (Yeah, we’ve got Suggestions too.)
  4. Organizations use LibraryThing. Browse the library catalog of The Uganda Revenue Authority (really!), the Weather Museum in Houston, Texas, The Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Memorial Library, The Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in NYC, and numerous churches, schools, businesses, and other institutions. Read more about Organizational accounts.

  5. LT Authors. Browse through the library of Joe Hill, Elizabeth Bear, or one of the 562 other authors who showcase their personal books on LibraryThing. The 20th-most popular LibraryThing author is Tim’s wife, Lisa Carey, author of Every Visible Thing. If she ever loses that spot, the Zeitgeist will magically start showing the top 21. Check out all LT Authors.
  6. Photomosaics. See all your covers to make a photomosaic or a poster of them.

  7. Blog widgets. You can show off your library on your blog with our blog widgets. Or make a search widget, and people can search your library right on your blog.
  8. Author gallery. Your author gallery displays pictures of all the authors in your collection. LibraryThing members have uploaded more than 12,645 pictures so far.
  9. LibraryThing in your language. LibraryThing is available in 30 different languages; the translation is done entirely by members.
  10. Statistics. Check out your stats page for a list of books that you share with exactly and only one other member.***** Ah, your soulmates.
  11. Helpers log. Watch other members as they combine works, authors, and tags, add author pictures and links, and more. In the past 24 hours, the Helpers log recorded 1,860 different actions.

  12. Buy Swag. Cafe Press has a LibraryThing Store, with t-shirts and so forth. We sell everything at our cost—even the thong.

Thanks and praise [Tim] : Social Software is 90% social, and 10% software: You guys made it. It has been an absolute blast for us to do the 10%, and a real honor to have been part of something so stuffed with passion, intelligence and humanity.

Next week Casey, Christopher and Abby are coming up to spend the week brainstorming, coding and playing miniature golf. We plan to tackle some big topics and make some big changes. We’ll let you know how things are going, and move the conversation onto Talk as much as possible.

Credits: Photo by Rachael (chamisa flower on Flickr), a runner up in last year’s birthday book pile contest. More cakes appeared in this Talk post :)

*If “beta” gives us license to do whatever we want, this can only help. “We think” because Tim started this as a hobby, and didn’t keep track of it. The first blog post was on the 29th, but the site itself may not have been opened until the next day. Some of the early blog posts are a hoot now. I didn’t even think of “social features” for a week. [Tim]
**If each tag was 54 feet long.
***or saw once and forgot, or knew but don’t care, or know and care, or…
****I had a hilarious common thread/yarn joke to go with that, which Tim gave a resounding “boooooo.”
*****”Vous et nul autre” is one of the more debated phrases used on the site. (It is also one of the most unlikely to change! [Tim])

Labels: birthday, features

Saturday, July 21st, 2007

What’s happening now?

I’ve added some spice to the home page—a section showing the books added recently. It updates every five seconds. The “last five minutes” section can go above 600. This one was taken during a slow patch.* But, hey—two Harry Potters!

It’s an experiment to see if being more up-front about the size and dynamism of the site will draw more users in. As one user ably described it, LibraryThing’s home page looks about the same now as it did twelve months ago. See more discussion of the experiment here. Whether it stays on the home page, we’re going to playing with features like this.

Tomorrow: Tags grow up.

*Saturday night is our nadir. And this weekend is for reading Harry Potter, not playing with LibraryThing. I note, for example that the Hogwarts Express group, one of our most active, has gone from near hysteria to eerie quiet!

Labels: features

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Favorite authors, public contacts, other tweaks

Favorite authors. You can now “favorite” an author, and peek at other member’s favorites. You favorite on author pages, and the results show up on your profile. This has been available for a couple of weeks, but I never announced it. I’ve also brought the feature to more of the site, including your author gallery, author cloud and the Author Zeitgeist (pictured to the right).

I think it adds a fun new dimension to the site, and one we should have had from the beginning. It’s a good example of “unlearning the lessons of Amazon.” Amazon is a great site, but it conditions everyone’s thinking about what a book site should be and do. Marking books makes a lot of sense on a commercial site, but marking authors could distract people from the products. LibraryThing is about distraction, not commerce.

Jane Austen and J. R. R. Tolkien are currently in a no-holds-barred fight for first place. Not a pretty sight.

Public contacts. LibraryThing’s original “watch list” was private. Members—with me at the head—found “friends” lists a little creepy, and too susceptible to—as BlueSalamander put it—”drama.” (Worth quoting: “The drama [on LiveJournal] by “friends lists” borders on the ludicrous.”)

But public lists have their uses. Sometimes you want people to know who your friends are, or whose libraries you find most interesting. And many people just don’t feel the way I do. After a protracted—and not necessarily final—public discussion of terms, I’ve settled on “Contacts” (public) and “Watch list” (private). I think it’s pretty clear in context.

So far, only a few people have public contacts. By default, all watch list entries stayed private. You can flip them to private on your profile.

I’ve tried to keep the drama low. “Contacts” is purposefully vague, and there is no automatic way to see who has added you on your “contacts” list. I wanted to make it possible to give someone’s library a nod, without igniting a full-scale popularity contest. And you can be damn sure I’m not going to start automatically adding me or other LT people to everyone’s “contacts” list when they sign up. (I’ve been thinking that my wife, Lisa Carey, might be added to everyone’s favorite author list, however.)

Other features. I’ve finalized a couple of other small features and feature tweaks:

  • Author and book Zeitgeists are now updating more frequently. It’s all section-by-section, but everything should turn over roughly once per day.
  • The Author Zeitgeist now has a “show more” link for all the categories. Go nuts.
  • Talk topics have been partially de-Javascripted, for people who like to use tab browsing. Basically, if you click on the topic itself, it works. If you rely on clicking anywhere in the row, it’s still using Javascript and tabbed-browsing unfriendly.
  • Recently-tagged books now refresh more frequently. A security problem was also solved.
  • Users with your books takes up less space on the screen. A full list—in twice the list—is available if you click “more.”

Labels: authors, contacts, features, new feature, new features, watch list

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

New Feature Tip-Toe: “Early Reviewers”

We’re introducing something new, called LibraryThing Early Reviewers. It’s coming out officially on Tuesday, but assiduous blog readers get to start early.

The text at the top of the page sums it up:

“Random House has given us some advance copies of books soon to be published. We’re sharing these with you to read and review. You get free books, and share your opinions with a wide audience. LibraryThing makes everyone happy and keeps everything free and fair.”

So far, like much of what we do around here, this is something of a test. Kudos to Random House for being up to that.

Random has signed up for two batches of book. The first batch includes:

Eventually, Early Reviewers will be open to other publishers.

Members should understand what this is, and what it isn’t. We’re going to talk about LibraryThing Early Reviewers, but won’t be pushing Random House’s or anyone else’s books at you. Similarly, getting a free advanced readers copy comes with NO obligation. Under no circumstances will a bad review change your chance of getting another.

If more people want the books than we have copies, we’ll have to ration them. The basic algorithm is randomness, but other factors come into play. We’re going to try to spread the wealth around. And if you complete a review—good or bad!—you’re more likely to get another. Finally, LibraryThing’s matching algorithm will try to match up books with readers, based on the rest of your LibraryThing catalog. For publishers, that’s the interesting part; we’re anxious to see how it turns out.

I’ve set up a Early Reviewers group, to talk about Early Reviewers and Early Reviewer books. Let us know what you think!

Labels: early reviewers, features, new feature, new features, random house

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

New search, now with “working-ness!”

I’ve changed how the “all fields” search for your library works. It’s new and still being worked on—you can discuss problems and requests here on Talk. But it’s faster, solves most character set issues and allows “fielded” queries.

Example queries:
greek history
“greek history”
greek history -war -“peloponnesian war”
gree* history
*disestablishmentarianism
tag: greek author: homer
title: finger* subject: pick-pockets
source: amazon all: history

Update: It supports “all,” “tag,” “title,” “author,” “ISBN,” “subject,” “dewey,” “LCCN,” “source,” “date,” “review” and “comment.” (You can use plural for all names too.) By default, it now uses the field “most,” which is “all” minus subjects, reviews and comments.

Labels: bugs, features, search

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

Conversation = Excellence

LibraryThing has always depended on members to set development goals and refine (or ditch) features. But it’s amazing how well it’s worked with the new “affinities”* feature. We simply could not have anticipated how members would shape our thinking. (I will never ever develop another project in a small, closed group, with occasional trips to watch a “focus group” from behind smoked glass.) We’re still watching reactions on the blog, and on a now-130+ Talk topic, but we have some good ideas. When Altay returns from Boston, we’ll hammer out changes, including customization of the look, and the ability to turn it off.

I started another thread I want to highlight, about LibraryThing’s strategy and a hiring decision for the non-English LibraryThings. Do we hire someone, and what can they do? I hoping the thread gets some traction, at least among the users of our dozen-plus non-English sites. We need a non-English plan.

Part of the problem is technical, starting with better character support. But there’s a feedback loop. Right now, the non-English sites can’t be the coding priority because they’re not contributing as much to our growth, or to our finances. (Not that they’re small. Our non-English sites appear to have more action than our largest English-language competitor.) If we hired someone—and had something for that person to do—we’d have a stronger incentive to work on it.

*We called them “affinity percentiles,” but it got chipped down nicely by SilentInaWay. Case in point.

Labels: conversation, features, non-English