Archive for the ‘local book search’ Category

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Apple highlights Local Books

Apple’s iTunes store has LibraryThing’s Local Books app. (see blog post, direct link) given us a rare honor—a spot among their featured apps.(1)

The exposure has shot us up in the books category, such that we are now—unbelievably—running third in the free section.(2) No matter how long it lasts—and we have no idea of that—it’s great news. The more people grab it, the more become invested in its success. We’re already seeing a pick up in entries to LibraryThing Local. And it puts pressure on us to improve Local and the app too.

Most of all, we hope the success of Local Books can inspire physical bookstores and libraries to embrace the digital world more fully—to put their basic information, events and holdings data out there for us and others to use. Their customers and patrons are eager for it. Only by embracing what the digital world can do for the physical can they compete against the continual advance of ecommerce and ebooks.

So, thanks to Apple for highlighting us, to Chris and John for making the app.(3), and thanks to all the members who entered the data to make it possible.


1. To see it, go to iTunes and click “App Store.” We’re in the third row of apps., next to “Puppy Park” and “Roadside America.” We only appear if the screen is wide enough to hold six icons. We go away if you’re only showing five or fewer apps.
2. The only downside has been that wider exposure has put the app in the hands of people who were, I think, expecting something different. Our ratings have shot down. Fortunately, they’re very much on par with other top apps. It seems iTunes reviewers are a finicky bunch!
3. They will be getting every dime the free app makes us!

PS: If you have an Android phone, check out our Layar app.

Labels: iphone, itunes, local book search, local books

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Local Books iPhone application!

» Take me right to iTunes

Short version. We’ve just released our first foray into iPhone development, a free application called “Local Books.”

Local Books resembles popular dining apps like LocalEats or UrbanSpoon—but for book lovers. It shows you local bookstores, libraries and bookish events wherever you are or plan to be.

I’ve been using beta versions on my trips for months already; it’s the ideal travel companion. Even if you know your area well, you’re almost certain to find new places. We hope it will be a shot in the arm for physical bookstores and libraries—a new way to see how much bookishness there is around you.

At present Local Books does not show inventory from local bookstores and libraries. But, well, isn’t that a good idea?

Check it out on iTunes.

Features. Features include:

  • Search for venues (bookstores and libraries) as well as events near your current location using the iPhone’s built-in location features.
  • Search for venues and events at any location or by name.
  • Venues can be sorted by distance, name, or type.
  • Venues are color coded, following the maps on LibraryThing Local (colors correspond to the colors used on maps in LibraryThing Local).
  • Each venue has a detail page with a map. Tap it to jump to the iPhone Maps application.
  • Venues often sport a description, clickable website and phone number links, events, and a photo.
  • You can favorite locations and events, and there’s a “Favorites” list where you can find them.(1)

Powered by LibraryThing Local. Local Books is powered by LibraryThing Local, the LibraryThing member-created database of 51,000 bookstores and libraries around the world. Events too are drawn from LibraryThing Local. Notably, since last night we’ve had a four-fold increase in events, as we started pulling in events from Barnes and Noble, Borders, Waterstones and Indigo/Chapters, as well as IndieBound.

Why We Did It. Creating Local Books wasn’t free. We hired an outside house to help us. (Well, semi-outside; half of ConceptHouse is our in-house programmer Chris/ConceptDawg.) There’s no “monetization” at all.

We did it because, despite the dozens of dining, clubbing and other location applications, nobody had done a good book one before. True, IndieBound recently came out with an elegant iPhone app.(2) But indies are not the only bookstores. And libraries, which far exceed bookstores and are almost everywhere, are absolutely critical. We’ve always thought of the book world in the largest possible terms, and we wanted an iPhone application that did that too.

Most of all, Local Books is our contribution to keeping the book world interesting. Amazon and other online retailers are great. LibraryThing is great too. But book lovers can’t be happy in a world with fewer and fewer physical bookstores, and a rising threat to libraries. The more we know about this physical book world, the better we can foster it, and the better we can use websites like LibraryThing and Amazon to improve our world, not replace it.

How You Can Help. Even with 51,000 venues, not every bookstore and library is in LibraryThing. If you know of one that’s not in there, go ahead and add it. If you represent the bookstore or library in question, you can “claim” your venue page, and start using LibraryThing to connect to your customers or patrons.

Even if they’re all there, most are still missing something—a photograph, a phone number, a good description, a Twitter handle. Events—especially indie bookstores and libraries—are a particular need.

It’s a virtuous cycle. The better we can make the data, the more people will find the application useful, and the more people who will make it better

Oh, and vote up the application, will ya? :)

Links.


1. The favorites feature in the app is not tied to your favorites list on LibraryThing.com. We didn’t want to require sign-in and so forth.
2. The IndieBound application does allow you to search for books, but only off their online catalog. There’s no tie-in to local holdings. Even if it had that, most Indie bookstores do not upload their inventory to IndieBound, and, again, neither bookstores or independent bookstores should be the only option for book lovers.

Special thanks to the “Board for Extreme Thing Advances,” our beta group, who put the application through it’s paces before release. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Labels: iphone, librarything local, local book search, local books

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Four times as many event listings

Overnight I added 3,364 bookish events to LibraryThing Local.

That more-than quadruples the number of events in LibraryThing Local!

The new events were from Barnes and Noble, Borders, Waterstones UK and Indigo/Chapters stores. Together with IndieBound—already in the system—this covers the largest English-language bookstore chains that also have event listings.

We are, of course, looking for new event sources. Publishers are probably our next stop. But members have been the largest single source of events, and will always be critical, especially for libraries and independent bookstores that don’t use IndieBound event listings.

It should also be said that none of this would be possible if members hadn’t helped us to add LibraryThing venues for all the stores in question, and hook their numbers up to ours. This was critical for our innovative Local Book Search, and we plan to do even more with these linkages in the future.

To add a new event go to LibraryThing Local, or just start here.


PS: This isn’t a coincidence. We’re going to be releasing something related—and big—tomorrow! :)

Labels: events, librarything local, local book search, members

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Local Book Search: A new way forward for bookselling

We’ve just released a slew of new features (see overview). We hope members like them all, but Local Book Search is the most important. I won’t mince words: it is intended to change bookselling forever.

The Idea. It’s a simple idea: a location-based search for books. After all, you can ask Google for pizza where you live. But you can’t do it with books, until now.

Just Show Me the Feature! Here are some sample links:

Imagine if all the bookstores and libraries in central London were searchable.

The Vision. More and more people look to the web, even for local information. I can’t remember the last time I checked a newspaper for movie times or local music. Bookstores, however, have largely stayed off the “local web.” Those that expose their holdings do it inconveniently. Many don’t at all, either because their systems are old, or on principle. And nobody has ever tried to tie it all together, like Local Book Search attempts to do.

Physical bookstores often complain about online prices, but a lot of the problem is just convenience. If I lived in San Fransisco and wanted a copy of Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down, I probably wouldn’t bother to call up all my local bookstores; Amazon is quick and easy, and will surely have it. Local Book Search find a half dozen copies, new and used, in just seconds.

At a minimum, this is a cool test. Maybe bookstores will prefer to keep their holdings information to themselves and shut us out. A bookstore near me won’t participate because they think the information is “valuable” and, if it were online, “people would know what we don’t have.” I think that sort of thinking is the road to a world without bookstores.

Online bookselling is here to stay. It’s a wonderful thing. Same-day online delivery, as recently offered by Amazon, is something new. But physical book stores are also very important. We hope local book search can be one of the things they need to survive and prosper.

Who are you searching? The list currently stands as follows:

How are you doing it? We’re doing it in a mix of ways. A number of bookstores, including Powells, Porter Square and City Lights, send us their files. We have special permission from Abebooks too, so we pre-parse the Abebooks sellers.* (Members have helped us connect them to LibraryThing.) Indigo/Chapters gave us their blessing, and a convenient way to do it.

The rest involve just-in-time searches. Every system is different, so we’ve written a special connector for each, but the usual pattern is some sort of multiple-ISBN fetch. In every case, we’ve obeyed a site’s “robots.txt” file–going only where we’re allowed, and hitting a website no faster than once per second. That’s also why we’ve stayed off some biggies, like Barnes and Noble–their store holdings pages are prohibited by robots.txt.

Why aren’t there more indies? We introduced basic bookstore integration back in 2006 (!), taking only indies. It never really took off, because we couldn’t convince IndieBound to offer access to the files, and, I think, asking booksellers to upload their file to IndieBound and then LibraryThing was a hard sell.

Since then, we’ve pushed hard to get indies involves, with no success. We even lost our first participant, when Ann Arbor’s Shaman Drum went out of business. Those who follow our Twitter stream will remember a lot of hand-wringing over the topic. (In fairness, IndieBound has expressed interest, but they are still working on their platform.) So, we went and did it outselves, with whom we could.

The “connectors” all take about the same amount of time, whether we pick up 400 stores in Borders, or a single store in the Strand. So, by time, we’ve spent most of it integrating with indies. We have a decent list of other indies to add, when we get the chance.

The Future. Obviously, we know this is bigger than LibraryThing. If you have an idea about where it should go, chances are we’ve had it too. We’re working on it.

We are, incidentally, aware that we’re weak on the library front. We have 40 libraries now and, if all LibraryThing for Libraries sites agreed, we could get up to 170 systems (more than 1600 buildings). Unfortunately, you can’t really screen-scrape most library systems; they tend to break under the strain. Nobody really has the data necessary, except perhaps for OCLC.

So, OCLC, how about it? Our peanut butter. Your chocolate. Don’t libraries deserve to be part of this? Can we let bygones be bygones?

What we need? Bookstores who want to participate should send me an email (tim@librarything.com) or a Tweet (@LibraryThingTim).

Bookstores concerned about LibraryThing servers hitting them too hard should also write us. We’re keeping close tabs on how often we scrape sites. (We also cache results for 24 hours.) In many cases, we could do it more efficiently, if we were allowed to access search pages, not just product pages. And we can try fewer ISBNs. Or, if you are able, we can parse your files and never hit your site.

All told, we think the traffic is good for you—it will get you sales. But we are conscious of limited technology budgets, and will work with you to increase the benefit, and decrease the potential cost.

Kudos. Thanks are owed to:

  • LibraryThing members who are helping us connect Abebooks to LibraryThing.
  • Abebooks. In theory, local book search could cut them out of the equation, as people walked into a store, instead of buying online. But they saw it as a valuable service to their members, and an overall win. Abebooks deserves applause for taking a risk.
  • Indigo/Chapters. Every time I deal with them, I marvel at how easy they make things. No meetings, just agreement to test it out. Indigo, like Abe, is Canadian. Is there something in the water?
  • Powell’s, Porter Square Book and (tiny) City Lights Books in Sylva, NC deserve thanks for being with us from the first. Because their method–sending us files–is so much easier for us, we’re planning to create some special features for them.
  • Programemrs Chris and Mike, and non-programmers Dan and Stephanie. The “Get this Book” and “Local Book Search” project took over two months, and involved huge amounts of new code, and also data entry. As Chris remarked, for most companies, “this would be a site.” It is an awesome achievement.

Come talk about it. Come talk about all this on Talk.


*Abebooks.com sellers already total over 1 million books, and we haven’t caught up with all the Abe-to-LibraryThing work members have done. We think they’ll end up around 1.5 million books total.

Labels: abebooks, booksellers, bookstore integration, bookstores, local book search, used bookstores

Monday, November 16th, 2009

New Feature: Get this Book

This post does not discuss what I consider what may be the most innovative and promising new feature, Local Book Search. I’ll get to that in the morning. (See it in action.)

Over the night we added a small avalache of features (for a list of Talk posts, see the top of this post.) This post talks about the “Get this book” feature.

Show me the feature! Check the Get this Book feature for Romeo and Juliet. Then come discuss this here.

Why the new features? For years now we’ve had a feature called “Buy, Borrow and Swap”—involved bookstore and library links, and integration with swap sites.

Two things moved us replace this feature:

  • We wanted to make it better—to integrate with as many sources as possible, so we show people what was out there, and send people to links that existed, not a lot of blind links to pages that might or might not exist. First, as discussed here, Amazon tightened up its linking policy, forcing changes.
  • Amazon required it. As a site that uses Amazon data (although we also use some 690 other sources), we had to follow their rules, which required us to drop links to competitor sites, except on secondary pages. We didn’t want this to be a net loss for the site, so we decided to make the best secondary pages we could imagine. (Three programmers kept imagining for two months straight, and this is what came out.)

The new pages are accessible from any work page, and are pictured at the right.

Ebooks. Another book site integrated with a single attractive, but not comprehensive ebook supplier. So we decided to integrate with fourteen. We’ve included both pay sites (Kindle, Sony Reader) and free sites (Project Gutenberg, Hathi Trust).

Not pictured:

The integration is deep. For Hathi alone, we’ve linked 398,000 LibraryThing works, and OpenLibrary adds another 178,000 full scans. Because our catalog is so vast, and our data so “ratty” (it comes from over 690 source), LibraryThing can do a lot better than parsing ISBNs. This is how we connect to so many ISBN-less sources. My favorite is the Online Books Page, which collects links to some 30,000 books found here and there online, mostly one-off scanning projects at universities and the like.

There are, of course, more. We’re not parsing Barnes and Noble ebooks—which will become important if the “Nook” takes off. If you don’t see your favorite source, let us know. We’ll work to add it.

Audiobooks. I haven’t taken to ebooks yet. (For starters, my reader is broken.) But I listen to a lot of audiobooks. For people like me we’ve added links to three audiobook suppliers—Audible, iTunes and the wonderful, free, amateur-driven project LibriVox.

Live Price Comparison from BookFinder.com. Many of you use the price-comparison site BookFinder.com, so, with their help, we decided to integrate a good piece of it into the site itself. BookFinder reaches out to dozens of new and used booksellers, and comes back with good deals and rare buys.

Live results are a core principle of the site, so caching is for as little time as possible. The results are also distinguished by being cross-edition—a fairly new concept in price comparison. You can change the ISBNs or titles BookFinder uses, to get price-comparison that fits you best.

Swap sites. Swap-site integration has been with LibraryThing for some time now. We’ve spiffed it up, and added a long-missing site, PaperBackSwap.com. As a lot of members belong to more than one site, gathering them all together like this should be valuable.

All Sources. “Get this book” are just the best slices of a much larger pie. Check out All Sources (here, for Romeo and Juliet) to get all the sources. As with other parts of the site, the data is fundamentally under your control. If you don’t see your favorite bookseller or book database, go ahead and enter it. We also want help improving the data.

Your Quick Links area is editable. To edit it, check out Edit Quick Links, which looks like “All Sources,” but works a little different.

What’s missing. Here’s how we plan to improve the page, and how you can improve it too.

  • Members need to be able to add new ebooks.
  • We need more ebook sources. Seventeen is great. There are probably thirty we should have.
  • A lot of sources need improvement; they don’t have all the link types they could have.
  • We have second slate of “book database” integrations coming up, including a full conversion of all Wikipedia citations.

Come talk about the new features here.

Labels: audibooks, bookfinder, ebooks, get this book, local book search, swap site

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Help put used bookstores on LibraryThing

We’re about to push a slew of new “local” features, including the first-ever “local book search.” To make this as good as it can be, we need to connect as many bookstores as possible to the LibraryThing Local system. We previously asked for help with IndieBound stores. We’re now asking for help with a really hairy category category—used bookstores.

Check out this page and pitch in: Help put used bookstores on LibraryThing

It lists all Abebooks.com booksellers—mostly, but not exclusively used—and allows LibraryThing members to connect them to LibraryThing Local venus. Once connected, the local page gets a link to their Abebooks page, and is entered into our upcoming Local Book Search feature.

I’d like to thank Abebooks for cooperation here—allowing us to include results from their affiliates. I say “generously” because “local search” has the potential to cut Abebooks out of the transaction. They feel—and I think they’re right—that the loss will be small, and will be offset by the value of giving their affiliates another way to expose themselves to the world, and book lovers another way to discover their books.

As usual, we have a Talk discussion going on about this—how best to do it, etc.

Update: We pushed this a few hours ago, and the response is already huge—more than 130 linkings, by two dozen members. As with IndieBound, I’m in shock at how readily members take up the call. We won’t let you down—the upcoming feature is going to be great, and all the better for this work.

Labels: abebooks, indiebound, local book search, used bookstores