Archive for the ‘new feature’ Category

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

A Shelves Toggle in LibraryThing

I’ve released a new “widget” or “toggle,” that showcases a list of book in either list or “shelf” mode. (It also has a “covers” mode, like a shelf without the shelf.)

Some examples: graphic novel, British literature, paranormal romance, french art, wwii.

The goal is to add some graphic appeal, but keep things “light” and integrated with the page. We didn’t want the box-shaped shelves employed by some other websites, and in LibraryThing for Libraries. The feature is also optional. It’s a toggle. (See below.)

Right now, I’ve put it only one place: tag pages. Once changes have settled down, I’ll extend it to other places you now see only a list of works–authors, series, awards, subjects, tagmashes, etc.

You can change pages, and from “shelf” to “titles” or “covers” by mousing over the book area to reveal a gray region on the right. (IE users will find the gray area always shown.) Whatever you pick for shelves/titles/covers will stick for subsequent views of the element on that page type. So if you don’t like this feature, you only have to see it once.

Other notes:

  • The covers are based on the most popular ISBNs for each work. They are recalculated daily.
  • Shelves show the “checkmarks” seen elsewhere in lists.
  • Tags go to 200 now, as before. in fact, I’ve extended them to go to 1,000 but it will take a few days for the old data to expire and new data to be generated.
  • I am not currently painting the title on non-cover covers. This is, I think, the only undone feature here.

Come talk about it here.

Labels: new feature, new features

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

CoverGuess: The game that helps people find books…

I just released an amusing diversion called CoverGuess.

Check it out here, and talk about it here.

What is CoverGuess?

CoverGuess is a sort of game. We give you covers, and you describe them in words. If you guess the same things as other players, you get points.

Why are you doing this?

The goal is to have fun, but also to build up a database of cover descriptions, to answer questions like “Do you have that book with bride on the bicycle?”

What’s the best way to do it?

Think about it how you’d describe the cover to someone—pick out the most significant elements. Does it have a car or a pair of shoes? Color terms are good, and so are terms like “blurry” or “sepia.” Above all, pick terms other players will be using.

How do points work?

You get one point for every matched term, for each other member who had it. So, if you say “car” and “dog” and two other members said “car” and one said “dog,” you get three points. Obviously, it’s better if you’re not the first member to tag the image, but the system randomizes that aspect. When you’re the first to tag an item, you get 0.25 points for your effort.

Aren’t you trying to use members’ free labor to make money?

Yes and no. All the data here is released under a Creative-Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License, and will be available in feed form. That means any non-profit entity, like a library, can use it without charge. We also commit to license it on the same terms to any bookstore with less than $10 million in sales. That leaves huge companies. If any want it, we’ll charge them!

Anything else?

It was partially inspired by Google’s ImageLabeler. Our anti-spam engine does something similar too.

The whole thing was perhaps summed up best in a tweet to me:

Labels: book covers, new feature

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Twitter your reviews

We’ve added a feature to make it easy to Twitter (or Tweet) your reviews.

You’ll see the option—a tiny Twitter logo—on your reviews. When you click it, it takes you to Twitter and fills in the message box. You can, of course, edit it however you like.

You can spot most such tweets with this Twitter search.

This is our second Twitter-based feature. The other is an easy way to Twitter your books to LibraryThing, handy for making a note of a book when you’re in a bookstore or library. Like that, the Twitter your review feature is all about restraint and options. We’ve rejected the idea—popular among book and non-book sites—of automating that process, of making it easy to machine-gun all your friends and followers with trivial updates.

Are you on Twitter? Follow us. Most LibraryThing-related news comes from my account, LibraryThingTim. The LThing account is for incoming messages mostly. John, Chris and Luke are also on, discussing LibraryThing’s irrationally vague vacation policy.

Labels: book reviews, new feature, new features, reviews, twitter

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Reviews in many languages

I’ve added a bunch of features around the language that members write reviews in.

Reviews by language. The result is to make LibraryThing more attractive for non-English users—they now get reviews in their own language by default. A few languages, especially our Dutch, French and German sites, already have a decent number of reviews, and this should make it more fun for all non-English users to review books.

For the English-only members, the feature is mostly negative—it’s now easy to screen out the clutter of reviews in languages you don’t understand.

Most popular works have reviews in other languages. Something like the Da Vinci Code has reviews in thirteen languages, including twelve in Dutch, three in Swedish, two in Catalan and one in Greek! (“Un dels millors llibres que he llegit mai”, “Το λάτρεψα”—maybe it’s better in translation!)

Reviews uClassified: Most reviews have already been assigned to a language. Rather than use the default language in LibraryThing profiles, which turns out to be very, very weakly related to the language members write their reviews in, I took advantage of the excellent language classification service offered by uClassify (uClassify.com). uClassify runs a Bayesian filter on a piece of text and sends back a list of languages, and confidence scores.

It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good. Only very high scores were accepted as definitive. Short reviews weren’t sent for the same. As a result, about 1/8 of LibraryThing’s 730,267 reviews remain as “not set.”

Feature changes. A bunch.

  • You can now edit your reviews language everywhere you can edit or enter a review. 
  • Your library statistics page (link) now shows how many reviews you’ve written in every language. Mostly importantly this shows the number of reviews that haven’t been assigned to a language.
  • For reviews going forward your default language is set on your account page
  • The catalog now has a “Reviews language” field and a special search for all your reviews in a given language (eg., reviews in English, language not set). These links are available from your stats page).
  • You can Power Edit review languages, and when you’re looking at all your reviews in a language, if it differs from your default language, you will get a link to make all unset reviews be in your default language. For example, here are all your unset reviews (link).

Statistics. The numbers turned out something like this.

English/Unset: 650,988
Dutch: 8,636
French: 4,666
German: 4,651
Spanish: 4,463
Italian: 2,876
Swedish: 2,329
Danish: 1,587
Norwegian: 1,231
Portuguese: 1,098
Finnish: 662
Catalan: 443
Etc.

To be done, talked about. As usual, there’s more to do. So far, there’s no good list of recent or top reviews by language. Come to discuss it on Talk and suggest other improvements.

Labels: book reviews, catalan, french, german, greek, languages, new feature

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Collections, at last

It’s arrived. Members can organize their books into “collections.”

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).

Labels: cataloging, collections, new feature, new features, tagging

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Widgets get a lot better

We’ve just brought live new, improved widgets, available from the make widget page.

Some highlights:

  • New “animated” style cycles through your covers in a oddly mesmerizing way.
  • Widgets are extensively customizable, so you can fit them to your blog without any special knowledge.
  • Power users can do more, with Javascript and CSS customization. Check out Chris’ blog for stylish use.*
  • The new widgets are shareable (an example) so members can show off and swap styles. (Yes, we’ll be having a widget-creation contest soon.)
  • Widget links don’t go off somewhere, but open up a slick lightbox “mini-book” page, with your information and (optional) links, to LibraryThing and elsewhere. You can, of course, fill in your Amazon Associates code, if you want to make money off your widget.
  • Widgets now include (optionally) tags, ratings and reviews. You can filter by reviews and tags too.
  • The code is good—based on our improved JSON Books API and designed not to slow down your page (they’re “lazy-loading”). Weirdly this can make the widget look slow. That’s because it’s not slowing down the rest of the page!
  • Internationalized from the ground up.
  • Orcas, baby!

Go ahead and make a widget.

Talk about it here, or on Talk.

Luke! Widgets were helmed by new employee Luke (member: LibraryThingLuke), who wrote most of the core code, all the styling options, the share system and so forth. Other LibraryThing people helped. Chris—hard at work on collections, we promise—chipped in some attractive styles. Mike wrote the crucial cover-animation code, something he’s been working on for our upcoming Facebook application. I made sure Luke got a list of changes every morning, including at least one thing I wanted the other way the day before.

Luke offered the following thumbnail bio:

“Luke Stevens lives in Portland, Me with his wife and three kids. He enjoys single malt scotch and silver-age comic books. He rides a motorcycle from the early 80’s that elicits laughter from his evil co-workers. Twitter: saintlukas; blog: sacremoo.com.”


*Chris swears by Colourlovers.com.

Labels: new feature, new features, widgets

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

LibraryThing Mac Screensaver

At the end of our Week of Code, Chris and I put together the RSS feed and directions you need to turn the built-in Mac OS X screensaver into a LibraryThing Screen Saver.

To do it you’ll need to grab the following URL: http://www.librarything.com/labs-screensaver.php?userid=timspalding and change “timspalding” to your user name (public users only, of course). Then watch the video.

Update: Does anyone know of an easy way to make a Windows one?

Labels: mac, new feature, osx, screensavers

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Male or Female?

I’ve added a new meme page for “Male of Female?” (see yours or mine).

The page is similar to Dead or Alive?. It’s based on our Common Knowledge, an editable, fielded wiki for author and work information. So if someone shows up under “Uncertain” you can edit in the right gender.

This feature is, of course, frosting. The cake was released Saturday: Introducing Distinct Authors. Check that out.

Labels: authors, new feature, new features

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Distinct authors, phase 1 / Steve Martin is funny again

Short version. I’ve added a mechanism to “split” distinct authors with the same name. You can find it on the right of any author page, under “Author Disambiguation.” The feature is only partially rolled-out, without separate pages for distinct authors or other rammifications for the LibraryThing system.

Long version. Since its inception, LibraryThing has been plagued by the “Steve Martin” problem. We all know Steve Martin, the comic and author of Shop Girl. But what about Steve Martin the author of Britain’s Slave Trade, Sold! How to Make it Easy for People to Buy from You or some book about Newfoundland ships. Why was the original wild-and-crazy-guy writing such evidently unfunny books—or who were these other people?

The problem is deep in the data. Libraries have a system for disambiguating authors, called Authority Control, based on coming up with authorized forms of a name and adding dates and other metadata to make them unique, and then applying these forms across the books. Authority control is a good idea—if often problematic to implement—but it falls down in the face of LibraryThing’s data. Libraries don’t coordinate their authority control as much as you’d think, and LibraryThing draws from almost 700 libraries. And even if authority control worked in libraries, 90% of LibraryThing content comes from other sources, mostly Amazon. This data has no concept of authority control. (See Steve Martin at Amazon, for example.)

In solving the problem, I decided to ignore how libraries solved the issue and concentrate on how LibraryThing could do it most easily. Authority control requires librarians to assemble data (eg., birth and death dates) about name variants before a split is made. (Thus was born librarians’ unfortunate policy of putting out hits on individuals they could not otherwise distinguish.*) Although LibraryThing members have done an amazing job finding birth and death dates, it was still a lot of work. And a full authority-control solution would have members updating each other’s records with the “authorized” forms of the names!

I felt a better way could be found. Instead of establishing unique names and pushing them to records, members could split works arbitrarily, and the authors would come to be known by the name they share and the works that cluster under them. This is actually an old system—calling someone “the author of Ivanhoe” or “the one who wrote the Parthian history.” And, as with other features of LibraryThing cataloging, it accords with how regular people talk about. In a real-world situation, like a meeting of Newfoundland commedians, you wouldn’t refer to “Martin, Steve, 1945-” and “Martin, Steve, 1947-” but “Steve Martin, you know, the one who wrote Shopgirl” and “Steve Martin, the one who wrote that book about that boat.”

How it works. To split an author, find the area on the right labelled “Author Disambiguation.” It will take you to a splitting page; here’s Steve Martin’s. This page allows you to assign all the author’s works to numbers. As you assign the works, LibraryThing assigns separate colors, making it easy to see at a glance how the thing is going.

More to do. This is just a first step. The “distinct authors” feature has to “go” all sorts of places on the site. First up will be separate pages for distinct authors–and a “disambiguation page” (a la Wikipedia) tying them together. Once that’s done we can move to separate author metadata, such as Common Knowledge, bettween distinct authors.

Quite frankly, I’m going to do a few more things and then let this sit for a while. My main focus right now—and Chris’—is to see “collections” to the finish line. When I realized I could bang out the first phase of distinct authors in a long evening (it’s after 5am now), I went ahead and did it. But now I need to refocus on collections.

Talk about it. I’ve set up a New features post to discuss the change, and its potential rammifications. I suspect that the Combiners! group will get in on the act quickly as well, working out various technical issues. They have a number of threads (here, here and here, at least), in which members have made lists of “identically named authors.” They would be a good starting-point.


*The hits are, of course, carried out by OCLC.

Labels: distinct authors, new feature, new features

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Member Giveaways: Early Reviewers for everyone

We’ve just introduced a major new feature: Member Giveaway, a simple but flexible way for authors to get review copies into readers’ hands, and other members to clean out their attics!

Member Giveaway is built on top of our Early Reviewers program, which invites publishers to send LibraryThing members pre-publication copies of upcoming books. It has been a huge success, often giving out more than 1,500 books per month. But Early Reviewers has strict rules on participating, quantity and release dates, to keep up quality and encourage publishers to send out as many copies as they could spare.

Member Giveaway differs from Early Reviewers in a couple of ways:

  • Any LibraryThing member can participate.
  • There are no quantity restrictions. You can post a single book or a hundred.
  • Books do not need to be pre-release or even new.
  • Members are encouraged to review Giveaway books, but not reviewing them cannot hurt you.
  • Giveaway selection is random, not based on a similar-books algorithm. To discourage sockpuppetry, requesting members must have cataloged at least fifty books or be a premium (ie., paid) member.
  • Early Reviewers has a bird, but Member Giveaways uses squirrels. As you know, squirrels are lovely, sociable animals who share books readily.

Some other fun details:

  • If you’ve signed up for Early Reviewers, you are ready for Member Giveaways. The two programs have the same sign-up.
  • When you post a book you have a lot of options, including length of time it will last and where you’re willing to send it.
  • The sending member is responsible for all shipping. If you request and receive a book, the sending member will get your shipping address.

We made Member Giveaway for authors who couldn’t get their publisher to sign on to Early Reviewers, couldn’t get enough copies together or whose book was already out. (Early Reviewers also does not allow most self-published works, which has angered a few members, but both publishers and members reacted strongly when we included self-published books before.)

Publishers and authors aside we wanted to give regular members a chance to send good books to good homes. We have long pondered whether LibraryThing should enable book-swaps. But our friends at BookMooch do that so well already, and swapping is very hard to get right. But many members still wanted a simple way to get their old books to new homes. So, we set up a system to do that too.

We’ve started Member Giveaways off with seven great books.

Cancer is a Bitch and Beef were offered by my friend Larry Weissman, literary agent to both authors.

Released this Fall, both have already drawn great reviews from LibraryThing members and others. LibraryThing member skrishna wrote of Cancer Is a Bitch: “It’s funny, witty, sarcastic and will have you laughing out loud. Read this book. That’s all I really have left to say.” Of Beef, a microhistory in the tradition of Salt, the Boston Globe praised its “bovine evolution is riveting stuff.” Eats.com called it an “eloquent, poignant and influential account of man’s historical relationship with the cow.”

The other five books all come from a single member, keigu, Robin D. Gill, of Paraverse Press, which promises bilingual books “at a monolingual price.”

The books consist of Japanese text and English translations of hundreds or thousands of short Japanese poems—haiku and senryu on various topics. The publisher, who is also the author, sent LibraryThing a huge box some time ago, in anticipation of such a program. Abby and I, custodians of the books for so long never got around to reading them, but we will sorely miss people’s reactions at finding tall stacks of The Woman Without a Hole and Rise Ye, Sea Slugs!.

Three cheers for Mike! Memeber Giveaways was developed by Mike Bannister (LTMike) after I rather blithly tossed out the idea of opening Early Reviewers to everyone on a separate page. It took a while, but i is a beautiful, and solid piece of code.

Its completion frees Mike up to concentrate on Facebook full time, while Chris and me (but my programming time is somewhat hobbled by everythin else I do) continue work on collections.

Come talk about it here.

Labels: early reviewers, new feature, new features