Archive for the ‘new features’ Category

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Quotations, Epigraphs and Blurbers

I’ve added three fields to Common Knowledge, fun fields that should keep the more obsessive of us busy for a while, and which move us somewhat closer to being the “IMDB of books”—quotations, epigraphs and blurbers.

Quotations. Members have been wanting a place to stick interesting or important quotations for some time, often keeping them in their quotations field.

There are, of course, sites devoted to literary quotes. But none can match their quotes against the books in your own library, giving you more incentive to add them. Together with first and last words, added recently, I foresee all manner of fun applications—guessing games blog widgets that cycle through quotes from your library, etc.

Example: The Stars my Destination (Tiger! Tiger!) by Alfred Bester

Epigraphs. Users asked for this to be separated from quotations.

Example: I am in an epigraph free-room. Help!

Blurbers. If you’re not in publishing, you may be unfamiliar with this term. A blurber is someone who blurbs your book, writing up a very short review for your publisher, who selects a sentence or two and puts it on the back cover. If/when your book goes into paperback or gets reprinted, the blurbs may be replaced by quotes from professional reviewers, or they may not.

Often labeled “Advanced Praise for” or something like that, blurbs are an essential part of the authorial economy, and not always a pretty part, as Rebecca Johnson wrote in Slate:

“So much of blurbing process is a corrupt quid pro quo. You praise my book; I’ll praise yours. In the ’80s, Spy magazine ran a monthly column on the very topic called ‘Log Rolling in Our Time.'”

I’m looking forward to seeing this information develop. It’s well known that blurb relationships are reciprocal, and that some people write blurbs for more books than–it seems–they could ever read.

Example: Hidden Iran by Ray Takeyh, with the ubiquitous Fareed Zakaria and Zbibniew Brzeznski.

Labels: blurbers, blurbs, new features, quotes

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Cover page changes

I’ve revamped each work’s “covers” page—a.k.a. “change cover”—to emphasize the higher-quality images among out 1,000,000 covers.

1. The images are bigger, so you can see quality, and because covers are so beautiful.
2. The algorithm now sorts larger covers higher, so that members are more likely to pick higher-quality versions of their cover. The existing sort order was reinforcing the use of low-quality images, even when LT had high-quality ones.
3. High-quality images now say “high quality” and list the original dimensions.

Here are some examples: The Odyssey, Pnin, The Kama Sutra, Pudd’nhead Wilson, Origin of Species, Life of Pi, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Labels: book covers, covers, new features

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Series, Awards, Characters, Places

Some time ago we added pages for series. We’ve now added pages for three other Common Knowledge fields: Awards, Important Places and People/Characters.

All four page types, together with the author pages, now also sport extensive cross-linking, so you can get from Stephen King to the Bram Stoker Awards to Hannibal Lecter to the Marquis de Sade to Cornwall to Guenevere. (Bonus points if you can get back!)

Here are some observations on the various page types:

Awards. Awards are important to a lot of readers. Personally I have no use for them, but they’re fun to browse through. And there are so many! Sure, we’ve all heard of the British Book Awards or the Hugo. But how about the Compton Crook Award, Macavity Award or Printz Award?

Places. Some of the most interesting places are the small ones. Paris is already too much, and even Philadelphia. But Antarctica is small enough to take in, and large enough to be interesting. So too Martha’s Vineyard and Petra, Jordan (one part Left Behind, one part Indiana Jones and another academic).

But we need more for Faerie, Hell and particularly Moldova. As for Nuevo Rico, where are the Nuevo Ricans!

Speaking of odd, The Playboy Mansion is currently occupied by Shel Silverstein. What?

Series. Series pages aren’t new. But I might as well drop that series are the most complete, best Common Knowledge data. It’s not just Harry Potter, Star Wars or His Dark Materials, but also New American Nation, Time-Life: Mysteries of the Unknown and Hellenistic Culture and Society.

People/Characters. A lot of fun can be had here, particularly with characters that cross between fiction and non-fiction, like Lincoln and Alexander the Great and Pope Alexander VI. You will, of course, find familiar faces like Jack Aubrey, Gandalf and Sherlock Holmes.

Fun can be had with minor characters. Take Reepicheep from the Chronicles of Narnia. Can you remember which books he appears in? (It’s Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle; if you found that easy, how about Jill Pole?)

The “related” boxes can show up scarce data. For example, right now God is showing up related to 69 individuals. Jesus is number one, but he’s followed by Bernice Summerfield, apparently a character in Doctor Who. (Incidentally, Jesus is somewhat split between Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, etc.)

Post here or discuss on Talk.

Tim is gone! Incidentally, I am now on an official “code holiday.” I have at least three days without any obligations whatsoever, and I intend to stay in, order pizza, stop answering the door, stop answering the phone, stop writing on Talk, and even—gasp!—stop answering email. I may even put one of those “vacation auto-reply” messages up. After three days, I hope I have something.

Labels: awards, common knowledge, new features, series

Monday, August 11th, 2008

First and last words

“Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.”

Recognize that sentence? It is, of course, from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. How about?

“Now, what I want is, Facts.”

That’s from Dickens, Hard Times.

We just introduced new work-based Common Knowledge fields for “First words” and “Last words.” In the medium-to-long term, I’d love to work the data into a game—pick the sentence that goes with the work. If you’re not comparing computer manuals to novels, it can be hard.

Find out more here.

Labels: common knowledge, new features, quotes

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Recently tagged gets sexier

Chris did some very elegant work, redoing the “recently tagged” section of tag pages.

The new version brings back the RSS feed, disabled for a time for performance reasons. But it also looks much better, and is more informative, using the code from the home page “Tag Watch.”

Some examples: European history, Star Wars, chick lit, steampunk.

Discuss.

Labels: new features, rss

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Who has a book?

I’ve added a small section to work pages. The “Members” section shows who of your friends, interesting libraries and other connections have the work.

It also surveys the Legacy Libraries, a member project to catalog the libraries of famous dead people. So you can find out if Hemingway and Marie Antoinette owned, say, the Lusiads (Yes, they did). I think it gives this project—now growing quite impressive—a deserved boost

Discuss here.

Labels: connection news, new feature, new features

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

Member home pages

Chris and I have finished up a neat, possibly major new feature: home pages for each member. We think it’s going to make LibraryThing a lot more dynamic, while not compromising our strong basis and roots in unchecked, unapologetic bibliophilia.

I made a short screencast about it if, you know, reading gets you down.

The basic idea was to give members a “center” from which to visit the rest of the site. Until now, sign-in threw you into your catalog. New members went to a special welcome page. And the profile also felt like a center.

The new profile centers you. It offers pieces or “windows” into the site—your library, your connections, your recommendations, Talk, hot books, hot reviews, Early Reviewers and so forth. It gives you an idea of how much LibraryThing has to offer. But, it’s also editable, so you can control how much of each piece you want to see, and even remove the ones you don’t care about. (Anyway, that’s the theory. We haven’t implemented reordering and removing the pieces yet, because we want members to tell us what the defaults should be.)

You can check out your Home by going here. Or check out my Home. (Normally you can’t see other member’s Home pages, but you can see mine!)

Some highlights. Home includes a summary of recent recommendations, so you can keep up-to-date on what LibraryThing has found for you, as well as a very handy Connection news piece. You can decide just what you want to see—new books, ratings, reviews. And you can decide whose news you want to see.

I’m also very taken with the Local events piece, based on LibraryThing Local. It should give Local more prominence. It’s really a unique resource—driven by members and more comprehensive than anything out there.

In addition to the “Daily Me” stuff—news about you and your world—Home also provides snapshots of what’s happening on the rest of LibraryThing, including a totally new “Popular This Month” list (The Host, of course), a weirdly fascinating up-to-the-second window into books being added to LibraryThing, an area for interesting reviews, a new “On this day” feature that sucks birth- and death-days from Common Knowledge, a peek into the current Early Reviewers batch and some featured LT authors.

In the near future we plan to make the order of pieces editable. For now, though, we’d love some thoughts about the best default order. After all, most users will never change the default.

Other planned improvements include:

  • Making it the homepage for non-signed-in members too (ie., the right stays the way it is, but the left is taken over with a description of the site).
  • Adding specialized pieces, like a Combiners! log, a wiki log—whatever you want, in theory.

When it comes to making LT more “current,” the aching need, as everyone insists—Sonya has taken to closing every email with a plea—is for collections, particularly a “currently reading” feature. We know, and we’re working on it. The Home page isn’t complete without it.

Thanks for everyone’s help critiquing early drafts of the page. Come talk about what we made in Talk.

UPDATE: The first thread is pushing 250 messages in eight hours. It also got sidetracked into tab issues. (I relented; the Profile tab is back.) So I’ve started a New Thread about the Home page.

Labels: home, new features, screencasts

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

New Feature: Find Friends

We’ve added a feature that makes it easy to connect to people you know.

These include people who may be using the site already, but you don’t know their user name, and people you want to invite to the site. It can use contacts from your current email system, or manual entry.

Check out Find Friends, from your profile or here.

An excess of caution. Automatic email systems like this have come under much criticism, including my own. After the nastiness that has hit other companies’ efforts, we’ve taken every precaution to avoid mess ups with our system.

The protections are quite extensive:

  1. Members can only be found if they want to. We added the checkbox for that a few weeks ago. All older members were set to “false,” unless they already had their email publically shown on their profile.
  2. No emails or other data are stored by us.
  3. Emails are only sent once, and can’t be resent by you either.*
  4. When your list of contacts comes back NONE are pre-checked. (The sites that helpfully pre-check 1,000 names are really flirting with disaster.)
  5. We have removed any option to check all contacts, so you can’t even do it by mistake. But we kept the option to un-check all contacts. If you do that by mistake, okay.
  6. Instead of misleading you about what will happen in one direction, we slightly mislead you in the other. That is, the button marked “invite selected contacts” (above) does not actually go ahead and send the emails. Rather it shows you the invite list one last time and asks you to reconfirm the list.

We are confident these steps together make LibraryThing’s invite feature the most conscientious of its kind.


*To know whether you’ve emailed someone already we do store a “hash” of the email, a mathematical derivative of it that can’t be used to reconstruct the original.

Labels: email, invitations, new feature, new features

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Recommendations, part 2

I’ve added a few improvements to the new member recommendations:

  • You can now dismiss individual recommendations and never see them again.
  • I’ve added a checkbox to make member book recommendations reciprocal–so both books recommend each other.
  • The Recommendations Zeitgeist page is more complete.

Labels: new feature, new features

Monday, May 26th, 2008

LibraryThing recommendations!



LibraryThing Recommendations—called “the best feature on the site” by one user—are back and much better than before.

You can find recommendations at the top of your profile page. Or check out mine.

The new recommendations include:

  • A large number of primary recommendations for ever member—usually 1,000—based on a single comprehensive algorithm.
  • Individual recommendation lists for each member’s tags.
  • Filtering of recommendations by popular LibraryThing tags.
  • Individual lists of other members’ recommendations (member recommendations were added two weeks ago)
  • Up to 500 so-bad-they’re-good recommendations, building off the LibraryThing Unsuggester, and called “Your Unsuggester.”* We hope “What I shouldn’t read” has some meme legs.
  • A “why” feature for each recommendation, laying out what the recommendation was based on.
  • A pony.**

I let the recommendations themselves out early—see the original talk post, with over 140 messages!—and members had mostly positive reactions. Those who don’t like them can perhaps be molified by the greater number and ways to filter and angle the recommendations.

Recommendations now change daily—faster if you are below 200 books and keep adding them. The system keeps track of all recommendations and when you received them. In the near future I plan to provide personalized recommendation emails based on new recommendations.

I’ve created a new Talk thread to discuss the changes, and suggest changes. My thanks to those who participated in the initial thread, influencing development in a number of important ways.


*If Thomas Jefferson is in Hell, I am confident the Devil is torturing him with books from Jefferson’s Unsuggester List—heavy on the chick- and tween-lit!
*With apologies to Last.fm.

Labels: new feature, new features, recommendations