Archive for the ‘social networking’ Category

Monday, October 25th, 2010

LibraryThing is hiring: Are you bookish and social-media savvy?

madinkbeard‘s beloved “We Heart LibraryThing” entry in a 2007 photo contest.

LibraryThing is hiring a bookish, social-media savvy employee. We want someone passionate about books and about book lovers, and excited to take social cataloging and bookish social networking to the next level. LibraryThing takes a different approach to social media, and the job is a step above the usual “social media manager” position with its overtones of being “the face” of a company, and of manipulation and fakeness.

This is a Portland, Maine position exclusively. We want someone who can come into the office most days. If we find the right candidate, we will help you relocate. Portland is a great place to live.

You must be:

  • Deeply familiar with social media
  • Able to write well and quickly
  • Able to work and set goals independently
  • Able to think big, but also handle details
  • Hard-working, smart, driven, optimistic, organized and productive
  • A passionate bibliophile

We’d appreciate:

  • LibraryThing membership, familiarity
  • Librarian, bookseller, publishing or other book-industry background
  • Experience designing software features or interfaces
  • Technical skills (HTML, CSS, SQL, PHP, etc.)
  • No cheese allergies

Duties:

  • Write newsletters and blog posts
  • Suggest and help develop new features and projects
  • Look for new opportunities and set priorities for yourself and others
  • Work with publishers, authors and other actors (eg., coordinate and expand the Early Reviewer program)
  • Attend trade shows and so forth, at need
  • Maintain LibraryThing’s presence on Twitter, Facebook and other social media

Compensation:

Salary plus gold-plated health and dental insurance. We require hard work, but we are flexible about hours.

How to apply:

Resume is good. Don’t send one of those overboiled cover letters, but a brief introduction would be good, followed perhaps by recapitulating the bullets above and saying briefly how they do or don’t fit you. Send emails to tim@librarything.com.

Labels: jobs, member input, member projects, social cataloging, social networking

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

The Guardian on homophily

From Ethan Zuckerman’s blog post.

The Guardian (UK) yesterday carried a wonderful column by Oliver Burkeman, “This column will change your life” on a topic dear to our heart—and mentioning LibraryThing to boot.

The topic is “homophily,” the “faintly depressing human tendency to seek out and spend time with those most similar to us.” Homophily informs whom we spent time with and filters our understanding of the wider world. As the author writes, his American friends were sure Obama was going to win:

“[T]hey hadn’t met one person—not one!—who planned on voting Republican. They were right about the outcome, of course. But 58m people voted against Obama; it was just that you didn’t run into them in the coffee shops of Brooklyn.”

Quoting the Harvard sociologist Ethan Zuckerman that “Homophily causes ignorance,” Burkeman adds that it tends to make people more extreme. The internet can increase the effect, allowing dittoheads of various persuasions to “exist almost entirely within a feedback loop shaped by your own preferences.”*

Burkeman closes by recommending the LibraryThing Unsuggester:

“You don’t need technology to do that, but then again, technology needn’t be the enemy: Facebook could easily offer a list of the People You’re Least Likely To Know; imagine what that could do for cross-cultural understanding. And I love the Unsuggester, a feature of the books site LibraryThing.com: enter a book you’ve recently read, and it’ll provide a list of titles least likely to appear alongside it on other people’s bookshelves. Tell it you’re a fan of Kant’s Critique Of Pure Reason, and it’ll suggest you read Confessions Of A Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. And maybe you should.”

The topic is interesting to me from a number of different angles. First, as a social network that works largely through shared reading, LibraryThing gets the upside of homophily and is subject to the downside too.

Second, with Zuckerman, I’ve fascinated by the notion of serendipity, of “surprising someone helpfully.” As I’ve argued to library audiences in the past, both Amazon-style collaborative filtering and contemporary library catalogs are bad at serendipity—worse, in some ways, than browsing physical shelves can be. As Zuckerman notes, the somewhat mechanical process of subject assignment can break through the “flocking together” tendency of collaborative filtering. But I bet there are better ways too. Is a true “serendipity algorithm” possible?

Third, my own experience is characterized by some rather vexed homophily issues. Zuckerman mentions “02138” at one point, no doubt baffling some internet listeners. It is, of course, the zipcode of Harvard and much of west Cambridge, where I grew up and spent most of my life. A popular t-shirt (I own one) proclaims “02138: The World’s Most Opinionated Zip Code,”** but there can be no mistaking that opinions largely go one way. Growing up in Cambridge, and attending a certain private school, taught me that respect for diversity was at the center of human virtues—something I still agree with—but that everyone had houses filled with books***, Volvo was the nation’s most popular automaker, that large families and stay-at-home mothers were suspect, that religion was for mental defectives, that Mondale was going to win in 1984, and so forth. In a very real way Cambridge taught me how to think—and I’ve spent the rest of my life thinking through what to keep and what to chuck.

For more on this topic, check out:


*David Weinberger has a very good reply somewhere—in Everything is Miscellaneous?—where David argues (as I recall) that this is an unrealistic notion. Conversations happen because of shared ground. I shall avoid thumbnailing any more because I shall surely get it wrong.
**See Flickr user Nabeel_H for the motto on a window, allegedly quoting the NYT. 02138 is now also the title of a Magazine for Harvard Alumni (see it). As a lifelong resident of 02138, but not a Harvard Alumnus, I am considerably irritated that four-years residence in that second-rate sausage factory gives people the right to claim my zipcode.
***Certain books, mind you. I am a great connoisseur of Cambridge bookshelves.

Labels: amazon, ethan zuckerman, homophily, social networking

Tuesday, January 1st, 2008

Happy 1815! Thomas Jefferson is done.

An unusual member has finished adding his 4,889 books to LibraryThing—our third president, Thomas Jefferson!

Jefferson, 264, was assisted by sixteen LibraryThing members, led by jbd1. Together, they cataloged 4,889 books (6,487 volumes), added 187 of his reviews (a treat), and tagged them 4,889 times, according to Jefferson’s own innovative/weird classification system.

It was hard work, but it only took them four months. They worked from scholarly reconstructions of Jefferson’s 1815 books, tracking down records in 34 libraries around the world. As is well known, Jefferson sold his books to the Library of Congress, replacing the one the British destroyed during the War of 1812. This 1815 library is Jefferson’s best-documented library. (Of course, Jefferson spent the rest of his life building up another personal collection.)

Why do it? What’s the point? After all, scans of the scholarly catalog were already available from the LC. But browsing his library is a breeze now—it’s a LibraryThing library just like another.

From Jefferson’s profile you can take advantage of all the special features, like spying on his author cloud, tag cloud, author gallery and stats page. (Everyone knows he was a Francophile, but it’s neat to see he had 45% as many French as English books.)

What’s your Jefferson number? You can also find out how many books you share, either on his profile or a new section on your stats page. Right now the top shared-user is ellenandjim, with 69 works and 79 books. Your number is going to go up, however, as the combination work continues.

About the effort. The effort to catalog Jefferson’s books was coordinated through the group I See Dead People[‘s Books]. Here’s the post announcing the completion.

It was exacting work. I stalled after few dozen books. Thanks are therefore due to the sixteen members who contributed, and particularly to the two biggest contributors, jbd1 and jjlong. I met jbd1—Jeremy Dibbell—at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. He is just weeks short of an MLS from Simmons College, and has just taken a full-time job at the Massachusetts Historical Society. About jjlong, Jeremy doesn’t know anything more than his first name, Joel, and his state, Tennessee. [UPDATE: Jeremy has put up his own blog post.]

Work has already begun on other dead worthies, with William Faulkner and Tupac Shakur the farthest along. I’m guessing that when Jefferson’s opponent John Adams is entered, they’re show up as each other’s top sharers!

Why Jefferson is Web 2.0 hip. As Tim O’Reilly recently put it*, LibraryThing (and Geni.com) presents different sorts of “social graph” (social network). On LibraryThing it’s not just “friends”—a powerful but rather simple way of seeing the world—but a different set of connections: how you relate to others through taste and interest. We’re aiming for something more than “who are your bookish friends?” or “what are your friends reading?” but “what is the world of books, and how do you fit in?”**

A paradoxical result of this—one that the “Web 2.0″-types mostly don’t understand—is that not all uses of our “social network” are social. I watch a number of users I have never spoken to; their taste in books is interesting enough. The tags and recommendations I watch work the same way. They’re socially created, but they’re not always about social interaction.

In MySpace and the lot, dead people are boring. Recently-deceased people get tributes on their comment page; MyDeathSpace has even built up a ghoulish, ad-driven business*** off teen suicides and car wrecks. But that’s about it. Historical dead people are jokes and get deleted.

On LibraryThing there are no such limitations. Books are a sort of mental world, and shared books a shared mental space. Dead or alive, it’s interesting to know that Jefferson and I share the world of Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe and de las Casas’ Destruction of the Indies (he read both in Italian!). It’s also interesting too to see that Jefferson, a Deist, had more books on Christian theology than all but a few libraries in LibraryThing, 25 books of Ecclesiastical history and 19 of Ecclesiastical law!

And Jefferson is just the start. Every library, bibliography and list, every publisher, author, bookseller and reader adds meaning to the whole, and there is no end to how the data can be turned. What books had both Jefferson and King George read? How many of my books were in the libraries of Photius or at Monte Cassino. What living author has my taste in novels? What NYT reviewer hates the same books I do? What bookstore sells the books I like? What town buys the most vampire smut? Calculating book-to-book affinities, which founding father is most likely to have enjoyed Chicken Soup for the Cat-Lover’s Soul? (It’s Burr, definitely.)


* Near the end. Geni.com is a Web 2.0 genealogy site, where the dead people are the metadata!
**I like the word bibliosphere, with its implicit comparison to the blogosphere. As stuffed-shirts like Michael Gorman fail to recognize, books have always been subjective, imperfect and in conversation with other books.
***A page of suicides is currently giving me a Viagra ad. They also make money from tshirts. Blech.

Labels: jefferson, social networking, special libraries

Friday, July 20th, 2007

Project Ocelot: Social changes

New look; new connections controls.

This announces a series of major “social” improvements, previously dubbed “Project Ocelot.”* Most have already been released, but were never blogged.

They were talked about, however—and how! The first batch were released to the Recommended Site Improvements group on July 11, where they garnered 187 messages. Two pre-release topics, here and here, racked up another 228 messages. And there were spin-off topics too.

As usual around here, the conversation drove our work. It was a great fun to work through everything with everyone. In case there is any doubt, developing LibraryThing is a blast.**

Here’s a run-down of the changes:

1. Friends and Interesting Libraries. (On your profile.) LibraryThing now offers a number of different “connections” between members. Shared books are still primary, but we’ve added “Interesting Libraries,” “Friends” and “Private Watchlist.”*** Interesting libraries are a one-way thing, although the person you mark as interesting gets a heads-up notice. “Friends” is a mutual connection. “Private Watch Lists” are still private. You can edit your connections, and see who has you on their lists.

Previous “friend” proposals have caused some concern, so we took pains to overcome most objections. We made “interesting libraries” the first option, to keep focus on the books. Friends don’t show up unless both sides consent. And you can disable “friending” and block users. The term “friends” itself rubbed a few people the wrong way—I’ve only just gotten over it myself—but it’s success is clear. Since the changes went live 60% of connections ahve been “friend” connections.

2. Connection News. (On your profile.) You can now follow what your connections are doing on LibraryThing—the books they’re adding, the reviews they write, the books they rate. You can choose any of the new categories (eg., “Friends”) or the fifty users who share the most books with you. This is my favorite feature. It’s something LibraryThing was missing. I think it adds a lot.

Members who share my favorite authors.

3. Shared Favorites (Introduced today). (On all profiles.) Some time ago, we started allowing members to list their favorite authors. Well, now you can find out who shares them with you. Here, for example, is Abby’s list. Mine is too obscure still.

4. Rating Reviews (Introduced Wedensday). LibraryThing a supportive environment. We didn’t want the “vote wars” that Amazon books can have. So, we are allowing members to vote for good reviews with a thumbs-up. But there’s no thumbs-down.

We did add flags for Terms of Service abuse and for non-reviews. (Wherever reviews are found; the feature is being discussed here.)

5. “Also On” Connections. (On your profile.) This is the most technically interesting of the features. For some time, users have been able to record what other sites they belonged to, and their site handles there. “Also On” Connections parses your “Also Ons” to get your sites, and then checks public information from these sites to get your friends’ lists. These lists are then cross-checked against LibraryThing’s “Also On.”

Basically, it help you to fill in the gaps in your social network on LibraryThing. We made it when we ran a test and discovered that lots of users were friends on Flickr or BookMooch, but not on LibraryThing. Probably many didn’t even know their friend was on LibraryThing.

6. Invitations. (On your profile.) Altay made a nice, understated “Invitations” feature, that sends out invites to the people you select.

7. Search tweaks. (On search.) Search now allows “also on” searching.

Of course, we have more to do—a lot more, here, on the core cataloging features****, and with translation (one update there).

*Name discussed here.
**It’s odd, but LibraryThing involves its “users” in its development more than most open-source projects. Open source projects have more focus on developer-to-developer conversations. We almost never talk about technology, but always about features.
***There was a brief period when we had “public” and “private” contacts. All public contacts became “interesting libraries”.
****We should have some good announcements here soon.

Labels: new feature, new features, ocelot, reviews, social networking