Monday, September 12th, 2005

LibraryThing in the Guardian!

LibraryThing was written up by Andrew Brown in the Guardian‘s daily email digest “The Wrap.” The Wrap is subscription only, but apparently reaches some 40,000 people, and not a few have since stopped by.

The article is long and, as stated, not free, but I can share the opening paragraph:

“Almost every day someone comes up with a use for the internet that
makes you wonder why no one has thought of it before. Once a year,
maybe, one of these good ideas gets built. Last week, one of these
simple, brilliant ideas got built, and it’s good news for anyone who
owns the books they read.”

Brown’s weblog notes Bibliophil and Reader2, who also had similar ideas (and Bibliophil had it first). Brown’s opinion that Bibliophil has “rotted” is a bit strong—the webmaster wrote to me that he’s in the process of a major upgrade.

Brown is optimistic about the business possibilities. I think he’s wrong: the internet produces much more value than it captures. But I intend to make some money (2-4 memberships/day?) and that money will pay for the new server I’m getting this week, and some of the time. At the current rate, LibraryThing is adding 150,000 books/mo. That kind of database isn’t free.

Comments suggest that $10 isn’t a big barrier for people. I may raise this a little in the future, or switch to a yearly rate, but “free or cheap” will always be the deal, and, of course, current paid members are locked in for life.

Meanwhile, I’m still working on features. The “Add Books” page changed a little. If the LC has just one match it no longer automatically adds it to your library, but shows you the cover and lets you try Amazon. There are a few other such tweaks.

Keep the suggestions coming. I have a backlog, but expect to work continuously on this for some weeks to come.

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Sunday, September 11th, 2005

30,000 books

We’ve hit 30,000 books! That’s 5,000/day for four days in a row.

New features slowed today as made technical changes to ensure LibraryThing can handle many times that number. (But you’ll notice profiles now have watchlists and a user search function.) But don’t worry, a major upgrade (hint: more libraries) is just around the corner.

Keep sending me suggestions. If I don’t respond right away, it’s probably because I’m acting on it.

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Saturday, September 10th, 2005

Press that card icon again!

Some new features.

  • Formerly the icon just gave you the Library of Congress record. If you wanted to know a given book’s ISBN you had to switch display styles. This was clunky, and not everyone got it (eg., my sister complained that LibraryThing only recorded author and title!). Now you can click on the card icon to get all the fields, a larger version of the cover AND the LC card.
  • The screen also gives you Amazon links. I need to include links back to Amazon if I’m going to use their API, and I think non-flashy links are a service of sorts. Yes, I get a 5% commission. I plan to take than commission and buy a cup of coffee every week.
  • In addition to the icon, which adds someone else’s book to your library, books you already have are marked with a plus icon . I’ve kept the icon, which tells you others have the item (but not necessarily you).
  • When you click to someone’s catalog, it now defaults to sorting by “sharedness” (thing you also have first, followed by things others have).

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Friday, September 9th, 2005

20,000 books / comments

We’ve hit 20,000 books this evening, going from 10,00 in less than two days. Hooray.

You can now leave a comment on someone’s profile page (eg., “hey, I have lots of books on Maori art too!”). You can shut off comments on your profile page. By default I shut it off on everyone with a private library (about 20 of 680).

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Thursday, September 8th, 2005

Do you want comments?

Do people want the ability to leave comments? This is super easy to add. I’m picturing each profile has a section at the bottom that works like a guestbook. You can leave either a public or a private comment. The recipient can delete them. The sender can delete or edit his own. A user can turn off commenting, with all private libraries defaulted to comments-off.

I’m thinking it would be nice. But I don’t want to turn this thing into “Friendster for books” as someone (wrongly) dubbed it. I may add the ability to “bookmark” other people’s libraries, but the bookmarks will not be called “friends,” with the inevitable “you’re so-and-so’s friend but they’re not yours” dynamic. Besides, I hold to the traditional view that friends need to have been drunk together.

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Wednesday, September 7th, 2005

Amazon UK, Canada, France, Germany added

I’ve added support for Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, Amazon.fr and Amazon.de. It took a while, but it works. (Don’t mention “character sets” to me today. I might start crying.) There’s a little menu on the Add books page.

I’ve also added the ability to search “the Amazons” first. Whether this makes sense depends upon the depth of the LC’s collections in a language and what you’re looking for. I have a feeling that non-US scholarly works are well-represented, but for something like French Manga it’s pointless to try. If you’re entering a lot of non-US books, let me know which you end up using.

Next up: Sleeping.

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Wednesday, September 7th, 2005

10,000 books

10,000 books reached at 6:23:17 EST.

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Wednesday, September 7th, 2005

Amazon and the Library of Congress: Together at last

Well, I think I’ve come up with the right solution, using Amazon and the LC together. It’s a little complicated, but the complexity is hidden from the user.

It works something like this. First it looks in the LC. If it can’t find it there—either because it’s not there or because the search didn’t follow LC rules—it goes to Amazon. If it finds it on Amazon, it makes one last heroic and generally successful effort to find it at the LC, this time using Amazon’s data in a LC lookup.

People who don’t care about LC data can structure their search as loosely as they want and will still end up with LC data most of the time. People who must have LC results can make sure they get them. If you have any doubt, the Add books screen tells you where the data came from for each book.

When there’s LC data, it tends to prefer it over Amazon data. This is because Amazon plays a bit loose with authors and titles. Authors are first-last sometimes, last-first others. Titles often include the name of the series the book belongs too. The LC is more careful. At the same time, it always uses Amazon date and publication info. This ensures that, although the LC may have an older edition, your info will match the book you clicked.

Inevitably the multiple sources hamper attempts to “match up” equivalent books. Right now it tends to match books up by LC control number (which can embrace two ISBNs) or by ISBN. In the future I’ll be doing a more sophisticated sameness test, involving titles, authors and other data. The same/different issue can never be solved fully, but I’ll try to strike a reasonable balance.

Confused? Don’t be. I think it works pretty well. Feel free to differ.

No response from Amazon yet. If they insist on freezing data and requiring constant refreshes, I will have to make some changes.

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Tuesday, September 6th, 2005

Social features (2); Amazon

I’ve added a few more requested social features:

  • Profiles now show users with overlapping libraries, so you can spot who has similar tastes.
  • When you look at someone else’s profile you can now see exactly what your “shared” books are.
  • When you browse someone’s library you can click on to add a book to your collection.

On the Amazon front I’m waiting for word whether LibraryThing can bend their terms of service.

The problem: Amazon’s terms seem to preclude users modifying data. If Amazon says a book is by C. S. Lewis, LibraryThing users ought to be able to change that to Clive Staples Lewis, but this seems forbidden. Amazon also requires that most data be “refreshed” every 24 hours, which would wipe out any changes anyway.

Refreshing has its own problem: you can only make one request a second. In less than a week LibraryThing has acquired 8,100 books(!). That’s a lot of back and forth with the Amazon servers, and once LibraryThing hits 86,401 there won’t be enough seconds in the day to refresh everything, let alone add new books.

LibraryThing’s “competitors” (about which more in a later post) all use Amazon and seem—correct me if I’m wrong—to allow changes. So maybe there’s an exception for sites like ours. Or maybe they just turn a blind eye.

If Amazon won’t do it, I’ll take the data from somewhere else. Booksense would be my first choice. Although they don’t have an API I can find, I could screen-scrape. Better, I could not only give users the info but also hook it up to their nearest independent bookseller.

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Monday, September 5th, 2005

Blog widgets

I’ve added “blog widgets.” Paste the widget into your blog and tell your visitors what you’re reading, who your favorite authors are, and what tags your using. You can even display random books from your collection (“LibraryThing Shuffle”?), or keep track of the whole community’s books.

Comments welcome. Next up: RSS feeds, Amazon integration and tag-completion.

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