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, new features

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Beta: “Read Alike” recommendations

I’ve pushed through a beta version of a new recommendation engine.

The “Read Alikes” recommendations supplement our existing automatic and member recommendations. “Read Alikes” are based directly on the members who have your books—the people who “read alike” you, or whatever.

So far, opinion is divided. Some members love it, and are getting great recommendations. Others report a parade of things they already know about. Is it quite consciously, however, a beta feature. It may be improved, or it may go away. Most likely, it will go away and be replaced by a better overall algorithm, with better tools for managing your recommendations.

Labels: new features, recommendations

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

February State of the Thing

On Tuesday I sent out February’s State of the Thing, our monthly newsletter. Sign up to get it, or you can read a copy online.

This month’s State of the Thing features a synopsis of site upgrades, and two exclusive author interviews:

Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel, The Historian was a hugely popular historical mystery. Switching gears from Dracula, it’s an art mystery that drives Kostova’s second novel The Swan Thieves, which is poised to follow in The Historian’s bestselling path.

Holly Black is well-known for The Spiderwick Chronicles and the Modern Tales of Faerie series. The Poison Eaters is Holly’s first short story collection. Filled with gritty scenes of magic enhantment and disenchantment, The Poison Eaters features previously published stories as well as new ones.

Next month our interviews will skew to the undead end of the spectrum, with Seth Grahame-Smith and Jonathan Maberry. Have a question for them? Post it here and we might use it in the upcoming interview.

Labels: state of the thing

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Early Reviewers February batch is about to close

If you enjoy reviewing books, and like getting free books in the mail, then this is the month to request an Early Reviewer title. There are 3,495 copies of 107 different books, all of which are either not published yet, or just recently published.

In previous months we had half this many copies available, which means this month twice as many members will win a book!

Points to note:

  • E-books are listed at the bottom. Each ebook says “This book is an eBook, not a physical book.”
  • You never know what you may win, so only request books you’re interested in reviewing yourself.

Sign up for Early Reviewers here. The February batch closes this Friday, February 26th at 6pm EST.

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Cataloged: The 1963 White House Library (Socialist Books Included)

Then and now photos of the White House Library. (“Now” photo by Flickr user Jay Tamboli).

Overnight, some twenty LibraryThing members(1) entered, or “flash mob cataloged” an entire, historic library—the White House Library of the early 1960s and, largely, today. We did it from a limited-edition “Short-Title List” printed by the White House Historical Society, using LibraryThing’s 700-odd library data sources.(2)

The library, WHLibrary1963, contains some 1,700 books. It joins some 128 other “Legacy Libraries” cataloged or being cataloged by members. It’s our second Kennedy-themed library, after the incomplete JohnFKennedy—or third, if you count Marilyn Monroe‘s (interesting) collection.

Why We Did It. An amusing train-wreck of blog outrage moved us to action. Rob Port, a conservative radio host and blogger took a White House tour and spotted some books on the wall that made him jump. Hearing or mis-hearing that the books had been picked by Michelle Obama, Port blogged Photo Evidence: Michelle Obama Keeps Socialist Books In The White House Library.

Port’s picture included books like:

And a number of other, not-so-socialist titles, like U.S. Senators and Their World, all from the 40s, 50s and 60s. (Needless to say it didn’t apparently dawn on Port to look the books up, or wonder why they all seemed a tad old.)

The White House Library.The Washington Post‘s Short Stack blog knocked down the story. Far from being picked by Michelle Obama, the library was in fact assembled at the request of another First Lady—Jacqueline Kennedy.

Kennedy, who also oversay the redecoration of the room itself, delegated the selection to Yale librarian James T. Babb, who convened a small committee, including the editors of the Jefferson and Adams papers and the Kennedy aide and historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. The work took about a year.

The book list was published in the New York Times in August 1963. A limited edition Short Title-List was printed in 1967. Between 1963 and 1967 a number of books were added to the list. From some Flickr pictures, it looks like a few more books may have been added—perhaps in the Johnson administration?—to the actual library.

What does it mean? While not a window into Obama’s book tastes, still less his socialism, the library is a window into something. Browsing through it, I can’t help feeling a sense of the time, and of the opinions and culture of the men who assembled it, and were intended to use it.

As I see it, Kennedy’s administration was marked by a rare embrace of intellect, ideas and even scholarship, but was also constrained somewhat by the mental world of contemporary east-coast elites—the “Harvards” that irritated Johnson so much. Although flattened by politic initial choices—it includes no living authors of fiction, and few works by non-US citizens— the 1963 White House Library was, in a sense, the library of the “Best and Brightest,” and it reflects their world view. As fun as it was to do, it’s perhaps a shame we don’t have similar collections for all the presidents since then. However interesting, it would be a shame if the White House Library forever remained a 1960s relic.

Come talk about the library here.

Continuing cataloging and cleanup progress here.


1. amba, ansate, bell7, bokai, carport, cbl_tn, ccc3579, clamairy, cpirmann, jbd1, jjlong, merry10, moibibliomaniac, momerath, SilentInAWay, spookykitten, theophila, timspalding, thornton37814, UtopianPessimist.
2. I kicked it off by driving from Portland down to the University of New Hampshire, which had the closest copy of the limited-edition Short-Title List. I love that my job periodically allows me to get in a car for the sole purpose of getting a book at some far-away library.

Labels: legacy libraries

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Legacy Library flash-mob tonight

There’s a minor tempest-in-a-teapot brewing over the White House library. Apparently a conservative blogger on a tour took a snapshot of some socialist-oriented books, misheard that Mrs. Obama had selected them, and blogged about it. They turned out to have been selected by Jackie Kennedy, or rather by a prominent Yale librarian she selected, and to have been there since the early 1960s.

I’m driving to the nearest copy of the library’s list (published as a limited edition book), and we’re going to use it as the basis for a Legacy Library. This is minor hot news, so I think we should try to do it fast. Any many hands make light work. Let’s see what an insane pack of bibliophilic historians can do.

We’re going to virtually flash-mob the library, by adding books from the list to a LibraryThing account at the same time.

Once I have pages, I’ll start posting them, and anyone who wants to help, can help! Read more about the project and join us.

Labels: flash mob, flash-mob cataloging, legacy libraries

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Dead horses to ponies…

Borrowing a joke from Brightcopy, I’ve turned some dead-horses into ponies, bringing some long-requested features to life, and even improving on them.

Books You Share Preferences. Some members have long campaigned for sorting the profile-page “Books You Share” box by author, not title. But I held off—that’s not the right choice for everyone. Instead I’ve added a preference for it, with a number of different sorting options.

Critically, I set the default to sorting by popularity from low to high, something nobody had ever requested. I thought members might pounce on me for it, but quite a few have said it was an unexpectedly good choice. It brings out the unusual books you share. And those are often the most interesting.

I also added a preference to change how many shared books are displayed.

See this topic for more about the feature.

Tag Combination. After a 16-month hiatus, new tag combinations and separations are back!

The idea is simple. LibraryThing allows members to combine tags that are highly similar in meaning and application. Classic examples are tags like “World War II” and “wwii” or “ww2.” We discourage combining terms that don’t entirely overlap, either in meaning or in usage. (If you’re interested in the ideas behind tagging, check out my What’s the Big Deal About Tagging? talk on YouTube.)

Tag combination only affects “global pages”; user tags are never changed.

So far as I know, we’re the only website to experiment with this idea, something noted in Gene Smith’s Tagging: People-Powered Metadata for the Social Web. Tag-combination combines a new idea—tagging—with an older idea—what librarians call “authority control.”

This time, however, we’ve given it a twist—democratic authority control. Any member can propose a combination or separation, but the matter is put up to a vote—with a supermajority needed for any action. We hope it will slow down the process and make it more deliberate.

It’ll also save our servers from having to recalculate tags. With more than 60 million tags, and “science fiction” now at three million uses, instant, any-user combinations were really putting a strain on our system.

See more about it, and some examples here.

Labels: new features, tagging

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Favorite messages and marking last-read

I’ve added a simple feature to “favorite” message. You can also mark a last-read, for those times when Thingamabrarian eloquence prevents a topic from being read in a single sitting.

More here.

Labels: new features

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Pictures get a lot better

I’ve just released phase one of the new picture system—much better profile pictures:

The new system allows members to post multiple profile pictures, see pictures at large sizes, describe pictures, leave comments on them, and share them with other members. There’s also a tagging feature, so members can organize their pictures and swarm around common tags, like my library.

The new system was designed to be used across the site. I am particularly anxious to get it working on books—so members can show multiple images, and separate out covers, title pages, spine images and so forth.

Read and talk more about it here.

Labels: new features, pictures

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Connections lists and other profile-page upgrades

Mike has revamped LibraryThing’s “connections” feature, changing the UI somewhat and allowing members to specify new types of contacts, like “best friends,” “employees,” “librarian peeps,” etc. These categories show up everywhere connections do, such as work pages.

There were also significant changes under the surface, preparing us for better contact handling generally—both inside-LibraryThing contacts and reaching out to other social networks.

We’ve also added an area for “Groups you share.”

Members are divided over this addition. There’s a poll being held about it right now.

There were a host of smaller changes. Read more about it on Talk.

Labels: new features