Monday, January 11th, 2010

Local books, virality and Twitter

Virality is an awesome thing. LibraryThing grew virally, and we’re seeing the same patterns with our new Local Books iPhone application (blog post, iTunes), released last Wednesday.

Some highlights:

Most noticeable, though, has been the shift away from blogs, which were once the main way people found out about LibraryThing and its new features, toward Twitter and other services (see Twitter’s list of tweets with my original URL). I think that, for smaller topics like this, Twitter has simply taken over.

Maybe I’ll change my mind if someone at the New York Times notices the New Yorker or L.A. Times pieces, and decides to write their own!

Labels: local books

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Colored check marks

I’ve change the green check marks to a palette of four colors, so you can distinguish at a glance books in your library, wish list, read-but-unowned list and other collections.

The check marks pop up on recommendations and statistics pages. So far, members have been particularly happy to see them on your Series Statistics page, which lists all the series in your library, and which books in the series you have in the various collections.

As should become immediately obvious, colors can’t do justice to all the complexity of collections. Not every collection gets a color, and we aren’t mixing up paint buckets when a book belongs to two collections. We may revisit this, allowing members to set colors for their collections, but it will depend on other priorities, and we’ll never be able to squeeze all the information in collections into colors alone. For what they are, however, we hope they’re useful.

See more information and discussion.

Labels: collections, new features

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Local Books iPhone application!

» Take me right to iTunes

Short version. We’ve just released our first foray into iPhone development, a free application called “Local Books.”

Local Books resembles popular dining apps like LocalEats or UrbanSpoon—but for book lovers. It shows you local bookstores, libraries and bookish events wherever you are or plan to be.

I’ve been using beta versions on my trips for months already; it’s the ideal travel companion. Even if you know your area well, you’re almost certain to find new places. We hope it will be a shot in the arm for physical bookstores and libraries—a new way to see how much bookishness there is around you.

At present Local Books does not show inventory from local bookstores and libraries. But, well, isn’t that a good idea?

Check it out on iTunes.

Features. Features include:

  • Search for venues (bookstores and libraries) as well as events near your current location using the iPhone’s built-in location features.
  • Search for venues and events at any location or by name.
  • Venues can be sorted by distance, name, or type.
  • Venues are color coded, following the maps on LibraryThing Local (colors correspond to the colors used on maps in LibraryThing Local).
  • Each venue has a detail page with a map. Tap it to jump to the iPhone Maps application.
  • Venues often sport a description, clickable website and phone number links, events, and a photo.
  • You can favorite locations and events, and there’s a “Favorites” list where you can find them.(1)

Powered by LibraryThing Local. Local Books is powered by LibraryThing Local, the LibraryThing member-created database of 51,000 bookstores and libraries around the world. Events too are drawn from LibraryThing Local. Notably, since last night we’ve had a four-fold increase in events, as we started pulling in events from Barnes and Noble, Borders, Waterstones and Indigo/Chapters, as well as IndieBound.

Why We Did It. Creating Local Books wasn’t free. We hired an outside house to help us. (Well, semi-outside; half of ConceptHouse is our in-house programmer Chris/ConceptDawg.) There’s no “monetization” at all.

We did it because, despite the dozens of dining, clubbing and other location applications, nobody had done a good book one before. True, IndieBound recently came out with an elegant iPhone app.(2) But indies are not the only bookstores. And libraries, which far exceed bookstores and are almost everywhere, are absolutely critical. We’ve always thought of the book world in the largest possible terms, and we wanted an iPhone application that did that too.

Most of all, Local Books is our contribution to keeping the book world interesting. Amazon and other online retailers are great. LibraryThing is great too. But book lovers can’t be happy in a world with fewer and fewer physical bookstores, and a rising threat to libraries. The more we know about this physical book world, the better we can foster it, and the better we can use websites like LibraryThing and Amazon to improve our world, not replace it.

How You Can Help. Even with 51,000 venues, not every bookstore and library is in LibraryThing. If you know of one that’s not in there, go ahead and add it. If you represent the bookstore or library in question, you can “claim” your venue page, and start using LibraryThing to connect to your customers or patrons.

Even if they’re all there, most are still missing something—a photograph, a phone number, a good description, a Twitter handle. Events—especially indie bookstores and libraries—are a particular need.

It’s a virtuous cycle. The better we can make the data, the more people will find the application useful, and the more people who will make it better

Oh, and vote up the application, will ya? :)

Links.


1. The favorites feature in the app is not tied to your favorites list on LibraryThing.com. We didn’t want to require sign-in and so forth.
2. The IndieBound application does allow you to search for books, but only off their online catalog. There’s no tie-in to local holdings. Even if it had that, most Indie bookstores do not upload their inventory to IndieBound, and, again, neither bookstores or independent bookstores should be the only option for book lovers.

Special thanks to the “Board for Extreme Thing Advances,” our beta group, who put the application through it’s paces before release. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Labels: iphone, librarything local, local book search, local books

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

January Early Reviewer books up!

The January 2010 batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 57 books this month, and a grand total of 1,438 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

A note: included in this batch are a couple of sex books, so I want to remind everyone that if you request it, and you win it, then you’re expected to put it in your catalog and review it. If you find the book title or content embarrassing, please don’t request it.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:
http://www.librarything.com/er/list

The deadline to request a copy is Friday, January 29th at 6PM EST.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to too many countries to list. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Penguin The Permanent Press Faber and Faber
Bell Bridge Books B&H Publishing Group Doubleday Books
Delacorte Press Hachette Book Group Putnam Books
Tundra Books Spiegel & Grau Random House
W.W. Norton Candlewick Doubleday Canada
Orbit Books Hunter House Sovereign
UnT2 Canongate Books Avalon Press
Henry Holt and Company Gauthier Publications Eirini Press
Berkley Sensation Signet Avon Books
St. Martin’s Griffin Picador Center Street
Grand Central Publishing ArbeitenZeit Media Harper
DargonFish Comics Hungry Goat Press

Labels: early reviewers

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Four times as many event listings

Overnight I added 3,364 bookish events to LibraryThing Local.

That more-than quadruples the number of events in LibraryThing Local!

The new events were from Barnes and Noble, Borders, Waterstones UK and Indigo/Chapters stores. Together with IndieBound—already in the system—this covers the largest English-language bookstore chains that also have event listings.

We are, of course, looking for new event sources. Publishers are probably our next stop. But members have been the largest single source of events, and will always be critical, especially for libraries and independent bookstores that don’t use IndieBound event listings.

It should also be said that none of this would be possible if members hadn’t helped us to add LibraryThing venues for all the stores in question, and hook their numbers up to ours. This was critical for our innovative Local Book Search, and we plan to do even more with these linkages in the future.

To add a new event go to LibraryThing Local, or just start here.


PS: This isn’t a coincidence. We’re going to be releasing something related—and big—tomorrow! :)

Labels: events, librarything local, local book search, members

Monday, January 4th, 2010

The Great Group Revamp

I’ve revamped groups in ways small and large.

The result! The revamp is working. Since the change, daily group-joining rates have almost doubled for both old and new members. Nice.

New Groups page. There’s a new group tab (see here). The page is:

Group tags. Until now, there was no good way to find particular sorts of groups. Rather than designing some static and ultimately limited system of categories, we’ve asked members to tag groups. Of course, members went crazy at it. You can see the tags:

Local Groups. Groups can now have locations, and the group home and your groups page now show local groups. As members have pointed out, “local” is a relative term, but the results will improve as local groups are identified and added. (Go here to add a place to an existing group.)

At present, the largest groups are the Australians, Germans and Bostonians.

“Welcome to LibraryThing!” By popular request/agitation added a Welcome to LibraryThing! group, for introductions, questions and other conversation. As the description states:

“LibraryThing is a rich site, with a number of different communities and projects going on. It can also be a complex site—powerful but sometimes daunting to newcomers. This group is a friendly place for new members, and the experienced members who can help them make the most of it. Most questions and introductions are answered within minutes.

Members, new and old, are invited to check it out.

Dormant groups. The system now tracks groups for activity. If twelve months pass without a message—excepting private groups—the group becomes “dormant.” As befits a more than four year-old site, some 3,000 LibraryThing groups are currently dormant!

Groups “wake up” when a new message is posted to them. In many cases, however, it’s better to start a vibrant new group than revive a dormant one.

Other changes.

  • Better searching. Group searching is much improved, with activity graphics by every group, weighting by activity, tags figured in, dormant groups excluded by default and a better algorithm generally.
  • Better navigation. All group pages are now connected, with a common navigation.
  • Smaller pages. Pages are smaller and therefore faster. Caching is improved, so the results are both fast and updated frequently.

Talk about it These changes have been trickling out for more than a week, and conversation has been extensive—and very helpful. The more important topics are:


1. As explained elsewhere, tags are sized more according to the aggregate activity of the groups than the number of times they are tagged. This differs from how work tags work, but favors the goal of helping people find things.

Labels: group tags, groups, tagging

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

December State of the Thing

Last night I sent out November’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 ton of new features, the SantaThing recap and free books.

We also have two exclusive author interviews:

Julie Powell first wrote Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen as a blog, which turned into a highly successful book, and a movie. Her new memoir, Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, picks up with Julie heading upstate to learn the fine art of butchering, while shuttling back to New York to confront her marriage and the end of an affair.

Masha Hamilton is the author of four novels, including The Camel Bookmobile. Her new novel, 31 Hours, starts in New York City, where a mother with the age-old intuition that something is wrong chooses possible overreaction over inaction. The story then follows several connected paths to reveal one character’s motives behind his desire to help carry out an act of terrorism in the very city he grew up.

Next month, we’ll be interviewing Colum McCann and Josh Ferris. Have a question for them? Post it here and we might use it in the upcoming interview.

Labels: author chat, author interview, santathing, state of the thing

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Recommending books—and series

It’s frequent for recommendations to include multiple books from the same series. So I’ve changed how recommendations display, to show these and get out of the way for other recommendations.

I also added recommendations to all Common Knowledge pages, so you can see aggregate recommendations for every series, award, place, character and so forth. For series, the results can be very good. Others can be strange, but are often quite cool.

This is another example of our continual effort to “unlearn” ecommerce, especially Amazon, conventions. Real people recommend series to each other—not to mention authors, genres, etc. Stores recommend discrete objects, because that’s what they sell. LibraryThing, which strives be interesting and useful, not to sell things, can transcend these store limitations. We just need to realize they’re there.

Come talk about it here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/79301

Labels: now with series, recommendations

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

A new holiday for December: Do Nothing but Read Day

Do Nothing but Read Day is this Sunday, December 20th.

It all started by a library science student wishing out loud that she could spend a day doing nothing but reading. She then started a blog to make it happen.

Here are the requirements:

  • you must read more than one book (they can be short, also short stories and audiobooks count!)
  • comfy clothing (jammies preferable)
  • no shoes (slippers are ok)
  • mugs of beverages and snacks

Optional:

  • sleepy cat(s)
  • blankies

Add the tag DNBRD2009 to whatever books you’re going to read, and check out the tag page to see what others are going to be reading on Sunday!

The catch is that if you’re reading all day, you can’t post in the Talk thread about it on Sunday. So, go and discuss it now (and afterwards).

Labels: DNBRD, DNBRD2009, Do Nothing but Read Day, event, reading

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Augmented reality for LibraryThing Local

See more screenshots. Yes, that’s Portland new The Green Hand Bookshop!

LibraryThing programmer Mike has put together a LibraryThing “overlay” for the mobile phone app Layar. It draws on LibraryThing Local to show you the closest bookstores and libraries.

Layar turns your mobile device into an “augmented reality” window on the world. In our case, the app. shows you dots for local bookstores and libraries, so you can head in the right direction, as well as information about it.

Visit Apple’s app store or the Android market to get it. Unfortunately, because it relies on the “compass,” you’ll need an iPhone 3GS (the new ones) or Android phone.

I’m somewhat skeptical of the augmented reality idea, at least until we have heads-up displays inside our eyeglasses. It doesn’t help that Mike’s Android phone has a misaligned compass. But Layar has map and list functions that are extremely useful. Travelers will be particularly impressed by the ability to land somewhere, and instantly know where the local bookstores are.

We have our own “Local Books” application coming out soon. We think it’s going to be a big hit. Until then—and for the added kick of augmented reality—this is some pretty cool stuff.

Come let us know what you think.

Labels: augmented reality, layar, librarything local