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

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Connection News, again

If you haven’t recently, take another look at Connection News. I’ve given it a few new features and much faster.

Connection News has been the best feature nobody uses. It was good in theory, but it was slow. It’s much faster now. As SilentInAWay put it:

“… [T]his afternoon, it took about a minute and a half to load this page for my interesting libraries. With this speed-up, it took several seconds to load the page the first time that I invoked it; for all subsequent loads, however, it has taken about a second. Wow!”

Connection News now tracks “newness”—putting a little “NEW” marker next to books, reviews and ratings if they’re new since the last time you looked at Connection News. To discuss the feature and suggest improvements, check out Talk.

Labels: connection news, optimization, speed

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Italy!

I glanced at today’s stats and was in for a surprise—more than the usual daily sign-ups and half were Italians!

It turns out we got a great mention in la Repubblica*, described by Wikipedia as “the largest circulation Italian daily general-interest newspaper.” Sadly, the article did not use the Italian domain, LibraryThing.it, but many found it and its Italian translation anyway.

Here are two past blog posts in Italian, from our Italian LibraryThinger, Giovanni:


*Current headline: Hillary Clinton: “Yes we can Facciamo vincere Obama.” American politics + Latin = Comprehension.

Labels: italy, press hits

Friday, June 6th, 2008

June Early Reviewers

June’s batch of Early Reviewer books is up! This month has 37 books, from 23 different publishers, with a grand total of 1,075 copies to give out.*

What is LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program? It’s simple really—we’re teaming with publishers to provide advance or just-published copies of books to you, in exchange for reviews. The publishers are supplying the books, you get to read and review them, and we play matchmaker! :) Check out the FAQ for more on the program.

All you have to do is sign up, and then go request the books you’re interested in! You can request as many as you like, but you’re only eligible to receive one per batch.

The list of books is here:
http://www.librarything.com/er/list

The deadline to request a copy is Monday, June 16th at 6pm, EDT.

Eligibility: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, and the UK.

Thanks to all the publishers, new and old!

Andrews McMeel Publishing B&H Publishing Group Broadway
Candlewick Canon Press Canongate Books
Demos Medical Publishing DiaMedica Doubleday Books
Faber and Faber Hyperion Loving Healing Press
Marion Boyars Publishers Menasha Ridge Press Modern History Press
Newmarket Other Press Picador
Picnic Publishing Shadow Mountain St. Martin’s Griffin
Waveland Press Steerforth

*Tim and I spent several days last week talking to every publisher we could at BookExpo America—I’m hoping these batches of books will just get bigger and better!

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Friday, May 30th, 2008

LA meet up

We’re having a LibraryThing meet up at the Library Bar in LA tonight! Come join us for a beer around 7 pm.

It’s downtown, at 630 West 6th St (directions and a map here).

Labels: la, meet up

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

LibraryThing at BookExpo America

Tim and I are off to Los Angeles in the morning (in the very very early morning) to go to BookExpo America (BEA)—the US’s biggest book fair. It’s always a fun event, full of authors and publishers and booksellers and librarians and other book-industry-types.

The event is limited to people within the “book industry”, but that includes you, librarians, so come on down! Free advance copies of books, meeting publishers, conference sessions about programming events and new book titles—BEA is very librarian friendly. Online registration is closed, but you can still get in at the door.

If you’re at a loss for things to do (how could you be?) Tim is giving a talk (“Social Cataloging and Social Networking Experimentation: Insights from LibraryThing”) from 4-5 on Thursday (May 29th).

On LibraryThing, check out the BEA 2008 group and BookExpo America on LibraryThing Local. I started adding events to the listing on Local, but there are over 600 author autographing sessions so I gave up.

And if you’re going to be at BEA and want to set up a meeting (want to know more about Early Reviewers? Author Chat? Listing events or getting your bookstore into LibraryThing Local?), just drop me an email (abbylibrarything.com)

Meet up at the Library Bar — 7pm Friday night
While we’re there, we’re having an LA meet-up of LibraryThing members. So whether you’re in the area just for BEA, or you live there, it’s the perfect excuse to have a beer with us! Come join us at the Library Bar (630 West 6th St.—directions here) on Friday night (May 30th) at 7pm.

And everyone should check out the menu, even if you can’t come. The beer list is broken down into sections like “American Authors”, “Epic Novels”, “Women’s Studies”, and “Periodicals”. How can you resist?

Labels: bea, la, meet up

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

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Works, editions, ISBNs and cocktails


We got your Harry Potter and the Angus an Orchloch right here!

Short verson.I’ve just completed a major change in the “substructure” of LibraryThing’s data, the “works system” that links different editions together. The system is better and will allow more betterness down the road. It was the reason we were down most of last night. We regret that, but think the change will prove worth it.

Long version—What are “Works?” LibraryThing’s work system brings users together around the books they’ve read, not the peculiarities of publisher, format or even language. Works are created and tended by members, who “combine” editions together into works. Anyone can do it, but the die-hards created a large and active group—Combiners!—to trade tips, debate philosophy, muster effort—and complain about the system!

Combiners is a remarkable community, and one that has gone without a nod from me for some time. I hope these changes encourage them, and the prospect of future improvements built on surer footing.


The Combiners! know the stakes, as their group logo tells us.

Since the beginning I’ve promoted the idea of the “cocktail party” test.* This test answers whether two books belong to the same work by asking whether their readers would, in casual conversation, own up to reading the same book or not. So, for example, in such a context it wouldn’t matter if you had read a book in its hardcover or paperback edition, or listened to it on CD. If the cute girl with the backless dress mentions she’s fond of the Unbearable Lightness of Being, the edition is immaterial (but see this link). I also suspect that title differences occasioned by marketing considerations—eg., Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (UK) vs. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (US)—wouldn’t matter. Nor should language itself matter; few would turn a cold shoulder to a Finnish Tolkien fan merely because he read Tolkien in Finnish.**

What’s Changed? The core concept used to be that a work consisted of a discrete set of title-author pairs. We chose title-author to emphasize the loose, verbal nature of the cocktail party test, and because ISBNs are much less perfect than many believe.*** These title-author pairs we called “editions.”

Unfortunately, there are a small number of works that can’t be identified based on title and author alone. This happens particularly in science fiction and graphic novels. (Apparently the Fantasy Hall of Fame currently entombs two distinct works—same title, same authors but different contents and publisher. Someone should be punished for that.) My bête noire are Cliff’s Notes filed in with the works they “interpret.” No appletini for you “Great Expectations”!

The system still automatically assigns new editions based on author and title. But I’ve added ISBNs to the mix, so members can combine and separate editions looking at and according to their ISBNs.

Other changes:

  • Title-author-ISBN bundles are now distiguished by the smallest details, so you can separate “Hard Times” from “Hard times” from “Hard times” with a period at the end. It has vastly increased the number of editions in the system. (There are now more than 1,200 editions of the Hobbit!) This is was mostly a technical decision.
  • The original system produced a few “hash collisions,” utterly different books thrown in together unhappily. This has been a long-running defect—and complaint. The new system will allow their separation, although existing ones will need to be separated.
  • The Combination and Debris (renamed “Editions”) pages should be faster. Some will start—and stall!—on a message about updating edition information. Once the editions have been calculated, the page will be faster.

As mentioned above, the new system was responsible for our extended downtime last night. Between a few mistakes and a database just shy of 27 million books, it took longer than we thought. I hope that the changes prove worthwhile in and of themselves.

Being much better designed, the new system should enable:

  • Edition-level pages
  • Edition-to-edition and work-to-work relationships
  • Member and book matching that takes editions into account
  • An end to the “dead languages” exception to the cocktail party test.
  • More opportunities for me to discuss the Pop-Up Kama Sutra at library conferences.

I’ve created a Talk thread for members who want to discuss the changes.


*Perhaps wishing I’d get invited to a few more cocktail parties! Speaking of which, are you going to Book Expo America 2008 in Los Angeles? We are.
**Whether you choose to avoid the Finnish Tolkien fan at cocktail parties is, of course, up to you.
***In fact, publishers recycle ISBNs, steal ISBNs, make up ISBNs, print wrong ISBNs, apply ISBNs to large sets of seemingly discrete items and otherwise abuse the system all the time. Most of the time they work in a bookstore context. They aren’t really fit for a project of LibraryThing’s size and scope.

Labels: frbr, library science, new feature, new features, work pages, works