Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

More Early Reviewers books and buzz

We have two last-minute additions to July’s batch of Early Reviewer books, and some scandalous book news to report.

The new books
The new additions are American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, and Hurry Down Sunshine by Michael Greenberg. So go run and request them!

The buzz
American Wife has been generating a lot of buzz lately (see Wonkette, Radar). It’s a work of fiction, loosely based on Laura Bush’s life. This morning, Maureen Dowd wrote about it in The New York Times, saying

“It’s the sort of novel Laura Bush might curl up with in the White House solarium if it were not about Laura Bush. It would be interesting to hear how that lover of fiction feels about being the subject of fiction.”

Another July Early Reviewer book, The Winds of Tara is also buzz-worthy. The Winds of Tara is the unauthorized sequel to Gone with the Wind—so unauthorized that (according to Wikipedia) copyright holders blocked US distribution of the book and bookstores had to pull it from the shelves. You’ll note that it’s being offered to Early Reviewers only to Australians, by an Australian publisher, Fontaine Press.

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

July Early Reviewers

July’s huge batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 68 books this month, and a grand total 1,629 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.

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

The deadline to request a copy is Friday, July 18th at 6pm EDT.

Eligiblity:
Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and Israel! Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers, new and old!

Andrews McMeel Publishing B&H Publishing Group Ballantine Books
Bantam Bethany House Candlewick
Delacorte Press Fontaine Press Frog Books
Gefen Publishing House Harper HarperLuxe
Hyperion Books Leisure Lifetime Media
Loving Healing Press Modern History Press New York Review Books
North Atlantic Books Other Press Picador
Picnic Publishing PublicAffairs Simon & Schuster
Solaris Spellbinder Press St. Martin’s Griffin
St. Martin’s Minotaur Steerforth The Dial Press
Thomas Dunne Books Toby Press University of Chicago Press
Vertical Vertigo William Morrow
Wizards of the Coast

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Introducing the LibraryThing books API

See bottom of post for updates…

I’ve just finished a first draft of a JSON-based API for book data, created a test page and typed up some basic documentation.

What is this for? The API gives you Javascript access to your book data. The most obvious use of this would be to create new, much better widgets. At first, we expect this to interest programmers, but as new widgets are developed, non-programmers will get cool things. I started by redoing our traditional widgets in a new way here. That’s the base, not the ceiling!

How does it work? Every user can retrieve their data, in JSON format—basically as a ready-made JavaScript data structure. You control what is returned—books, tags, ratings, etc.—how it’s sorted and so forth. By default we give you a standard library of functions to parse and display the data. You can use it, build on it or start from scratch. Find out more here.

What’s great? All our code for processing the JSON API has been and will be released as open source—available for use, reuse and modification. Better—since we’re not the best programmers, particularly in JavaScript!—we are requiring any software that builds upon the API to be released under similar terms, so everyone can take advantage of improvements and advances. 

Does this make code look sexy?

What’s the catch? The API is not intended for making backups or exporting your data to other programs. For that, use our CSV and TSV export functions, from the Tools tab. We are licensing the JSON API for browser-use only. This is about our data licenses. In-browser widgets have never drawn ire from our data providers.

Where can this go? This is just getting started. Everything can be expanded and improved. As members want new or different data, I will be only too happy to add it to the API. But the most interesting development will probably come from members, not LibraryThing employees.

I have created a LibraryThing API Development group to discuss the API, work through code and come up with new ideas.

At a minimum, I can see:

  • New widget types, like widgets showing your most recent reviews.
  • Widgets that take you to libraries, and other places other than LibraryThing. (Libraries have been clamoring for this for ages. Many use LibraryThing to feature new books on the website, and want the links to go to their catalog, not LibraryThing.)
  • New result sets, for your tags or authors (separate from our books), your book’s works, series info, etc.
  • Integration with other JS-based APIs, like Google Book Search.

What if I’m not a programmer? No problem. Come and LibraryThing API Developmenttell us what you want. We’ll help you, or maybe someone else will.


UPDATE: I’ve made some changes to the programming, changing how the code is structured and adding result sets for reading dates. We also have the first outside use of the API, a very promising—if not perfect—cover flip test by MMcM (here). Follow what’s going on in the LibraryThing API Development group.

Labels: api, apis, books api, javascript, json, member projects

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

Author Chat

Our Author Chat feature is going strong! Stop by the Author Chat group right now to talk to a slew of authors:

We also have a list of upcoming chats posted, so you can plan ahead (go read/borrow/buy the book in advance of the chat!)

Labels: author chat

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