Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

CueCats, meet Abby cats

Back in stock and ready to go! They tried to deliver the latest shipment to me while I was away in Wisconsin, but this afternoon the UPS guy and I finally managed to be in the same place at the same time. It didn’t come, of course, in time for me to make it to the post office before it closed-but I have three paper grocery bags filled up with the envelopes, ready for an early morning trip. Now I understand why Tim was saying his hand hurt from writing out so many addresses…

So if you ordered a CueCat in the past few days, I’m sorry about the delay, but it’ll be en route to you as soon as I wake up in the morning. For everyone else, we still have some left, and even more coming by the end of the week – get your order in now and we promise a quick turn around. Only fifteen dollars, including shipping anywhere in the US.

(neither animals nor CueCats were harmed during this photoshoot.)

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Sunday, November 5th, 2006

Review pages

Bloggers rejoice! I’ve added dedicated pages for every review, so you can point directly to your review, not to the work page generally.

Basically, the link appears wherever you see a review. For example, you’ll see it on work pages and on your review page (here’s mine). I’m using the “permanent link” icon. I hope it’s not confusing.

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Saturday, November 4th, 2006

Let your reviews go!

Before now, it was never really clear what LibraryThing could or couldn’t do with your reviews. Unlike other such venues we’ve never had a “do anything” clause, although cynical members probably assumed we did. Now that we have some opportunities, we’d love to show some reviews outside of the site.

But they’re your reviews, so you decide where they can go. We’re giving you three options:

  • Keep reviews on LibraryThing only
  • Allow LibraryThing to give your reviews to non-commercial entities (libraries mostly)
  • Allow LibraryThing to give reviews to commercial entities (booksellers, publishers, authors, street gangs)

Change your setting by going to edit your profile.

If you don’t decide by December 1, we will default you to unrestricted use. In a day or two—once I do the code—all members who have posted a review will receive a message about this. New people will get a message when they post their first review. Whatever you choose, if your library itself is private, your reviews will be private too.

I’m in the process of writing protections into the TOS, eg., that reviews not be changed in any way. (I think I’m going to allow obscuring of swear words, like f**k.) I’d be interested to hear if anyone has any other concerns. LibraryThing won’t be DOING anything for some time, and we want to do this carefully, and listen to what people think, as we usualy do.

Why are we doing this? LibraryThing users have built up quite an impressive corpus of book reviews (almost 100,000). Our focus on books as books—not on selling books—together with the lack of any “review rules” has given rein to a lot of excellent writing.

In the last few months, Abby and I have been going to library conferences and meeting a lot of librarians. We’ve learned that libraries are eager to show more information in their catalog—particularly reviews and recommendations. The few already doing so are paying through the nose for this data. Often this means snippets from “professional reviews” assembled by the publisher for their ONIX feed and repackaged and resold to libraries by data companies. (Library patrons are, I think, generally unaware when reviews come from the book’s publishers!) Amazon of course provides user reviews, but only if a library is willing to make itself a sales channel in return. Commercial concerns, such as Abebooks, are also interested in showing reviews on their sites, and obviously can’t use Amazon’s.

So, we’d love to open up LibraryThing’s reviews—to sell them, probably, although we will be underselling the data companies by a mile. By allowing us to do it, you’ll be helping LibraryThing financially, and giving your opinions wider currency to boot.

In case it’s said, LibraryThing is not turning evil. Letting your review go is your choice, not ours. If you ever reviewed a book on an online bookseller you agreed to unlimited distribution and modification. One of LibraryThing’s competitors has a TOS that asserts COPYRIGHT over user reviews. (Prima noctis too, probably.) LibraryThing wants to give you control over your reviews. If you want to help us out, great. If not, and we’re very grateful you want them on LibraryThing. We’d kiss you if we could.

Instead, post here or come talk on Talk.

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Saturday, November 4th, 2006

MyPictr.com

A quick plug for MyPictr.com, which takes a pictr—I mean picture*—and scales and crops it for various social-networking sites. LibraryThing actually doesn’t have set sizes. (Many sites require small squares, which appear all over the site in lieu of names, which, as we all know, involve those tricky letters things.**) Even so an easy-to-use scale-and-crop service is welcome. (Hat tip: Steve Cohen)

*Creative site; lemming name.
**The chosen picture, smiling college student with beer about to spill is telling.

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Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Recommendations refreshed, improved

I just completed a rather extensive regeneration of the book recommendations—the “people who own X also own Y” recommendations and the “similarly tagged” ones. (The “Special Sauce” is next.) Recommendations, in turn, affect the “Pssst!” system (recommendations based on your whole library) and involved recreating all the work-to-tag clouds. Quality has, I think, risen significantly. We’ve improved the algorithms and the non-stop growth of the LibraryThing data set—now at 6.8 million books—continually improve the results anyway.

Scope has also improved. The system only makes recommendations for works with more than ten copies. That comes to juse 93,000 out of 1.3 million works. But these works account for over 60% of the books in LibraryThing. Before the current re-do, only 50,000 works were covered.

The recommendations are better, but hardly perfect! We’ve made progress toward better algorithms, and have big plans for future improvements. On the UI side, we’re going to introduce users-feedback on recommendations, including both thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons, and an “obscurity knob” for Pssst! (People love that on Last.fm.)

The system works best in the “middle,” on books with 25-500 copies, non-fiction, genre fiction, books with a well-defined readership, and books that are “about” something—books like Touching the Void, Prozac Nation, The Historical Figure of Jesus and An encyclopedia of fairies. It has the most trouble with bestsellers, “obligatory books” (think high-school classics), and literary fiction—books like the Da Vinci Code and Great Expectations. To some extent, the problem is almost philosophical. What would be good recommendations for the Da Vinci Code? Statistically-speaking not much stands out. At the high-obscurity end, there are of course books on the book and its themes—Cracking Da Vinci’s code or Baigen’s Holy blood, holy grail.—but most Da Vinci Code readers aren’t interested in that stuff. Ideally, we’d like a better mix of suggestions—some obscure stuff, and some of the quick, high-popularity reads it correlates with.

Burying the lead? We figure we’re a month or so away from getting the algorithms where we want them. Once they are, we’re going to start making them available to libraires, to spice up their online catalogs with top-notch readers’ advisory—and for much less than they’re currently paying for inferior services. We think it will make quite a splash!

NEWS: Tag-combining is back!

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Monday, October 30th, 2006

French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish domains

Announcing LibraryThing.fr, LibraryThing.nl, LibraryThing.it and LibraryThing.es. LibraryThing users translated those some time ago—except for Italian, which is lagging at just under 70% translated—but they were getting by on subdomains. fr, nl, it and es now join LibraryThing.de as full-fledged domains.

We’re not sure if the domains will help LibraryThing. We hope, at the very least, it will show we’re committed to internationalization. Other languages, like Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Greek, Portugues (Br. and Pt.) and Welsh, are getting by on subdomains.

The Spanish (es) site was probably a mistake. Spanish-named dot-coms are more common, with es reserved for sites in or about Spain. But we’ll see how it shapes up.

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Friday, October 27th, 2006

CueCats back in stock

After running out on the fourth day, we once again have CueCat barcode scanners in stock and going cheap—$15 US first class, $20 internationally.

Abby arranged for the next shipment to go to her in Boston. She’s been lying in wait for the UPS guy for two days now, and I’ve been thinking about all the custom forms I won’t have to fill out. So imagine my surprise to find this ungainly foundling on my front porch.

The faster I get rid of them the sooner Abby gets the next case. How about I top the envelopes off with candy corn?

If you’re interested in some of the intellectual issues going on with LibraryThing, check out the Thingology blog, with links to the audio of a talk I gave at Tufts for NEASIS&T on LibraryThing, followed by a panel discussion with Abby too. It was fun to do—I was conversational to a fault, but at least I avoided the deadly Powerpoint. This was the first time I got deep into the value of tags, spending about half my time on it. It’s been noted—quite justly—that focusing on fiction is a bit unfair. And I might have spent more time on when tags fall down. I won’t admit to “slagging” on LCSH, although I did focus on where it fails, and I enjoy getting a laugh now. I’m due for a couple more talks in the next few months, but I don’t think I’ll be able treat the issues in the depth they deserve.

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Thursday, October 26th, 2006

Welsh site 79% done!

LibraryThing in Welsh is 79% done, largely but not entirely owing to Dogfael. Outstanding! Check it out at cym.librarything.com. If the domain ever gets approved, we’ll try to get www.librarything.cym.

Now, what can we do to make it better for Welsh speakers? Any libraries to add? Most libraries don’t have open Z39.50 connections, but I can run down a list if people give me one.

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Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

GBV, a Major German consortium added

A helpful Thingamabrarian*, pointed me to connection details for the Gemeinsamer Bibliotheksverbund (GBV), the “Common Library Network of the German States,” a massive consortium of libraries all over Germany.** I’ve added it, and it seems to work well. (I also fixed some Polish and Bulgarian character-set issues, for it and other libraries.)

According to the German Wikipedia entry, washed through Google Translate

“The [GBV] is also over 50 million title data records the largest data base for listing in Germany.”

I am hoping you will agree this wonderful news is for Germany users in LibraryThing!

*Whom, if she wants her LT name mentioned, should let me know.
**The states are: Bremen, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Niedersachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein, Thüringen and–not, I think, a state–the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage.

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Monday, October 23rd, 2006

LibraryThing does CueCats! (we’re even selling them)

LibraryThing makes entering your books easy, but it still takes time. A barcode scanner can be a big help. So, we’ve bought one hundred CueCat scanners (Wikipedia | more photos), and are offering them for fifteen bucks, including shipping anywhere in the United States. That’s about as good as they get on eBay. And your purchase helps the site.

So, go ahead and buy a CueCat.

Other details:

  1. We’re selling “unmodified” USB CueCats. Unmodified CueCats produce somewhat scrambled data, but we’ve put the translation right into LibraryThing’s system. This turns .C3nZC3nZC3n2D3D3DNr7DxnY.CNf7.CNbWDhfWCNvWCNnZChzZC3nZC3nZC3j0 into 7231631002. See links on Wikipedia for directions on “declawing” your CueCat for use elsewhere.
  2. LibraryThing now reads Borders product codes (eg., the code above), converting them to ISBNs (see announcement).
  3. Barcode scanning has been made easier. We’ve added a “Skip confirmation” checkbox, that allows you to scan a shelf of books without touching your mouse or keyboard. (Having done it both ways, I can tell you that CueCat works a lot better than webcam scanning.)
  4. I’ve made a CueCat help and support group.

Note: Yes, technically they’re supposed to be called “:CueCats.” I find the colon an offense against the English Language, and the company that made them went out of business, so I’m gonna leave it off.

Note: Prices and shipping rates are subject to change.

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