Thursday, December 7th, 2006

AbeBooks.com scores, LibraryThing assists

Congratulations to AbeBooks.com, named one of the fifty top ecommerce sites by Internet Retailer magazine. Their category included iTunes, Netflix and SimplyAudioBooks.

As many of you know, I sold AbeBooks a 40% stake in LibraryThing back in May—I retain the rest—and LibraryThing and Abe have been working together since. Apparently Abe was picked for its focus on uncluttered findability and… for the investment in LibraryThing!

From the article:

“LibraryThing is a fantastic tool for avid book readers and collectors and may be even more sophisticated than the community features of “the Big Kahuna” of online bookselling, Amazon.com, says Sucharita Mulpuru, senior retail analyst at Forrester Research Inc. ‘The tags seem more relevant,’ she adds, ‘and the lists seem more germane to book lovers than the random lists that often show up on other user-generated content sites.'”

Apologies for recent (relative) silence. Chris, Abby and I met for the first time in months, and we emerged reinvigorated, well-fed, and with some clear short-term objectives: author enhancement, wish lists (dammit), search bugs and a blog-o-licious surprise.

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Monday, December 4th, 2006

Slashdotted

Wondering why the site is crushingly slow? The UnSuggester was written up in Slashdot this morning, and the traffic is unbelievable.

So – go get a cup of coffee or hot chocolate (it snowed here in Boston last night, so that’s what I’m doing) and surf something else for a bit, read some of those books, or even ponder doing some work – and give us a chance to catch up!

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Monday, December 4th, 2006

Back from Victoria

Yesterday I completed a three-day odyssey to Victoria for the Abebooks.com Christmas Party. Although Abe owns 40% of LibraryThing, they were 100% hospitable. I could tell what a fun company it was, even before the liquor started flowing.

I also enjoyed the company of Anirvan, Charlie and Giovanni* of BookFinder, and even managed to listen in on a conversation with Google. (As someone remarked before the call, it was “like calling God.”)

I didn’t have much time to work on the site (but minor tweaks to widgets, catalog), except on planes, where I lacked wifi, but managed to rack up a few blog posts like this one, pushing for a fun library catalog. Thanks to Abby and Chris sending out CueCats and fixing bugs while I was gone.

*Later they played “guess who?” with BookFinder baby pictures. As a new dad—which makes me highly sensitive to baby pictures—I have to say: Giovanni was one cute baby! (Second to Liam, of course.)

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Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

A small plug for Wordie

Fellow Portland Mainer John McGrath, of Squirl, hacked together Wordie, social cataloging and social networking for words. Basically, you “catalog” words and arrange them in lists (eg., my products named after their place of origin). If two users share a word, that connects them. It’s a deeply silly idea, but I love that he did it.

PS: Wordie is now included among LibraryThing’s “also on” list, available from your profile.

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Monday, November 27th, 2006

Small features and bug-fixes

I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving as much as we did. With all the tryptophan in our systems, we didn’t make any major progress over the holiday. But we chipped away at some lesser features and bugs, in between courses:

  1. Groups now sport RSS feeds for recent messages. We plan to add feeds for your groups, your posts, etc.
  2. Tag pages now offer feeds for the most recent books tagged X in your library. They are also available when you look at a tag in your catalog too.
  3. LibraryThing widgets are now available in the Latin-1 character set (UTF-8 remains the default). If you have a blog in Latin-1, and a lot of non-English books, widgets now work.
  4. LibraryThing’s universal import feature now accepts raw, encrypted CueCat data, so you can scan your books away from an internet connection.
  5. The “all books” links on tag pages (eg., biography) is much faster now. (It’s not always fast, but it won’t take five minutes.)
  6. The same goes for “recently tagged X” RSS feed; it’s faster on high-frequency tags. I don’t think many of you were watching the most-recent “fiction” tags, but Google and Technorati were, and all the “database churning” was slowing the site down.
  7. Chris may have solved a major forum bug—the “Bermuda triangle” bug, where one message in 50 or 100 gets inexplicably lost. Cross your fingers and hope he’s right.

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Monday, November 20th, 2006

LibraryThing integrates with Shaman Drum

LibraryThing now integrates with Shaman Drum, the legendary independent bookshop in Ann Arbor, MI. Edit your profile, check a checkbox (down at the bottom) and your work page will sport availability and pricing information from Shaman Drum and a link to their site.

Right now, it’s just Shaman Drum. But the program is open to any bookstore. So long as you have a decent inventory system, it should be a snap. We’ve published participation details on our other blog. I’m going to approach a few, but feel free to let your local bookstore know about it.

If you’ve spent time in Ann Arbor, you know that Shaman Drum is the best bookstore in town, and one of the best independents in the country. It doesn’t exactly lack for competition, with the flagship Borders store across the street and the Dawn Treader one street farther. I went to grad school in Ann Arbor, and Shaman Drum was practically a second home. I’m so glad the fine folks who run the place were receptive to my idea.

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Saturday, November 18th, 2006

Germans: Swap English books

An eighth swap site has set themselves up to integrate with LibraryThing—this time with a twist: Bookswapper.de is for Germans—you need to have a German address—to swap books in English.

I think it’s a great idea. For someone like me, living near a good library and two or three good bookstores, swapping doesn’t necessarily make that much sense. When I weigh the mailing and bother costs against the costs of buying or borrowing a book, I usually choose the latter. But it would make a lot of sense for, say, French books, which can’t be found near me.* By catering to residents of Germany (Germans and a lot of expats) who read English, Bookswapper makes easy the satisfying of wants that otherwise would take a lot of effort to satisfy.

About the site, the creators, Kata and Resi write:

“The makers of bookswapper.de are two real people, not some corporation. And bookswapper.de wasn’t born in an office building but in our home, on a sofa, beneath overflowing bookshelves.”

Amen to that.

Note: The original rules didn’t anticipate a site like this, so I’ve decided to list Bookswapper.de second in LibraryThing.de and last in all other LibraryThings.

PS: I fixed a bug that was preventing LibraryThing from seeing everything our swap-site partners had. Numbers have jumped!

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Saturday, November 18th, 2006

8,388,608 books—sort of

Last night LibraryThing hit 8,388,608 books. That’s not books in LibraryThing—which stands at 7,268,540—but books ever in LibraryThing, including ones later deleted and some shadows. You might not think it, but 8,388,608 is a significant number. It’s half of 224, the largest number you can store in three bytes. It’s also the limit for MySQL’s “signed medium integer.” It’s 111111111111111111111111. The drawers are full of ones and there ain’t no twos.

Anyway, we hit the brick wall last night. I had previously expanded the book number field, but I forgot to change the databases that store some related metadata and reviews. So, last night, you couldn’t add a book, and this morning you couldn’t review one.

I’m really sorry about this. We’re good to go now. We won’t hit another wall until 8.4 billion books.

Interestingly, the same thing happend to Slashdot last week. Even Homer nods.

PS: I also fixed a bad problem with “search all fields.” Some queries ran quickly but some took ten or twenty minutes, by which time the user has generally gone on to better things (after re-running the query a dozen times which, let me tell you, doesn’t help much). It turns out MySQL was making periodic mis-guesses about which index to use. Somehow the index with eight million integers looked better than the one with a few hundred strings.

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Thursday, November 16th, 2006

Bonjour SUDOC

LibraryThing now connects to SUDOC, the Système universitaire de documentation, a French union catalog of university libraries (see Wikipedia). SUDOC sports some seven million records—a huge boost to LibraryThing.fr and Thingamabrarians with French books generally.

Three cheers to Nicomo for helping me on this. He found it, fiddled with YAZ and sent me the exact connection info. SUDOC is actually the first time I’ve managed to parse Unimarc. Solving that (mostly) opens the door to many other libraries. Nicomo, you’re a star!

Speaking of French, my family has a non-English-speaking Frenchman over to Thanksgiving. My French is extremely rusty, but I’m thinking I can jog my memory by listening to some simple conversations, news reports and especially vocabulary lists while I work. Any suggestions?

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Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

UnSuggester fallout

Our new anti-recommendation engine UnSuggester (blogged about below), has taken off in a weird way. Today was covered in everything from top-shelf library bloggers Tom Roper, Steven Abram and Karen Schneider (via ALA TechSource), to the bouncy, zippy, web-culture vlog MobuzzTV.

Here Mobuzzer Karina Stenquist explains the disconnect between Middlesex and The Passion of Jesus Christ: Fifty reasons he came to die. Karina did something on us before and—I’m sorry—she’s great.

I love everything people are saying about it, with big discussions here and on various blogs, mosty people strive to find the oddest, funniest unsuggestions. My favorite blog discussion came off a short note by “Fontana Labs” (a philosophy professor?) on Unfogged, and is now past 120 comments. Much of it came from the proposal:

“There’s got to be some ultimately evil book out that that will generate the ideal library. Not The Bridges of Madison County, but like that.”

Speculation ensues, with the unsuggestions for Who moved my Cheese? much praised. I enjoyed this exchange:

“Sadly for Unfogged (but perhaps good for Western civilization) Who Moved My Cheese? For Kids, as perfectly soul-deadening a title as I’ve ever encountered, isn’t owned by enough LibraryThing users to produce results. …”

Who Moved My Cheese? For Kids. Oh my God, my soul just broke into three thousand tiny wretched pieces.”

Hey, I didn’t say it. De gustibus…

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