Saturday, November 4th, 2006

A quick plug for, 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

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,, and 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 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 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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Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

LibraryThing does Borders product codes

Short version: I’ve added an option to parse “BINCs,” the product code Borders (and Waldenbooks?) paste over the ISBN on the back cover.

If you use a barcode scanner to enter your books into LibraryThing, or even if you don’t, you periodically run into a Borders barcode, pasted over the book’s original ISBN barcode. It can be extremely aggravating.

LibraryThing now has an option to read these stickers. You can either scan them with a barcode reader or type the printed BINC, shown here:

To do this, either (1) turn on this option in Add books:

Or (2) put “binc” into the search box, in front of the number (eg., “binc 5106509″). Note that if you check the checkbox, you can ONLY enter BINCs. Everything else will fail.

For LibraryThing to parse BINCs, it needs to run a quick search on Borders’ website, and fetch the ISBN. Technically this is “screen scraping,” which some webmasters will try to block. Since users of this feature are by definition Borders customers, I’m doubt they’ll raise any objections. I’m writing them this morning to tell them about it. To sweeten it, I’ve added Borders to the list of merchants and libraries on work pages. Their website can’t hold a candle to Amazon on ecommerce features—and, indeed, they use Amazon as their main online presence—but it has a nifty function to check whether your local Borders has it in stock, and reserve it if they do.

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Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

CueCats in the Wild

Inquisitive CueCat trips our remote camera

CueCat at rest

CueCat toys with its prey

CueCats preparing to migrate

CueCats blocked and drooled on

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Friday, October 20th, 2006

Arrr… SwapThing

LibraryThing welcomes its sixth swap site, As with the others, SwapThing has agreed to share holding data with LibraryThing. See it in action here

SwapThing describes itself as follows:

“SwapThing enables the trade and barter of any combination of items and services between consumers and small businesses, using cash to offset unequal exchanges. SwapThing offers free registration and listing, with transaction fees of $1.00 for each exchange of goods, no matter how many items are in the swap, and of $10.00 for the exchange of services. Unlike competitors, SwapThing is barter-based as opposed auction-based, allowing completely private, one-on-one negotiations. The SwapThing search engine matches items offered to items wanted, a unique system of direct exchange between users, and a rating system to build trustworthiness.”

Just so there’s no doubt, “LibraryThing is not affiliated with SwapThing in any way, just great minds thinking alike. LibraryThing and SwapThing are trademarks of, LCC and SwapThing, Inc. respectively.”

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