Monday, January 8th, 2007

Books with similar library subjects and classifications

I’ve added a new and often powerful recommendation engine. It has a long and awkward name: Books with similar library subjects and classifications.* So far, I’ve only got it on Suggester pages.

It feeds off three pieces of “traditonal” library data:

  • Subjects (mostly Library of Congress Subject Headings),
  • Library of Congress Classifications (LCC), and
  • Dewey Decimal Classifications (DDC)

The recommendations are special in a few ways:

  • They can be very “targeted”
  • There is no “popularity” threshhold; books with just one copy in the system often have recommendations**, and it will recommend obscure stuff too
  • It works better for non-fiction than for fiction
  • It fails in interesting ways

At its core, the system looks for shared library data. So if book B has subject S, all the other books with subject S get a “vote”; the winners are the books that share the most subjects with the suggesting book. The algorithm goes beyond this by leveraging the inherent hierarchy of the three systems, apportioning successively “smaller” votes to ascending levels of the hierarchy. Popularity is also taken into consideration, but as little more than a tie-breaker.

At it’s best, the system is spooky. So Into Thin Air‘s other recommendations are spread over Everest, general mountaineering and adventure books. But the “Similar subjects and classifications” recommendations leads with Kenneth Kamler‘s Doctor on Everest : emergency medicine at the top of the world : a personal account including the 1996 disaster, a reasonably obscure (5 members) personal account of the same 1996 expedition. Other times the results are mixed or even odd. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason pulls up commentaries on itself, but also the acclaimed but seemingly unrelated seminal work on the anthopology of magic, E. E. Evans-Pritchard’s Witchcraft, oracles, and magic among the Azande. Why? Because both receive the Library of Congress Subject Headings:

Strange bedfellows, perhaps.

*Got a better name? Let us know, seriously.
**Ironically, twice as many works have recommendations (219,000 vs. 120,000 for “people who have X also have Y”), but because they are more evenly distributed by work popularity, half as many books have recommendations (2.6 million vs. 5.9 million).

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Saturday, January 6th, 2007

We’re hiring a sysadmin/DBA

We just added a web developer—anouncement coming*—and we’re hiring again. This time we’re looking for a crackerjack systems and database administrator, ideally one based near Portland, Maine. (We can hope, can’t we?)

  • LibraryThing runs on Linux, PHP and MySQL 5 over a small cluster of servers located in Portland, ME.
  • You must have extensive experience in MySQL database administration.
  • You must be able to step into a high-volume site in transition and experiencing rapid growth.
  • You must be comfortable with rigorous demands of a startup and of sysadmin work.
  • Web development chops, love of books and knowledge of library systems valued.

We’re looking to fill a full-time position, but will also consider contractors, particularly if they’re in the area.

Salary and benefits negotiable. But I’ll tell you, you can see the sea from the LibraryThing headquarters and we’ve got gold-plated health and dental!

We’re looking to fill this soon, so act now. Contact tim[at]librarything.com or call 207 899-4108.

*Hint: He’s been mentiond on the blog before…

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Sunday, December 31st, 2006

New Year’s Greetings from LibraryThing

Happy New Year to all!

I’m back from a week of vacation. My apologies for recent feature-and-bug turgidity. Abby, Chris and I are tanned, rested and ready.*

December was a banner month. PC Magazine named us one of the web’s top five web services.** Members added over 1,175,000 books—the most ever! We also recorded our highest number of paid memberships, even excluding gift memberships, which were very sought after in the days before Christmas. And we sent out a record number of CueCat barcode scanners. (Although, we don’t make much money off them, they seem to have sped book entry.) With new features on the cusp of release, a major expansion planned, an employee-hunt is in the works, and continued, accelerating growth, 2007 is looking very bright indeed!

The New Year seems like good occassion to plug the recently-released New-Year-related comic novel The End as I Know It: A Novel of Millennial Anxiety by Kevin Shay. Shay (website), a high-school friend of mine***, has the distinction of writing for both Tim O’Reilly and Dave Eggers, appearing in Google Hacks and in various McSweeney’s collections including, as an editor, Created in darkness by troubled Americans. Here a review by the L.A. Times, and here’s the flap copy:

It’s 1998. Or, as Randall Knight sees it, Y2K minus two. Randall, a twenty-five-year-old children’s singer and puppeteer, has discovered the clock is ticking toward a worldwide technological cataclysm. But he may still be able to save his loved ones—if he can convince them to prepare for the looming catastrophe. That’s why he’s quit his job, moved into his car, and set out to sound the alarm.

The End as I Know It follows Randall on his coast-to-coast Cassandra tour. His itinerary includes the elementary schools that have booked him as a guest performer and the friends and relatives he must awaken to the crisis. When nobody will heed his warning, Randall spirals into despair and self-destruction as he races from one futile visit to the next. At the end of his rope, he lands with a family of newly minted survivalists in rural Texas. There, he meets a woman who might help him transcend his millennial fears and build a new life out of the shards of his old one.

So, cheers and thanks to all. I am excited to be part of what you are creating, and looking foward to doing what I can to make it better for you.

* … and tipsy, but I digress.
**And then turned around and asked $750 for the right to show the award logo. $750? That’s 75 year’s memberships! We turned them down. I suspect our fellow best-of-year services, iTunes and Skype did not.
***I programmed my first large-scale project with Kevin, a Zork-ish text-adventure set in a museum that has come alive.****
****Now made into a major motion picture starring Ben Stiller. As we never released the program, and I’ve never spoken of it, Kevin must have blabbed.

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Friday, December 29th, 2006

Merry belated Christmas and thanks for the votes

Merry Christmas from all of us here at LibraryThing! Now that I’m full of good food and family visting, it’s time to get to the bookpiles.

We didn’t get that many entries* in the Christmas bookpile contest, but this one was a clear winner. Great work, thelee!** My tree wasn’t as poetic looking as this one, that’s for sure. I particularly like how warm the light is – and a bookpile that goes from Leaves of Grass to The American Catholic Experience to Paradise Lost to Lonely Planet British Columbia, of course! As the photo caption aptly says,

Though the books don’t necessarily have much to do with Christmas, some of them were Christmas gifts in the past, and Christmas is a great time to read, next to the tree, with a cup of hot cocoa, a fireplace, and friends and family doing likewise.

In unrelated, but also joyful news, we tied for the People’s Choice winner in the niche category of Mashable’s Social Networking Awards. That is, of course, entirely due to you—thanks for voting for us!*** As Chris said, we did exceptionally well considering Dogster put their vote button right on their homepage, while our users had to find the blog to know about the award.

*This isn’t all of them – some were were emailed to me because they hadn’t show up in the public Flickr pool yet.
**who are you on LT? Email me to get your recognition and claim your prize! (update—the winner is thelee!)
***I’d like to thank the Academy…

Labels: book pile

Sunday, December 24th, 2006

Graphical Widgets for LJ and etc. (first look)

As promised, for Chris Santa has come up with a new, “graphical” widget–a widget usable in LiveJournal, MySpace and other environments that won’t permit JavaScript or frames. Unfortunately, Tim Santa didn’t finish the user-interface, with all its handy drop-downs, color selectors and so forth. So, for now, it’s up to you to customize the right URL. If this seems complicated, you might want to wait for the graphical interface. For the rest, here are your directions.

The graphical widget is an image with a highly-specific URL. You can build your URL piece by piece, checking the image in your browser. When you’ve got what you want, you will need to insert the image into your blog template. Usually, you will do this by adding <img src=”XXX” >, with XXX being the URL of the image, where appropriate.

The base URL is http://www.librarything.com/gwidget/widget.php?

To this base URL, you add parameters. You can add from one (just the user name) to fifteen, to control everything from what books are shown the colors they appear in. Each parameter must be separated by an & sign.

  • view= your user name (default timspalding, but you don’t want that)
  • type= what books to display; two options are “recent” and “random”
  • tag= which tag to display (default: none)
  • width= image width, in pixels (default: 200)
  • fsize= font size, in points (default: 9)
  • font= name of font to use (default: verdana). At present you can use “arial,” “arialuni” (if you have a lot of “special characters”), teletype, palatino, verdana
  • num= number of books to display (default: 10)
  • hbold=1 use bold text for the header (default: 0 off)
  • tbold=1 use bold text for book titles (default: 0 off)
  • top= text to display at the top of the widget (default: “Random Books From My Library” or “Random Books From My Library Tagged XYZ)
  • ac= author text color (default: 000000 – black)
  • bc= background color (default: ffffff – white)
  • tc= title text color (default: 0000ff – blue)
  • hc= header text color (default: 000000 – black)
  • x= number of pixels from top and bottom to pad the text (default: 5 pixels)
  • y= number of pixels from the left and right edges to pad the text (default: 5 pixels)

Notes:

  • The widget doesn’t link anywhere. We suggest you link it to your profile or catalog (see your profile for the URL). You will need to an an HTML link around the image.
  • The widget can’t have cover images. To display cover images, Amazon requires links to their service. A graphical widget can’t do that.

That’s what I have for now. Feel free to post questions, examples you’re proud of and so forth.

Labels: 1

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

It’s so close!


We have no shame.

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Friday, December 22nd, 2006

Hanukkah bookpile winner

We might not have been flooded with entries for this one, but the ones we did get were fantastic (I want fried donuts. Maybe next time, winners will be selected based on whoever sends us the best baked good bribery.)

Congratulations to cmlib* though, for the prize-winning photo. (Tim noted that he has Christmas stuff in exactly that style, also from Mexico.) Congrats!

Up next—a Christmas bookpile contest. Start your piles and post them to Flickr with the tag “LibraryThingChristmas”. The deadline is the 3pm on Wednesday, December 27th (I know, that’s after Christmas, but time is flying by! This way you can include books you got as gifts too, right?) The winner, as usual, gets a gift subscription.

*But that’s your Flickr user name, but not your LT one! Who are you? How will I know who to send the gift membership prize to?? Email me!**
**Update: That was fast! Flickr user cmlib is our very own libros (the kitten picture on her profile slays me. I love it).

Labels: book pile

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

Vote for LibraryThing

Vote for LibraryThing in Mashable’s Social Networking Awards. (You vote by leaving a comment.) We’re in the “niche” category—I lobbied unsuccessfully for a social cataloging section—together with sites like CafeMom (“a place for moms”)*, SneakerPlay (MySpace for people who care about sneakers), Share Your Look (MySpace for fashionistas), AdFemme (MySpace for women in the advertising industry), NextCat (MySpace for actors, makeup artists and other Hollywood types), MyChurch (Facebook for congregations), Dianovo (MySpace for environmentists)**, our good friends Wordie, LibraryThing for words, and our favorite site, LibraryThing (SneakerPlay for booklovers).

*It’s depressing how much most “niche” sites ape MySpace.
**And people who enjoy splash screens. There’s also BeGreen, which is focused on global warming, but sports a front-page photo of two hot women standing in stylish red 60s or 70s convertible which is surely not a hybrid.

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Thursday, December 21st, 2006

The Areas of my Expertise—free!

The audiobook of John Hodgman‘s The Area of My Expertise* is available for free on iTunes.

* Full title: An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled with Instructive Annotation and Arranged in Useful Order by Me, John Hodgman, a Professional Writer, in the Areas of My Expertise, which Include: Matters Historical; Matters Literary; Matters Cryptozoological**; Hobo Matters; Food, Drink, & Cheese (a Kind of Food); Squirrels & Lobsters & Eels; Haircuts; Utopia; What Will Happen in the Future; and Most Other Subjects; Illustrated with a Reasonable Number of Tables and Figures, and Featuring the Best of “Were You Aware of It?”, John Hodgman’s Long-Running Newspaper Novelty Column of Strange Facts and Oddities of the Bizarre
** Two people have tagged it cryptozoology, seven hoboes.

Hat tip: Neil Gaiman

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Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

Hanukkah Harry wants your photos

Quick reminder: Post your Hanukkah book-pile photos to Flickr, tagged LibraryThingHanukkah. Winner gets a gift account. So far, we have only one book pile, with dreidels, and two not-very-booky entries (some very nice sufganyot and a family video from Steve Cohen at LibraryStuff). Deadline is 3pm Thursday, Dec. 21.

Feature teaser: It won’t make the end of Hanukkah, but LiveJournal and MySpace users should get a nifty, widgety Christmas present. Send encouragement to Chris (chrisgann).

Feature teaser 2: LC Authority Records, babee. Send fried donuts.

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