Monday, August 21st, 2006

Backup and import from Vox / Import synching

Backup/import from Vox. SixApart‘s LiveJournal is a favorite of LibraryThingers, who even formed their own LibraryThing community (338 members!).

SixApart’s new “personal blogging” platform, Vox, is also drawing some interest. Vox has a nice, but very rudimentary book tracking feature. We don’t think of Vox as a competitor. They’re more of a “gateway drug.” :)

To seed the addiction, I have created a Vox backup / import feature. LibraryThing/Vox users can keep their accounts better in synch. And non-LibraryThing users get a simple way to backup their Vox books. And, when you’ve done that, why not throw them into LibraryThing and see what happens? (LibraryThing will help you create an account in the process.)

The Vox import isn’t instant. Vox uses a proprietary number for each book, so LibraryThing needs to “go into” each book page, searching for the links to Amazon (which have ISBNs in them). To avoid annoying Vox’s servers, we fetch one page per second. So a Vox library of 60 books will take a minute to load. We have prepared suitable entertainment to hold you over.

From what we gather of Mena and her team, SixApart believes in openness and making their users happy. We hope they feel as we do: You own your data. Vox users should be able to make backups and cross-list their books. But if Vox shuts us off, we’re counting on the Vox/LibraryThing and LiveJournal/LibraryThing community to rise up and take to the barricades! Aux armes citoyens!

Synch your books. I’ve improved the import feature. You can now choose only to import NEW books. Thus, LibraryThing now “synchs” with offline cataloging applications. I only realized how useful this would be when I started scanning in books with Booxter.* I thought “Wow, I need a synch feature!” Hit me; this feature should have come months ago!

*Booxter is a nice ap. Not quite as beautiful as Delicious Library, but, like LibraryThing, Booxter cares about good data, for example mining some libraries for data. Raise your hand if you think LibraryThing and Booxter should be friends!

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Wednesday, August 9th, 2006

Forums are broken: Introducing LibraryThing’s new Talk feature


Talk showing what the conversation is about, and whether it overlaps with my library.

This post introduces the Talk feature.

Although still developing, we think Talk is our most significant addition since LibraryThing started mining for book recommendations and similar libraries.

I’m also writing this for a somewhat larger audience than usual, because Talk is (as far as we can tell) a new way of approaching that most common—and most vexed—of website feature, the forum.

Talk is a forum system with a difference. Instead of being essentially separate from the rest of the site and organized by vague preset categories, Talk is deeply integrated into LibraryThing–the stuff and the talking about stuff wriggling around each other like amorous octopi—and organized the same way the content itself is organized, book-by-book and user-by-user.


Forums are broken.

Forums are broken. “Regular forums” are broken. There’s too much to wade through, and most of it isn’t really want you want. Creating subforums for “Romance” or “Current reading” helps, but beg the question of appropriate organization in a fixed, confining way.* Divide the word differently? You’re out of luck! And if a community forms around the preset topic, getting to know the other members of the community is a long, and not necessarily pleasant process. Because they require so much time and energy, traditional forums tend to favor “loudmouths” and worse. And the whole enterprise spoils faster than milk. Nobody digs through a year-old “Mystery” forum looking for posts about a midlist author who could equally well fall under another genre. Most don’t allow you to reply to old posts. What’s the point, when nobody else will end up reading it?


Amazon has a forum for “Historical”—and someone even posted a message!

Product forums. At the other end of the spectrum, companies like Amazon and IMDb have experimented with “product forums.” So, you can, for example, post messages on a board devoted to the hardcover edition of Freakonomics or to another–entirely separate–one for the paperback edition. If you talk about another book, you can be pretty sure nobody will ever know. Amazon tries to escape this by converting BISAC codes (a commercial alternative to LC subjects) to forums. So my wife’s upcoming Every Visible Thing points you toward the “Women’s Fiction” board (which is a little insulting). Her The Mermaids Singing gets a “Family Saga” board—boy does that board sound like fun! Product and BISAC forums get at some of the “aboutness” of forum messages, but in a very narrow way, and at the expense of community. They create a multiplicity of lonely little boxes. Oh, and who wants to talk about important things at a store?

How Talk changes things. Talk attempts to solve “the forum problem” in a simple way, with a simple (and optional) markup system. When you put brackets around “Lolita,” “Huckleberry Finn” or “Borges” you create “touchstones.”** When your message is posted, touchstones become links, making it easier for people to check out the books and authors you’re talking about.

Because they improve the message people seem not to mind adding them. Crucially, the system doesn’t require exactitude; you can type “Twain” or “Jonathan Strange” and still expect it to work. Touchstones appear to the right of your message, so you can easily spot and correct mistakes.


Talk is popping up all over.

Because LibraryThing knows what a message is about, it can provide multiple entry points to the discussion. So, a discussion of Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman is referenced on ALL these author’s pages, as well as that of the books in question–Amazon’s lonely boxes get hallways between them!

Best of all, because LibraryThing also knows what books YOU have, it can show you only the forum discussions that touch them. This is what the “Your books” link does. If someone out there starts talking about Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, I’ll know. (Oh, RSS feeds are coming, of course.)

Deep intregration also solves some of the other problems with forums. Because Talk is also tied into the social system, it’s easy to find out who you’re talking to. You can do this by clicking on profile names, of course, and we’re considering adding little “similarity percentages” after names. But you can also check out the shared books in a given group. If a group’s library looks interesting, you’re probably going to like their conversation too.

Lastly, embedding “aboutness” makes old posts still relevant. You can find just the posts you want. If you end up adding to an old conversation, it won’t be “lost in the aether.” So long as people have a book, the conversation stays live. I predict that, for obscure books, conversations will become somewhat asynchronous. It might not be possible to have a lively, multi-person discussion of Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II this week on LibraryThing, but one may well develop over the longue durée. If you’re a fan of an obscure book, you’ll wait.

Groups. The last element is the most conventional. Back in July we added Groups (blog post). Groups have shared, searchable libraries, making them great for lovers, friends and clubs. But they also work for more vague “interests,” and not surprisingly many of these have sprung up. (We’re at over 500 now.)

The original plan was to have groups, and then add forums. But the explosion of groups has made us reconsider this. Instead, we’ve decided to let groups take on much of the community aspect that “preset” forums would otherwise have. We think the wildness of fluid posts appearing wherever they intersect with other site content is nicely counterbalanced by community-based groups.

The Fruit. Talk features have been coming in since we introduced groups. First flat message boards, then multi-topics boards, and so forth. In this time, some 7,200 messages have been posted, and about the same number of touchstones. That’s pretty good for an unannounced feature! Better, usage seems healthy. Of 1,900 users who have looked at more than one topic, 50% also posted. That’s very high. By focusing in on what actually touches people, LibraryThing has brought more people into the conversation. That’s a healthy community.

Get started. To get started with talk, go to the Talk tab above. Or wait for it to come to you. Links to conversations appear in book and author information pages. They’ll be showing up in your catalog soon too.

What’s left? At LibraryThing we don’t release finished features. We release interesting features, and see how things go and people react.

We’d love to see your comments here, on new groups like Recommended Site Improvements or on the Google Group (although we’d like to start moving that over). Feel free to discuss bugs, features or the whole “problem” of forums. A number of us will be watching the chatter and jumping in when it makes sense to us. Talk whttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifas another team effort. Abby, Robyn and I worked out the concepts, I did most of the forum-level programming, and Robyn did much of the interaction with groups as well as message flagging, editing and deleting.

A last note of caution. Talk is a new idea. We’re not sure it’s going to work–some users feel it’s too fragmented–but we thought it would be worth the time to find out!

*In the new world of tags and user-created site architecture, where you decide what you want to see and how its organized, forums are a throwback to unnaturally cloven tree-and-leaf structures. Real conversation does fit into non-overlapping buckets. How often have you read something like “A very similar discussion is going on over at …. “?
**No, not in the literary-critical sense.

UPDATE: See David Weinberger’s post, and a developer at Microsoft. There’s been some spirited discussion on the Google Group and the talk forums. Needless to say, this way of doing things is new, and not fully worked out. Your input will help.

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Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

Birthday bookpile contest

On August 29th, just three short weeks away, LibraryThing will turn one year old! To celebrate, we’re having a birthday bookpile contest.

Here’s what you have to do to enter:

1. Take a photo of a pile of books – like the pile on the home page (aim for a white or light background, so we can easily clip it out in Photoshop).
2. Be witty and brillant and relevant. Genius is a word Tim and I like to toss around the office* – aspire to make us proclaim it about your photo.
3. Upload your photo to Flickr, and tag it LTcontest.
4. Email me (abbylibrarything.com) with the URL, and your user name on LT.

The prize: the winning bookpile will be featured on the home page on Tuesday August 29th. Winner will also get two free annual memberships. Two runners-up (provided we get at least three entries!) will get one free annual membership.

The deadline: August 27th at midnight (EST) – we need to have time to actually look at all of the submissions, after all.

The not-so-fine print: by submitting your photo, you agree to allow LibraryThing to use it, or anyone else, as long as they’re talking about LibraryThing or the contest.

*no really. literally. it’s on a post-it note. it gets tossed.

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Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

EveryVisibleThing

Today’s the publication date of Every Visible Thing, by LibraryThing author—and my wife—Lisa Carey (website). Every Visible Thing and LibraryThing are actually contemporaries—she was finishing it up while I was coming up with the idea. The fact that they both have “Thing” in their titles is, however, coincidental.*

Pre-pub reaction has been encouraging. Library Journal and Kirkus gave it coveted starred reviews. Entertainment Weekly just gave it a short, rave but somewhat gross review—Lisa’s prose is said to “blossom like a bruise”—and it won the September Elle magazine Reader’s Prize (not yet online). I’m very proud of her, let me say.

Check out her website or publisher for more. In brief, here’s the end of the flap copy:

“A moving, lyrically written novel that captures the darkness of adolescence and the complex relationships within a family, Lisa Carey’s Every Visible Thing is a story born of grief and disillusionment that is ultimately a testament to the power of hope, faith, and love.”

*Her title is from Augustine, mine from Lovecraft. Different, those two.

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Monday, August 7th, 2006

MobuzzTV does the LibraryThing

Popular, perky vlog MobuzzTV did a great piece on LibraryThing (third on, after the Al Gore cartoon).

Amanda Congdon (late of Rocketboom) has my vlog heart, and giggly Cali Lewis of GeekBrief is a guilty pleasure, but Mobuzz’s Karina is no slouch.

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Saturday, August 5th, 2006

Cookout pictures

Except for the poisoning of John Blyberg*, the barbeque went great. We met lots of interesting people, established the superiority of Wild Oats’ “chocolate sandwich creams” by science and bought too much but not obscenely too much. Tim even managed to find someone to talk to about Greek twitch-divination texts. People drove from as far away as Providence, RI and Worcester, MA! Clearly we should do another in Cambridge, MA! (Date tba.)

Here are some pictures:


Axel, ready for fun

Liam, showing the colors

Tim, over his head

blind taste test

revelers
*Formerly of Blyberg.net.

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Friday, August 4th, 2006

Cookout reminder

This is just a friendly reminder that tomorrow evening, Tim and I (and Chris Gann) will be available to grill burgers for you. Anyone in the area, please come by! Festivities will begin around 5. You’ll find us in the yard behind 28 Atlantic Street in Portland, Maine.

We want to meet you! Please come!
(end plea)

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Friday, August 4th, 2006

What else are you on?

UPDATE: New feature of this feature–it WORKS!

Your profile now allows you to add links to yourself on some 30 sites and services, from AIM and Yahoo Messenger to MySpace, Skype, BookCrossing, even the “LibraryThings for wine” Cork’d and Winelog. Your already-entered AIM, Yahoo and ICQ names have been put into the new, more flexible system.

You will see a control like this when you edit your profile:

And here’s what it looks like on your profile.

I’m sure I missed some sites. As long as it has a user id-based URL, post it here and I’ll add it.

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Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

Search your LibraryThing from your blog

Christopher has put together an extremely elegant new search widget. Put it on your blog and your visitors can search your library–or a group library–without having to go to LibraryThing. Color and size it various ways. It works like a dream, with animated “expanding” action. You are not as sexy as this, and never were.

Try it over on the left, or make your own. (Note: These is on my library, not yours.)

There is, of course, no reason it needs to be on a blog. Put it on your home page, or that of your church, academic department, bowling league, etc. It even relevancy ranks the results. (It beats your OPAC and it’s the size of a half-eaten stick of gum.)

Lastly, we’re not taking any guff about trivial features. This is an amazing piece of work. There are literally thousands of blogs sporting our original LibraryThing widgets. They are a great thing for LibraryThing—one of the main ways people find us. I’ll go so far as to say that, without the widgets, LibraryThing would have never succeeded, and I’d be making websites for lobster canneries.

PS: If you watch the site closely (many of you do), you’ll notice some major changes. They are already significant and will get bigger and “deeper.” We’re not going to blog about them again until we finish up.

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Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

100 LibraryThing Authors *

The 100th author to become a LibraryThing Author is Elizabeth Bear / matociquala, author of Hammered, and others. Congratulations to Elizabeth, who gets a free gift account for her lucky timing.

The LibraryThing Authors program, which we launched at the end of May, highlights authors who are also members of LibraryThing. The idea is that readers would love to see what their favorite author has in his or her own personal library.

Authors catalog their books (they have to enter at least 50) and then are given a special shiny yellow button, linking their personal profile with their author page. It gives readers a window into authors’ tastes, and authors a great new way to connect with their readers.

We’ve gotten a very positive response, and our list includes Rosina Lippi / greenery (who also writes under Sara Donati), Lisa Carey / axel, David Louis Edelman / DavidLouisEdelman, and many more.

Know anyone else who should be a LT Author? Send them my way! Tell your favorite author, your friends, your publishers, your pets…

*Don’t worry, when we hit 99 authors, I did start singing “take one down, pass it around…”

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