Friday, September 8th, 2006

Work multiples

I’ve implemented a long-time request, providing a page that shows you what “works” you have more than one of. For a long time, your fun statistics (yours|someone else’s) page has provided both “Number of books” and “Number of distinct works. In fact, the calculation was subtly wrong. In the process of fixing it, I went ahead and make a work multiples page (yours/someone else’s).

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Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

Anonymous monkey kisses / innovative use by libraries

Wired’s Monkey Bites blog posted a list of Web 2.0 Champions and Stinkers: The People’s Choice. Wired News readers voted on the sites they couldn’t live without, and those that should die. (YouTube and del.ic.ious made both lists.)

We didn’t know about the vote, and didn’t ask people to help us. But we ended up among the winners anyway, alongside titans like Flikr, GMail, Digg and Writerly. In fact, except for Dimewise—which appears to have almost no traffic—we have the lowest traffic of the list, so presumably the fewest users. That we MADE the list is testimony to Thingamabrarian passion.

So, whoever voted for us, thanks!

Meanwhile, library blogs have been talking about how the Shenandoa Public Library is using LibraryThing and Feedroll to display recent acquisitions on their website. (Why not just use a blog widget?) It’s an easy, innovative way to use LT. But it’s sad that these hyper-expensive ILS/OPAC systems can’t handle stuff like this. Hold me back before I rant about the library that wanted to use LibraryThing but couldn’t get access to their ISBNs—their own ISBNs on their own records on their own books—without buying an “XML server.”

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Sunday, September 3rd, 2006

Arrr… Swap books!

The story behind this here.

(Stop blabbing and show me the feature!)

We’ve done something piratical, and we’re giving you the loot.

As you may know, there are sites out there that let users swap books. In fact, there are more than a dozen of them. LibraryThing members are using most of them.

We don’t want to swap books on LibraryThing, but we thought it would be a great idea if LibraryThing integrated with a swap site, letting you know when books were available or wanted, and letting you move books back and forth.

Unfortunately, most swap sites want to be the ONLY one. They want LibraryThing to favor them, in exchange for this or that incentive, and leave their competitors marooned on a desert island.

We think LibraryThing members deserve more respect than that. After weeks of repetitious conversations, we were sick of the regular navy—it was time to turn pirate!

So, we just did it, without asking permission, without deals—and without revenue sharing. We’ve set up the infrastructure to work with all sites and send them all details (I’ve put them up on the Thingology blog.) If swap sites tell us what they have available, and make the links work, they get to join our crew.

Although all swap sites get to participate, we’re putting them in two categories. Sites that let give as well as get—integrating with LibraryThing as we integrate with them—get top billing, with a logo and everything. The others get 9 point text. We hope they’ll be more generous once we start promoting their rivals, and when users who use them as well as LibraryThing demand the same flexibility other swap sites provide.

So far, four sites have said they’ll join our pirate vessel, and two have done the necessary work: BookMooch and WhatsOnMyBookshelf. (Update: In the comments, Read It Swap It says it’s on their list too.) Welcome to these great sites. We applaud your sense of openness and eagerness to serve your customers!

To the rest we’ve sent a cannonball across your bow. Prepare to be
boarded–by your customers.

What’s live now: Book pages show how many books are available and wanted (available/wanted) on participating swap sites.

Click on that and you’ll come to the swap page, showing what’s available site by site. Here’s the page for A Wrinkle in Time (9 available, 1 wanted), Giver (8/4), Hannibal (29/0) or Freakonomics (1/49).**

In the future, we hope to add:

  • True synching. We’ll publish a simple spec, and ask swap sites to help us make it a reality.
  • Wish list integration. We’re going to have wish lists within ten days (dammit!)
  • Summary pages. See at a glance what books on your wish list are available at swap sites, and what books in your library are wanted by others
  • Catalog integration. Whether we put it on the catalog by default depends on how many users end up using the swap services.

*The story: The cognoscenti will recognize Nancy Pearl‘s Book Lust. Book Lust and the other books come with the Librarian Action Figure, of which Ms. Pearl was the model. The same company produces a Blackbeard action figure. So, I did an action-figure mash-up. (It’s unclear what business expense category action figures fall under—office supplies?) Actually, this is the second Nancy Pearl figure I’ve bought. I lost the first figure, but I still have the stack of books. They’re different books than the new ones. I have no idea why, except the first stack seemed to trivialize reading somewhat—Bulgarian Flax was one of the books.
**Lopsided numbers are common. Books seem to be either wanted (Freakonomics) or unwanted (Hannibal). Some swap sites have experimented with basing point values around Amazon prices (which would encourage people to put some real high-value books on, but is otherwise not useful). Others have gone with allowing users to set point values. This seems like it would work, but at the expense of a certain amount of bother. It might also possible to have the system adjust values automatically, either moving them until the market clears (every day Hannibal goes down) or basing them on historical ratio data. Again, people might end up feeling cheated. “What do you mean The Great Gatsby is worth 1/10 point and Madonna’s Sex is worth 1,000? That’s not FAIR!”

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Saturday, September 2nd, 2006

The Hardest Working Man in Publishing

Check out the tag signed on LibraryThing, and look at the top books. Those are weighted by book popularity. Here’s the raw (unweighted) numbers.

The data are clear: Neil Gaiman is a machine! Both lists start with his American Gods and from the full list six of the top seven are by him. From Gaiman’s author page you can tell he’s signed 193 books on LibraryThing. Of all signed books on LibraryThing, 1% were signed by Gaiman. (Compared with only two books signed by J. K. Rowling.) Calculating that maybe a quarter of users employ tags, it stands to reason that his pen has passed over something like 800 books on LibraryThing—and LibraryThing is a speck in the ocean of books. What’s up with this guy?

In related news, I spent Thursday and Friday touring with my wife, in support of her new book Every Visible Thing, doing Toad Hall Books in Rockport, MA and Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MA.* Touring with a six-month old baby is pretty hard. I spent most of it, including all of the readings, walking around with Liam in a sling. Between the car seat and unfamiliar places, he slept terribly. After two days, all three of us were wrecks. We’ve been recovering since.

So, I’ve decided that—clearly—Gaiman has no children. Damn. I just checked. He has three. As far as I can tell from his blog, he isn’t neglecting them either. I think I’ll go back to bed now.

*Booksmith is an old favorite—Lisa and I used to live around the corner, and Lisa worked there—but Toad Hall was a new discovery for me. They’re tiny, but obviously beloved. And they really go for my wife’s books. In the last year they managed to sell 99 copies of her second book, In the Country of the Young—my favorite but probably her low-seller—apparently by just telling people to buy it. A chain bookstore can’t do that sort of thing.

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Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

Your author gallery

The new author image feature is going well, with 749 author images added so far. That’s enough to introduce your author gallery! (Or see mine.)

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Monday, August 28th, 2006

Happy Birthday LibraryThing!

Today, LibraryThing turns one. Last week we had cupcakes in honor of the five millionth book being added; today, we celebrate with book piles!

The moment you’ve been waiting for—if you check the homepage, you’ll see the regular bookpile has been replaced with ottox’s winning submission, which came complete with a story! It was witty, relevant and brillant. Congrats to him.

We got a really good response to the birthday book pile contest. (So much that we’re inspired to make holiday-book pile contests a regular thing.) It was hard to pick just one to feature on the homepage for today. They were festive, interpretive, celebrations of growing older, and of classic youth. A special mention goes to lilithcat, whose photo was pure genius (hint: read the lined up words in the titles in a line down), but a little too blurry.

The two runners up, who each take home a year’s gift membership, were staffordcastle (look at the first letters of the
book titles
) and, for the delectable combination of wit and photo retouching, Rachael (who also nailed us on a love of cupcakes)!

Thank you to everyone who entered—and to everyone on LibraryThing for reaching this milestone with us.

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Friday, August 25th, 2006

Author photos

Robyn has added a nifty author picture feature. As with many of LibraryThing’s cataloging features, users—that’s you—are encouraged to help.

Here are some of the recently uploaded pictures.

Anyone can add a picture, so long as you stay within the copyright guidelines. If problems arise, users can flag problemmatic pictures. There’s also an author pictures group for discussion.

As you might expect, finding a good, out-of-copyright image of, say, Charles Dickens is easy. Living authors are harder. Sometimes authors explicitly state that a set of pictures is released for promotional use. Flickr is a good source for author signing photos, although you have to be careful about the license. More often, the author (or photographer) needs to be asked. We’re coming up with an image-begging form letter thingamabrarians can send to their favorites.

Without clicking, how many of these can you name?

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Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Five million books!


Liam’s mom made the cupcakes.

LibraryThing has hit five million books. We hit four million on July 19. That’s one million books in just over a month!

The 5,000,000th book was Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family by Patricia Volk. It was entered at 4:02pm by cookingthebooks, “a theatre professional” and “Londoner by birth now living in rural Scotland.” Cookingthebooks already has a lifetime account, so we’ve sent a gift account.

More statistics:

  • The five million books fall under some 1,157,797 distinct “works.” (All editions of the Odyssey are counted as a “work.”) There are 1,282,535 distinct ISBNs.
  • LibraryThing users have added 6,930,554 tags to their books.
  • By coincidence, we also hit 70,000 users today. The 70,000th user, jean_luc_carpentier, only entered three books. We gave him a free account too. Why not?
  • If LibraryThing were compared to a traditional library–let the lovin’ begin!*–it would now be the 34th largest library in the United States, edging out the University of Virginia (source: ALA Fact Sheet 22).
  • Less than 1% of the books in LibraryThing are by J. K. Rowling.
  • More statistics here.

We’re having a party at headquarters tonight. We plan to have a go at some of the over-buy beer from the LibraryThing barbeque, plus cupcakes and pizza. We’ll post pictures when we’ve got them.

With apologies to all, we’re going to be insufferable from now until August 29th, when LibraryThing turns one year old. Although the blogosphere made LibraryThing–which has never advertised** or hired a PR firm–we’re still hoping for a New York Times article, or a mention on Slashdot or NPR. — Nancy Pearl! David Pogue! Where are you?! — We figure the confluence of five million books and our first anniversary might be the best shot we get.

ABBY SEZ: Remember the Birthday book pile contest!

*As has been pointed out, LibraryThing is not a “real” library. You can’t borrow books from it, for starters. We do, however, think LibraryThing has something to contribute to discussions going on in the library world. We’ll leave that for the Thingology blog, however, and to the handful of speaking events we’re scheduled at.***
**We did do Google Adsense for a few weeks. Meh.
***Check out where the Wisconsin Library Association is having it’s annual conference! Abby and I divvy up things so that she gets most of the library events, but nobody told me it was going to be at a water park!

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Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

Add to LibraryThing from… anywhere

While we nervously await LibraryThing’s five-millionth book here’s another small but important feature.

Announcing a new way to get books into LibraryThing. Just use this URL, changing the ISBN to the one you want to add, or using a keyword search instead.*

http://www.librarything.com/addbooks.php?search=0066212898
http://www.librarything.com/addbooks.php?search=Every+Visible+Thing

That’s pretty pointless, right? Well, for YOU, yes. But OTHER websites can implement the URL, making it easy for their users to add a book to their LibraryThing account. We’re thinking particularly of swap sites*, book review sites, even–we hope–some forward-thinking libraries. Programmers can use it to make fascinating new bookmarklets and plugins.

It’s fairly straightforward. If you’re not signed in, or not a user, it will route you through the sign up/in screen. The URL can also specify one of LibraryThing’s 50+ sources, like so:

http://www.librarything.com/addbooks.php?search=0066212898&source=Amazon.ca
http://www.librarything.com/addbooks.php?search=0066212898&source=Library+of+Congress

If you don’t specify one, it will route you through a screen where you can set your default. If you’re signed in, have a default library and search for something unique–like an ISBN–it’s a one-step process***. If you search for something with multiple results, you’ll get a chance to pick one.

Now, as MMcM pointed out, this will be a much better feature once LibraryThing has explicit “wish lists.” That’s coming soon, and when it does, we’ll update this feature for it. But we’ve been sitting on this feature for a while, and we thought we’d put it out there to see what people would do with it.

If run a website and you end up implementing these URLs let us know and we’ll do what we can to help your users too.

*Those are for my wife’s new novel, which won the Elle Reader’s Prize this month. I’m very proud of her.
**More on this topic later.
***Someone tell Amazon’s patent lawyers!

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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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