Monday, January 22nd, 2007

Thanks to Chris

If there’s one thing I hate it’s “corporate HR” emails, those icky coded messages about comings and goings. Did that guy quit? Was he fired? Is he leaving for the competition? Was he caught behind a fica plant with the CFO’s niece? Meet me in my cubicle and I’ll give you the scoop!

The scoop is that Chris no longer works for LibraryThing. He wrote about it on his own blog, Aspiring CTO. I disagree with much said there, particularly the idea that I don’t like him. But I can’t stand up for users tagging however they like and deny that everyone sees things the way they see them.

As he writes, he loved LibraryThing, and did a lot for it. Most notably he architected and implemented the transition to a scalable server and database structure. The traffic data below, taken from our stats program, is a trophy of sorts to that:

Chris did everything from July on. And during that period, server problems actually went down. And Chris did a number of other valuable projects. When I finish the user-interface, I think he will be best remembered for his elegant LiveJournal-friendly widget.

So, my thanks to Chris for the work he did for LibraryThing. I wish him the best in his future plans. PillHelp in particular seems likely to take off. Since more people take pills than want to catalog their books, I suspect he’ll have some even more challenging scaling issues to deal with.

Members saw his post and started thanking him on Talk. Go ahead and leave comments here or there.

*November is in some metrics higher than December because we got Slashdotted, producing a gigantic two-three-day wave that didn’t last. The underlying fundamentals—users, books in system, money—have continued their accelerating acceleration.

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Thursday, January 18th, 2007

City Lights Bookstore in North Carolina

City Lights in Sylva, North Carolina

We’ve just added City Lights Bookstore of Sylva, North Carolina (map) to our local bookstore program.

City Lights is a great illustration of what we’re trying to do—help local, mostly (but not necessary) independent bookstores and the LibraryThing members who love them. City Lights describes Sylva as:

… a small Main Street town nestled between the Great Smokies and the Balsams, two mountain ranges in the highest part of the southern Appalachians. Our goal is to share the literature of the Appalachian region with the world and the world of good books with our community.

If you’re in the area, go ahead and edit your profile to have availability and pricing information shown on all work pages.

Thanks to Chris Wilcox of City Lights for finding out about us and sending us a data file out of the blue. (We like it when the data comes to us! )

For more information on our bookstore program check out Thingology for the XML format. We are also now accepting standard Booksense data feeds, a simple tab-delimited format booksellers upload to Booksense.

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Monday, January 15th, 2007

MLK day and new book pile contest

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day (the first since the death of his wife, the NYT reminds me), we announce a Black History Month bookpile contest.

Post your photos to Flickr, with the tag “LibraryThingBHM” by 3pm on Jan. 29th, and we’ll announce the winner on the blog on February 1st.

We have a whole bunch of bookpile contests queued up now, so if this one doesn’t strike your fancy, you can start preparing your piles for the upcoming celebration of 10 million books, Valentine’s Day, Women’s History Month, and more. We’re also always looking for ideas for contests, so send those along too (I’m perfectly willing to have a Groundhog day contest, for example, if anyone thinks they could pull together a book pile for that)!

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Monday, January 8th, 2007

Nine million books / hiring reminder

Yesterday we hit nine million books cataloged. We’re plan to make a HUGE deal out of ten million—a super-duper book pile contest, games, prizes, hay rides, a moon walk—but I’ll let nine million slide with the following:

  • Going from eight million to nine million took less than a month. We’re speeding up!
  • The book nine million was the espionage thriller Triple by Ken Follett. It was added by long-time foxsilver, who gets a free gift account for his luck.
  • If LibraryThing were a “real” library, we’d now be the 10th largest in the country (ALA fact sheet)

Reminder: We’re looking for a database and systems administrator. If you are one, or know of one, let us know. We’d love to get someone local, but telecommuting is also a possiblity. LibraryThing runs on Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. We offer health, dental and boredom insurance.

My apologies on some projects (author disambiguation, search) taking too long. We’re pretty consumed with the job hunt right now. We did just hire a new developer so once we can get back to developing, we’re going to gallop.

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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] 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

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)


  • 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.

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Friday, December 22nd, 2006

It’s so close!

We have no shame.

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