Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

Arrr! Bookins joins the crew


Swap site Bookins has joined our piratical crew—swap sites listing their inventories on LibraryThing, and enabling users to move books back and forth with ease. (See original post.)

Although I am not releasing inventory numbers—I don’t think the sites would want me announcing them—Bookins’ stock and wishlist is a major addition. It’s getting easier and easier to swap your books with LibraryThing and its swap partners. And it’s great to see websites confident enough in their services that they’re willing to be listed alongside their competitors. (Besides LibraryThing users are such book-freaks, they’ll probably end up with accounts on all of them.)

Bookins bills itself as “easy, automated and fair.” Its unique features include an algorithm for assigning points to books, so a new hardcover of Freakonomics is worth more than an old paperback Tom Clancy novel, and a $3.99 flat shipping rate, with package tracking right on the site. Again, it’s nice to see that the dozen or so swap sites aren’t just copying each other, but trying out different ideas.

Although fourth to get their data up for LibraryThing’s use, the founder, Mitchell Silverman, expressed interest very early. The little matter of getting married and going on honeymoon got in the way.

So, congratulations to him, and to LibraryThing/Bookins users!

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Saturday, September 16th, 2006

How libraries are using LibraryThing

I mentioned last week that Karen Burns had made a LibraryThing account for the Shenandoa Public Library, so they could use the blog widget to display new books on their website.

Since then, Karen has set up a bunch of other libraries in her area with LT accounts and widgets for their websites, including: The Atlantic Public Library, The Gibson Memorial Library/Creston Public Library, Southwestern Community College LRC, Anita Public Library, and SWILSA’s own site.

Today, Karen posted a podcast about how she’s been using LibraryThing widgets on library webpages.

Another librarian doing some similar cool stuff with LT is John Klima, who created a LibraryThing account which he uses to recommend books on the teen page of his library’s website (the header of his widget reads “Recommended Books from the YA Librarian”).

In short, we love it. Using the LT widgets like this is clever. It’s eye-catching (who doesn’t like a book cover?) and current (if you choose 5 most recent books added to your LT catalog, for example, it will automatically update on your widget when you add a new book to LT) – all in all, a good way for libraries to show off their new books.

What else? Do you know of any other libraries using LT? I’d love to hear about it.

We think LibraryThing can do even more for libraries. Tim’s been begging libraries to let show you LT data (tags, rating, covers, reviews, etc.) in an OPAC. (WITHOUT fooling around with the OPAC, and without any “technical” help at all. It would all be a short-term “enhanced” mirror on LibraryThing’s servers.) He’s looking in particular to play around with Innovative Interfaces Millennium OPACs, so shoot him an email if you want to join in the fun.

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Monday, September 11th, 2006

Ahoy! Pile the books, matey

Ok, this one’s on short notice, but International Talk Like A Pirate Day always seems to sneak up on you, doesn’t it? So, our newest bookpile contest is, of course, pirate themed.

Pile your books as a pirate would? Pile only pirate books? Books every pirate should read? Books that should walk the plank? That’s all for you to figure out. The possibilites are endless. I just wasted a considerable amount of time digging through the books tagged “pirates” – you can too!

The rules are:
1. Take a photo of your bookpile
2. Upload it to Flickr, tag it with “LTPirateContest”
3. Email me (abbylibrarything.com). Include the URL to the photo(s) on Flickr, and your user name on LT.
4. Do it all by September 18th. We’ll announce the winner on the blog on the day of the festive occasion, September 19th.

One winner gets a free year’s membership to LibraryThing. And a newspaper folded pirate’s hat.*

*Prize hat only offered to winners located within a 5 minute walk of downtown Boston.** All others must fold their own hat. Newspaper not provided.
**Walking time and distance to be judged by Abby. No logic will be used.

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Sunday, September 10th, 2006

Swap info in your library

Following the recent integration between LibraryThing and swap sites, I’ve added an optional “swap” column to your library. It shows the combined available/wanted numbers for the three swap sites that share their information with LibraryThing.

By default, the column is hidden. The checkbox to turn it on is also available from the “edit” control in your catalog, and on all swap pages.

Or just go ahead and click here to turn it on.

Improvements: In the future it might make sense to allow you to show totals from only the sites you belong to. And we plan to integrate swapping deeply into the upcoming “collection” feature, so you can see what you’re swapped, what’s on it’s way, etc.

PS: Clicking on the swap column toggles it between sorting by top available and top wanted.

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Saturday, September 9th, 2006

Arrr! Another swap site


SwapSimple joins BookMooch and WhatsOnMyBookshelf as preferred swapping sites. The totals—available and wanted—now include all three, to give you more information and choice.

SwapSimple is a general swap site, with books just a part. Their pitch is as a “secure trading” site. As their president, Elliot Hirsch, expressed it to me:

“[W]e designed our trading platform with security as the highest priority—so that our community members would safely and reliably be able to trade everything from paperbacks to $200 textbooks.”

They also tout “integrated shipping, which enables the RECEIVER of a package to pay for shipping, not the sender.” LibraryThing doesn’t favor sites, except for openness and reciprocality, but it’s good to see that the swap sites aren’t all clones—there are some innovative ideas out there.

Arrr! Be open or walk the plank!

SwapSimple’s entry brings collaborating, open sites to three. Three more have expressed interest—including a site I had never known about—and one has commited to it. (The developer is on his honeymoon. Yeah, some excuse!) LibraryThing’s goal is to force openness and give users a wide selection of swap choices. We think it’s working! Those that refuse to allow links will be increasingly alone.

To be fair, I should mention a little about BookMooch and WhatsOnMyBookshelf. Although they went live when the feature went live—and that post was picked up all over the place—I never described the sites specifically:

BookMooch is the newest entry to the fray, and has been garnering a lot of recent attention and traffic. It was started by John Buckman, who also runs the MP3 label Magnatune. Although, again, I’m not going to play favorites with sites, John and I share a lot in terms of development philosophically and I admire his engagement with users. He can be thanked for fine-tuning my original swap-site integration proposal to make it much more useful for everyone involved.

WhatsOnMyBookShelf is the creation of Daniel Ostermayer. WOMB was the first swap site to link to LibraryThing, and has been quick to implement integration. Even cooler, LibraryThing’s use of swap-site wish lists prompted them to create a wish list feature of their own. See? Openness sparks innovation! Lastly, WOMB is the only swap site that goes beyond Amazon; you can search the Library of Congress instead!

Feature update. We’re not pushing swap totals to the catalog pages yet, because I want to make it optional and haven’t designed where you’d choose. Maybe there should be a “show swap data in catalog” checkbox on the swap pages.

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Saturday, September 9th, 2006

Faster work pages

Thanks to Chris, LibraryThing is slowly identifying and overcoming its database problems. A recent change gave us greater stability and reduced “skews” between servers–a source of much hair-pulling.

Although faster overall, some pages got dramatically slower, including the “works” pages. Commonly held works, like the Da Vinci Code, could take 15 or even 30 seconds to load. I solved that problem so that even the “worse” pages now load in 2-4 seconds, given a fast connection.

I imagine some of you just stopped clicking on works pages. It’s safe now!

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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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