Archive for July, 2007

Friday, July 13th, 2007


One word. If you know Facebook, you know what I mean. It’s gonna be huge. Is that a VC at my doorstep?

Altay has claimed his high-concept Web 2.0 idea too: “YouTube for Dried Fruit.”

Abby and I agree, we should make a podcast of our 2am banter…

Labels: Uncategorized

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

I love Clay Shirky

Now the truth can be told. I love Clay Shirky.

First, Shirky gave the talk Ontology is Overrated which, despite some quibbles, was the intellectual justification of LibraryThing. At least until David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous came along.

Now comes Shirky on love, at Supernova 2007:

In a way, it’s another sort of justification. LibraryThing is about love too. It’s not just the love on the buzz page. Nor the cookies and candy we get in the mail.* It’s the members, loving books and loving each other.**

Like the Ise shrine***, LibraryThing is also rebuilt every night. It’s not the software–although that can assist and focus things. It’s the social. As a lover says: Without you, we’d be nothing!

We just finished a round of social changes, designed to make LibraryThing more social—the so-called Project Ocelot. This week we’vee also been hard at work on putting LibraryThing on Facebook.

In all this, we are determined not to lose our core strength–book data. Features like our new Connection News aren’t about members in a vacuum, but how members are interacting with their books. And some of the most interesting book data is social book data. It is, for example, amazing but not surprising that our works-combination system—driven by users—is on a par with the mammoth OCLC’s xISBN service. xISBN is a very clever algorithm, but love is the ultimate algorithm.

In the next week or so there’s is going to see a major announcement about social book data—one that LibraryThing has long knew about, but which was driven by a far larger, cooler entity. It should terrify the big players. We plan to embrace it, lovingly.

*Recently it was Australian Tim Tams.
**That’s also why our central rules is against making personal attacks.
***For a great discussion of the Ise shrine, and other “impermanent permanents” see Alexander Stille‘s The Future of the Past. Great book.

PS: If anyone knows Shirky, tell him to give me a ring so I can send some Tim Tams his way. I’ve been sending him love letters for two years. I even hired one of his students. No response. Clay, where’s the love?

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Thursday, July 12th, 2007


From a rival site’s page on Lusy Lady a book about a Seattle peepshow.

Pretty impressive tag cloud! I guess lots of people have tagged it “female author.” This must be the important thing here.

Wait, how many of their users have the book? One.

Folksonomy, meet fauxonomy. As Jamais Cascio (via David Weinberger) puts it, fauxonomy is:

“metadata added with the conscious intent to confuse or obfuscate,” or to weight them for spammish reasons.

LibraryThing has 47 members with the book. And 53 tags. With numbers:

The moral: When you have a lot of data you can know what a book is about—note how big “erotica” and “photography” are. When you don’t, pretending doesn’t help.

Labels: Uncategorized

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

LibraryThing for Libraries: Waterford and Deschutes

Two more libraries have added LibraryThing for Libraries:

Waterford Institute of Technology (catalog) in Waterford in south east Ireland. WIT becomes our first academic library, and our first one outside the US. Apart from that, we were particularly happy to get the ball up and rolling. WIT’s David Kane and I have been corresponding for some time, and quite profitably. Long before LibraryThing for Libraries, he tried to bolt our recommendations onto the WIT catalog. His solution—functional but requred real-time scraping of the WIT catalog—threw the technical challenges of LibraryThing for Libraries in high relief. David was also intrumental in setting up my keynote at the Irish Innovative Users Group. David’s current passion is the WIT Institutional Repository, about which he gave a talk at the IIUG.

It’s good to see LibraryThing for Libraries operating in a different context. While something like romance comes up fairly light at WIT, their holdings in tags like engineering and programming dazzle, and really give our suggestion algorithms a work-out!

Deschutes Public Library of Deschutes County in Oregon. Our largest library so far! Deschutes has five branches serving 140,000 patrons, in the fastest growing area of Oregon. They have quite a broad collection, but my eye was drawn to Why cats paint : a theory of feline aesthetics, which suggests mostly cat books, of course.

Labels: librarything for libraries, ltfl libraries

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine

Thailand’s Bangkok Post reports that social networking, including LibraryThing, is “almost better than sex.” So many jokes to pick from!

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Saturday, July 7th, 2007

NYT: A Hipper Crowd of Shushers

New York Times article A Hipper Crowd of Shushers. Extra points for mentioning both Library 2.0 and Jessamyn West (LT: jessamyn ).

Jessamyn West, 38, an editor of “Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out” a book that promotes social responsibility in librarianship, and the librarian behind the Web site (its tagline is “putting the rarin’ back in librarian since 1999”) agreed that many new librarians are attracted to what they call the “Library 2.0” phenomenon. “It’s become a techie profession,” she said.

Labels: librarians, libraries

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

My Amazon recommendations

Tim and I trade computers, and this is the email I get…

Your recommendations are crazy now


If you sign into Amazon you will notice the recommendations have gone crazy—90% crotch-less panties and othersuch. This happened as follows:

I showed Altay the bananas in Amazon
The bananas link to other food, including the skinned whole rabbit (yes, really)
The rabbit links to a large number of erotic panties (the rabbit was Dugg and people went crazy)
I clicked a few.
They link to tanks, among other things and light sabers.

Anyway, I signed into Amazon and discovered that Amazon thinks I’m—correction: you, since this is your computer and you are auto-signed in—are all about Hen-party-style clothing.

So, browse German philosophy for a day or two before showing Amazon off at an academic conference.


Because a picture is worth a thousand tanks and skinned rabbits (so they say):

Now, in addition to the panties, my Amazon recommendations logically include a book called Knitting with Dog Hair*, and an Inflatable Party Sheep. I blame the rabbit, Tim, not you.

*Knitting with Dog Hair on LibraryThing suggests Knits for Barbie doll, but nothing inflatable…

Labels: Uncategorized

Sunday, July 1st, 2007

Tags and the Power of Suggestion

REMINDER: LibraryThing is offering $1,000 worth of books if you find us an employee!

As usually argued, tags have “low cognitive cost,” a high-cognitive cost way of saying “you dash them off.” You grab the book, you tag it “cooking” and move on.

That usually a good thing. If you thought about it, you might try to come up with the “perfect” phrase, like “food preparation,” to cover salad-making and other methods that involve no actual cooking, or “food preparation, presentation and related subjects” to cover that book about creating beautiful designs in coffee foam and the manual that came with the Salad Shooter. But coming up with the perfect phrase takes effort and time. You pay for it then and, more importantly, you pay for it when you come to search–for searching is even more about low cognitive effort than tagging.

This much is standard. It’s also clear that “dashed-off” terms cluster well socially. For most domains there are only a few simple terms (eg., cooking, cook books), but an almost endless number of complex ones.

There are problems with this. Indeed, all the “problems” with tagging stem from it. A careful, formal system would distinguish between books about “leatherworking” and books of “leather erotica”. On LibraryThing, both tend to get tagged leather. I won’t multiply examples I’ve discussed before, so I can get to a new one: the Power of Suggestion.

Yak, yak, yak, yak. Joke, joke, joke, joke! Now, what is the white of an egg called? Did you think “yolk”? I’ll bet you did. The children’s joke illustrates something about the brain works. Rapid thought is open to the power of suggestion.

Now catalog and tag the book 9-11 by Noam Chomsky. I’ll bet you tag it “9-11.” The same goes for 9-11 emergency relief, 9-11 : artists respond and 9-11 : the world’s finest comic book writers and artists tell stories to remember. But elsewhere, “9/11” (with a slash) is by far the dominant tag.

All books
9/11 1179 times
9-11 173 times (13%)

Books with “9-11″ in the title
9/11 28 times
9-11 32 times (53%)

Sometimes seeming synonyms actually encode a difference in nuance or perspective (eg., Shirky’s example of “film” vs. “cinema”). In this case, they don’t. There doesn’t appear to be any real difference between “9-11″ and “9/11″ that can’t be explained by the tile. This is why LibraryThing users have “combined” the two tags, an operation we allow, and the combination has not been contested.

Titles influence how we tag things. Most of the books on birds and birding could be tagged with either term, but books with “birds” in the title rank higher on the “birds” tag.

Or take Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers. My brother, Oakes, once pointed out, Helbroner’s book about the history of economics is almost invariably to be found in a used bookstore’s “Philosophy” section, not in “Economics.”* On LibraryThing the problem isn’t so acute, but it’s there–152 people have tagged it “economics,” 75 have tagged it “philosophy,” the second-largest tag. Of course, there is some legitimate cross-over between the two subjects. But I don’t think the content alone would merit so much “philosophy” tagging.

This isn’t a perfect example either. It would be interesting to know how many of the “philosophy” taggers had read the book, or what their other tags for it were. But I think it shows a pervasive effect.

The “Power of Suggestion” isn’t a major problem with tagging. But in showing us a flaw, it clues us in to what it’s all about.

*He showed me this when I was quite young, and it stuck. So when I’m in a new bookstore and passing the philosophy section, I often do a quick check to see if my old, confused friend is there again. I’m weird.

Labels: cognitive cost, tagging, tags

Sunday, July 1st, 2007

Tim’s notes on ALA 2007

I never finished my big sum-up of the American Library Association annual conference, so I thought I’d turn it into a “notes on ALA” post.

I had HUGE fun at the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase, an informal, underground “unconference” for “Lib2.0″ folks to present short presentations. I gave a short one on LibraryThing for Libraries. Michael Porter of WebJunction/OCLC, who did a great presentation on the Facebook API, and I got into a boistrous debate on LibraryThing, librarians and non-librarians, commercial vs. non-commercial entites and OCLC’s closed data policies. Here, David Free, Michael Habib and Kevin Clair look on as I try to intimidate Michael with my extra-large hands (photo by rachelvacek). But we ended up friendly. And, since then, whenever I mention his name, the person I’m talking to blurts out “Oh, he’s a nice guy!” Anyway, it’s clear that if OCLC is the Death Star, he’s a civilian contractor.

Talk. I did a RUSA MARS talk on tags, libraries and social networking. I posted my introduction last week. My favorite quote was this one from Hidden Peanuts:

“Tim Spalding’s presentation was jaw dropping. I’ve played with LibraryThing before, but only a little bit. I had no idea of how deep its current functionality goes.”

But in twenty minutes I didn’t get to be clear about where subjects work and where tags work. Mostly I just did examples where they worked. I think that was a factor in this post.

“On the negative side, I overheard some people chatting as I was waiting in line in the rest room the they were unhappy with Tim’s criticism of Library of Congress Subject Headings.”

Mini photo gallery. Jason Griffey opening the BIGWIG thing. Tim falling off the surfboard meant to demonstrate ALA Anaheim. Abby enjoying cheese fondue. (Cafe La Rouche, a favorite haunt when I was in Georgetown, has great cheese fondue!) Cell phones take bad pictures, so they’re not clickable.

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