Archive for the ‘Social Cataloging’ Category

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Work at LibraryThing?

Check out the main blog for information on a new social-media position open at LibraryThing.

Labels: jobs, portland, Social Cataloging, social media, social networking

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Cataloging and fun

On Thursday we introduced a silly new “meme” page called “Dead or Alive?” which listed your authors by their mortal status–alive, dead, unknown or “not a person.” (See the blog post or check out yours.) The feature drew on the birth and death dates of the authors in our Common Knowledge system, a free (Creative Commons) “fielded wiki” for miscellaneous “cataloging” information (think “Wikipedia for book info”). To move an author from the “unknown” column, members had to find their dates and enter them onto into Common Knowledge.

Here’s a chart of Common Knowledge contributions over the last month.* Can you spot the day “Dead or Alive?” went live?

As you can see, birth, death and gender edits (gender is where you mark an author as “not a person”) went through the roof when the feature was announced—from an average of 143 edits per day, to 3731 and 3584, 25 times the average. Other edits went up too—a 30% increase.

A few members joked that it was a plot to encourage contributions to Common Knowledge. It wasn’t that. I just thought it was a funny idea, but I wasn’t unaware that it would have that effect. Indeed, the upshot shows again something of a LibraryThing finding—that regular people will contribute cataloging information if you make it meaningful to them. That is, whatever incentive there is to add author information, the incentive is increased when they’re your authors, and increased again when that information does something for you. Of course, even if incentive is personal, the effect is general; you update the author because you have his or her book, but everyone else shares in the value of that update.

The way this works undercuts a common myth of “Web 2.0″—that there are all these people out there adding “user-generated content” out of altruism or an extreme mismatch between time and exciting things to do. And it cuts against an older myth, that cataloging is so boring you have to pay people to do it.

We’ve seen the same jump every time we introduced a new Common Knowledge category, and again when we made that category “come alive” in some way for members. And although the short-term jump will surely level out, the overall rate of “dead-or-alive” entries certainly not. You get more changes when the changes do something for people.

Now, of course, there’s a whole list of things this doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that LibraryThing members are doing their job well (although I suspect they are). It doesn’t mean the same would apply to much more difficult forms of cataloging, or to forms that generally presuppose professional training (ie., LCSH). And it doesn’t mean that regular people will get to the “rare stuff,” indeed it probably means that average cataloging attention is directly related to popularity of the underlying item.

Even so, pretty cool. Oh, by the way, I’m adding a feature allowing you to compare yourself to other members, which should inflame the other great motive for personal metadata—competition. After all, my library has a higher dead/alive ratio than yours!

UPDATE: Here’s the current chart, without day-norming. Notice how everything went up.


*The numbers are normed against day-related changes. Basically, we smoothed out that many more edits are made on Monday than Saturday.

Labels: cataloging, dead or alive, Social Cataloging, zombies

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Wikimania 2008 (Alexandria, Egypt)

In other news, I’m currently on a train to New York, from which I fly to Athens, with a day-long layover, and then Alexandria, Egypt, where I am due to talk at Wikimania 2008, the annual Wikipedia/Wikimedia conference. I’m talking on “LibraryThing and Social Cataloging.”

I plan to center my talk on how LibraryThing’s social production, or “Social Cataloging,” stacks up against the Wikipedia model and similar projects. I think there are some interesting similarities, and more interesting departures. I shall post a screencast, at a minimum.

Anyone know these people? I am particularly eager to mingle with the other attendees and speakers. Apart from Brewster Kahl (Internet Archive), I hardly see a name I recognize. But I’m sure there will be some interesting conversations.

When it comes to Wikipedia, I’m no expert. My account lists some 746 edits since 2004, which probably puts me in the top percent, but my output is spotty, and I have never been obsessed with the site as some have.

Things not to say around Jimmy Wales. Worse, I am not a true believer. Of course, I think Wikipedia is extraordinary. I use it every day. When it’s works, like most pop culture, it’s an unmatched resource. But from working mostly on topics of Greek history, I have acquired a sour perspective on Wikipedia’s ability to resolve conflicts, tamp down ignorance, and cover topics which, quite simply, require more than curiosity and popular secondary sources.

Alexander the Great, for example, has seen periodic, bitter warfare on national or sexual grounds and, although randomly wonderful, with extensive hyperlinking and some exceptional tidbits, has never grown into a decent summary. It’s lumpy, unbalanced, poorly written and poorly sourced—a bright fourteen year-old child sitting next to you on a bus, telling you everything he knows.* Parts are good. Parts are bad. Parts are just off somehow—their correction requiring un-Wikipedia-esque virtues like restraint, proportionality and style. At one point I watched it closely and made substantial edits. I’ve moved on. In my opinion, if the Wiki culture and process were going to produce a good article on Alexander, they would have done so already.

If that’s too pessimistic, it’s surely true of bit players like Ada of Caria, Aristander of Telmessus or a work like the Geoponica? I think all three are passable now, but almost all the work is mine. Not only am I not scalable, but it shouldn’t work that way. Tim Spalding, a PhD drop-out whose knowledge of the Geoponica is mostly second hand, even if he does read Greek, should not be the almost sole author of the article on this rather important work.**

Anyone know Alexandria? I should have no trouble filling my layover in Athens. I’ve been a few times before, so I’ll be filling holes. But I’ve never been to Egypt.

I’ll have early mornings, nights and one day free in Alexandria. (I’m not going to try to get to Cairo and the pyramids.) I want to make the most of the time I have, and feel extremely ignorant. Although Hellenistic Alexandria was a research interest of mine, the ancient city is largely gone, and I know little about what came after. I love Cavafy, so I shall probably check out his house museum, but I am completely ignorant about Durrell, the usual touchstone. Nor is Alexandria what it was in their day–the Greeks, Jews, Albanians and other minorities have mostly left. What the modern city is like, I have no idea. I can’t count to ten in Arabic. I don’t even have a guidebook. This is the new, non-obsessive tourist me. ..

If you know the city, leave comments. Tell me where to go and I’ll tell you what I thought of it! Think of it as social production of tourist memories…


*My favorite Wikipedia criticism is surely Karen Schneider’s, best expressed with reference to Orson Scott Card’s page: 
“But if you read this blog you know I have written that Wikipedia often seems more like a Secret Treehouse Club than everyone’s encyclopedia. Card’s Wikipedia page isn’t a biography, it’s an encomium by true believers who maintain fierce control over Card’s myth.”

Labels: Alexandria Egypt, Social Cataloging, Wikimania 2008, Wikimania2008