Archive for October, 2005

Monday, October 31st, 2005

State of the Thing, Month 2

This innaugurates a new tradition: a monthly “state of the state” for LibraryThing. I’ve added a checkbox in “edit profile” in case you want to get this by mail. The default is “off,” of course!

Massive growth. What launched two months ago as a folly has become something of a hit. With no advertising and no coverage in the offline press*, LibraryThing has shot to 9,000 users and 665,000 books. It will surely hit a million before Christmas. Today it even nosed into the Alexa top 10,000.

Whether by luck or tireless improvement, LibraryThing has largely bested a surge of recent launches, none of which exceeds 50,000 books. (Veteran Bibliophil, online since December 2001, has 306,000 books.) Particularly gratifying has been the lack of significant damage from “Bookshelf,” one of the two showcase aps launched with Ning, the hot, well-funded startup of Marc Andreesen, the founder of Netscape. Ning gave me sleepless nights, but now, as I joked to a friend, there are two people who’ve beat Andreesen—Bill Gates and me.**

In all, LibraryThing is now one of the top non-commercial book sites on the web. Here is Alexa’s ranking chart, comparing it with BookCrossing, a much-loved and world-spanning project where you “read and release” books.

I mention this not because BookCrossing is a competitor—not at all—but because BookCrossing has received a huge amount of press. Won’t someone write an article about LibraryThing? David Pogue, Xeni Jardin, Walter Mossberg, Hiyawatha Bray—where are you?*** There’s something really cool going on here!

New features. In the last month I have added the following major features, and some minor ones.

  • Power editing, so you can tag a whole bunch of books at a time
  • Book-by-book suggestions based on LibraryThing users data
  • Detailed book suggestions based on your entire library’s contents
  • Five-star book rating, with a nifty AJAX implementation
  • RSS feeds, presently restricted to recent additions

Development priorities: I don’t want to telegraph too much, but this month’s development priorities include:

  • Better search functionality
  • “Groups” or “tribes,” so book clubs, offices, clubs and others can create “virtual libraries”
  • A way to handle “wishlists” and other non-owned books
  • Giving every book full cataloging data (LC subjects, Deweys, etc.), even if the initial data came from Amazon
  • RSS feeds for every catalog page and for a number of other pages
  • Improved “folksonomy” support, including pages for tags
  • Author pages
  • A user forum

Thank you. Thank you all for using the site, for blogging about it and telling your friends. Most of all please continue to send me your comments, criticisms and suggestions. Your thoughts have been critical to LibraryThing’s growth.

An aside: I used to work on software that users mostly hated. We didn’t solicit suggestions and a thick, outsourced layer of “tech support” kept complaints at bay. When we needed reactions we assembled paid focus groups and sat behind glass screens while some (outsourced) expert bumbled through our software. Developing LibraryThing has been a transformative experience. I will never EVER develop software like that again.

Conclusion. In conclusion, the state of the thing is strong! Thank for you using it, and happy cataloging.

*Excepting an article in Brazil and rumors of one in Italy, two countries for which LibraryThing has no library. I’m not sure if Andrew Brown’s excellent piece in the Guardian‘s email digest “The Wrap” counts as mainstream media, but it was online mainstream media.

**Speaking of Bill Gates, don’t imagine LibraryThing is making me rich. Far from it. The reward has been that, at least for now, I no longer feel guilty about working on it. That’s good, as I basically work on it every waking hour.

***Maybe I can call up Randall Schwartz again—he must know one of them. Randall Schwartz! Randall L. Schwartz! Learning Perl! From the dark aether I call you! Ia Ia Cthulhu fhtagn!

Labels: 1

Monday, October 31st, 2005

Book rating added; no “pencil” required

I’ve added a five-star book rating system. The pro vote was overwhelming. If you don’t want it, don’t add the field to your catalog. I was against it, but once the feature was up I found myself obsessively rating my whole collection.

The system is technically cool. You can add stars to multiple books without leaving the catalog page. You do not need to use the “edit” pencil. There’s no “submitting,” “saving” or anything like that. Just click to add stars one by one; at five it cycles around to none again. (Loosely, the technique I’m using is called AJAX, and is very “hot.”) I’m going to be adding similar on-catalog editing soon for tags.

Your catalog may not be currently showing the ratings field. If not, go to change fields and add it.

As with tags and reviews, ratings are totally optional. If just here to catalog, more power to you.

I haven’t added stars to any statistics pages yet. I’ll do this as the data warrants it.

Labels: 1

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

Gratuitous back-pat / help on two coming features

Noticed that clicking on a tag is suddenly quicker? That query alone was responsible for about half the server load. Clicking on a tag like “fiction” in a “global” context brought the machine to a standstill for everyone. It’s much better now. Fiction’s still takes a second, but that’s better than 30.

Feature 1: Ratings
Okay, I cave; you win. I’m going to add ratings. I propose they be 1-5 stars, with no stars being unrated. I’ve decided on stars—thumbs are too dorky—but I’m going to avoid the “Amazon” look. Nor will I be importing star data from them. LibraryThing is not Amazon!

The stars will be easily mass-editable, either in power edit or by a new “AJAX” way. However I do it, you’ll be able to rate a whole bunch of books at a time—zip zip zip.

Feature 2: Tag pages
I’m going to add a page for every tag, showing related tags, top books with that tag, etc. The only trick is how to get to it. I want the tag links to still function as a search, at least within a personal catalog. I may kill system-wide catalog tag searches, making them go to the “tag page” instead. (They still take up a lot of resources; there are almost a million tags now!) Your thoughts are welcome. What do you want to see? How do you want to get to it?

Comments, criticisms, anecdotes—go ahead.

Labels: 1

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

Book pile photo contest returns!

A few weeks ago I started a book pile contest/meme: take a photo like the one on the LibraryThing homepage, show off and win a free membership or two. Quite a few people sent me files. Others posted the photos directly to Flickr. I just finished posting the files to Flickr. Since I’ve never had a Flickr account before*, they are awaiting some sort of review for pornography and other objectionable material. (The pile of books on top of the toilet, maybe?!) Pretty soon, however, you’ll be able to see every one of them at . If you get only three pages, the new ones aren’t there yet.

I’m going to give this a few more days. More than half of LibraryThing’s members joined after the contest! If you want to participate, do NOT send me files. Instead, post your photos to Flickr, tagging them “librarything.” Go ahead and leave comments over there too. Some users put literally hours into this exercise, and there are some really cool juxtapositions and effects.

For a few I didn’t have the LT username and I didn’t think it was right to post the users real name. If one is yours, add your LibraryThing name if you want.

*”He made a tag-based site without ever being a member of Flickr? Has he no shame?” Oh, I only just signed up for too. I should be SHOT!

Labels: 1

Friday, October 28th, 2005

Power Tagging / Editing has Arrived

“Power Tagging” / “Power Editing” has finally arrived. Now you can select 20 books and add the same three tags to all of them, or take them away.

Instead of making it a “special feature” it is integral to how the catalog works. The feature is available on the gray and yellow control pad, as so:

When you click it, you enter a special mode, and get a special control panel for adding and removing tags. Below that can click on or off the books you want.

When you’re in “Power Edit” you get ALL the books that fit your current criteria, without “pages.” Generally this means it shows all your books. Sometimes it might mean all the books that have a certain tag or etc. If you have 1,000 books, it can be slow. If you have a lot of books, it’s also advisable to pick a layout without covers, so you don’t need to wait for them to load.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” I tested it thoroughly. But LibraryThing users continually surprise me. If you find a bug please give me as much detail as possible, including your username, what you were doing and what browser and OS you are using. “I tried to add a tag and it didn’t work” is pretty hard for me to act on.

Since it’s integral to the catalog, it’s also quite extensible. I plan to add a tab for deleting multiple books—useful for people who uploaded the same file twice. Other suggestions for power edit features are most welcome.

Labels: 1

Tuesday, October 25th, 2005

Three new features

Email comments: You can now have LibraryThing email you when people leave comments on your profile. Go to your profile and choose “edit profile” to enable this feature.

The profile now also allows you to choose whether to make your email public or not. Whether you make it public or not, I recommend everyone add an email, in case you lose your password.

Show number of copies: When looking at your catalog in list view, select “more options.” Not only does this add some buttons, including the delete button, as before. It now also lists by every book how many other users have it, as so:

You can click on the row-title “shared” to sort by this.

Recommendations: Book-by-book recommendations have improved again, with a lot of the pointless stuff removed. I also added a number by each book, showing the ratio of owners of both books to the owners of just the recommended book.

For example, here are the recommendations for Learning Perl. The 16/32 by the Perl Cookbook means that out of 32 copies of the Perl Cookbook, 16 are owned by people who also own Learning Perl.

Labels: 1

Saturday, October 22nd, 2005

Suggestion meme

I love how the blogosphere picks things up and runs with them. I asked for some feedback on the suggestions feature, and it became this independent meme. I particularly enjoy this submeme—listing all the books with little icons next to them—have it, don’t have it, good idea, bad idea, etc.

Are there any others to post here?

Labels: 1

Friday, October 21st, 2005

Suggestions, duplicates and yellow rows

Book-by-book suggestions have improved.

Users with lots of duplicates—mostly from bad imports—were slanting things terribly. I knew this when my novelist wife’s books—hint! hint!—all came up with Spidering Hacks as the top suggestion. This came about because I have multiple copies of both her novels and Spidering Hacks, and do not represent their content. Screening out duplicates has also been applied to profiles. There are some other places where it needs to be applied. Duplicates will soon be a negligible issue. Hooray, I say.

Why are some rows yellow?

Users with duplicates will notice that some books show up with yellow rows. This is just temporary—in the future you will be able to either show the duplicates this way, show just the duplicates or ignore whether a book is a duplicate. It’s as far as I got: “Wallace and Gromit” trump feature addition, at least until later this evening!

Labels: 1

Friday, October 21st, 2005

Book suggestions, library suggestions, new membership structure

I’ve added library suggestions for everyone as well as book recommendations for all books with three or more owners. Both are based on the same “people who own this also own that” algorithm. The library suggestion beta testers are split between those who thought it amazing and those who found it useless; it seems particularly good at guessing the second half of a partially-entered library. As for the book recommendations, I find them randomly either much better or much worse than Amazon’s.

Both features will get better as new books are added, but feedback is still much desired.

In other news, LibraryThing had graduated from the initial $10/lifetime plan. The new structure is $10 for a year’s membership and $25 for a lifetime membership. Those who have already paid their $10 were, of course, converted to “lifetime” status—my thanks for getting LibraryThing off the ground! This change will guarantee LibraryThing stays around for years to come.

PS: I made some final tweaks to the suggestion algorithm, and erased all the old reports. Incidentally, you may regenerate the report one per day. That gives me 24 hours to add that feature…

Labels: 1

Thursday, October 20th, 2005

Schedule maintenance and books you should own…

LibraryThing will go down for scheduled maintenance tonight at 1am Eastern time (6am GMT and, alas, 11pm in California). I expect it to be down for 2-3 hours.

Second, if you got this far, you’re in a very small minority of LibraryThing people—the cream of the cream, perhaps. So, here’s the scoop:

I’ve got an algorithm that tells you what books you “ought” to own. Basically, it looks at people who have similar books, and figures out what books they have that you don’t, adjusting for how close their library is to yours and for how common a given book is generally (the Harry Potter effect). If you want to look at your list, email me. NOTE: TELL ME YOUR USER NAME. I CAN’T READ MINDS!

The list is by email only for two reasons. First, it currently takes about five minutes to create, without breaking the server. (I’m taking the servers down tonight in part to speed such algorithms.) Second, I need feedback before I put the algorithm up.

It’s a lot harder to write a good library suggestion algorithm than I thought. If you like thinking about algorithms, this is an interesting one to think about.

The current algorithm has some flaws. First, it tells you about popular books you are actually avoiding. Thus, my brother isn’t a fan of Roger Zelaney, but his sci-fi heavy bookcase when matched to other sci-fi bookcases tells him he ought to own them. Second, it doesn’t think about different categories of books. Everyone’s library has more than one special section, but a “democratic” algorithm favors the largest section. So, I have a special interest in Greco-Roman divination, but it would never suggest books on that topic because my divination section is dwarfed by my other sections.

I have a number of other algorithms to look at. I’d like to test Dewey clusters (popular books in a Dewey-number range that you have a lot of books in), library suggestions that “bubble up” from book-by-book suggestions, and so forth. I’m not too interested in algorithms based on user ratings. My belief is that, in the aggregate, a library is a fair representation of a given person’s likes and dislikes. Even a “bad” book should inform the algorithm—people don’t buy books randomly.

The goal is to produce a better selection engine than Amazon has. Think big, I say.

Labels: 1

Monday, October 17th, 2005

One RSS feed made. So what RSS do you want?

So, I’ve added one RSS feed—recent books from your or someone else’s library. You’ll find the feed in users’ profile pages, marked with the familiar icon. The feed shows the last twenty books entered, linking to the book’s catalog page. The “description” field includes the user’s review (if there is one), their tags and the books publication data.

I made one feed to test the waters, and to provoke comment. So, what else do you want? I suggest:

  • A feed of someone’s recent reviews
  • A feed of someone’s recent books, but restricted to a given tag
  • A feed of others’ review of books owned by someone (so you can track reviews of books in your library)

What else makes sense? Also let me know if you want the format changed, for example to include different data in the “description” or restrict it to ten books.

Another suggestion: I’d rather have a single page with feed buttons and maybe a way to create just the feed you want. I’d rather not be strewing orange buttons all over. Am I a fuddy-duddy?

PS: Forum is coming.

Labels: 1

Monday, October 17th, 2005

Half a million books!

LibraryThing users officially cataloged over a half-million books. I would be stunned if my capacity for that emotion hadn’t been destroyed at 100,000 books. One million books by Christmas or bust!

I’m still waiting for the mainstream U.S. media to notice LibraryThing. If you agree, blog us. And tell your friends and neighbors, particularly if your neighbor is David Pogue, Walter Mossberg, Xeni Jardin or Hiawatha Bray. What’s up with tech reporters and kick-ass names anyway?

In other news:

  • I returned from a tech conference in Boston, so I’m on LibraryThing 24/7 again. There were a few days there when no new features were added; can’t have that!
  • The forum at BookCrossing has discovered LibraryThing. If any blog readers are also Book-Crossers, I’d love to hear how you think LT and BC can work together.
  • The book pile contest is still open, mostly because the prizes are all free memberships and I haven’t built that feature yet… Flickr‘s got most of them posted. Great stuff.
  • LT needs a forum. I think I may do one of my Mothboards. They’re linear; I really hate threaded discussions. And I want something that doesn’t look like the inside of a spaceship. On the other hand, a simple board would preclude people having open-ended discussions about books (as opposed to LibraryThing). But aren’t there enough places for that?
  • Strange LT Meme: Phantom Scribbler wrote “Do any other Library Thing users feel lonely when you see that you’re the only one who owns a favorite book?” and suggested people blog about their “onlies.” So far, only No Fancy Name has taken the bait.

Labels: 1

Tuesday, October 11th, 2005

Universal Import files—and now web pages!

Universal Import is now truly universal. It accepts both files and web pages. I’ve successfully tested it with:

  • Delicious Library, Readerware, Book Collector
  • Amazon (Wishlists, Listmania, past orders), Barnes and Noble, Booksense
  • Bibliophil (export or URL), BookCrossing, Reader2, Listal, What Should I Read Next
  • Home-brewed text files
  • Mumbling ISBNs near your computer, rotary telephone or toaster

See the post below for more on how it works. Again, it won’t fetch your comments, the date you bought something or track down books without ISBNs, but it should do most of what you want most of the time. If you have problems, be specific about them. Go ahead and send me files and URLs.

Let me know if you end up drawing books from a site I haven’t mentioned. I’m keen to add it to the list.

Labels: 1

Tuesday, October 11th, 2005

Universal Import added

I’ve added a “Universal Import” feature. After wrangling with a dozen or so different formats, I chucked the nonsense and made a single Swiss-army-knife import. Universal Import works on:

  • Desktop applications like Delicious Library, Readerware, Book Collector, etc.
  • Online services that offer exports (eg., Bibliophil)
  • Home-cooked text-files, spreadsheets and databases

For each one, it grabs the ISBNs and looks them up against the libraries you specify. The upside is the data is fresh, top-quality and drawn from wherever you want—from Amazon to libraries in Turkey. The downside is that it only grabs the ISBNs. It doesn’t try to wrangle all the other stuff.

This was not done lightly. Individual filters take a long time to build and require all sorts of compromises. LibraryThing users clamoring for imports are distributed among a half-dozen applications and various home solutions. So, instead of making 5% of my users 100% happy, I decided to make 100% of my users 95% happy.

I hope you like it.

Coming tomorrow: Imports from web sites like Amazon and AllConsuming!

Labels: 1

Sunday, October 9th, 2005

Picture upload

I’ve added the ability to upload profile pictures, not just link to one somewhere else. Go to your profile and click “Edit your profile” to do this.

If this works reasonably well, I’ll also let people upload book covers. This will be restricted to paid users to avoid porn spam. (Also added to the terms.)

Labels: 1

Sunday, October 9th, 2005

Return of the divet / 400,000

Alert LibraryThing-ers will notice the return of the divet ( ) when adding books from libraries. Click it and get a lot more information about the book: ISBN, publication and physical description info, and sometimes even summaries and tables of contents. It’s a small change, but actually a sign of the skeleton poking through—the database and parsing changes necessary for adding Italian libraries and bulk imports from Delicious Library and other desktop applications. (My efforts to get the desktop book cataloging people to discuss synching—or really to even talk to me—have failed. It’s time for import filters.

Contest update: So far, only one person‘s sent in a book-pile photo (a good combo). Anyone else? I figured someone would want a free membership!

400,000. LibraryThing passed 400,000 books cataloged. At current pace we’ll hit 1/2 million when I’m in Cambridge, MA. I think that calls for a Scorpion Bowl at the Hong Kong Restaurant, don’t you?

Labels: 1

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

Book-Pile Photo Contest

I’m getting very tired of my pile of books. It’s a bad pile, done in haste. But I’m seeing some fun “LibraryThing” photos on blogs and Flickr (my apologies for all the disarray LibraryThing is causing!). Wouldn’t it be fun to get more people’s library photos?

Therefore, I announce the first annual LibraryThing Book-Pile Photo Contest.

The rules:

  • Take a photo of a pile of books—something like the home page photo.
  • Some of the spines should face the camera so the titles can be read.
  • The books should be against a white or light background, so I can snip them out of the background easily in Photoshop.
  • Express your cleverness in the book-choice. Do not include yourself. I also think you should avoid football trophies, two-handed swords, etc, but go ahead and include dogs and cats. Don’t let the books fall on any babies.
  • By submitting the image you agree to allow LibraryThing to use it, as well as anyone else so long as they’re talking about LibraryThing or the contest.
  • Send original or otherwise large files to timspalding, or just post it on Flickr and send me the URL.

The judging: If I get a lot of good stuff, I will probably do some sort of voting thing on LibraryThing. That would be fun. If not, the winner is whoever I want.

The benefit: Winner gets two free memberships and eternal glory. Two runners-up get one free membership each. Yeah, pretty pathetic.

Labels: 1

Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

Reviews up a notch

Users like Wyvernfriend (299 reviews!) are finally getting their due. Although reviews remain—and will remain—secondary to cataloging, they are now a bit more “out there.”

Check your profile for a reviews page, listing the books you’ve reviewed (if any). That page also lists the books that others have reviewed but you haven’t. Over on the Zeitgeist page, I’m now listing the most prolific reviews and the most-reviewed books.

In other news, you’ll notice that clicking on another user no longer automatically sorts the books according to whether or not you share them. Instead, the catalog tells you how many books you share and gives you a special link to see them. The processing time (comparing all your books against all someone else’s books) was really slowing LibraryThing down. Indeed, you should find things a little faster overall.

Labels: 1

Monday, October 3rd, 2005

Library for poor Brazilians—how to help?

A kind user sent me this inspiring October 2 LA Times story, “This Illiterate Brazilian’s Home Speaks Volumes,” about a poor Brazilian who, basically, started a library in his house.

I’d love to find somewhere to point people so they can donate. I’m sure even small donations would go a long way. If nobody official is collecting—some library association perhaps?—I’ll set up a collection page here.

There’d be nice symmetry there. LibraryThing has seen a lot of Brazilians since being profiled in two papers there.

Labels: 1

Monday, October 3rd, 2005

LibraryThing now searches thirty-one libraries

It’s official: LibraryThing has expanded to thirty-one libraries in thirteen countries.

Not only Australians and Canadians now have major collections in their countries, but also Turks, Danes, Swedes and Dutch. US collections like Yale and the University of Chicago add more scholarly heft, and a user reported that the University of California system is excellent for paperback science fiction.

In addition to the libraries, LibraryThing also works with all the Amazons—now including Amazon Japan. All the national Amazons can also be accessed using the LibraryThing/Amazon bookmarklet, which allows you to add books to your LibraryThing library while browsing on Amazon.

European diacriticals now work well, albeit with some library-specific glitches (eg., the Australian National Library strips accents out and the Royal Danish Library sends the strangest character set). But internal searches still have some diacritical problems…

More libraries

LibraryThing will continue to add libraries. Unfortunately, not all libraries present open web interfaces. Here are global and UK lists of some of the libraries that may work. Some, like the BL, use a format I haven’t designed for yet. Feel free to suggest items off the list, or other open Z39.50 libraries you know about.

Other news

  • LibraryThing will hit 325,000 books in about an hour. No, I’m not staying up for it.
  • I’ve been trying to promote the site to the mainstream media. It seems unfair that it’s been profiled in two Brazilian papers, but I can’t get the Boston Globe to pick it up. Sheesh, I should start reading the Herald.
  • I’ve been looking at similar sites, and pleased to discover LibraryThing’s user growth rate matches the hot social software site 43Things (see here, reporting 12,000 users in two months; LT did 6,000 in one month). 43Things has a bunch of employees and is bankrolled by Amazon (originally in secret).
  • LibraryThing is not bankrolled by Amazon or anyone else, nor are we going to sell our data to them. (Amazingly, I never really announced that before. You are a trusting lot.)
  • In related news, I just finished the site’s first Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. In the end, I decided against the naked-photography clause. Your pictures will be returned.

What I’m working on

  • I’m taking a breather on new libraries. Maybe users will suggest some good ones. It’s hard to know what to add sometimes. I stopped when I realized that a particular Swedish word probably meant “veterinary.” Not a top priority.
  • I’d like to add more data back into the search view. (The “little divet” that used to come up when you use the Library of Congress.)
  • I should add RSS. I’ve been promising it for ages.
  • Ditto power editing/tagging.

Labels: 1

Sunday, October 2nd, 2005

Interim post on multiple libraries

I’m going to blog tonight about a bunch of new features and the addition of some thirty libraries, now working well with language support. Before I do I wanted to ask if people are able to figure out the “more libraries” feature, and whether the libraries added to the experience. Do you use them? Is the user interface confusing? Do you want more ability to customize? Do you miss the little divet that used to give you the cataloging info for a book? (I do.)

So, the floor’s open for multiple-library issues…

Labels: 1