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


Leave a Reply