Sunday, November 20th, 2005

Fixes / seeking advice on “own, read, want”

Some recent fixes and improvements:

  • I finally fixed the author cloud, both individual and the all-users cloud.
  • Authors (eg., J.R.R. Tolkien) now include a “commonly tagged” section.
  • Recommendations have been improved, incorporating a progressively severe bias against books by the same author. Recommendations remain randomly excellent and occasionally crazy (see *).
  • Author links now work; some were “redirecting” in circles.

Own, read, want?

UPDATE: People are clearly confused by my categories. For the record, they were “(1) books you own, (2) books you’ve read but don’t own, (3) books you want.” I condensed that verbally to “own,” “read,” “want.” “Read” is causing people to think I’m trying to capture to distinguish how many books you’ve read (including in your catalog). I’m trying to allow people to feel comfortable cataloging books that aren’t currently in their library. Clearly this terminology isn’t going to work. Any suggestions?

I’m working on adding a “collections” feature (name in flux and up for suggestions). At present LibraryThing presumes you own your books, although users have added tags for books they’ve read but don’t own and for books they want. With the holidays approaching, I’d like to add the latter, at least. But I haven’t decided on the approach. Here is my plan. Executing it require bringing lots of features online at once, not making incremental changes and seeing what you people think as I add each one. So here’s a sneak peak. Comments would be appreciated.

I want to have a small number of fixed, non-overlapping categories. If users can define their own categories people will use “collections” instead of tags—for “at the beach house,” “read but hated,” etc. This will satisfy power users, but reduce universal value. Keeping the collection “buckets” limited will make it easier for people to view and understand other’s collections. For example, the default view will include everything a user owns or has read, but profiles will have a link to users’ “wish list.” Predefined terms are also better for library-wide statistics—whose wishes are like mine, what users are wishing for generally, etc. This won’t work if some people call it “wish list,” others “want” or “christmas,” etc. I don’t want to get into users picking their own name and then giving the collection a “type.” The system must be transparently simple.

I propose three collections: (1) books you own, (2) books you’ve read but don’t own, (3) books you want. I’d like to use the short names “own,” “read,” “want.” But people may misunderstand “read.” “Want” is my attempt to avoid the Amazon-y “wish list.” “Own,” “read,” “want” is also gramatically parallel. But can I escape this well-known name? Jacob Nielsen talks about a company replacing the standard “shopping cart” with a “shopping sled”—purchases plummeted!

I plan to implement it so that you choose what collection you’re adding to on the “add books” page. (I’ll have to think about how it works when you add a book another way; I don’t want to make things too complex.) There will be an easy way to “power edit” books into one collection or another. The catalog view will show “own” and “read” together by default, but allow you to choose to see any combination of the three. Profiles will break it down three ways.

That’s my plan. As they say, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. In this case, the enemy is the PHP programming language, not you, so help me out!

* I was shocked to discover that the 1969 parody of Tolkien, Bored of the Rings, has as its top recommendation Marcel Proust‘s In Search of Lost Time. Laugh all you want, but eight of thirty-two copies of In Search of Lost Time are owned by people who also own (the obscure) Bored of the Rings. You cannot argue with statistics! But why? I would also like to note that Amazon doesn’t present a single suggestion for Bored of the Rings, and that most of LibraryThing’s suggestions—Proust aside—are fantasy novels. LibraryThing beats Amazon again!

UPDATE: See the author page for National Lampoon. Bored of the Rings is split between three editions that LibraryThing isn’t “combining.” (User-contributed combination is on the way, I promise!) The main one has a review by wenestvedt, and picks out one really good suggestion—William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, a fantasy/Medieval romp rather than a parody.

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