Thursday, November 3rd, 2005

How to do a LibraryThing forum

I’ve been thinking about a forum. In his comment on the last post, Felius raised some important issues. He asked for a forum that was…

“… integrated into LibraryThing and uses the same user profile. And maybe lets us discuss books as well (“See what are people are saying about Cryptonomicon” for example), and maybe doesn’t really distinguish between the two, but kind of integrates the general idea of “discussion” into the whole site.”

This is very much what I was thinking. The reason LibraryThing doesn’t have a forum yet is precicely because I don’t want to slap up a PhpBB board on with its different look and user system. (For the same reason, I have resisted using my own Mothboard site.)

I am also interested in how the forum can be integrated into the rest of the site so, for example, a forum conversation about The Lion the Witch and the Wardobe is somehow referenced on the book page. There are, after all, 145 LibraryThing users who have that book, but only a select few read the blog. At the same time, I don’t want to add a “mini forum” to every book. Most books just don’t have the necessary critical mass. Have you looked at the fora that are attached to every film on IMDB? Blech.

Felius’ closing comment also deserves quoting:

“Because, like it or not, LibraryThing is no longer just about cataloguing your books — it’s about mixing with the sort of people who think that’s a wonderful idea. ;)”

I’m torn on this. I do not want LibraryThing to devolve into a general book site. I do not want to scare away people who “just want to catalog their books.” There are a lot of such people—perhaps a majority on the site now. Whatever solution I choose must be and feel completely optional, and not change the main focus. Social features have surely become more important—and I am conscious that, to be a success, LibraryThing must keep at least some people around after they have entered their collection—but cataloging remains the core. It is what LibraryThing does best.

Some random thoughts:

  • A forum should allow users to embed links to users, tags, books and authors (a real author system is coming). Doing this so that it’s easy will be an interesting UI challenge. Perhaps each thread can be tagged, and anyone can add tags.
  • The system should highlight conversations about books you own. This information should be available in the forum and via RSS.
  • Perhaps a forum should display user names with the number of books they share with you after it, or a similarity percentage yet to be introduced. This will solve my main objection with an open book discussion:I don’t care what most people think; most people have different tastes than I do. Of course, I care what all of YOU think! 🙂
  • The system should sharply distinguish between past and present conversations, at least on a book page. You don’t want to be breathlessly told that people are talking about a book and then discover the conversation is two years old.
  • I am dead-set against multi-threaded discussion. I hate hate hate it. I expressed this view before and one user disagreed—former user, I should say, but I know nothing about his tragic, unusual and bitterly ironic death.

Comments welcome. Adding forums is an exciting change, but also a big one. Social software is tricky—I can write the software well and still produce a miserable failure. I’d rather do it right.

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