Sunday, January 15th, 2006

More on social features/ Google group

Thanks for all the comments on my last post. It’s thrilling to see so much passion and intelligence applied to these issues. I’d like to experiement with continuing this and other deeper conversation at the recently-created LibraryThing group on Google Groups ( ).

I’m still making up my mind about this group. In the long term I’d like the conversations to happen on a LibraryThing forum, and until then I still enjoy the blog-comments model, despite its drawbacks. But I’m game to see how this might work in a forum. You can, of course, continue to post on the blog too.

Here’s my kickoff message there:

Many of them seem to have feared that LibraryThing was in fact going to veer into Friendster-style social software. Nothing could be further from the truth! I am of the opinion that LibraryThing must always be a great way to catalog books, whether a user wants to catalog everything or just keep track of their reading list. The social aspects must be rooted in this.

Just because they’re rooted does not mean that the social aspects are unimportant or even—I would argue—secondary. Lots of LibraryThing’s features are “social” without being Friendster-ish. Over 2,000 bloggers have mentioned the site, most inviting friends to come look at their collection. By contrast, the Mac based cataloging application and cheek-pinching darling of the technology press, Delicious Monster, has less than 40% as many mentions during a longer period. Why? Because it’s no fun talking about something nobody else can see! Among these bloggers over 650 have added a LibraryThing widget to their sidebar. And all you guys—even if you argued against social features, took the time to post a message on the LibraryThing blog. These are social uses.

Or take the author or tag pages, a very “rooted” social feature. Without LibraryThing’s social machinery, these would be pretty boring. For recommendations you’d get what Delicious Monster and every other cataloging ap provides—the holy Amazon five. The data people put into LibraryThing opens up all sorts of interesting prospects. Take author disambiguation. You can’t do that on any other service. (And yes, edition disambiguation is on its way.)

I think LibraryThing’s strength lies in the unique combination of social and non-social features. Different users will appreciate different aspects. I know there are users who want nothing more than a cataloging ap, keep their library private and probably never click to find out who else owns their books. On the other end there are impatient people who catalog their ten favorite books, throw them up on their blog and look around for people to discuss them with. To succeed, I think LibraryThing needs to continue to appeal to both types.

I think the solution involves these principles:

  • The book catalog should always be the central metaphor of the site.
  • The site is both useful and fun without any social interaction whatsoever.
  • Users control their social exposure (eg., private libraries, turning comments off).
  • Most social features should emerge from book catalog data, not from photos, locations or non-book interests.
  • Social features should be developed with taste and restraint.*

Thanks once again for thinking through these issues with me.

*The NYT recently had an article about the “eww” factor when Friendster premiered a feature that let you see who had been looking at your profile and when.

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