Archive for April, 2006

Monday, April 24th, 2006

LibraryThing adds language support

LibraryThing now allows you to keep track of the languages in your collection. If you don’t want to do that, you don’t have to. If you do, the changes are far-reaching.

  • Every book has three fields: primary language, secondary language and original language.
  • Languages are drawn from Amazon, your library record or the whole LibraryThing collection (see below).
  • The catalog shows “language” and “original language” fields. Go to “change fields” to see them.
  • Language can be edited within your catalog, much as tags are.
  • Power edit has a versatile “set language” feature.
  • Each language has its own dedicated page (eg., French). At present, these only show the most popular works originally in that language.
  • Your “Fun statistics” page crunches the numbers on the languages in your collection.
  • I’ve adopted the full MARC specification for languages, so you can catalog your Arawak and Elamite holdings. In most circumstances, however, you’re given a shorter list, with the option to see the full one

Not right? Don’t blame LibraryThing!

LibraryThing does its best, but it won’t always get the language right without some help. The reason has to do with the source of the data:

If you find your books through libraries, the languages are picked up from their catalog’s MARC record. That’s the theory. In fact, as we’ve discussed on the Google Group, library records are surprisingly sloppy with languages. (If you doubt that, click the “card” icon and look at the MARC 008 and 041 fields.) Polyglot libraries will cleanup. Of course, if you don’t care about the language field, you don’t need to look at it.

If you find a book on Amazon, LibraryThing guesses based upon which Amazon you used. That’s the best I can do, unfortunately. Amazon doesn’t tell me the language.

Because of the way “works” operate, if you leave the “original language” blank, LibraryThing will make a guess based upon the other copies of the work in the system. As elsewhere, these guesses appear in green. Green guesses are updated daily.

Let’s talk!

This is one of the more extensive changes I’ve made, with tentacles all over the functionality and code. Sometimes the “why” of a feature is complex, but I had to do it that way. Other times, I may have taken the wrong route. I’m guessing people come up with some great suggestions for changes or new, derived features. (And, as someone will surely point out, the system still has problems searching and sorting diacriticals. I’m working on it.)

I’ve set up two discussion threads in the Google Group, one for philosophy/functionality discussion, and one for bugs. I’m looking forward to what people have to say. Gratias tibi ago, Thingamabrarii.

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Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

But why?

I’ve added “why” links to the new “Pssst!” book recommendation feature. It’ll give you an idea where your recommendations are coming from.

I’m nearly finished with yet another recommendation algorithm. Then I’ll let them duke it out and users can decide which are the best. Or maybe I should have an algorithm to recommend an algorithm for you.

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Friday, April 14th, 2006

Pssst! Book recommendations from LibraryThing

I just launched the new “Pssst!” feature, which examines your catalog against patterns in the catalogs of LibraryThing’s other 30,000 users to produce book recommendations just for you. LibraryThing already suggested books on a book-by-book basis, and matched you up with users who had similar libraries. This completes the circle.

To use the feature you need to have cataloged ten books. If you have, check our your recommendations. If you haven’t, check out my recommendations—ancient civilization and web design, it got me. (Incidentally, yes I have read Thucydides. I just have another 2,000 books to catalog!)

Recommendations are available in three types:

  • People with your books also have…
  • Similarly-tagged books
  • Most popular books you don’t have

In each case, I’ve divided the recommendations into “fiction” and “non-fiction” (a rough, algorithmically-determined label). You can click a link to exclude books by authors already in your collection, so a mystery buff doesn’t get showered with minor Agatha Christie novels.

Needless to say, the point is not commercial. Although you can find commercial links, I didn’t add any to the recommendations page. I hope you’ll agree that LibraryThing—with no funding and building on a real community—produces recommendations as good or better than the ones you’re getting from Amazon, and ones not tilted toward current offerings or what you bought last week.* Community beats commerce, even in commerce.

Let me know what you think here, or discuss it at length on the Google Group.

The back story:

Long-time users may remember a previous feature that also produced book recommendations. I took it down because the math was so complex that it was slowing the site down, even when I required people to wait 20 minutes for the results. This new algorithm is much faster, relying on the existing book-by-book recommendations. (Book recommendations are regenerated on a sliding schedule, at night.) The old feature was also made before the “works system,” so it threw up a lot of books already in your catalog. Even so, I want to bring back suggestions focused on most-similar users, if I can do it in a way that doesn’t kill the server.

I agonized over the name—Recommendations? Suggestions? I even contemplated “Pimp a Book” (I own the domain). “Pssst!” sounds a little gimmicky, a little “marketing-ish,” too “Pssst!®.” The deciding factor was length. I wanted to give it its own tab—it’s a major feature already, and I have plans to expand it. The other options were just too long.

Lastly, I want or plan to extend the feature in the following ways:

  • A way to mark what you think of the recommendation—good, bad, totally off-the-wall.
  • A way to add a book to your wish list.
  • Tracking the list over time, so you could find out the “new” recommendations.
  • A “why” button. (For example: “Suggested because you own The Hobbit and Sexing the Cherry.”) That’s very expensive to do for all books at a time. One-by-one, I could “Ajax” the answer in, but so much Ajaxing—people will click “why,” “why,” “why” like mad—makes me nervous.

Oh, I renamed “extras” to “Tools and Toys.” I’ll be adding to that tab quite a bit in the coming weeks. Have the cool toys—chicklets, Thingamabrarians, that nifty LibraryThing-Outlook-PDA conversions, etc.—never made it off the blog or Google Group.

*I mourn the fact that my Amazon recommendations have flipped, from obscure Throwing Muses albums (of course, I have all of them, but Amazon don’t know that), to baby-care books. O for lost youth!

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Thursday, April 13th, 2006

The New York Times Covers Zunafish?!?

I think I’m going to tear my hair out with jealousy. Today’s New York Times has a gushy article about the media trading site Kindly look at the chart below, LibraryThing vs. Zunafish according to Alexa.

Update: WOW. That’s a big bounce! Let’s see if they hold on to much of it. Nobody ever holds the first-day bounce.

Zunafish is the long red line at the bottom. There are at least a dozen trading sites doing better. Heck, my ancient history hobby site is crushing them! Or check the blogs. Google Blog Search lists 2,235 blog posts about LibraryThing. Zunafish? Seven, five posted today! (They’ll no doubt be more soon.)

Nor is Zunafish a totally new deal. They opened in January. As the NYT writes, “Mr. Bloom and Mr. Elias said that the circle of traders had been limited so far — they did not disclose figures.” You’re not kidding. According to Alexa, 4,570,852 web sites have more traffic. Four-million.

But, as the article states, they’ve raised $485,000. I guess that buys them a PR campaign. No doubt their numbers will spike now that they’ve landed the NYT article.

It seems so terribly unfair. Press should follow success, not create it. LibraryThing’s traffic currently outranks booksellers Biblio and Booksense, all trading sites except Peerflix (eg., PaperbackSwap, Lendmonkey, FrugalReader, Bookins, SwapandSave, etc.), Amazon’s AllConsuming, the much-heralded, and on and on. And yet LibraryThing’s press coverage has been largely restricted to The Christian Science Monitor‘s electronic edition and a piece in my home-town paper. Instead, LibraryThing’s grown on word of mouth.

I know. The answer is to get funding and to hire a PR firm. Forgive me for being idealistic, but it shouldn’t have to be that way.

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Thursday, April 13th, 2006

Tab-delimited export

I’ve added a tab-delimited export, for use in Microsoft Excel and elsewhere. Go to the Extras tab to download the file to your desktop.

Tab-delimited supplants the former CSV export, which had some drawbacks. (I’ll be working to get it up to snuff in the near future.) Among other things, it handles special characters better, and includes all your fields. Problems remain with non-Latin characters, such as Chinese and Georgian.

So far, testers on the Google Group have reported no problems. If you find one, go ahead and post it there, or here.

In other news, also check out the Google Group for a cool new beta feature I’m developing, and asking for comments on. It’s not ready for blogging yet.

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Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

Power Edit powers up

The Power Edit feature, which allows you to change books in batches, has been improved. I added:

  • Alphabetize tags. A few people have been hounding me for this. The idea is to turn “dogs, zebras, apes” into “apes, dogs, zebras.” If you want it, you want it.
  • Delete books. Want to delete a whole bunch of books? Your whole catalog. Here you go.
  • Find ISBN duplicates (under “Miscellaneous powers” or click here to do it). This is another long-running desideratum—to know your duplicates (and get rid of them). You’ll see how it works if you use it.

In addition to the new features, Power Edit no longer shows 100 books at a time. What seemed a feature—showing all books—turns into a monster when you have thousands of them. As a side bonus, the regular “list view” now allows 100 books too; go to “change fields” to select it.

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Sunday, April 9th, 2006


I made a page that shows books as they enter the system, in real time. I did it as a test of some new code, not because I thought it would be a cool feature.

I find it hypnotic, both fascinating and will-depleting at the same time. I hope you do too.

It does put the lie to the notion that LibraryThing is all about J. K. Rowling and Terry Pratchett. In fact, the most popular stuff is a tiny fraction of the whole. People are putting some very interesting collections up!

Update: This week I will (briefly) emerge from my post-baby hole and get a whole bunch of work done, so thank you for your patience and stay tuned.

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Sunday, April 2nd, 2006

Five new features and a fix

1. Recent “users with your books. People tell me that “Users with your books,” available from any profile page (example), is one of the most fun things about LibraryThing. But it can be hard to keep up with changes. To alleviate that problem, I’ve added a “recent” option, which restricts itself to books added in the last two weeks—both new users and old ones adding books. Click on the number and you’ll see those books in their catalog.

2. Permanent catalog links. Many users have expressed frustration at not being able to send people to a particular page, sort, tag, author or view of their catalog. As I revealed on the Google Group, most of these can be forced by skillful URL manipulation, but the rules are somewhat complex. To cut the Gordian Knot I’ve added a “permanent link” link at the bottom of the catalog view. Just copy that (a “right click,” or whatever) and you’re set.

3. Entry and review date charts. The “fun statistics” page, available from any profile (example), now shows charts for when books were entered and when they were reviewed.

4. Searching for blank tags. By popular request, from now on, you can leave the search field empty when you search for tags, and it will give you all the books that have no tags.

5. You and no other. The “fun statistic” page also includes a new list of all the books you share with just one other person and who that person is. The feature, termed “You and no other” or, if you prefer Medieval French, “Vous et nul autre” is just “resting” on that page.

Even before the feature, people have been blogging about this particular oddity, and others, which springboard blog discussion about reading tastes. I hope to create a whole new page of such “meme lists.” My current ideas are:

  • Lonely books. Books only you own. (“Why do you own it? Should others read it?”)
  • Lonely authors. Authors only you domicile.
  • The top X books you share with other users (see The Little Professor for an example)
  • The top 100 books (or authors) and whether you own them. (“How does the great unwashed and I get along?”)

Any others? Add more here, or at the Google Group. Anyone want to help me translate them all into Medieval French?

6. Default library now sticks. Hey, it worked for me. What’s up with you people and your kooky browsers?

(Ring image taken from Heavenly Treasures. I hope they don’t mind. I AM giving them a valuable link.)

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Saturday, April 1st, 2006

Good news for the whole LibraryThing community

Update: THIS IS NOT TRUE! It is an April Fool’s joke. I tried to pick the most obnoxious acquisition possible and go over the top in the announcement, but I think I still caused a few heart attacks. Sorry!

We’re proud to announce that LibraryThing has joined the Wal-Mart family. Together we’ll continue to improve how people catalog and share their books over the internet. In joining with Wal-Mart, LibraryThing will be expanding its horizons, allowing cataloging of CDs, DVDs and as well as a wide variety of other consumer products and appliances.

We’d like to thank everyone who has helped us, our advisors, our formerly unionized employees, and particularly our 30,000 users. We still want your feedback, and we look forward to bringing you exciting new features with fewer bugs. One thing’s for sure, we won’t be worried about buying another server!

We understand that some LibraryThing users may have questions about this historic change. How can I know my data will be safe? Will LibraryThing lose its homey, altruistic feel? Will I be able to catalog my firearms? How much Ol’ Roy can Axel eat anyway? Will Liam’s first word be “rollback”? Those are all good questions.

Thank you for your support!

Tim Spalding
President, LibraryThing

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