Archive for June, 2006

Friday, June 30th, 2006

Scheduled downtime: 12am EST

LibraryThing will be going down for some well-deserved rest at 12am EST. I expect the downtime to last between 30mins and 1 hour.

Labels: 1

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Slow Afternoon

The site is slow now – we know, and we’re working on it. We got an influx of users today, thanks to the Wall Street Journal article and a Boing Boing reference. Traffic is ridiculously high (almost 15 times normal) and we’re working on adding servers to compensate. Stay with us while we grow over the next few hours!

TIM UPDATE: Go away! Wait, that’s unfriendly. We love you. If you go away, we’ll love you even more when you come back–we’ll kill the fatted calf!

But seriously, things are calming down a bit, but it’s still running past capacity. Don’t despair. Server upgrades are coming. Unfortunately, I can’t just throw money at the problem. But I’m doing that anyway 🙂

Labels: 1

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

The WSJ Online does the LibraryThing

A big feature release is coming soon. Until then, sorry for covering all these press mentions, but they’re starting to snowball, I hope.

The Wall Street Journal’s Online Edition just did a long, sympathetic article on LibraryThing, “Social Networking for Bookworms” by Aaron Rutkoff. It’s public-access for thirty days via that URL.

Not to lick the hand that feeds me, but Rutkoff did an excellent descriptive and analytical job, covering a lot of the site and getting past some of the entertaining canards—”it’s about who has the biggest library!” and “it’s about dating!”—to what’s really going on. The nod to the Long Tail was also nice—just what you’d expect from the WSJ.

I’m also learning to restrain my big mouth, avoid controversy and stay “on message.”* I do want to say, however, that the article plays up tags more than I’d want. In the interview as always I try not to claim too much for them. Yes, I’ll show out where tags can help over formal, professionally-determined classification, but I make of point of noting that tags don’t solve everything and, ideally, they support each other. This is, however, a subtle and not very interesting point. So it tends to get lost and, at least in some eyes, I end up looking like a tag-drunk Web 2.0 twit. That’s at least 1/3 wrong.

Oh, and Abby has a last name! As for the two nameless programmers, their identities will shortly be revealed.

*I did, however, swear unintentionally during the interview. The reporter was nice enough not to quote me or to refer to me as “Tim Spalding, an exceptionally foul-mouthed programmer and bibliophile, hostile to subject tags, librarians and apple pie, who runs a dating site.”

Labels: 1

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Poets & Writers does the LibraryThing

The new issue of Poets & Writers has an article on LibraryThing, Strangers Meet in Virtual Libraries, by C. Max Magee (blog). It’s tackles the social side of LibraryThing nicely, drawing on an interview with Tim and with LT user Grunin. I like this part:

“Bibliophiles are easy to spot at cocktail parties. They are the ones lingering near the host’s bookshelves, their heads cocked at a forty-five-degree angle, scanning the collection of books and comparing it to their own.”

I know many LT users are also authors, so I’ll mention that the issue also includes the article The Writer’s Web Site, by Sue Bowness, advising writers on how to get a web site. It’s a good, basic introduction to some of the issues, but—speaking as an ex-SEO guru—the advice about Search Engine Optimization is off-base.

PS: This is Tim, reworking a post of Abby’s as she works on the tshirt issue.

Labels: 1

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

Morning downtime

UPDATE: 2:30pm. It’s back up again, albeit a little slow as it builds up a “cache.” No data was lost.

The main server went down last night around 5am. The situation is NOT serious. The slave server never went down, so there should be zero data loss. I also have backups of all the critical data from a few hours before the crash.

I’m waiting to do the restore because turning the slave into the master is something I’ve never done. LibraryThing’s database admin is going to do it, and he’s in California, dreaming untroubled dreams. I’ll wake him up in a half-hour or so.

Labels: 1

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

Our poor moose

We interrupt this features blog just as Abby and I were interrupted today—by an enormous moose. No kidding.

If you don’t know already, LibraryThing is located in Maine. But we’re on the East End of Portland, the most densely populated part of the state. I for one don’t ski, hike, kayak, snowshoe or climb mountains. Until now, my “Maine experience” has been limited to crab rolls and one day of blueberry picking. Abby, a resident of downtown Boston, is even less a Mainer, and since she works 16-hour days, she’s seen almost nothing of the state.

It went down like this. In the morning, Abby and I heard queer trumpeting noises; my money was on truck brakes. When my wife went out there were cop cars at both ends of our street and a crowd of cops and media about a block away. When I tried to investigate the commotion, I was sternly ordered to get back inside. I assumed a grisly accident or maybe a criminal, locked in his house and holding the police at bay with a gun. Ten minutes later I saw a cruiser moving slowly down the street, and went over to the window with Abby.

And there, across the street, in the neighbor’s driveway, was a huge bull moose.

Our spirits went up and down over the next hour or so. The moose was lying down, and we noticed something was wrong with its head. We figured out he had broken an antler. But he was alive, and although Maine game wardens appeared with an enormous–and not visibly pneumatic–gun, they just shot a dart into it. Alas, it turns out the dart was loaded with a fatal dose of tranquilizer, so over the next hour we watched the moose die. The game wardens were dignified about it, and the death wasn’t violent, but it was still terrible to watch. It was a magnficent creature. When a crane loaded his body onto a truck, his body was all splayed out. He was huge.

Once the moose was almost dead, we found out what happened (with video). It turns out it had made its way into the city and, together with another moose, put on an early morning show near Back Cove. Then, going up Munjoy Hill, it was hit by a tow-truck. According to the police it was “badly injured,” although I remain unconvinced. News footage shows a broken antler, but it looked like it was moving just fine. According to a local informant most moose who wander into the city end up getting put down one way or the other. Besides the danger to cars, moose not infrequently trample people, particularly those who think they’re safe to approach. Moose aren’t endangered or anything.

So that’s the LibraryThing moose story. Tomorrow Tim and Abby will be eaten by lobsters.

Labels: 1

Friday, June 16th, 2006

“The Book Guys” radio show does the LibraryThing

The Book Guys, Allan Stypeck and Mike Cuthbert, interviewed me about LibraryThing for their most recent radio show, airing around the country, mostly this weekend.

Here’s a station list, with times. Or you can just go to their web site. A Real Audio version is already posted on their shows list.

The show’s headliner is the USPS’s Gary Thuro, discussing Post Office publishing ventures. I am ushered in about 6/10 of the way through.

If you found the site because of The Book Guys, hello! Leave a note. I’m sure the “regulars” will be glad to welcome you too.

LibraryThing is currently weighed toward librarians and bloggers—eg., MARC records and RSS feeds. The “collecting” community—the Book Guy’s core audience—isn’t as well served. I’d be interested what we could do better there. A “condition” field?

Labels: 1

Friday, June 16th, 2006

Take the LibraryThing Tour!

So you might not make it to Italy this summer – that’s ok, you can take a tour of LibraryThing instead! We knew a simple intro to LibraryThing was something we were severely lacking, and inspired by the cool tour (where apparently, “what you get when you sign up” includes… a pony!) we made our own.

We have no ponies. But we’re proud of it anyway.

Labels: 1

Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

thingISBN, LibraryThing’s first API

Over on LibraryThing’s Thingology blog, I blog the unveiling of thingISBN, LibraryThing’s first API. thingISBN is LibraryThing’s “answer” to OCLC‘s xISBN—give it an ISBN and it will give you ISBNs to other editions of the work. Where xISBN uses FRBR, LibraryThing uses the “everyone is a librarian” works system. thingISBN isn’t going to replace xISBN, which is an extraordinary service, but it can supplement it in interesting ways. For starters, it knows a lot of paperbacks xISBN doesn’t.

This is red meat for mashups and of interest to catalogers and library systems programmers. But most “regular” LibraryThing users won’t care much, so I won’t drone on about it here.

Labels: 1

Monday, June 12th, 2006

Ottowa Citizen does the LibraryThing

UPDATE: This isn’t new. Somehow when I did an edit I hit “save as draft” not “publish,” so this went into hiding for a few days. Apologies to RSS people, whom I think will see it pop up again.

This one, from today’s Ottowa Citizen, had me scared!

“I had planned to write a column making fun of LibraryThing. It seemed like a snooty version of those sites that help strangers share photos of their pets. It seemed to degrade books, by allowing web surfers to use them as accessories. Besides, I couldn’t come up with a good reason for the site to exist.

With due diligence and an open mind, I gave it a whirl. And wouldn’t you know, I was converted. LibraryThing is one of those tools you never know you need until you use it. Knowing which book is where is useful enough to justify it, but there are subtler joys too…”

The article (here, with registration, or picked up here, one hopes legally) goes on to be quite positive, although the privacy-exhibitionism dynamic is dominant.

That’s okay, the Book Standard decided LibraryThing is all about who has the largest library, apparently because the reporter interviewed my brother, which is like interviewing Casanova about love.

One aside: The reporter, Kate Heartfield, complained that only two people had The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs. In fact, 82 people have it. The reporter’s edition, however, had a slightly different title, and hadn’t yet been combined into the larger “work.” I rectified this, using LibraryThing’s “everyone is a librarian” work-combination feature.

Labels: 1

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

Announcing LibraryThing Mobile

It’s very hard to take a photo of a mobile phone screen.
This is what the screens look like on a decent phone.

I’m very excited to announce LibraryThing for your mobile phone!

(I don’t know know about you, but I hate it when company say it’s “very excited,” but this is me, Tim Spalding, and I am very excited. Really. Take my pulse; this is the highlight of my damn week!)

The URL for LibraryThing mobile is:

You can see it in action on a fake screen at:

The idea is simple—you get the most important features of LibraryThing through your cell phone’s “internet” feature. So you can check whether you have something—by title, author, tag or ISBN—when you’re in the bookshop, browse your catalog, and read your reviews. You can even accesss your “Pssst!” recommendations. But I don’t know anything about cellphone security, so you can’t add items, and you can’t look at private libraries—even your own.

Don’t fret, you almost certainly have SOME kind of internet connectivity on your phone. My old black-and-whie Sprint phone had it. Abby’s old, crappy Verizon phone had it. The only difference is how many lines you’ll see at time, and whether the Amazon covers come in. Needless to say, internet access usually costs something. My phone costs $5/mo. and regular “minutes”; Abby’s phone charges a piratical 1 cent per kilobyte—so I tried to keep the pages super clean. LibraryThing is not responsible if you run up $500 in charges.

Many thanks to the LibraryThing Mobile beta testers, Astrud, Birdie, Deirdre, Edward, Sarah, Woodrow. There are probably some more problems, but I am—see above—too excited to wait any longer.

So, the question is: Does it work for you? What else do you want it to do?

PS: Yes, I am still interested in an iPod version, and plan to work on it soon.
PPS: I can’t find my copy of Amazon Hacks. Does anyone have the URL for an Amazon Mobile link? I need to include it if I’m going to draw on Amazon’s cover art. Of course, I’d include links to any other mobile book sites. Are there any?

Labels: 1

Monday, June 5th, 2006

Library Mashup Competition

Over on the LibraryThing “ideas” blog, Thingology, I’ve blogged about the “Mashing up the Library” competition, a Talis-sponsored contest for the most interesting library-oriented mashup. They’re making me a judge, which is too bad, because it would be fun to enter…

ÂŁ1,000! Spread the word.

Labels: 1

Sunday, June 4th, 2006


Sorry about the slow-downs today, which occasionally resulted in server overloads (very long page-loads). This is in part related to recent traffic increases, and in part to imperfect optimization. I fixed one major bottleneck, and am looking for others.

Labels: 1

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

LibraryThing hits 3 million books

Another big milestone: LibraryThing hit 3,000,000 books today!

The pace is quickening. Fridays are the slowest days, but LibraryThing users still added 15,000 books to their catalogs—and 20,000 Thursday. I can’t pin this on any particular source—I even ended a brief experiment with Google ads—just the gradual lifting of boats from an increasingly viral site.

The three-millionth book was William Gibson’s Count Zero, added by bastardsnow at 3:45pm EST, and shared with 346 other LibraryThing members. Hey there—you now have a paid account!

For those keeping score at home, LibraryThing would now come in 79th on the American Library Association’s list of 100 largest US libraries, climbing 21 spots in 30 days. And yes, I know LibraryThing isn’t a library by the ALA’s definition, nor by many other definitions. Whatever it is—I’m pulling for a “republic”—it’s growing.

Labels: 1

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

Permanent links for books

Every day more bloggers are choosing LibraryThing as the place they link to when they mention a book, bypassing commercial sites and their product pages. They’re doing this despite an arbitrary and unfriendly URL scheme accessible to only the most tech-savvy users.

To help I’ve added permanent links at the bottom of the book- and social information pages. In the near future I’ll be adding an ISBN-based URL scheme.

Labels: 1

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

Search all fields / review improvements

I’ve made improvements to two areas—searching and reviews.

Searching all fields. I admit it: the old searching capabilities were weak. The new ones are better, but not perfect. Under the Search tab you’ll now see two options, “Search titles/authors” and “Search all fields.” The former is the old, lame search. The latter is the new “all fields” search.

All fields means: title, author and other authors, ISBN, date, publication, LC call number, Dewey, series, BCID, “summary,” comments and review.

When you do the new search LibraryThing will take a moment to prepare. If you have only a few hundred books, you may not see or only briefly glimpse the flip-flopping killer whale (at right, in case you missed it). In theory, you won’t see the whale again unless you add a bunch more books. In fact, I will probably be clearing out the searching cache as I make improvements and get the bugs out.

Some drawbacks:

  1. The “all fields” does not include tags, which has its own search function.
  2. There remains no “advanced” search, where you could choose which fields to search. This will have to wait on anticipated server and database improvements; even though it has more books than all but 100 libraries in the US, LibraryThing still runs on essentially one $2,500 server. (There’s a lesson in here about library IT costs.)
  3. The “search library” link in the catalog does not yet include the feature. I am thinking that “all fields” will not be the default, with perhaps a checkbox to search just titles and authors. But I want to monitor resource usage before I do that.

Reviews. This one has been up for about a week, with a “beta” announement in the Google Group. The new reviews screen (example) shows your reviews, others’ reviews of books in your library, both with full text. The old review screen just listed reviews by title, without the text. The old one also was alphabetical-only, where the new defaults to showing the newest reviews first. I think the improvement make the review screen more “current,” informative and fun.

There was some feedback on the Google Group from users who liked the old one better. I much prefer the new one, but I’m open to some combination of the new and the old. Or I could just keep the old around, but that strikes me as wiggly.

Labels: 1