Archive for July, 2006

Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Groups update / 23% librarians

Update: The number of users in groups has almost doubled, but the Librarians who LibraryThing is standing firm at 22%. This is looking more and more like the true percentage of users who are librarians. I find this stunningly cool. Oh, PS: important new message display features on the way.

After forty-eight hours, we’re up to 270 groups.

714 people have joined at least one group. Even niches like Medieval Europe (18 members) and and Baseball (5 members) are reaching critical mass. Librarians who LibraryThing is the largest, with 169 members. This suggest that of LibraryThing users—or anyway it’s most active users—23% are librarianstake that, MySpace! 169 librarians can’t be wrong!!*

With that fact in mind, we need to reiterate that LibraryThing isn’t morphing into some horrible commercial or hook-up site. The amazing success of groups is testimony to a pent-up desire to relate around and discuss books on LibraryThing.** Reviews and profile comments weren’t enough—not enough by far. The forums we’re working on will extend that. But we haven’t forgotten the cataloging side, and will continue to improve our data and data models, expand our library horizons, and provide richer information for your catalogs.

Users have written 1,222 messages, which means Robyn and I need to release the “real” forum functionality soon! While we work on the cake, I added some frosting, RSS feeds.

* According to the ALA, there are 136,738 librarians in the United States alone. So, if 23% of LibraryThing’s 61,000 users are librarians, only 10% of librarians are LibraryThinging. In fact, it’s probably much less than that, as the librarians tend to stay and participate at higher levels.
** Not to mention the various families and suchnot putting their individual collection up mostly for searching purposes.

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Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

Groups, part deux

It’s now been just over 24 hours since we released the Groups feature, and we’re astounded at how it’s taken off. As Kevin Costner was once told, “If you build it, they will come.”*

We have 170** groups already, with a wild range of topics from Book Arts to Romance, from Austen to Byatt to Crusie. Librarians who LibraryThing took an early lead, and now has a whopping 82 members. I love it.

And there are 599 messages*** in the system – you apparently couldn’t wait to talk to each other (most active message board? Tea!). It’s a push for us (*cough*Tim*cough*) to finish up the more complex forum system (which will function on it’s own, but also be integrated into the Groups). I’ll let Tim eat dinner first, but then, he’s back to work.

Keep posting your comments on the GoogleGroup – as always, it’s a work in progress, so give us feedback.

(clearly, I’m picking up Tim’s blog footnotes tendency)
*I know that’s not quite the quote, but everyone gets the Field of Dreams reference, right? Well, now that I gave it to you…
**172 groups now, in the time it took me to write this
***and 612 messages!

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Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

LibraryThing adds “Groups”

Today we’re going public with a new Groups feature, a major new “social” feature. Groups were developed by Robyn, LibraryThing’s newest employee (and the last one hiding in the shadows, we promise). Check out the Groups homepage, all groups, or groups like Mainers and Knitters.

You can do three main things with groups:

  • Search all members’ libraries at once. LibraryThing links accounts into a “virtual” combined library.
  • Talk among the group. Groups come with a message board which demos LibraryThing’s new forum. The message boards demo the new forum features, including “touchstones.” Group forums will become “threaded” (more complex) later, if groups choose.
  • Check out the Group Zeitgeist. Spot shared books, track recently-added books, etc.

We see groups being used by:

  • Real-world clubs. Groups can unite all the collections of a real-world organization, like a book group, a college club, a branch of the SCA, a church—heck, a bowling league—search for books, arrange swaps, etc. You can even post meeting times, etc.
  • Virtual clubs. LibraryThing members have already set up groups for Knitters*, British and Irish Crime Fiction, Ancient History enthusiasts, Pagans, and many others.
  • Friends and lovers. You can set up a group for your friends, significant others and family members. You can make a group private and invitation-only.

Introducing Robyn. Groups were a grou—I mean team—effort, but Robyn took the lead developing the feature and coding it. Here’s a thumbnail bio:

Robyn Overstreet (LT: robynover) is a web developer and new media artist. Before joining LibraryThing, she worked as a web developer for the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations. She is a recent graduate of NYU’s Masters Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP)**, where she studied social software, as well as programming, design, and electronics. With a background in creative writing, Robyn’s interests include exploring the connections between formal poetry and computer programming languages. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Robyn’s email is She will also be posting on the Google Group and on the comments here. As usual, your comments are much appreciated. We don’t produce “finished” stuff and then ask you to like it or lump it. We produce something minimal and then see where you want us to take it.***

*The LiveJournal Knitters community were kind enough to start a day early, and provided valuable feedback.
**Clay Shirky, woo-hoo!
***For example, we’re not getting rid of the tags tab, apparently. It would have caused a revolution. I’m not even gonna talk about the 50-covers thing!

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Thursday, July 20th, 2006

New ways to link to a book

Announcing two new and super-easy ways to link from elsewhere to a LibraryThing book—simple links by ISBN and “sloppy title.” Some examples violence

Why is this good? People—members and others—are increasingly using LibraryThing as their link-of-choice when blogging about a book. We are flattered, but think it also makes sense. LibraryThing “goes with the grain” of blogging. Like blogging LibraryThing is participatory and generous of external links—soon to get more generous. Many want to plug into that vibe, not just offer a place to buy the book.

The ISBN search works just as you might expect. (Note, however, that it pulls up the whole “work,” probably composed of a number of books, ISBN and not.)

The title search is the fruit of LibraryThing’s increasingly powerful data. It is quite tolerant:, germs, and steel : the fates of human societies, germs, and steel germs steel

All work equally well. Now and then the first guess will be wrong. Mostly it’s dead on. Oh, you can represent spaces as underscores, plus signs (+) or, in most editing software, leave them as spaces.

Let me know what you think!

*for example, giving Val McDermid’s The Mermaids Singing instead of my wife’s The Mermaids Singing. Val has more copies, but the wife should win. The fact that she doesn’t is testimony to my integrity! I don’t unfairly promote by wife’s wonderful books–available at all major retailors–through LibraryThing. Nor will I later this month when her newest novel, Every Visible Thing, is released.

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Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

Milestones and Burgers

LibraryThing hit 4 million books this week—that’s over a million in less than two months, and yesterday 42,000 more. We also topped 100,000 user contributed covers and 1 million unique books. We’re growing like crazy over here. And thanks to the new servers, the Zeitgeist is even updating regularly!

To celebrate (ok, we were planning it anyway) we’re having the first annual LibraryThing barbecue/picnic here in Portland, ME. You all are cordially invited – plan your vacations accordingly (Portland does have an airport, you can fly in just for the occasion).

We’ll have burgers and other things to grill (vegetarian stuff too, since Abby-the-vegetarian has a say) and potato salad and chips and whatever else you’re supposed to have at a barbecue. And you can meet me, and Tim, and our families – that right there should be incentive enough. Bring your babies and dogs, and we’ll see you in August!

Saturday August 5th, around 5pm
28 Atlantic Street, Portland Maine

You can RSVP (email Abby) or just stop by! Email for directions or questions or food requests.

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Saturday, July 15th, 2006

ThingStore Opens!

We’ve opened a CafePress store, ThingStore, so now you can have all the LibraryThing schwag you could ever want. And we’re selling it at the CafePress base prices, so it’s as cheap as possible for you.

We’ve got t-shirts in different cuts and varieties, sweatshirts, hats, aprons, tote bags and messenger bags, baby clothes, mugs, and more! (You can even buy a LibraryThing thong—will anyone?)

Wear it, carry it, drink from it, or watch it crawl (with your infant) across your floor—proudly!

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Saturday, July 15th, 2006

Server problems abating

Stewie and Seamus, Chris’ dogs

Short version: We now have a three-server cluster. Speed has picked up. We’re hoping to solve lingering character set issues. A new employee, Chris Gann, set everything up.

Long version: Introducing… Chris Gann (LT: stalepez,, LibraryThing’s newest employee. Chris will eventually be coding, but his first task was to set up a “cluster” of powerful new servers to deal with LibraryThing’s current traffic, with a path to handling an order-of-magnitude increase in the future. He designed the architecture, ordered the boxes, set them up and arranged for the transfer from California. Chris is an old hand at this stuff. Back in 1999 he co-founded LinuxBox, a pioneering hosting facility for open-source projects, later acquired by OpenAvenue.*

The new servers have been up for almost two days—long enough to see that, at least as far as speed, things are shaping up. We’ve moved from one fairly modest server in California—a second one broke right before the Wall Street Journal article hit!—to three servers, two moderately powerful and one a “monster.” They are set up as a “master” and two “slaves.”** The master handles “writes,” the slaves “reads.” Read load is balanced between the two slaves, and they “fail over” to the other if something goes wrong. The system also provides increased data security, with complete database copies stored on three computers. It is also possible to take one server offline for backups without causing interruptions. I can also finally run statistics pages—the Zeitgeist particularly—without hiccups.

We saw an immediate improvement and speed has picked up as “caches” grew and as scripts were modified to take advantage of load distribution. (Maybe 1/3 of scripts have been rewritten, but they are the heaviest ones.) Between midnight last night and this morning, the master, “Zeus” had only three “slow queries” (11, 13 and 13 seconds respectively); everything else took less than 10 seconds. The slaves, Apollo and Athena, had zero and 12 slow queries respectively. That looked odd, so we dug into the code and discovered that the randomizing function was giving Athena too much work. I expect the number to drop as the load balances better. As for the servers presently in California, one will be charged with the worst queries—recommendations and relatedness—doing them on a schedule and caching the results. The second will become a development server, so when I try to run a “six degrees of Jane Austen” it doesn’t crash the database.

Oh, best of all, because of an order mixup, we have three more servers sitting in the LibraryThing foyer. As far as Dell believes, they don’t exist. They won’t let us send them back—the charge has been refunded too. I suspect they’ll eventually come to their senses and let us send them back. If not—hey—sever error in our favor!

Character-set issues. Users have reported problems with character sets. As the data transfer was binary, this is probably a configuration issue. (I believe the same thing happend before, and was fixed with a configuration change.) Chris is on the problem, and will report back here or on the Google Group as soon as he can.

We thank you for your patience. I can’t promise problems are forever over, but a significant step has been made. With luck, we won’t be firefighting all the time, and be able to push forward the site more.

* In a strange twist of fate, the co-founder of OpenAvenue, Jayson Minard, is now the CTO of Abebooks.
** As an American History major, these terms still give me the creeps.

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Thursday, July 13th, 2006

Various small changes

I have made some various small changes to the catalog page and I wanted to give you a chance to offer some feedback on these and the new catalog in general (except color scheme, that is for another discussion). Leave your comments here or bring them over to the Google Group for more discussion.

  • You can now search subjects via the catalog search box. Just select ‘Subjects’ in the drop-down menu.
  • ISBNs are now included in ‘Book’ searches.
  • Titles are now links to the social info page.
  • Multiple fixes to lingering in-place editing problems have been applied. If you know of a problem that has not been fixed, please let us know. It’s better to have too many reports than to have none.
  • The list of pages at the bottom of the catalog now displays correctly when you select “show all.”
  • Subject pages are now displayed with correct links to the global subjects and the global pages have correct display of the subject path.
  • I’d like to know if people are still getting the stack overflow errors. I applied a work-around last night but I’m not sure if it is correcting the problem for everyone.

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Monday, July 10th, 2006

Add books improved

I made some improvements to the Add Books tab. Notably, it now saves the libraries you use on the left, and remembers them between sessions.

We hashed many of the features out on the Google Group. But I’m still considering whether the tag box should be “sticky” or not. Oh, if you’re pining for the old one, use it here.

In a day or two we’ll be adding the most requested feature—adding multiple books at a time.

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Monday, July 10th, 2006

Shilling for Portland’s Longfellow Books

LibraryThing hearts Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine. Tim’s wife Lisa reads there. Axel, Stewie and Seamus gets dog treats. They even compliment Abby on her book choices. So, in our continuing quest to get more Portland, ME members–to invite for burgers–we’ve given Longfellow a stack of free gift accounts. If you’re local, stop by and pick one up.

Link dump:

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Friday, July 7th, 2006

Firefox Extension: LibraryThingThing

LibraryThingThing is a complex three-API Greasemonkey mashup, querying the Holding Lookup Service along with LibraryThing’s thingISBN and OCLC’s xISBN service. It makes my head spin a bit. Three cheers for Richard. Too bad he works for Talis, or he might have won the Mashing Up the Library Contest.

LibraryThingThing can be found at:

This is an exceedingly cool mashup, and a very good demonstration of all the components. To my mind, it would be more useful if it did less, telling you only if the book was in your library. Do you agree? How should LibraryThing tie into libraries. As always, your thoughts are much appreciated.

We were, actually, planning on doing something like this, and even started the code. When we bring something live it will be a lot less technically elegant—good old server-side programming—but also not browser- and extension-dependent.

In other news, Chris just came by to grab the ginormous server box. Abby took a picture of it, but her camera uses some arcane memory stick format, and she forgot the cable is too modern for Tim. We have photographic proof of a new server—really!

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Friday, July 7th, 2006

Server update / Cape Elizabeth, goats, pigs do the LibraryThing

Neither Zabby’s Traveling Farm Animals nor this pot-bellied pig endorse LibraryThing.

Tomorrow from 9-1:00 at Cape Elizabeth, Maine’s Thomas Memorial Library there will ice cream, crafts, a tent, face painting, magic lessons, a professional balloon-twister, a “standup chameleon,” and animals from a traveling petting zoo—including this pot-bellied pig—AND if that were not enough, Abby and Tim giving out free LibraryThing accounts!

The Thomas Memorial Library Foundation is sponsoring our table at a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the library rennovation. And free accounts will be available at the circulation desk for the rest of the year. With some luck, we’ll pick up some local members. If you’re a local, but not a Cape Elizabethan, stay tuned; we have some other local-area plans in the works too.

Meanwhile, while we’re with the goats, Chris is busy working on racking and synching the new “monster” server. By Friday we should have three servers online, and four or five by the Friday after that.

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Wednesday, July 5th, 2006

Big catalog update / welcome Christopher

Please extend a warm welcome to Christopher Holland, LibraryThing’s newest employee!

To kick things off Chrisopher has given the catalog major facelift and upgrade.You can now edit book information right on the screen, without using the “pencil” icon. Just double-click the cell and an edit box appears where the content was. The new interface also has a search box visible at all times. (I realized we needed then when, to my surprise, the search function turned out to be one of the top-hit pages.) Oh, and a new, soothing color.

Double-click to edit
Edit and save

The new control bar:

About Christopher. Christopher (LibraryThing conceptDawg) is a technology consultant by trade but studied fine art, graphic design, and digital media. He is also heavily involved in digital collections research in the area of the humanities, specifically in the field of archaeology. He is currently working on another project that is similar to LibraryThing, only it consists of archaeological data and objects from numerous museums and research projects. Christopher is also an avid painter and photographer and is a regular on the Technique forum at Flickr (username conceptDawg). His family is very book-oriented and his grandparents are collectors (soon to have their collection on LT).

Christopher can be reached at

Come give us your thoughts, on the comments here or on the Google Group.

To compare and contrast here’s a link to the old catalog. You’ll need to get back into the new catalog after that.

Note on editing.
The in-place editing works for all editable fields. Okay, that’s a tautology. Basically you can’t change the source library, entry date or LC Subject Headings. Deweys and LC Call Numbers, however, are fully editable, including the “green ones,” which represent LibraryThing’s “best guess,” based on work-level information. By editing green fields you move it from a guess to your own data.

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Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

July 4th Tag Cloud

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