Saturday, November 4th, 2006

Let your reviews go!

Before now, it was never really clear what LibraryThing could or couldn’t do with your reviews. Unlike other such venues we’ve never had a “do anything” clause, although cynical members probably assumed we did. Now that we have some opportunities, we’d love to show some reviews outside of the site.

But they’re your reviews, so you decide where they can go. We’re giving you three options:

  • Keep reviews on LibraryThing only
  • Allow LibraryThing to give your reviews to non-commercial entities (libraries mostly)
  • Allow LibraryThing to give reviews to commercial entities (booksellers, publishers, authors, street gangs)

Change your setting by going to edit your profile.

If you don’t decide by December 1, we will default you to unrestricted use. In a day or two—once I do the code—all members who have posted a review will receive a message about this. New people will get a message when they post their first review. Whatever you choose, if your library itself is private, your reviews will be private too.

I’m in the process of writing protections into the TOS, eg., that reviews not be changed in any way. (I think I’m going to allow obscuring of swear words, like f**k.) I’d be interested to hear if anyone has any other concerns. LibraryThing won’t be DOING anything for some time, and we want to do this carefully, and listen to what people think, as we usualy do.

Why are we doing this? LibraryThing users have built up quite an impressive corpus of book reviews (almost 100,000). Our focus on books as books—not on selling books—together with the lack of any “review rules” has given rein to a lot of excellent writing.

In the last few months, Abby and I have been going to library conferences and meeting a lot of librarians. We’ve learned that libraries are eager to show more information in their catalog—particularly reviews and recommendations. The few already doing so are paying through the nose for this data. Often this means snippets from “professional reviews” assembled by the publisher for their ONIX feed and repackaged and resold to libraries by data companies. (Library patrons are, I think, generally unaware when reviews come from the book’s publishers!) Amazon of course provides user reviews, but only if a library is willing to make itself a sales channel in return. Commercial concerns, such as Abebooks, are also interested in showing reviews on their sites, and obviously can’t use Amazon’s.

So, we’d love to open up LibraryThing’s reviews—to sell them, probably, although we will be underselling the data companies by a mile. By allowing us to do it, you’ll be helping LibraryThing financially, and giving your opinions wider currency to boot.

In case it’s said, LibraryThing is not turning evil. Letting your review go is your choice, not ours. If you ever reviewed a book on an online bookseller you agreed to unlimited distribution and modification. One of LibraryThing’s competitors has a TOS that asserts COPYRIGHT over user reviews. (Prima noctis too, probably.) LibraryThing wants to give you control over your reviews. If you want to help us out, great. If not, and we’re very grateful you want them on LibraryThing. We’d kiss you if we could.

Instead, post here or come talk on Talk.

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