Archive for December, 2006

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

New Year’s Greetings from LibraryThing

Happy New Year to all!

I’m back from a week of vacation. My apologies for recent feature-and-bug turgidity. Abby, Chris and I are tanned, rested and ready.*

December was a banner month. PC Magazine named us one of the web’s top five web services.** Members added over 1,175,000 books—the most ever! We also recorded our highest number of paid memberships, even excluding gift memberships, which were very sought after in the days before Christmas. And we sent out a record number of CueCat barcode scanners. (Although, we don’t make much money off them, they seem to have sped book entry.) With new features on the cusp of release, a major expansion planned, an employee-hunt is in the works, and continued, accelerating growth, 2007 is looking very bright indeed!

The New Year seems like good occassion to plug the recently-released New-Year-related comic novel The End as I Know It: A Novel of Millennial Anxiety by Kevin Shay. Shay (website), a high-school friend of mine***, has the distinction of writing for both Tim O’Reilly and Dave Eggers, appearing in Google Hacks and in various McSweeney’s collections including, as an editor, Created in darkness by troubled Americans. Here a review by the L.A. Times, and here’s the flap copy:

It’s 1998. Or, as Randall Knight sees it, Y2K minus two. Randall, a twenty-five-year-old children’s singer and puppeteer, has discovered the clock is ticking toward a worldwide technological cataclysm. But he may still be able to save his loved ones—if he can convince them to prepare for the looming catastrophe. That’s why he’s quit his job, moved into his car, and set out to sound the alarm.

The End as I Know It follows Randall on his coast-to-coast Cassandra tour. His itinerary includes the elementary schools that have booked him as a guest performer and the friends and relatives he must awaken to the crisis. When nobody will heed his warning, Randall spirals into despair and self-destruction as he races from one futile visit to the next. At the end of his rope, he lands with a family of newly minted survivalists in rural Texas. There, he meets a woman who might help him transcend his millennial fears and build a new life out of the shards of his old one.

So, cheers and thanks to all. I am excited to be part of what you are creating, and looking foward to doing what I can to make it better for you.

* … and tipsy, but I digress.
**And then turned around and asked $750 for the right to show the award logo. $750? That’s 75 year’s memberships! We turned them down. I suspect our fellow best-of-year services, iTunes and Skype did not.
***I programmed my first large-scale project with Kevin, a Zork-ish text-adventure set in a museum that has come alive.****
****Now made into a major motion picture starring Ben Stiller. As we never released the program, and I’ve never spoken of it, Kevin must have blabbed.

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Friday, December 29th, 2006

Merry belated Christmas and thanks for the votes

Merry Christmas from all of us here at LibraryThing! Now that I’m full of good food and family visting, it’s time to get to the bookpiles.

We didn’t get that many entries* in the Christmas bookpile contest, but this one was a clear winner. Great work, thelee!** My tree wasn’t as poetic looking as this one, that’s for sure. I particularly like how warm the light is – and a bookpile that goes from Leaves of Grass to The American Catholic Experience to Paradise Lost to Lonely Planet British Columbia, of course! As the photo caption aptly says,

Though the books don’t necessarily have much to do with Christmas, some of them were Christmas gifts in the past, and Christmas is a great time to read, next to the tree, with a cup of hot cocoa, a fireplace, and friends and family doing likewise.

In unrelated, but also joyful news, we tied for the People’s Choice winner in the niche category of Mashable’s Social Networking Awards. That is, of course, entirely due to you—thanks for voting for us!*** As Chris said, we did exceptionally well considering Dogster put their vote button right on their homepage, while our users had to find the blog to know about the award.

*This isn’t all of them – some were were emailed to me because they hadn’t show up in the public Flickr pool yet.
**who are you on LT? Email me to get your recognition and claim your prize! (update—the winner is thelee!)
***I’d like to thank the Academy…

Labels: book pile

Sunday, December 24th, 2006

Graphical Widgets for LJ and etc. (first look)

As promised, for Chris Santa has come up with a new, “graphical” widget–a widget usable in LiveJournal, MySpace and other environments that won’t permit JavaScript or frames. Unfortunately, Tim Santa didn’t finish the user-interface, with all its handy drop-downs, color selectors and so forth. So, for now, it’s up to you to customize the right URL. If this seems complicated, you might want to wait for the graphical interface. For the rest, here are your directions.

The graphical widget is an image with a highly-specific URL. You can build your URL piece by piece, checking the image in your browser. When you’ve got what you want, you will need to insert the image into your blog template. Usually, you will do this by adding <img src=”XXX” >, with XXX being the URL of the image, where appropriate.

The base URL is

To this base URL, you add parameters. You can add from one (just the user name) to fifteen, to control everything from what books are shown the colors they appear in. Each parameter must be separated by an & sign.

  • view= your user name (default timspalding, but you don’t want that)
  • type= what books to display; two options are “recent” and “random”
  • tag= which tag to display (default: none)
  • width= image width, in pixels (default: 200)
  • fsize= font size, in points (default: 9)
  • font= name of font to use (default: verdana). At present you can use “arial,” “arialuni” (if you have a lot of “special characters”), teletype, palatino, verdana
  • num= number of books to display (default: 10)
  • hbold=1 use bold text for the header (default: 0 off)
  • tbold=1 use bold text for book titles (default: 0 off)
  • top= text to display at the top of the widget (default: “Random Books From My Library” or “Random Books From My Library Tagged XYZ)
  • ac= author text color (default: 000000 – black)
  • bc= background color (default: ffffff – white)
  • tc= title text color (default: 0000ff – blue)
  • hc= header text color (default: 000000 – black)
  • x= number of pixels from top and bottom to pad the text (default: 5 pixels)
  • y= number of pixels from the left and right edges to pad the text (default: 5 pixels)


  • The widget doesn’t link anywhere. We suggest you link it to your profile or catalog (see your profile for the URL). You will need to an an HTML link around the image.
  • The widget can’t have cover images. To display cover images, Amazon requires links to their service. A graphical widget can’t do that.

That’s what I have for now. Feel free to post questions, examples you’re proud of and so forth.

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Friday, December 22nd, 2006

It’s so close!

We have no shame.

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Friday, December 22nd, 2006

Hanukkah bookpile winner

We might not have been flooded with entries for this one, but the ones we did get were fantastic (I want fried donuts. Maybe next time, winners will be selected based on whoever sends us the best baked good bribery.)

Congratulations to cmlib* though, for the prize-winning photo. (Tim noted that he has Christmas stuff in exactly that style, also from Mexico.) Congrats!

Up next—a Christmas bookpile contest. Start your piles and post them to Flickr with the tag “LibraryThingChristmas”. The deadline is the 3pm on Wednesday, December 27th (I know, that’s after Christmas, but time is flying by! This way you can include books you got as gifts too, right?) The winner, as usual, gets a gift subscription.

*But that’s your Flickr user name, but not your LT one! Who are you? How will I know who to send the gift membership prize to?? Email me!**
**Update: That was fast! Flickr user cmlib is our very own libros (the kitten picture on her profile slays me. I love it).

Labels: book pile

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

Vote for LibraryThing

Vote for LibraryThing in Mashable’s Social Networking Awards. (You vote by leaving a comment.) We’re in the “niche” category—I lobbied unsuccessfully for a social cataloging section—together with sites like CafeMom (“a place for moms”)*, SneakerPlay (MySpace for people who care about sneakers), Share Your Look (MySpace for fashionistas), AdFemme (MySpace for women in the advertising industry), NextCat (MySpace for actors, makeup artists and other Hollywood types), MyChurch (Facebook for congregations), Dianovo (MySpace for environmentists)**, our good friends Wordie, LibraryThing for words, and our favorite site, LibraryThing (SneakerPlay for booklovers).

*It’s depressing how much most “niche” sites ape MySpace.
**And people who enjoy splash screens. There’s also BeGreen, which is focused on global warming, but sports a front-page photo of two hot women standing in stylish red 60s or 70s convertible which is surely not a hybrid.

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Thursday, December 21st, 2006

The Areas of my Expertise—free!

The audiobook of John Hodgman‘s The Area of My Expertise* is available for free on iTunes.

* Full title: An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled with Instructive Annotation and Arranged in Useful Order by Me, John Hodgman, a Professional Writer, in the Areas of My Expertise, which Include: Matters Historical; Matters Literary; Matters Cryptozoological**; Hobo Matters; Food, Drink, & Cheese (a Kind of Food); Squirrels & Lobsters & Eels; Haircuts; Utopia; What Will Happen in the Future; and Most Other Subjects; Illustrated with a Reasonable Number of Tables and Figures, and Featuring the Best of “Were You Aware of It?”, John Hodgman’s Long-Running Newspaper Novelty Column of Strange Facts and Oddities of the Bizarre
** Two people have tagged it cryptozoology, seven hoboes.

Hat tip: Neil Gaiman

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Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

Hanukkah Harry wants your photos

Quick reminder: Post your Hanukkah book-pile photos to Flickr, tagged LibraryThingHanukkah. Winner gets a gift account. So far, we have only one book pile, with dreidels, and two not-very-booky entries (some very nice sufganyot and a family video from Steve Cohen at LibraryStuff). Deadline is 3pm Thursday, Dec. 21.

Feature teaser: It won’t make the end of Hanukkah, but LiveJournal and MySpace users should get a nifty, widgety Christmas present. Send encouragement to Chris (chrisgann).

Feature teaser 2: LC Authority Records, babee. Send fried donuts.

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Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

Neil Gaiman explains the Unsuggester

Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Neverwhere, etc.) has mentioned LibraryThing on his blog before, but today’s entry really caught our eye. It wasn’t just that he might join up, but he wrote a dead-on explanation of Unsuggester and what statistics mean and what they don’t. Here’s his reader’s email and his response:

Neil, I think the unsuggester might be broken. I’ve tried multiple titles, including yours, and there is always at least one or two items from my library on the list…

It’s not broken, it’s simply pointing out statistical anomalies—it’s not even talking about whether or not you’d like something (as some people have written to me, complaining they like books from both lists). It’s simply saying that it ought to be able to find a certain number of copies of book Y for people who own Book X, and it can’t. Statistically, people who have a copy of Mein Kampf on their shelves, for whatever reason, have fewer copies of Terry Pratchett books than might be expected. It may be that all the people with both Mein Kampf and Guards! Guards! just aren’t on LibraryThing yet, and once they join the anomaly will vanish. Or it may be that there’s something to be learned from that.

Would that he had been on Slashdot when that cry arose! Actually, part of the problem may be that people put their books in and try the Unsuggester the same day. But the calculations are pretty hairy, so I have to cache them for a while.

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Monday, December 18th, 2006

CueCats by Christmas? Last chance!

I don’t to “push” CueCats (cheap barcode scanners) too much, but when I dropped off the latest batch at the post office, I was told that Christmas delivery was getting dicey, even for Priority Mail*.

So, if you want to get your CueCats by Christmas, you’d better order them as soon as possible. Obviously, you can get a gift membership anytime.

*We don’t do Fedex. CueCats are a side-line for us; we intend to spend Dec. 24 shopping!

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Monday, December 18th, 2006

PC Magazine bests

An early Christmas present for us—we made PC Magazine’s five best services of 2006. They say:

“Heavens! Another tag-happy social-networking site that’s actually worth using!”

Well, I’m not going to argue with that!

We’re pretty honored, particularly since one of the other winners was Skype. Not such bad company to find ourselves in.

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Monday, December 18th, 2006

Happy Hanukkah

We don’t have a picture, so we grabbed this one from Flickr (mamamusings/Liz Lawley***)

Happy Hanukkah from LibraryThing!*

Help! LibraryThing doesn’t have a Hanukkah picture! We’ve got 6 days left. Pile up your Hannukah books? Go with silver and blue? Add a dreidel? Latkes? It’s up to you.

Post it to Flickr** with the tag “LibraryThingHanukkah,” and we’ll feature our favorite on the blog (and on the home page if we can get our act together). We’ll give you a free gift subscription, for you or someone else.

Deadline: Since Flickr can take a while to post pictures the official deadline is 3pm Thursday, Dec. 21.

*Linkfest! Tags: Hanukkah, latkes, menorah (one book!?), Wikipedia: Hanukkah, Judas Maccabeus on the Web (, and Judah Maccabee the Huggable Hanukkah Hero.
**If you really need to email it to tim[at] But Flickr is bett(e)r.
***In a TRULY freakish coincidence, Ms. Lawley is the RIT prof./Microsoft consultant working on a behind-the-firewall “enterprise” thing (see her blog post on the topic, and see Stowe Boyd too, with some comments by me from when I thought she was “just” a Microsoft developer). I didn’t realize where I’d heard the name until I after I posted this, but I guess it makes sense. Social-software people use Flickr a lot, get rated highly. It seems like a big world, but really it’s small!

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Thursday, December 14th, 2006

The gift of LibraryThing

LibraryThing memberships make great gifts!

Lifetime memberships ($25)
Yearly memberships ($10)

Or what about CueCats as stocking stuffers? Nothing says holiday joy like a barcode scanner shaped like a cat, I say. Functional and decorative!

And don’t forget our store at CafePress, ThingStore. Everything at ThingStore is offered at the CafePress base price—we’re not marking it up, and not making any money on it—so buy it simply for the joy of wearing it.

I’ve been using LT as a “what not to buy” tool lately (no, I’m not just Unsuggesting). It’s good for seeing what books my niece already owns, so I don’t end up buying duplicates (plus, it’s slightly more discreet than driving to her house and bookshelf snooping). In short, proof that you should give memberships to your friends and family—it benefits you both!

Update: I’ve been informed that PopMatters included LibraryThing as part of their 2006 Holiday Gift Guide (“shopping for the best pop culture stuff”)!

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Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

Porter Square Books!

Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA has become the second bookstore to integrate with LibraryThing.

As with the first bookstore, Shaman Drum of Ann Arbor, MI, we’re doing this to please local members, not to make a buck. There were no string attached, and LibraryThing does not make any money from it.

If they’re your local bookstore, just edit your profile to note that and you’ll get availability and pricing information on all work pages. If they’re not your bookstore, go ahead and find out if your bookstore can integrate. To work with Porter Square Books, we set up a simple upload form, instead of requiring an XML feed. If they’re right, there are about 30 bookstores around the country that generate similar feeds for Booksense. I’ll post about that in more detail later over on Thingology.

I grew up in Cambridge and spent most of my life there. But I moved to Maine three years ago, and I haven’t set foot in Porter Square Books, and I haven’t met the people who work there. I hear it’s great, and Dale, the director, was a pleasure to work with. Are any other Thingamabrarians Cantabrigians* or Somerville-ers**? Anyone go there?

*Hey! That’s what we’re called.
**Note that Cambridge has a nifty Latin form. Somerville does not.

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Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

Eight million books

Last last night LibraryThing hit eight million (now: 8,034,234). Some facts:

  • The eight millionth book was H20: A Biography of Water by Philip Ball (2000), added by Kingfish.
  • If LibraryThing were a library, it would be the 14th larget library in the United States (ALA factsheet). At the current rate, we should be in in fifth place (10,370,78 books) by March or April, and second place sometime in the summer. But at 30 million books, topping the Library of Congress will take a few years.
  • If laid end-to-end, LibraryThing’s books would stretch 1,075 miles, from Boston to Milwaukee taking the route suggested by Google Maps. I’m not sure about the straight-line distance.
  • LibraryThing has between eight and fifty times as many books as the World’s Biggest Bookstore, in Toronto, Ontario. (The web won’t say, so I called. The person I got paused a long time—was ths a crank call?—and then replied “I keep hearing different numbers. It’s like a million or a hundred and fifty thousand or something.”)
  • LibraryThing hold 58,580 books by J. K. Rowling. If these were piled on top of one another, assuming three-inch high books, the stack would be eight times taller than the tallest skyscrapper in the world.
  • LibraryThing has 80 times as many books as you have hairs on your head.
  • If the books in LibraryThing were your intestine, and they were laid end-to-end, they would go all the way around the world one and a half times. Blech.

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Monday, December 11th, 2006

The New York Times Magazine!

Somehow we managed a small mention in today’s New York Times Magazine’s article on new ideas (the 6th annual year in ideas, nonetheless). The piece, on “Homophily“, talks about how this love of the same has played into social software. It concludes:

“To counter the seemingly universal trend toward homophily, Torkington invited his readers to figure out how to create “serendipity.” One information-technology specialist described a feature he would add to Facebook called “the Stretch,” which would help students “find a group of people a little different” from themselves. Someone else brought up the online book cataloger LibraryThing’s UnSuggester, which identifies the book least likely to share a library with the book you mention.”

Fame! (David Pogue, do you read the magazine? Do you want me to send you a copy?)

The best part – usually, Tim and I come across LibraryThing mentions from advance warning, vanity searches online, or emails from readers quick on the uptake. This one was great because we both found it on our own, and independently!*

*I make do with the online version during the week, but reading the Sunday New York Times in print is luxury. Even if it takes the whole day to read – picking up and putting it down to run errands, answer emails, make dinner, sew Christmas stockings (I’m a holiday/domestic genius today) – and if that means I don’t make it to the Magazine until 10:30pm, it’s worth it. Particularly worth it when I happen across LibraryThing on the bottom of page 52. As Tim said, “I was just reading along, and thinking ‘this would be a good place to mention Libr—OH MY GOD!'”

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Thursday, December 7th, 2006 scores, LibraryThing assists

Congratulations to, named one of the fifty top ecommerce sites by Internet Retailer magazine. Their category included iTunes, Netflix and SimplyAudioBooks.

As many of you know, I sold AbeBooks a 40% stake in LibraryThing back in May—I retain the rest—and LibraryThing and Abe have been working together since. Apparently Abe was picked for its focus on uncluttered findability and… for the investment in LibraryThing!

From the article:

“LibraryThing is a fantastic tool for avid book readers and collectors and may be even more sophisticated than the community features of “the Big Kahuna” of online bookselling,, says Sucharita Mulpuru, senior retail analyst at Forrester Research Inc. ‘The tags seem more relevant,’ she adds, ‘and the lists seem more germane to book lovers than the random lists that often show up on other user-generated content sites.'”

Apologies for recent (relative) silence. Chris, Abby and I met for the first time in months, and we emerged reinvigorated, well-fed, and with some clear short-term objectives: author enhancement, wish lists (dammit), search bugs and a blog-o-licious surprise.

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Monday, December 4th, 2006


Wondering why the site is crushingly slow? The UnSuggester was written up in Slashdot this morning, and the traffic is unbelievable.

So – go get a cup of coffee or hot chocolate (it snowed here in Boston last night, so that’s what I’m doing) and surf something else for a bit, read some of those books, or even ponder doing some work – and give us a chance to catch up!

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Monday, December 4th, 2006

Back from Victoria

Yesterday I completed a three-day odyssey to Victoria for the Christmas Party. Although Abe owns 40% of LibraryThing, they were 100% hospitable. I could tell what a fun company it was, even before the liquor started flowing.

I also enjoyed the company of Anirvan, Charlie and Giovanni* of BookFinder, and even managed to listen in on a conversation with Google. (As someone remarked before the call, it was “like calling God.”)

I didn’t have much time to work on the site (but minor tweaks to widgets, catalog), except on planes, where I lacked wifi, but managed to rack up a few blog posts like this one, pushing for a fun library catalog. Thanks to Abby and Chris sending out CueCats and fixing bugs while I was gone.

*Later they played “guess who?” with BookFinder baby pictures. As a new dad—which makes me highly sensitive to baby pictures—I have to say: Giovanni was one cute baby! (Second to Liam, of course.)

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