Archive for February, 2007

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Many Eyes does the LibraryThing

Many Eyes, a very shiny new visualization site* is featuring a visualization of LibraryThing’s top 50 books Harry Potter is Freaking Popular. Yes he is.

It might be interesting to chart other LibraryThing data in Many Eyes. I’ve only scratched the surface of it, but it looks quite powerful.

*In alpha, which is the new beta.

Hat tip: David Weinberger.

Labels: 1

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Author disambiguation notices

I’ve added the ability to add and edit author disambiguation text. This isn’t the “real” solution, which is still coming, but if you have the urge to clarify the difference between Steve Martin the author of Shopgirl and Cruel Shoes and Steve Martin the author of Britain and the Slave Trade, go ahead. It may help someone out (“This isn’t funny at all!”) and it will help us later when we have real disambiguation pages.

Steve Martin doesn’t have one yet, but Christopher Locke does.

Results show up in the Helpers log.

Labels: 1

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Compare your library with LibraryThing

LibraryThing’s gone feed-crazy! Check out Thingology for info on a new feed for comparing a library—a library library—with LibraryThing.

Six posts in 24 hours. Stop me before I blog again!

Labels: 1

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Wikipedia citations, with feed

Update: Changed feed URL.

I’ve added a cool new feature, building on some work by library programmer Lars Aronsson—Wikipedia citations to all works pages. That is, work pages now list of all the Wikipedia articles that cite the work. The data is also available in feed form.

Here’s how it goes. At the top of J. F. C. Fuller’s A Military History of the Western World it lists how many citations, with a link:

And, down below, it shows all the articles:

How we I did it. Basically, I did a complete run through the Wikipedia dump files (source), parsing out anything that looked like an ISBN and checking if it is. It’s pretty easy. So it sees:

Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Western World. Three Volumes. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1987 and 1988. — v. 1. From the earliest times to the Battle of Lepanto; ISBN 0-306-80304-6: 255, 266, 269, 270, 273 (Trajan, Roman Emperor).

and gets the ISBN. I’ve started in on the harder problem, parsing books without ISBNs, like:

Bowersock, G.W. Roman Arabia, Harvard University Press, 1983.

It’s not actually that hard. But it’s fiddly. And it’s one of those problems where each additional percent of accuracy costs 50% more effort.

What’s the most cited books? The most cited book on Wikipedia is… The Official Pokemon Handbook. Surprised? Don’t be. In fact, eighteen of the top twenty most-cited works are Pokemon books. It boggles the mind. Somebody, or a bunch of somebodies went ISBN-happy on all the Pokemon entries. Fortunately, the existence of so many citations to Pokemon does not impair the quality of the rest. It’s just… Wikipedia. There’s a decidedly quirky character to many of the other winners, testimony to some serious passions. Number 28, with 177 citations, is Richard Grimmett‘s Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. I think this effect would be diminished a lot if non-ISBN books were added.

Where did this come from? I owe the idea to Lars Aronsson, who came up with a simple script and ran it against the Wikipedia dumps and posted the results on Web4Lib back in September. I wrote him soon after to see if he was going to provide a public data feed, or if he minded if I did. He did not. His results differed a bit from mine. I’ll be in touch with him to square the differences.

Unfortunately, the Wikipedia data is not updated as often as one might like. The most recent is from November of last year. I’ll keep an eye on the download page, and reparse the data when a new dump comes available.

What’s this about a feed? We’re big fans of openness. And it’s Wikipedia data anyway. So we’ve made a feed of it. You can get it here:

UPDATE: I changed the URL and gzipped it. Needness to say, I’m not putting any restrictions on this, but if you do something cool, I’d love to hear about it.

As usual, tell me what you think.

*We’ve seriously considered open-sourcing LibraryThing. But given the state of the code, it would be, as Nabokov said of rough drafts, like passing around samples of our sputum. We may out-source pieces of the code—the pieces we’re happiest about.
**LibraryThing is in the odd position of having almost as much bot traffic as we have person traffic. Google loves us. Guys, you love us too much!

Labels: 1

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Introducing the Helpers log

Update: Author links added. See below.

I’ve added a new page, the Helpers log, that tracks the various ways users help LibraryThing and each other—work, author and tag combinations, author picture and “author nevers.” (John will add author links tomorrow.) The new page will make it easier for eagle-eyed Thingamabrarians to watch over what’s going on with these critical activities, and smite miscreants.

By the way, did you know we are averaging 2,000 work-combination actions per day? Per day, folks! That’s not even works combined, which is higher since a combination will have at least two and and high as twenty. It boggles the mind.

This isn’t a small thing. You guys have up-ended the world of book data. And we’ve only just begun.

Update: Author links added. Unfortunately, we weren’t storing the right data for author links. So it’s only showing ones added since we fixed the system. It also means we don’t know who added links before, not exactly anyhow. Again, apologies.

Labels: 1

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Author links

As many have noticed, you can now add links to author pages. It’s part of an ongoing effort to give members more control over the site.

We’re still breaking in a new development environment and a related system (Subversion, for the tech-curious) of moving new stuff from development into production. As a result, the author links feature was launched a bit prematurely. That turned out to be not such a bad thing—a bunch of people immediately jumped in and started suggesting improvements, and the feature, minor though it is, was completed faster and better than it would have been otherwise*. Many thanks to everyone who helped troubleshoot, and to everyone who has contributed links.

One thing you’ll notice is that most authors already have a link to their Wikipedia pages, some of which say “unconfirmed” in parentheses. This is a side effect of a script we wrote to go through all the page titles on Wikipedia, match them against all the authors in LibraryThing, and create links. Which works great 90% of the time, but it turns out there are a lot of people in the world with the same name. To us, Alexander Robertson is an author. Our Wikipedia script, though, thought he was a British cop. To rectify this, we had the script say “unconfirmed” next to every author link that hadn’t yet been verified by a human being. So, if you want to be that human being, please check unconfirmed Wikipedia links when you come across them, and either confirm or edit them, as necessary (both options are available by clicking ‘edit’ in the links header).

Adding and confirming links turns out to be quite addictive—I’ve been working through the list of Nobel Prize winners, adding links to the author page of every winner, and reading half the bios in the process. If anyone can suggest other good link sources, please do so in the comments, it would be cool to have a somewhat organized effort to enrich the pages.

* I didn’t actually have anything to add, but I feel like I should throw in a footnote or two. Seems to be LT style.

Labels: 1

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Tagging: LibraryThing and Amazon

I just posted a very long examination of tagging on Amazon and LibraryThing, and what it means over on LibraryThing’s “ideas” blog, Thingology. I’m hoping it gets noticed. Although quite imperfect, I think it’s the first time the failings of “commercial” tagging have been brought to light, and their implications thought through.

Labels: 1

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Book pile bonanza winners

We had an amazing amount of fantastically great entries for the 10 million books / valentines / presidents book pile contest. That’s a lot of superlatives, I know, but trust me, it’s worth it. There were Valentine’s Day themed piles, President’s Day themed piles, and a whole bunch of people took us up on the “best damn book pile ever”. (See the entries here, under the Flickr tag “LibraryThing10mil“).

Several themes emerged, and not just Valentines and Presidents. We had several variations on a heart, showing love from Harlequin to Latin. There was fun with numbers and words, sweet stories, and a surprising number of floating shelves (I’m covetous). Overall, a fantastic collection of book piles. You can see them all here (and several that hadn’t posted to Flickr yet are linked to in these blog comments).

Without further ado, our grand prize winner. madinkbeard’s “We heart LibraryThing” was a stand-out. As an added bonus, you can see all 86 books that were used to create this red spine-d heart here. Madinkbeard will be getting one hundred dollars—to be spent entirely on one book.

We also have five runners up, who will each get a year’s gift membership to LibraryThing.*

Runner up. First, I loved parelle’s “Bookpiles and my love life”, which chronicles a relationship, from a bookstore meeting. The story starts here and is continued here.

Runner up. “Presidents”, this wall of presidents by Pesky Library was beautiful, and, I think, entered by a small library?

Runner up. jadelennox’s “Ten million books and counting” was one of our number themed entries—starting low and going up high. From zero to pi to infinity (and beyond?)!

Runner up. “Books are love!” by j2.0 brings book piling to a whole new level (and also gives us our first nude photo blog post)!

Runner up. And lastly, “Never Enough Time for Reading”, by Munzerr solves the all important question of having a “good body:books ratio” (as mentioned in the photo’s comments).

There are a couple of other photos that we’d like to highlight (let’s call them the the honorable mentions, for lack of a better term).

Honorable mention. Narrisch’sBabel in Translation” was fantastic (and extra points for using the phrase “book-a-ganza”).

Honorable mention. skullfaced’s Skull stacking managed to combine natural history with Valentine’ s Day and Darwin’s Birthday, and all on a bathroom floor!

Honorable mention. Kristy’s “Pursuit of Love Bookpile” I had picked as a winner, until I realized that she was John’s girlfriend, and that that probably meant she couldn’t win an actual prize.**

Honorable mention. Lastly, we had a soft spot for the books in the truck, nicely packed into their “car seats”.

*Will the winners please email me ( so I can send the prizes your way?
**Even though we never explicitly stated it, I think that wives, girlfriends, and children of LT employees, though welcome to submit photos, can’t actually win. Hey, we can make up rules as we go along, can’t we?

UPDATE For some reason, one of these photos that previously contained books now is showing up as a chicken salad (I think. The vegetarian in me isn’t quite sure). In the meantime, Flickr’s down page reports that they’re having a massage (I’m jealous).
UPDATE part deux Apparently Flickr is having a cache problem, leading to “weirdness” (a technical term). So you might see chicken salad, you might see a book pile. Enjoy either way.

Labels: book pile, contest

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

OttoBib links added

I’ve added links to OttoBib, a super-simple citation generator created by Jonathan Otto, an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse.

The feature is available on the work info page (card catalog page) for any specific book—yours or someone else’s. Here’s an example. At present, it only works for books, not for general works. (After all, a work may have 1,000 ISBNs under it.) We hope to extend this in the near future. The results aren’t saved in any way, so if you’re doing a bibliography, you’ll have to do some cut-and-paste work.

We’re linking to OttoBib because we think it was nicely done. But, down the road, LibraryThing may need a stronger solution—one that works with non-ISBN books and which saves and juggles citations, rather than just creating them. We have some ideas along these lines, but your suggestions are always apprecated.

Labels: academic, citations, new feature, new features, ottobib

Friday, February 16th, 2007

Get your photos in!

There’s mere hours left in the 10 million books/valentines/presidents book pile contest. Get your entries in before midnight tonight (EST)! We’ve got 33 so far, and they’re looking good… So who wants that hundred dollar book?

UPDATE: If there’s any doubt that your stuff is awaiting clearance, post your URL in comments, or mail it to Abby. (Flickr doesn’t always post photos from new accounts to public tag pages right away, so if your submission doesn’t show up on this page, tell us!)

Labels: 1

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

How much do you want to pay?

We were inspired by something John Buckman is doing at the online record label Magnatune. When you buy a CD, Magnatune asks “How much do you want to pay?” and gives you a price menu. You can’t pay nothing, but you get some latitude. You can low-ball them a bit, or, if you’re feeling grateful, pay more.

It sounded like a fun idea to us. We’ve had people—and not a few—pay twice to thank us. But we’ve also had emails from people who say they’ll buy a membership next time they get their pay check, disability, etc. That kills us, so we’ve given out a lot of “pending” membership.*

The “typical” amount is the old fixed amount: $10 for a year’s membership, $25 for a lifetime membership. I’m dying to find out if we take a bath, break even or pick up a few extra bucks. Anyway, we’re going to try it out until Valentine’s day at least. (Speaking of which, don’t forget the ten-million book/Valentine’s day/President’s day bookpile contest.)

We learned about Magnatune’s idea watching a Japanese piece on John Buckman on YouTube. Buckman was in Japan to speak at the New Context Conference 2006. The guy in the cowboy hat interview him in English, added highlights from his talk, and explanatory wrapper in Japanese. (Here he explains the pricing idea, but those are the only English words, so I have no idea what he says about it.)

Buckman is, of course, also the founder of BookMooch, the largest book-swapping site out there.** LibraryThing and Bookmooch have warm relations—lots of shared users and mutual linking—and I’ve spoken to Buckman a few times. He “gets it,” so we’re happy to borrow an idea from him.

* My favorite “pending” account was the U. S. diplomat in central Asia, who wondered if she could pay us when she rotated back and we couldn’t offered to send us a check via diplomatic pouch. I really want to send a CueCat via diplomatic pouch!
** Judged by Alexa traffic (28,185 vs. 31,032 for PBS on 2/10), not that Alexa means much. PaperbackSwap has been around longer, and may have more members, but it’s a walled garden and, we think, not going anywhere until it opens up.

Labels: 1

Thursday, February 8th, 2007

THE ten millionth book

At long last (and after some intensive database searching), we are pleased to present LibraryThing’s ten millionth book. Drumroll please…

The city in which I love you: poems, by Li-Young Lee was added just after noon last Saturday, by user vinodv.* We’re giving Vinod a lifetime account for this honor. According to his profile, Vinod is in Cambridge, MA—Tim’s hometown, and just across the river from Abby. Hey, we could be hand-delivering a CueCat to go with that membership!**

The celebration continues though—get your entries in for the biggest baddest book pile bonanza ever.

*This was also apparently the very first book Vindod added to his catalog. Quel distinction!
**Only half joking, I think.

Labels: 1

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Ten million books and contest extravaganza

In honor of hitting the big 10 million book mark this week, we’re having a book pile contest bonanza. We’re combining three contests into one here—Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, and of course, ten million books.

The challenge. Start taking pictures. Your book piles can be love themed, president themed, or just the coolest damn book photo you can create.

The prizes. We’ll pick five winners, who will each receive a year’s membership to LibraryThing. The grand prize winner will receive a $100 gift certificate. The catch? That hundred dollars must be spent entirely on one book. So start looking around Abe’s Rare Book Room…* (Amazon is fine too.)

The rules. Post your photos to Flickr, as usual. Tag them “LibraryThing10mil“.**

The deadline. The contest ends on February 16th, at midnight, EST. We’ll announce all the winners on Monday, February 19th.

*This is harder than you might think. A signed and first edition copy of The Little Prince sold for $10,450 last year, and that was only the 7th most expensive book sold in 2006 on Abe. Sadly, we will not be buying you this $55,471 copy of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. So if you had the $100, what one book would you try to get?
**Users who already posted Valentine’s or Presidents photos to Flickr after I said this, can you change and/or add the tag LibraryThing10mil? Sorry and thanks.

Labels: 1

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Better work combining

Until now, work combination was an author thing, if two works didn’t share authors they couldn’t be combined. This is good enough most of the time. But some works have multiple authors with different ones taking the “main author” spot in different catalogs. And it didn’t work with authorless works.

For now, you can’t combine any work, but only ones that share an ISBN. The list of potential combinations is available on each work’s “book information” page (), at the bottom of the page. If it proves useful and popular, I may move it.

Here’s a good example—three editions of (multi-author) Cluetrain Manifesto that weren’t combined with the main one:

But not every suggestion is good. Here’s The Rule of Four. I have no idea what that Babichev book is doing there. It might be member error, a source error, a publisher reusing ISBNs or a rogue publishing reusing a known number instead of paying for a new one. Anyway, I suggest you don’t combine it!

Unfortunately, this doesn’t fix authors generally. The Cluetrain Manifesto is still listed under a single “main” author. We hope to change that soon.

Labels: 1

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Never the Twain shall meet, um, Gibbon

Frustrated that Terry Prattchet and Neil Gaiman keep getting combined? Unforunately, the system makes a few bad combination suggestions, and now and then somebody takes it up on them. To solve this I’ve added a feature to the author pages:

I kicked things off by permanently divorcing Edward Gibbon from Mark Twain (!). But I’ll let you guys tackle Gaiman. I’ve deputized the Combiners group (which, in the best LT tradition, sprang into being spontaneously) as the place to fight out whether Jack London and Emile Zola are really the same author.

More changes along these lines soon, including visible logs for combination action.

PS: I also cut down on the number of “Also known as” names visible, unless you click “see complete list.” Nabokov was getting absurd…

Labels: 1

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

10 million books and 303 LT Authors

In continuation with our celebration of 10 million books, today we’ve also hit 303 LibraryThing Authors.* Sara Ryan / sararyan just became our three hundred and third LibraryThing Author. The best part? Sara’s also a librarian! Her first book, Empress of the World was excellent, so watch for her second novel, The Rules for Hearts, which comes out in April.

Keep watching for more of the 10 million books celebration blogging!

*I must not have been paying attention when number 300 must have breezed by me, but it’s always good to celebrate a palindrome, I say. Who doesn’t love a palindrome?

Labels: 1

Monday, February 5th, 2007

Ten million books!

On Saturday LibraryThing acquired its ten millionth book. Ten million is a bunch. Ten million means something. LibraryThing is no longer a “worthless jumble” of books and tags. It’s, it’s…

  • A meaningful jumble of books and tags
  • A hook to hang a bunch of pretty charts and graphs
  • An excuse for a book pile contest
  • A cause for celebration, and a party
  • A special cause for celebration for the guy who added number 10,000,000
  • An occasion to lay out future plans and goals

And probably a few other things. Anyway, it’s big enough that it won’t fit in one blog post, and with everything we have to do and all the vinho verde we need to drink this week, I’m expecting ten-million blog posts to drag on for days.

A meaningful jumble of books and tags. Ten million books translates into a piles of data, and piles of data means fun with statistics. And we’ve been having fun.

Today I added a new “combined” recommendation list. It draws on LibraryThing’s five existing recommendation algorithms to come up with a “best” list. I’ve replaced the longer list of recommendations on the work pages, wth a link to the Suggester page, where you can see all the lists.* (I’d be interested to hear if people appreciate the simplification or still want the full lists on the work pages.) Combined recommendations are available for 230,000 works. Because of variable work popularity, this amounts to recommendations for 72% of all the books in people’s libraries.

Alongside books, LibraryThing’s tags have also been growing. Although we’ve rarely celebrated milestones, tags are the untold story of LibraryThing. LibraryThing members have added thirteen million of them–an unprecented web of meaning in the book world. Check out a tag like chick lit, cyberpunk or paranormal romance and tell me what you think. I think LibraryThing members have arrived at something close to the paradigmatic reading list for these hard-to-pin-down genres.

On the subjet of tags, I recently did a statistical sample of Amazon’s book tagging. I estimate that since November 2005, Amazon customers have added about one-million book tags. When LibraryThing, a niche site, collects 13 times as many book tags as Amazon, one of the top-ten most visited sites, something is up. I’ll blog about it soon, but I think the basic answer is clear. Letting people tag “their stuff” works like gangbusters. Asking customers to tag “your stuff” doesn’t. People make their beds every day. But nobody goes down to the local Sheraton to fluff their pillows.

*Not quite. There are actually ten recommendation lists at play since, when the recommendations are sparse, we factor in a “flip-around” of the recommender-recommended relationship.

Labels: 1

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

More Mosaics

“You are what you read” has turned into a bit of a mini-meme, with Chuck Close-style book cover portraits popping up all over. In addition to David Louis Edelman’s post that started it all, we have Geoff Coupe’s, followed by two excellent blog posts.

Mark Edon (that’s him at right) posted a Mac-oriented tutorial, including a very useful method for using Safari to quickly download all the images from the “All Your Covers” page.

4:14 has posted an extensive PC-oriented tutorial, replete with screenshots, which also gives guidance on grabbing images, as well as AndreaMosaic tips. And in a new twist, it goes all postmodern by using book covers to make a mosaic of… a book cover.

We love these things. Send in more, and we’ll start a gallery.

Labels: 1

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

Boston meet-up

Anyone in the Boston area should head to the Boston Public Library tomorrow (Saturday Feb 3rd) for a LibraryThing meet-up. (Directions to the BPL are here). It’s planned to coincide with the Friends of the Boston Public Library booksale.

We’re planning on meeting by Novel restaurant (first floor of the McKim building) at 2pm.

Hope to see you there!

Labels: 1

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

Black History Month bookpile

I don’t want to knock John’s cool all your covers toy off the top of the blog (quick, everyone who hasn’t already, go read that post), but it is February 1st, so I have to announce the winner of the Black History Month book pile contest.

So, congratulations to lilithcat (mojosmom on Flickr) for this fantastic music themed pile, which wins in my eyes for having both Eartha Kitt’s Confessions of a Sex Kitten and the Amistad opera libretto.* I mean, that’s range.

I’ve also made up a page showing all the past book pile contests (an archive, if you will), so go take a peek at that. And as always, we’re looking for suggestions for future contests.

The next one is going to be a presidents vs. lovers one—President’s day? Valentine’s day? All-in-one grand pile (lovers of presidents?)? You choose! As always, post your pictures to Flickr, and tag them “LibraryThingPresidents” and/or “LibraryThingLovers”. Get them in by February 21st at 3pm EST.**

*My sister was a shipwright at Mystic Seaport when they rebuilt the Amistad, but I didn’t know there was an opera until just now…
**UPDATE – deadline and contest has slightly changed. See this blog post for details. Basically, the prizes got better, and your photos have to be tagged LibraryThing10mil.

Labels: book pile