Archive for March, 2007

Monday, March 26th, 2007

One dozen million books

This weekend LibraryThing members added our 12 millionth book, mere weeks after crossing 11 million and less than two months after breaking 10 million. As Tim likes to point out, if LibraryThing were a “real library” it would, according to the ALA Fact Sheet, be the 4th largest in the United States*, right ahead of Yale and gaining on the Boston Public Library.**

Whereas physical libraries become more difficult to navigate as they increase in size, digital collections actually become easier to use, and their data more meaningful, as they grow. As David Weinberger says in Everything is Miscellaneous*** the answer to too much information is more information. And with an every-growing amount of data available to us, more and more interesting and useful patterns should continue to emerge.

* If “real libraries” stocked 7,776 copies of The Great Gatsby!
**At this rate, we’ll be in second place by summer. The LC, with over 30 million volumes, will take a while to catch. But it’ll happen.
*** If LT has a patron saint, it’s Weinberger. I was skeptical, until Tim leant me his ARC copy of Everything is Miscellaneous. It’s fantastic.

Labels: everything is miscellaneous, milestones

Monday, March 26th, 2007

LibraryThing on Second Life, a start

Yesterday’s hastily-announced Second Life LibraryThing social was a big success. Our friends at Bookmooch graciously allowed us piggyback on their weekly event, and, not surprisingly, membership overlapped a lot.

Many of the LibraryThing members were experiencing Second Life for the first time and arrived late and a little bewildered. (One also arrived naked, having taken off her clothes by mistake and finding it impossible to put them back on again.) We chatted about books and Second Life, and played with and admired the area. I gave out free LibraryThing t-shirts and made people “head boxes,” which float above your head showcasing one of your favorite books. (It’s basically a Second Life LibraryThing book widget—one we hope to make dynamic soon.)

The event ended by a number of members jumping to Info Island, the main library area on Second Life. After getting caught building things without permission, we ran into Lorelei Junot, the administrator there, who gave us a small but very central spot to build on.

Now, what do we do there? John, Abby and I have a lot on our plate right now, so we’re calling on members to help plan and develop our Second Life presence. I think the center of it should be widgets of some sort, not beautiful empty building. (Info Island is so built up that Lorelei was only able to allocate some 91 “prims” to build with, a very small number, but as Jason Fried says, “embrace constraints.”)

Come join the new Second Life group to let us know.

Pictures from the day:

Sitting at the picnic table together, wearing LibraryThing and Bookmooch t-shirts. Justin and I have head boxes. Bucky Tone (the Bookmooch founder John Buckman) faces the camera and hoists a champagne glass.

Shiva999 shows off her new bunny avatar, which does a very funny dance.

Two hours in it’s mostly LibraryThing people, dressed and undressed. Here we are gathering for a group picture.

Lorelei shows us the new LibraryThing plot.

Justin and I drinking next to the “coming-soon” obelisk.

Labels: 1

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

Second Life? (Sunday social at Bookmooch)

Someone finally roped me in to Second Life.

Tomorrow (Sunday) LibraryThing members are invited to crash the weekly get-together put on by Bookmooch.* It’s at 2pm Eastern, 11am Pacfic, at the Bookmooch/Magnatune area on Second Life. Here’s a link to go there. If I can figure out how, I’ll give you a LibraryThing t-shirt I made.

I’ll be interested to see who turns up. I’m not sure what I think of Second Life yet. It seems empty, and I don’t find the chats very interesting. But I like building, and I have this idea that LibraryThing should integrate so that members have random books from their LibraryThing libraries floating over their head. (Or maybe it’s books you share with someone floating around you?) But I’m not going to think about it seriously for a while. There’s too much else to do.

But, if you want to meet other Thingamabrarians—well, me anyway—and Bookmoochers, come check it out.

Update: I also made a Second Life group on LibraryThing.

Note: If you’re not a member of Second Life already, downloading and setting it up will take you 10-15 minutes. You need a fairly fast machine.

*John Buckman, the Bookmooch creator, okayed the idea.

Labels: bookmooch, second life

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

Mea culpa

… mea maxima culpa for the down time today. We had an idiotic technical glitch. The main “read” server got too full (350GB only seems infinite). Freeing up space was no problem; 80% were old log files. But we inadvertently changed permissions on a file which caused errors that “looked” like database corruption. Anyway, we learned our lesson, or at least a lesson.

All data is and was safe. Even if we lost that one, we have four more. And nightly backups.*

Thank you for your patience and support. John and I are going to go cry now.

*The topic of backups is high in my mind these days. My MacBook Pro’s hard drive died Wedndesday. I was amazed how little I lost. Five years ago, a hard drive crash would have sent me to the sanitarium. But LibraryThing is almost entirely online. I lost a few layered Photoshop files, and my Pando Calendar–which will be a HUGE pain to reconstruct. But all the programming is online, as are my emails, the Wiki we use for business documents, etc. That leaves some music—which I will feel no moral qualms at all about copying from the first person I meet who has it—and a season of Battlestar Galactica I wasn’t much interested in seeing again.

Labels: 1

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Customize your book links

We just added the ability to edit the “Find At…” links that appear in the left-hand column on book pages, under the cover image. The link options include bookstores, book-finding services, publishers, swap sites, and hundreds of library catalogs from around the world. All together there are almost 500 options for ISBN-based services to choose from, and if we missed any, you can add them–the page for selecting links is itself editable.

If you don’t bother editing your links, the default set is selected based on your language–people viewing the site in French should see and, rather than their .com cousins.

Please let us know if you have suggestions for default links for the non-English sites, or other ways we can improve the links and this page. Given the staggering volume of contributions from LibraryThing members, this has the potential to become a very rich repository of online book services.

The current contents were derived from Wikipedia’s Book sources page. Both it and LibraryThing’s version are covered by the GNU Free Documentation License, so contributions will benefit the widest possible audience.

Update: We’ve opened a group, Book links questions and help, for people who want to make updates. We’ll add a helpers log soon.

Labels: 1

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

thingISBN data in a single file

thingISBNs—all of them—are now available as a single ginormous XML file. This should help people get around the 1,000-calls-per-day limit for using thingISBN API, make it easier to perform local processing on thingISBN data, and—hopefully—allow crazy stuff we haven’t even thought of. For more info see Tim’s full post on Thingology.

Labels: 1

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

“Wow, data is fun.”

There’s a nifty post over on the Google Book Search Blog where Google engineer Matthew Gray charts locations mentioned in books on a world map, and then filters by publication date into a series. Gray notes that it picks up the westward expansion of the United States. It picks up some other events too. The Scramble for Africa is noticeable, if from a largely British perspective.

I like the way he closes—”Wow, data is fun.” My feelings exactly. It’s why LibraryThing has five recommendation algorithms (not counting two I’m hiding). It’s why we have a “fun statistics” page that reports on users with whom you share the only two copies of a work on LibraryThing (the much misunderstood Vous et nul autre feature). It’s why I’m giddy that LibraryThing has the largest collection of book tags on the web.

But not everyone has query-level access to LibraryThing’s data. We need to get more out there, so members and passers-by can play with LibraryThing’s increasingly rich dataset as I do. We’ll have some news on that front soon.

Labels: 1

Monday, March 12th, 2007

LibraryThing reading and party tomorrow!

Tomorrow (Tuesday) night, LibraryThing will be hosting a party!

Kevin Shay—first-time novelist, long-time essayist and humorist, hacker, high school friend of mine—is going to be reading from his novel The End as I Know It: A Novel of Millennial Anxiety.

The reading is at 7:00 at Longfellow Books in Portland, ME (Google map). After the reading (8?), we’ll be hosting a liquor-and-cheese party at the LibraryThing offices. Anyone familiar with the parties that Lisa and I used to throw will know the kind of Martha-Stewart-meets-Burning-Man event we’re talking about here. Unfortunately, I’m planning it, not Lisa, so there will be no oregano goat cheese balls. But you’ll get to talk to Kevin, meet the LibraryThing crew (including the new mystery employee)!

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.

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Sunday, March 11th, 2007

Better internationalization

Important! We know that most non-English speakers are not listed under their language. Until translation was added, all members were counted under, and a majority of non-English-language visitors still come through the English-language site. You can always come through any site, but if you speak a language besides English, go ahead and edit your profile to indicate what that is. You’ll improve the site for yourself and for others.

As many of you know, LibraryThing is now available in more than a dozen languages, from German to Welsh (complete list). The core of this effort was effected by LibraryThing’s members, who have translated our 1,500+ snippets in a wiki-like manner. (The work has been shared on the larger sites; the Welsh translation is largely the work of a single, heroic user, Dogfael!)

Translation is great—a triumph of passionate users run amock—but it isn’t enough. So today I’m unwrapping a bunch of features aimed at “localization,” giving members data on the trends in their language community, and giving them tools to find and connect with their linguistic brethren.

  • Language-specific Zeitgeist pages. The Zeitgeist tab now includes a “by language” sub-tab, taking you to stats and trends for German, French, Dutch and the other languages. For some the top ones, the statistics are already interesting. For Lithuanian and it’s one member, not so much!
  • Language-specific Groups pages. The Groups tab now includes a “Language groups” sub-tab, for all the Groups in French, Spanish, Latin, etc.
  • Language groups. Groups can now belong to up to two languages—quite a few are already bilingual. Abby went ahead through the existing groups and did some spot assignments, but may have missed some. If they’re yours, you can edit your group to change the language. If they’re not, and they’re not changing, send us a note and we’ll see what we can do.

These are hardly the last changes. I am part-way through refinements to Talk that take languages into account. John is working on language-specific book and library links on work pages. And there are search problems, untranslateable “snippets” and other issues that need work. But we’ve made some progress. In a little time and with your help, LibraryThing will be as fun and compelling in Estonian as it is in English.

Labels: 1

Thursday, March 8th, 2007

March book pile contest(s)

Well, it’s hard to imagine that spring is close (at least here in Boston, where it’s ranged from almost 60 to under 10 degrees in the past week alone), but I think it’s time for our next book pile contest. We’re particularly fond of March here at LibraryThing—all three of us have March birthdays!

This is another combined contest. March is Women’s History Month, and I’d love to see celebratory book piles!* Gather your women’s history books, books by your favorite female historians, throw in Jane Addams or Simone De Beauvoir for good measure, and pile away.

We’d also like to see your spring related piles—I can’t wait for spring to come in full force, so give me gardens and ducks and mud. And books, of course. (But not muddy books, please.)

The rules: Post your photos to Flickr. Tag them “LibraryThingMarch”. If your submission doesn’t show up on the global tag page here, (Flickr sometimes waits to post photos from new accounts), post your URL in the comments here.

The deadline: Saturday March 31st at noon, EST.

The prizes: One winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to Abebooks (sponsored by a recent user donation – thanks!). Two runners-up will get an yearly gift membership to LibraryThing.

Our last contest winner (from the 10 million books/valentines/presidents bonanza), madinkbeard is currently waiting for the mail to bring their prize—a slightly over one hundred dollar copy of Cy Twombly: A Monograph from Abebooks.**

Looking for inspiration? Check out past winners in our book pile archive.

Update: Since March is also Small Press Month, we’re including that in this contest too. Book pile away!

*And today is International Women’s Day! The LOC has a great page linking to some of their women’s history collections—I love their women and war collection (though I wish there was more from WWI, since that’s my pet research area).
**Apparently other potential expensive book choices included Krazy & Ignatz: The Complete Sunday Strips and Little Nemo in Slumberland: So Many Splendid Sundays, but the art monograph won out.

Labels: 1

Monday, March 5th, 2007

LibraryThing recommendations on Abebooks

Today unwraps a new feature–LibraryThing’s book recommendations. Selected books sport up to six recommendations, which link to books offered by Abe’s 13,500 independent booksellers.

It’s a relief to see our recommendations finally escape! We’ve known for a long time that they were good and getting better every day. Personal collections and personal tags are an amazingly rich source of recommendations. Abe was an ideal venue. LibraryThing people and Abe people are hard-core book-lovers, and LibraryThing’s focus on collections acquired over time matches with Abe’s unmatched strength in the long tail of out-of-print books.

You can see LibraryThing recommendations on books like:

SOURCE AND COVERAGE. The data comes from the “combined” recommendations visible on work pages. These are drawn from LibraryThing five distinct recommendation algorithms, including our “people who have X also have Y” algorithm, our tag algorithm and the mysterious “special sauce” algorithm.*

As of today, LibraryThing recommendations appear on about 10% of Abe titles. That’s just to start. We’ll be scaling up the coverage dramatically in the weeks and months to come. We’ll also iron out a few kinks, and take advantage of the 25% growth in LibraryThing since the last time we generated the combined recommendations. So far it’s US and UK-only, but Abe’s non-English sites are a logical next step.

CONCERNS. Now is a good time to repeat and reaffirm what I said back in May when Abebooks bought a minority stake in LibraryThing:

“There is no down side. LibraryThing’s stringent Privacy Policy remains intact and in effect. The contract forbids LibraryThing from giving Abe ANY user data—not one user name, real name or email. Reviews will not leave the site without explicit permission (ie., not some buried legal clause). LibraryThing will not suddenly sprout Abe ads all over the place or prevent you from buying from other booksellers. Rather, LibraryThing will provide Abe with certain anonymous and aggregate data, like book recommendations or tag clouds, to help Abe users find books they want.”

None of this has changed, nor will it. We’ll see about tag clouds on Abe? (Can I hear an amen?)

MEANING. Today’s announcement doesn’t change anything on the LibraryThing site. But it means something even so. On a practical level, it’s good news for our growth–another step along the road to world domination.** More interestingly, it puts the collective intelligence of readers at the center of the Abe experience in an utterly new way. And it advances “Social Cataloging,” “Social Networking,” “Web 2.0,” “crowd-sourcing,” “the long tail,” “folksonomy” and other trendy—and not totally bogus—buzzwords.

Now that Abe is out of the door, Abby, John and I are going to be turning our attention to getting LibraryThing data into libraries—recommendations, tags, tagging services, and whatever else they’ll take—and for a fraction of what they’re paying now for services like NovelList.***

Me? I’m going to Legoland! That’s right, I’m sitting in the Copenhagen airport right now, waiting for a flight to Århus, where I’m talking to Danish Librarians about LibraryThing and library catalogs. The organizers of Mit Bibliotek (My Library) saw my blog post Is your OPAC fun? (a manifesto of sorts) and wanted me to turn it into a talk. For a chance to visit Denmark, I’d turn it into a juggling routine!

*Apparently the phrase “special sauce” causes our non-English site translators no end of grief.
**World domination through work combination!
**Anyone want to help me find a URL for NovelList that isn’t a password-protected link to the service? It’s seems—dare I say it—ungoogleable.

UPDATE: The Abebooks blog covered it, stressing that Abebooks has always been about finding the exact book you’re looking for. Visitors arrive with a book in mind, not to browse. Search is still their strength, but BookHints adds some browsing to the site.

Labels: abe, abebooks, recommendations

Sunday, March 4th, 2007

The New York Times covers LibraryThing

Today’s (Sunday) New York Times has a wonderful article on LibraryThing, A Cozy Book Club, in a Virtual Reading Room by Anne Eisenberg (Business section, page three).

It’s everthing we could have hoped for—sympathetic, book-focused (albeit in the business section), member-focused (way to go kageeh), and with none of the common misunderstandings.* I knew they were going to run something, but I thought it was focused on tagging, with LibraryThing as the first example. But it’s all about LibraryThing. And boy is it positive!

It goes without saying that I’m a bookish guy. But most of my non-book reading has shifted to the Web. I don’t get magazines anymore, except National Geographic, and my opinion of the “mainstream media” is not what it was when I read three papers a day and had never heard of an RSS feed. But the Times is the stable point. I read it from an absurdly young age. I have flash-bulb memories of a half-dozen front pages. I have the edition from my son’s birth wrapped up for preservation better than the Codex Sinaiticus. When, as the Economist** said, the last newspaper reader tosses aside the last newspaper, it’ll be the Times, he’ll be me, and he’ll keep it in a pile in the living room for months—dipping in now and then—until his wife threatens to recycle it, and he moves it surreptitiously to his office.

So Vivat New York Times, and thanks for noticing us.

*LibraryThing is for dating. LibraryThing is about competition. LibraryThing is about selling books. LibraryThing is a tech story, etc.
**A magazine I’d like to get, but it’s so expensive!

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