Archive for August, 2007

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Happy birthday to us!

Today (we think) marks LibraryThing’s second birthday. We’re now officially in the terrible twos.*

A year ago we had just hit five million books on our birthday, today we’re just a few hours away from 18 million books.

Birthday feature [Tim] : You begged for us to release one of the top-requested features for the birthday, so we came up with setting your display style for visitors to your library. Yes, wish lists and collections are on the way!

Numbers and factoids:

  • We have 261,481 registered members. If we were a city, we’d be the 68th largest in the United States (Wikipedia), just above Plano, TX. We are on par with French Polynesia (population 259,800—Wikipedia). Unlike French Polynesia, however, we do not have an anthem. Yet.
  • LibraryThing members have applied over 23 million tags. If our tags were laid end-to-end, they would stretch to the moon.**
  • There are 389 reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on LibraryThing. The 1,000th-most popular book on LibraryThing is Le morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory, which still has 1,247 copies. Author number 1,000 is Margaret Drabble. (You know, Margaret Drabble, don’t you?)
  • Nine libraries have signed up for LibraryThing for Libraries. Five have gone live with it. The first nine LTFL customers have uploaded over 1.75 million books.
  • Our German site,, has 2,452 members. Our Dutch site, has the most active Talk. Finnish is our most-translated site, currently at 99.4% done.
  • If LibraryThing were a library (not a city, keep up!), we’d still be the second largest in the nation, behind only the Library of Congress (ALA Fact Sheet).

Twelve things that you didn’t know you could do on LibraryThing***

  1. Find out what your friends are reading. Connection News lets you see what books your friends have recently added, rated, or reviewed.
  2. Swap books. LibraryThing integrates with ten separate book swapping sites all over the world, so you can see at a glance which books are available or wanted, and move them back and forth. Check out the Swapping FAQ.
  3. Unsuggestions. Get fantastic (and humorous) UnSuggestions. Did you know, for example, that Mason-Dixon Knitting is the top UnSuggestion for The Satanic Verses, Peter Pan, AND Paradise Lost?**** (Yeah, we’ve got Suggestions too.)
  4. Organizations use LibraryThing. Browse the library catalog of The Uganda Revenue Authority (really!), the Weather Museum in Houston, Texas, The Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Memorial Library, The Nabokov Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in NYC, and numerous churches, schools, businesses, and other institutions. Read more about Organizational accounts.
  5. LT Authors. Browse through the library of Joe Hill, Elizabeth Bear, or one of the 562 other authors who showcase their personal books on LibraryThing. The 20th-most popular LibraryThing author is Tim’s wife, Lisa Carey, author of Every Visible Thing. If she ever loses that spot, the Zeitgeist will magically start showing the top 21. Check out all LT Authors.
  6. Photomosaics. See all your covers to make a photomosaic or a poster of them.
  7. Blog widgets. You can show off your library on your blog with our blog widgets. Or make a search widget, and people can search your library right on your blog.
  8. Author gallery. Your author gallery displays pictures of all the authors in your collection. LibraryThing members have uploaded more than 12,645 pictures so far.
  9. LibraryThing in your language. LibraryThing is available in 30 different languages; the translation is done entirely by members.
  10. Statistics. Check out your stats page for a list of books that you share with exactly and only one other member.***** Ah, your soulmates.
  11. Helpers log. Watch other members as they combine works, authors, and tags, add author pictures and links, and more. In the past 24 hours, the Helpers log recorded 1,860 different actions.
  12. Buy Swag. Cafe Press has a LibraryThing Store, with t-shirts and so forth. We sell everything at our cost—even the thong.

Thanks and praise [Tim] : Social Software is 90% social, and 10% software: You guys made it. It has been an absolute blast for us to do the 10%, and a real honor to have been part of something so stuffed with passion, intelligence and humanity.

Next week Casey, Christopher and Abby are coming up to spend the week brainstorming, coding and playing miniature golf. We plan to tackle some big topics and make some big changes. We’ll let you know how things are going, and move the conversation onto Talk as much as possible.

Credits: Photo by Rachael (chamisa flower on Flickr), a runner up in last year’s birthday book pile contest. More cakes appeared in this Talk post 🙂

*If “beta” gives us license to do whatever we want, this can only help. “We think” because Tim started this as a hobby, and didn’t keep track of it. The first blog post was on the 29th, but the site itself may not have been opened until the next day. Some of the early blog posts are a hoot now. I didn’t even think of “social features” for a week. [Tim]
**If each tag was 54 feet long.
***or saw once and forgot, or knew but don’t care, or know and care, or…
****I had a hilarious common thread/yarn joke to go with that, which Tim gave a resounding “boooooo.”
*****”Vous et nul autre” is one of the more debated phrases used on the site. (It is also one of the most unlikely to change! [Tim])

Labels: birthday, features

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Some “Your library” changes

I’ve added two features to the Cover view in Your Library. You can resize your covers with handy plus and minus buttons. And you can sort your books within Cover view (before this you had to do it in List view).

The back story is that I’m rewriting* Your Library rather extensively, both because it needed to be done and to prepare the way for collections (which are finally going to happen!). Your library needs a good scrub before collections arrive. The changes are minor on the surface, but drastic underneath. If you see problems, let us know.**

*What programmers call “refactoring” for no good reason.
**Since there’s been some speculation, we wil NOT be releasing collections today—although it’s our second birthday—or, probably, this week.

Labels: 1

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Harry Potter Review Contest—57 Winners

UPDATED to include readafew*

The winners of the Harry Potter review contest, picked by you! The reviews for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came pouring in—there were 288 by August 6th (the day the contest ended), and 364 as of right now!

As we said, the top six seven winners get a $50 gift certificate to Amazon, Abebooks, Booksense, or any independent bookseller. These were choosen because they were the reviews that got the most thumbs-up, using our new rating reviews feature. We intended to award the top five, but of course, there was a tie for second, so we’re giving out seven top prizes, total.

Without further ado, the winners:

LadyN’s review was by far the top ranked, with 28 “thumbs-up” when the contest closed (it’s even higher now!). LadyN captures the book perfectly, I think, when she writes:
“In Deathly Hallows, Harry gradually finds himself without several things he has previously believed he relied upon, the truth growing ever more apparent that his true magic is drawn from friendship, loyalty, protection, courage and the pursuit of what is right.”

The next five were all tied, with 19 thumbs-up votes.

sinister_wombat’s review was less glowing, rating the book only 2 stars.** sinister_wombat found fault with the consistency of Rowling’s world, and notes that: “Harry’s quest for the hallows feels like a clunky story haphazardly thrown into the main narrative with no real point or purpose.”

xicanti’s review appreciated the way the entire series built to this final book, saying, “Many, many times, I found myself crowing with glee as a long-running plot point was summed up, or when one of my theories proved correct.”

ablueidol’s review sums it up by saying, “Expect that the story and the consequences are darker. Discover that loose ends from the various stories are tied up. And that all that glitters is not gold.”

invisiblelizard, it appears, read the book through the night (as many of us did). The review notes that the “ending … timed to coincide with the first rays of sunlight after a long night, felt warmer to me. Even with several main characters left on the floor.”

Kerian’s review celebrates the Boy Who Lives—”Filled with surprises as well as chapters that had me crying all the way through them, this is a book I will reread for decades to come. J.K. Rowling has created a marvelous series, full of love, tears, and laughter. Without a doubt, the Muggle world will never forget the name Harry Potter.”

readafew’s review was a great (and spoiler free!) journalistic commentary: “What? You want to know about Harry Potter? Sorry, I can’t answer any questions about on-going investigations….”

The other fifty winners were pulled randomly from all the members who both wrote a review and voted for others’ reviews. It’s kind of neat to see how many people participated all around.

These 50 winners get a free membership to LibraryThing*** and a CueCat for entering their books.****

Fence exa137 mummimamma kconcannon sulkyblue
Rhinoa Aerodynamics littorina Merriwyn sedelia
Sassm prkcs cnrenner badgerthorazine sarahthelibrarian
little_mrs littlebookworm jrepman missylc jbd1
lampbane mystfromthesea DaveFragments CozyLover yoyogod
zeitgeistxx edfinn feaelin Anks FrogPrincessuk
codyne pratchettfan PollyWannaBook alisonsw susiepie
MisterJJones donutgirl mrsradcliffe ejp1082 szarka
capnk8 malisita philosojerk gaskella gwoodrow
Phantasma alchemia hero120499 lewispike teampoush

Congratulations to all, and thanks for writing. These were truly fun to read.

*So we pulled the top winners by calculating the number of votes minus the number of flags against that review, as of Aug 6, when the contest closed. But it mistakenly counted flags against the review that had been applied *after* the fact, which counted readafew out. So thanks to all for setting me straight, and thanks to the Hogwarts Express crew, who noted the correct winners, waited patiently for me to blog this, *and* wrote a fantastic song… 🙂
**I think this allayed a lot of concerns about the “thumbs up” review voting feature—that people would only give positive reviews a thumbs up. Good job, folks.
***You’ve already got one? Pass it along to a friend!
****We’re sending you a profile comment if you won, but if you have comments disabled, or if we miss you somehow but you see yourself listed here, then send an email to to claim your prize.

Labels: contest, harry potter, reviews

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Tag Mirror: See your books the way others do

UPDATE: I’m really enjoying the Talk discussion of this feature. Also, at this point it’s better to talk about the feature than to use it. Everyone using it at once has the server that handles it taxed rather seriously!

A major publisher recently asked us to show them a tag cloud of their books. It took a mental flip, but only a few lines of code to adapt this for individual use.

The result is Tag Mirror, available from your and everyone’s profile—here’s mine (and Abby‘s, Altay‘s, Giovanni‘s and Casey‘s*). If you’re signed in, here’s yours. (Please note: It takes serious processing power to analyze 22 million tags. Everyone is going to hit it at once, so be patient.)

Tag Mirror “holds a mirror” up to your books and to you. Instead of showing what you think about your books—what a regular tag cloud shows—it shows you what others think of them, in effect using LibraryThing’s twenty-two million tags to organize and surface interesting topics from within your own collection.** As with other tag clouds, size equals importance. When you click on a tag, you get a relevancy-ranked list of books tagged that way.

I can’t decide if it’s just the sort of cherry-on-top feature that makes LibraryThing unique or if it’s something genuinely new and interesting. I think it might be the latter. As Altay put it, it’s the sort of idea that seems obvious in retrospect.

I didn’t know I was interested in gender studies.

Here’s a for-example. I don’t use the tags gender studies, patristics or theory. They’re just not terms I use. To some extent, that reflects who I am. But I have a fair number of books that, to others, fall under those categories. It’s interesting to slice my books up in an alien way—to see them through other eyes. Maybe I’m more interested in gender studies than I thought.

More concretely, I do use the tag “alternate history,” but browsing my tag mirror page called up some alternate histories that I hadn’t tagged that way—useful stuff.***

Finally, Tag Mirror gives everyone a tag cloud, even those who don’t bother to tag anything. It seems almost unfair.

As our recent discussion of what tagging does to knowledge brought out so well, tagging is a complex mixture of private purpose and public good. I agree with those who say that we tag best when we tag for ourselves. But when everyone does that, a rich web of meaning is created.

I’ve done my best to push tagging in some new directions, trying subjects and tags together statistically, making book recommendations based on tag patterns, and with the tagmash feature. You can add Tag Mirror to that list. Little things. But they keep getting more interesting.

UPDATE: It’s 4:30am and, of course, I couldn’t finish blogging it before someone else started a thread about it (“Just noticed this on my profile”). Come talk about it.

*Casey has a surprising number of cookbooks! He’s coming up here in a few weeks—it’ll be the first time any of us have actually met him. We usually just order pizza. I think that plan’s changed.
**It doesn’t actually exclude your own tags. They still have an effect.
***It also brought up Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States. People tag unexpectedly, if humorously.

Labels: folksonomy, tag mirror, tagging, tagmash

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Fox 5 “Good Day NYC” does the LibraryThing

Teevee—we’re on teevee!

Labels: press hits, soul cages

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

International tags and more

We’ve had quite an upswing internationally, particularly among Dutch speakers. Dutch has surpassed French as our second-largest language community. (Next up: the Germans!) So I spent the evening adding some international features.

I’ve added special tag clouds to work pages on our non-English sites (,,, etc.) They show tags used by members of that site, or on books in that language.

It doesn’t always “work” that well. Perhaps half the tags on our non-English sites are still in English, the site tending to appeal to English-language speakers first. But I imagine that will change as the membership broadens, and tools like this make tagging in your own language more attractive.

The example above is from the Dutch site ( work page for Harry Mulisch‘s De ontdekking van de hemel (The Discovery of Heaven), the most popular work on the site. It’s more than half English tags. A more Dutch example would be De kanonnen van Navarone (The guns of Navarone), tagged avontuur (journeys by airplane) and spionage (spinach) alongside thriller and world war two.*

I also added an indication of how many of your linguistic compatriots have the books. Here is the French page for Amélie Nothomb‘s Stupeur et Tremblements (Fear and Trembling)—the fourth-most popular book among French members, but not in the first 10,000 among English-language members. The text is yellow and in English because I just added it, so no kind French user has yet volunteered a translation.

Lastly, I thought I’d announce and explain a feature just before killing it. (As Hegel said, “the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.”**) That feature is tag-coloring, an experiment that recently went site-wide (with the change in caching systems). The idea was to color personal tags lighter than subject tags, algorithmically at first, with some hand work from the LibraryThing for Libraries program, and then moving to let users weigh in on what was and what wasn’t personal.

I was never convinced either way, but I thought it worth a try. The reaction on Talk has, however, been pretty hostile, not helped by the fact I didn’t talk about it after it went live). I think I agree with the criticism now too. Anyway, chime in there if you like it. Otherwise, it’s going away… Sometimes beta means making mistakes.

*Hey, it’s 3:35am here.

Labels: dutch books, internationalization, tagging

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Introducing Casey Durfee (and the new search)

We just hired Casey Durfee (LibraryThing: caseydurfee), a crackerjack “Library 2.0” hacker. Casey’s first project—faster, better search—debuts today (see below). It’s a big win. We have a long queue of similar projects. Casey will also be heading up LibraryThing for Libraries, our project to get our data into library catalogs.

Casey will be working from Seattle, where he was recently left a job at the Seattle Public Library, managing their library system. Before that Casey worked at SirsiDynix*, so he has a lot of background in the arcane world of library systems—just what we needed for LibraryThing for Libraries. Casey is also responsible for L2, a handy Greasemonkey plug-in that adds Amazon content to library catalogs.

Perhaps the coolest thing Casey has done is a project called Helios, a “faceted” search on the Library of Congress records, done very simply and entirely with open-source software. It was a personal project, and although it’s not a complete solution, it searches the LC better than the LC’s million-dollar catalog. You can see Casey in action, talking about Helios, in this Code4Lib talk on Google Video.

Search. Check out the new work and author searches. They’re based on Solr, a simple but powerful search engine, and the same one Casey used on the LC data. Until now, we were relying on MySQLs fulltext capabilities. We had outgrown it, and slow performance was causing frequent database glitches.

It’s fast, accurate and searches all titles, not just the “leading” (mostly English) ones. But, as with everything we do, it’s not “perfect.” Casey has set up a Talk post about it. He has a variety of knobs he can turn, and is looking for feedback. I’m convinced it’s overzealous on “stemming”—picking up “loves” and “lovely” for “love.” That it even does stemming is quite an improvement from our previous solution. Once we’ve got it working the way we like, we’ll also be adding it to touchstones and elsewhere on the site.

Other projects. Casey is a certified library programmer. (I just play one on TV.) He knows his MARC21 from his UNIMARC, and his “glyphs from his diacritics”.** As time goes by we hope he can work on things like:

  • Rewriting our library-data import, to get all the diacriticals right and squeeze more out of the MARC records.
  • Adding more libraries. We’ve been avoiding UNIMARC libraries (eg., Italy libraries) and, until recently, most SRU/SRW-based ones. We can do better. We have also finagled access to British Library data, so look for us to add that too.

LibraryThing for Libraries. Right now, we have more than 350 libraries asking us about LibraryThing for Libraries. Altay and I have been going through at a snail’s pace. Casey should be able to crank that up a bit. We also think his SirsiDynix experience will come in handy. He’s already written a handy LTFL export script for HIP. He’s well-known in the HIP ILS community, and should move us past our current success among Innovative Interfaces catalogs.

That’s it. Welcome on board, Casey!

*When it was Dynix.
**Whatever that means; suggested by Casey.

Labels: 1

Friday, August 17th, 2007

LibraryThing party photos

Sometimes I get behind. We have at least four announcements racked up—a major hire with another this close to being hired, two new features and a contest. Before we do any of them, however, we need to get this out: the long-awaited pictures from LibraryThing pizza party in Cambridge, MA.

Turn-out was good. Freak downpours discouraged some , but at least 25 members showed up. If we had all brought our LibraryThing libraries, it would have come to some 28,000 books. No kidding.

Our thanks to everyone who came. It was great fun to put some names to faces* and find out something about who people were outside the site. I’ll post the rest of the photos on Flickr soon.


Eager to start munching.

Conversational groupings.

Inside was less fevered.

Knitters knitting.

Reader reading.

Harvard alumni plotting.

7,000(?) books between them.

Children everywhere!

Altay’s after-party. We had an astounding amount of pizza left over.**

It seems unfair to expose others and not myself. But nobody took a picture of me at the party. So, here I am the next morning, feeding Liam wineberries.***

*Oh, except for one person—not shown—nobody objected to being on film and online. But I left off names to protect the innocent. No such policy prevented Flickr: herzogbr from identifying Altay and the back of my head.
**Not to mention alcohol. We actually gained there, and came back to Portland with a small trash barrel full of beer. We have had exactly one left—a Sam Adams. I think this means adding Dutch books was some sort of drunken dare.
***No photos of Abby either. But here she is presenting at Readercon, and here she is with the inestimable Kate Sheehan of the Danbury, CT library, at Library Camp in NYC.

Labels: flickr, party, wineberries

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Widgets in musth

For about three hours this afternoon some of our blog widgets went crazy, inserting very large covers where small ones were supposed to be. I was fixing a long-standing problem, in which some books never showed up in the widget.* In the course of fixing that problem I created another. Some users were amused, some dumbfounded and some pissed off. All good reations, I think.

Anyway, a few users emailed us, and Christopher stepped in to fix the problem. The widgets are okay now.

To the bloggers affected, my sincere apologies. I should have checked the code more before it went live. The change I made didn’t affect widgets of the type I have on the blog or one of the users with the problem I was fixing, so I missed it. It was a dumb mistake, and I wish I had caught it in ten minutes, not three hours.

By way of making it up, if you had one of these blogs and felt inconvenienced, please write me a note with your blog URL and your address, and I’ll ship you off a CueCat barode scanner. Please take me up on this. It’s the least we an do.

*Basically, LibraryThing had imperfect knowledge of what covers Amazon had available, so we weren’t showing everything we could.

Labels: 1

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Dutch-ness resumed

I manage to speed up the Dutch Royal Library (Koninklijke Bibliotheek) with some help from their technical staff. I’m very pleased how welcoming Dutch libraries have been. We were also invited to add data from another library, this time a public. I’m nearly cross-eyed from all the varieties of data I’ve been parsing.

We’re going to be in a national newspaper, the NRC Handelsblad, tomorrow. I’ve seen a copy of the article; it looked very positive. Also, when run through Babel Fish (Google doesn’t do Dutch), it looked insane. (Typical sentence: “Pubers, muziekliefhebbers, students, zakenlieden, homos, vips, jobseekers or singles: all they have their own network sites.”)

UPDATE: Here it is. Very positive. (And it gave us a pretty big bounce. Let’s hope we can hold it.)

Oh, we hit 250,000 users. But no big deal. We all know that registered users isn’t the same thing as regular users or paid users. When we hit 250,000 paid users I’ll blog about it, from my teak and platinum moon-yacht.

Labels: dutch books, moon-yachts, press