Archive for September, 2007

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

National Book Festival

Anyone in or around DC this weekend should head to the National Mall for the National Book Festival.* The festival will be held, rain or shine, on the National Mall between 7th and 14th Streets from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday, September 29.

Seventy authors will be on the Washington Mall, giving readings, signing books, meeting with festival goers. We’ve highlighted each of these authors here on LibraryThing, with a special NBF button (see, for example, Jodi Picoult). You can see the entire list of authors here, on The National Book Festival’s authors page.

They just added interviews with some of the authors; podcasts can be found under National Book Festival Podcasts. I’ve also gone through and added links to each of these on the respective author pages. Enjoy!

LT Group
There’s even a group on LibraryThing dedicated to the event (National Book Festival group). Join in to talk about the authors, RSVP for the meet-up, and more.

LT members have organized a meet-up (thanks SqueakyChu!): The National Museum of Natural History, base of the front stairs, far right hand side when facing the building. 2pm. Be there or be square. (Details in this talk post).

*The festival is sponsored by the Library of Congress and hosted by Laura Bush.

Labels: authors, National Book Festival, NBF

Monday, September 24th, 2007

Early Reviewers now free to publishers

The short version: We’ve made LibraryThing Early Reviewers—our program to hook publishers up with LibraryThing members willing to review upcoming books—entirely free for publishers. The response has been huge. We’ll have seven publishers and twenty-four titles this October!

The long version: We planned on charging publishers to participate in the program. Publishers were eager to do it even so. Certainly its closest analogue, the Amazon Vine program is charging. (Our sources say “an arm and a leg.”). Also, it takes work on our side.

Then we decided: What the heck? Pricing discussions took time and limited the reach somewhat. And we figured out how to automate the process better. When in doubt, we err on the side of openness. More publishers means more books, more books means more happy members, more reviews, and more fun.

We’re looking forward to announcing the October batch. So far, we have 7 publishers signed up, with a total of 24 different titles and 420 copies in total. It’s a mix of fiction, and non-fiction, with reference and even poetry books on offer. That’s a lot of books, and we think it can get even better.

I like to think of Early Reviewers as playing matchmaker between publishers and readers. The idea is a simple one—give free pre-publication books to people in exchange for reviews. But it’s surprisingly hard to find the *right* people to review the books. That’s where LibraryThing and the whole matchmaker scheme comes in. We match members to the books based on the other books in the library, so the books end up in the right hands.

For members: I’ve added a section to WikiThing with an FAQ on Early Reviewers for members—what it is, how to sign up for a book, where to post your review, and more.

For publishers: Introduction to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for publishers

We’re going to do monthly batches of Early Reviewers, so I’m always working on gathering more publishers and books. If you know of any interested publishing houses, send them my way!

Labels: early reviewers, publishers

Friday, September 21st, 2007

Early Reviewer books shipping; Second Life announcement

The September batch of Early Reviewer books is now closed, and books are about to start arriving on the doorsteps of 75 lucky winners.

Once again, we were oversubscribed this batch—1,550 people requested those 75 copies, giving us a good test for the algorithm matching books to people! Thanks to Unbridled Books and Nimble Books for the books, and we’re all looking forward to reading those reviews! To everyone who didn’t get a book this time around, don’t give up hope! We have a LOT of books coming in the October batch.

We also have a big announcement about LTER coming early next week, so stay tuned…

Second Life. A quick note about Second Life—LibraryThing members gather there every Saturday at noon (Second Life Time). This week there’s an animal themed Bookstacks quiz. Want more info? Check out LibraryThing’s Second Life group.

Labels: early reviewers, second life

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Better default cover images?

There are a few small, but cool things about Google Book Search. I’m fond of book covers they show when a book doesn’t have a cover.

It’s quite a simple trick—a series of default images with HTML text over them. Here’s my shot at the same technique, using an image I found online, doctored somewhat.* (I’ve put it on the new work page I’m developing, a much simpler one.)

I think it would be cool to have a bunch of these, including ones with more personality, and to allow people to choose among them if they want.

Personally, I’d love to make one for my Loeb Classical Library books. Those are the read/green Latin/Greek books you’ve seen racked up at well-stocked Borders. I’ve got dozens of them. Most of mine are old and don’t have ISBNs. They show up as identical beige rectangles now. In the real world, they all look the same too, but they’re much more distinctive. (Martha Stewart Living** has a great photo of a set she bought for her daughter’s East Hampton cottage.)

This isn’t a priority obviously.*** But I think it would be fun to do at some point, I think—and to get others involved with. If anyone wants to help out, let me know. Either way, maybe we can do a contest for it later.

*Copyright doesn’t protect a faithful photograph of a cover such as this. Copyright requires an element of originality. Scans–such as the scans used by Google books and others–can’t be separately copyrighted either. The underlying book can be, if it hasn’t expired, but a perfectly faithful scan cannot. Sites like Google get around this problem by writing restrictions into the terms of use.
**Not a common read for me… I love the web. I found a reference here. Apparently decorating with Loebs is a fairly common thing. According to this link, Martin Scorsese has a decorative set as well. According to this link, Oprah has one too. She should do a Book Club on Silius Italicus.
***And no criticism about blogging this instead of doing [fill in bug or feature here], please. I’m pushing 14 hours today! 🙂

Labels: features

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Link LibraryThing accounts to Google?

As I said in my talk post, we have spoken to Google about how to link and search Google Book Search reliably and effectively from LibraryThing.

Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to discuss much more than that. I can say that there is no substance to the rumor that Google is re-engineering CueCats to beam targeted advertisements onto your bedroom wall. I am also able to concede that the press accurately reported how Larry and Sergey beat me at drunken thumb-wrestling. But I cannot comment on whether Abby, sober and wielding a hitherto-unnoticed sixth finger, restored LibraryThing’s honor.

Here’s a hypothetical proposal. We could basically do this now, without Google’s help. And maybe Google could help.

Imagine if LibraryThing members could search across their books using Google BookSearch. That would be great, right?

But to do it, members would have to link their books to their Google account, connecting what they’ve cataloged on LibraryThing to the account that unites GMail, Blogger, Google Reader, Google Talk, Orkut, and the rest. And, by doing this, they would also connect their reading to their Google search history.

If this were to happen, connecting your LibraryThing and Google accounts would be voluntary, but searching your library all together would require that link, and require Google having all of your books from LibraryThing. I’m not sure what, if anything, Google would do with this information—perhaps nothing—but the option would be there.

What do people feel about this? Would you do it. Would allowing some absolutely private books to stay on LT help? What would make this work or not work?

Labels: drunken thumb wrestling, google book search, privacy, sexdactyly

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Talk Like a Pirate Day. arrgh

Arrr, make me walk the plank, because I only just remembard that today’s a ‘ery important day. Aye, Talk Like a Pirate Day, o’ course. Ye’ll ne’er get me buried booty! (Luckily, I found a useful pirate-speak translator).

So let the fun begin with a couple of contests (as if the sheer glory of Talk Like a Pirate Day weren’t enough). This photo by Topper was last year’s winner of the Talk Like a Pirate Day bookpile contest, and we’re looking for this year’s! So, the first contest is a good old fashioned LibraryThing book pile contest.

Book pile contest: the rules

  1. Pile up your books. Be creative.
  2. Take a photo.
  3. Post the photo. You can do either of the following:
  4. Wait for us to crown a winner

the deadline: Wednesday, September 27th at noon EST (just over a week, so get cracking)

The second contest is a a haiku contest. One of the greatest things to come out of the launch of WikiThing (in my humble opinion) was the creation of help in the form of haiku. Started by tardis (a genius), LibraryThing Haikus now holds a place of honor on WikiThing, and has expanded to include not only Help, but also general LT haikus, and Library 2.0 haikus.

Haiku help contest: the rules

  1. Write a haiku. Or seven.
  2. Post them to the LibraryThing Haikus page on WikiThing.

the deadline: well, you can keep adding them forever, but we’ll pick a few winners at the end of the month.

Here’s a few for inspiration.

How to create
account? Put user name and password
in green box on home page

Can we have wishlists?
Yes, they are coming to us
with the winter winds…

All the books you’ve read,
an endless field of poppies;
Try UnSuggester!

Bonus points for combining haiku, LibraryThing help, and Talk Like a Pirate Day. Tim’s attempt (note he even respects the generic weather rule):

When autumn seas change
Scurvy dogs to lubbers, aye,
Get a blog widget.

PRIZES: Yes. There will be prizes, for both contests. Possibly in the form of buried treasure, possibly in the form of gift accounts.

Labels: book pile, contest, haiku, talk like a pirate day, wikithing

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Google Book Search Search…

I am voluntarily and temporarily suspending Google Book Search Search, our effort to distribute the task of collecting Google books IDs for LibraryThing members through a browser “bookmarket.”

I am talking with Google about some other approaches that they might be able to simplify the process of linking to Book Search pages. Google has communicated their desire to make it easy for sites like LibraryThing and libraries to link to Google books appropriately and successfully.

The GBSS bookmarklet showed the power of the LibraryThing community. In about a day more than 1,500 LibraryThing members (and many non-members) installed the bookmarklet and collected GBS link data for over 253,000 of theirs and others books. If we had solved more of the browser issues, I’m sure we would have collected many more.

The links members discovered will be kept, and the data is available. We will be adding new tools for members to edit and add Google book ID information by hand, if necessary.

As you may guess, we are going to be doing some listening, some talking and some thinking. I would be grateful for your continued support as we work through this.

Labels: features, google book search

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Google Book Search … on LibraryThing

Introducing something new we’re calling “Google Book Search Search.”

Google Book Search Search is a bookmarklet that searches Google Book Search for the titles in your LibraryThing library. It works not unlike the famous SETI@Home project. You set it up and searches Google Book Search slowly in the background.* You can watch, do something in another window or go out for coffee.

When it’s done you can link to and search all the books in your library that Google has scanned. You’ll find a “search this book” link on work pages, and a Google Book Search field to add to the list view in your catalog.

But this isn’t just a selfish thing. There’s a lot of searching to do, and you can help. If you choose, you can pitch in and help with others’ books. All of the data gathered is free and available to everyone. A lot of people want a reliable index of what Google has, not least libraries.

What do I do?

Google Book Search Search is a “bookmarklet.” You save it to your “favorites” or “bookmarks.” Then you got to Google Book Search and you click it. You can see what pops up on the right.*** Press start and it will start collecting information.

Here it is: Google Book Search Search

We’ve tested it on FF and Safari on the Mac, and FF and IE7 and IE5.5 on the PC. We haven’t tested it on PC IE6 yet. I have no idea about Opera.

Why a bookmarklet?

We’ve wanted to do this for a long time. But to link to a book on Google reliably you need its Google ID. For some reason Google doesn’t publish these, making it impossible to tell what they have and what they don’t, and impossible for sites like LibraryThing to send them the traffic they want. Secretive and self-defeating? Seems like it to me.

Efforts have been made to collect Google IDs before. The well-known Lib 2.0 blogger John Blyberg tried, as have others. We tried too. The trick is that Google Book Search—like the rest of Google—has a system in place to stop machine queries.**

Making a bookmarklet distributes the work. And because it takes place within a browser, it tends not to trigger machine-collection warnings.

Ultimately, however, Google can put a stop to this. The bookmarklet has a signature. And Google can send us a note, and we’ll disable the bookmarklets. Just as Google respects the robots.txt file, we’ll respect such a request.

Why not use “My Library”?

Last week Google introduced an interesting “My Library” feature, allowing people with Google accounts to list some of their books. A few tech bloggers saw an attack on LibraryThing.

LibraryThing members were quick to dismiss it. It wasn’t so much the lack of any social features, or of cataloging features as basic as sorting your books. It wasn’t even the privacy issues, although these gave many pause. It was the coverage.

Google just doesn’t have the sort of books that regular people have. Most of their books come from a handful of academic libraries, and academic libraries don’t have the same editions regular people have. Then there are the books publishers have explicitly removed from Google Book Search. Success rates of below 50% were common. Of these a high percentage are only “limited preview” or “no preview.”

The Google-kills-LibraryThing meme has another dimension. We WANT people to use Google Book Search. It’s a great tool. Being able to search your own books is useful, and LibraryThing members should be able to do it. Call us naive, but we aren’t going to be able to “pretend Google isn’t there.” And we aren’t convinced that Google is going to create the sort of robust cataloging and social networking features that LibraryThing has.

Our bookmarklet works by transcending ISBNs, using what LibraryThing knows about titles, authors and dates to fetch other editions of a work. In limited tests I’ve found it picks up around 90% of LibraryThing titles.

Information wants to be free

Our commitment to open data is long-standing. We’ve railed against OCLC for its desire to lock up book metadata.

But we’re not railing here. We think it’s perfectly fine for Google to control access to the scans it’s made. All we want to do is link to them, to send them traffic. It’s not clear to us that Google is trying to control access to its ID numbers.

You can see and edit the data here. Full XML downloads of the data are also available there.

*Come to think of it, it works like Google.
**The system is overzealous. It often refuses to show me Google Blog Search pages in Firefox because I look at LibraryThing’s blog coverage too much.
***It’s quite amazing what a bookmarklet can do. We could have never done it if Altay hadn’t shown us the way in this sort of Javascript. The script itself is, however, pretty amateurish–a notice attempt at what Altay did expertly.

As we put on the bookmarklet: “Google and Google Book Search are registered trademarks of Google. LibraryThing is not affiliated in any way with Google or the many libraries that have so generously provided Google with their books and bibliographic metadata, although we share a love of books, a desire to make information as freely available as possible, and similar opinions about evil.”

Labels: features, google, google book search, new feature, new features

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Introducing Lindsey (and thanks to Cliff!)

Lindsey Nichols (LibraryThing: lindseynichols) just joined the LibraryThing team as our “assistant librarian”—bringing the total librarians on staff count up to two! She’s going to be helping us out part time from the “Boston office”,* helping with emails, answering questions, dealing with account issues, mailing out CueCats, and whatever else we decide to throw at her.

Lindsey in a nutshell: She got her library degree from Simmons, and also has an MFA in creative writing. Clearly, she should be contributing to Help in Haiku endeavor on the new WikiThing. Lindsey’s favorite authors include Shelley Jackson, George Saunders, Peter Matthiessen, and Carson McCullers. She enjoys baking, reading commodity histories, and viewing educational museum taxidermy. Also long walks on the beach.**

You can email Lindsey at lindseyAT

I also wanted to make sure that we thanked Clifford Vickrey (LibraryThing: dinner_bell), our excellent and tireless intern over the summer. Cliff was amazingly likeable*** guy, who refused to sit anywhere except on the floor, and was an excellent chauffeur in the pouring rain. Thanks to him. We’ve also decided to give his entire school (Colby) free LibraryThing accounts, so watch for news on that.****

*aka, Abby’s apartment
**ok, fine, I added that last part.
***so sayeth Tim
****We’re thinking of giving free accounts to students at a handful of schools (starting with our own alma maters, of course).

Labels: 1

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Downtime 2am tonight (Wednesday)

We’re going to make some database changes tonight, starting at 2am Eastern US and continuing for 1-3 hours.

Labels: 1