Archive for August, 2008

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Breaking Dawn review contest winners

The suspense is over—behold, the winners of the Breaking Dawn review contest!

When the contest closed on the 15th of August, there were already 119 reviews in (for a book that had been out just two weeks). As promised the top three reviews (those with the most “thumbs-up” when the contest closed) win a $50 gift card to Amazon, Abebooks, Booksense, or any independent bookseller of their choice, a LibraryThing t-shirt and a year’s free membership (to keep or give away).

The top three are:

Seven runners up (the next seven reviews with the most “thumbs-up”) win a LibraryThing t-shirt and a year’s free membership (to keep or give away).

And then forty reviewers were randomly chosen from everyone who both wrote a review and voted for others’ reviews. They’ll each receive a year’s free membership (to keep or give away).

Congratulations to everyone who participated! Winners, email Lindsey: to claim your prize (include your user name)! If you won a tshirt, include your mailing address, and preferred t-shirt color and size (see the choices here).

Labels: Breaking Dawn, contest, reviews

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Cover page changes

I’ve revamped each work’s “covers” page—a.k.a. “change cover”—to emphasize the higher-quality images among out 1,000,000 covers.

1. The images are bigger, so you can see quality, and because covers are so beautiful.
2. The algorithm now sorts larger covers higher, so that members are more likely to pick higher-quality versions of their cover. The existing sort order was reinforcing the use of low-quality images, even when LT had high-quality ones.
3. High-quality images now say “high quality” and list the original dimensions.

Here are some examples: The Odyssey, Pnin, The Kama Sutra, Pudd’nhead Wilson, Origin of Species, Life of Pi, Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Labels: book covers, covers, new features

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

News you can… discuss

Big news today—Amazon now owns 100% of our rival and bête noire, Shelfari.

With a lot to do today, I don’t have time to blog-ify it, but you can read about it on Talk and talk back. We’ve always relied on members to direct the site. We could use your advice now more than ever!

Here’s the post on Talk:

Labels: 1

Monday, August 18th, 2008

August Early Reviewer Bonus Batch

St. Martin’s Press is responsible for this month’s unprecedented and huge Early Reviewer bonus batch! They’re giving out 1,000—yes, one thousand—copies of Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland.

The book is available to residents of the US and Canada, and the deadline to request a copy is Sunday, August 31st at 6pm EDT.

Request your copy here:

About the book: it’s a brand new series featuring Elizabeth Phoenix, a cop with extraordinary psychic powers who’s hot on the trail of a ruthless murderer- and whose life is about to change forever. Bestselling author Lori Handeland delivers and unforgettable heroine and a pulse-pounding series that you don’t want to miss.

And, on their website, you can sign up to receive In The Beginning, the free prequel story to Any Given Doomsday.

Labels: bonus batch, early reviewers, LTER, St Martin's

Monday, August 11th, 2008

August Early Reviewer books

The August batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 56 books this month, and a grand total 1,274 copies to give out.

First, make sure to sign up for Early Reviewers. If you’ve already signed up, please check your mailing address and make sure it’s correct.

Then request away! The list of available books is here:

The deadline to request a copy is Sunday, August 17th at 6pm EDT.

Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to tons of new countires, including the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, France, Germany, and the Philippines! Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers, new and old!

Algonquin Books Andrews McMeel Publishing Ballantine Books
bluechrome Publishing Cuneiform Delacorte Press
Delta F+W Publications Faber and Faber
Loving Healing Press McBooks Press Modern History Press
Open Letter Other Press Picador
PublicAffairs Raven Tree Press Santa Fe Writer’s Project
Solaris South Dakota State Historical Society Press Sparklight Press
St. Martin’s Griffin St. Martin’s Minotaur St. Martin’s Press
Thomas Nelson Tor Books Unbridled Books
University of Illnois Press W.W. Norton WaterBrook Press
Willow Ridge Press YMAA

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Monday, August 11th, 2008

LibraryThing Mobile upgrade for iPhone

A number of users have noticed that LibraryThing mobile ( looked weird on iPhones. We made a few changes and it now looks right.

We are, of course looking at more consequential upgrades. The main issue right now is the lack of an ability to add items to LibraryThing. Anyway, that’s what I want to do—add books while standing at a bookstore, for example.

Labels: librarything mobile

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Series, Awards, Characters, Places

Some time ago we added pages for series. We’ve now added pages for three other Common Knowledge fields: Awards, Important Places and People/Characters.

All four page types, together with the author pages, now also sport extensive cross-linking, so you can get from Stephen King to the Bram Stoker Awards to Hannibal Lecter to the Marquis de Sade to Cornwall to Guenevere. (Bonus points if you can get back!)

Here are some observations on the various page types:

Awards. Awards are important to a lot of readers. Personally I have no use for them, but they’re fun to browse through. And there are so many! Sure, we’ve all heard of the British Book Awards or the Hugo. But how about the Compton Crook Award, Macavity Award or Printz Award?

Places. Some of the most interesting places are the small ones. Paris is already too much, and even Philadelphia. But Antarctica is small enough to take in, and large enough to be interesting. So too Martha’s Vineyard and Petra, Jordan (one part Left Behind, one part Indiana Jones and another academic).

But we need more for Faerie, Hell and particularly Moldova. As for Nuevo Rico, where are the Nuevo Ricans!

Speaking of odd, The Playboy Mansion is currently occupied by Shel Silverstein. What?

Series. Series pages aren’t new. But I might as well drop that series are the most complete, best Common Knowledge data. It’s not just Harry Potter, Star Wars or His Dark Materials, but also New American Nation, Time-Life: Mysteries of the Unknown and Hellenistic Culture and Society.

People/Characters. A lot of fun can be had here, particularly with characters that cross between fiction and non-fiction, like Lincoln and Alexander the Great and Pope Alexander VI. You will, of course, find familiar faces like Jack Aubrey, Gandalf and Sherlock Holmes.

Fun can be had with minor characters. Take Reepicheep from the Chronicles of Narnia. Can you remember which books he appears in? (It’s Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle; if you found that easy, how about Jill Pole?)

The “related” boxes can show up scarce data. For example, right now God is showing up related to 69 individuals. Jesus is number one, but he’s followed by Bernice Summerfield, apparently a character in Doctor Who. (Incidentally, Jesus is somewhat split between Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, etc.)

Post here or discuss on Talk.

Tim is gone! Incidentally, I am now on an official “code holiday.” I have at least three days without any obligations whatsoever, and I intend to stay in, order pizza, stop answering the door, stop answering the phone, stop writing on Talk, and even—gasp!—stop answering email. I may even put one of those “vacation auto-reply” messages up. After three days, I hope I have something.

Labels: awards, common knowledge, new features, series

Monday, August 11th, 2008

First and last words

“Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.”

Recognize that sentence? It is, of course, from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. How about?

“Now, what I want is, Facts.”

That’s from Dickens, Hard Times.

We just introduced new work-based Common Knowledge fields for “First words” and “Last words.” In the medium-to-long term, I’d love to work the data into a game—pick the sentence that goes with the work. If you’re not comparing computer manuals to novels, it can be hard.

Find out more here.

Labels: common knowledge, new features, quotes

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

A million free covers from LibraryThing

A few days ago, just before hitting thirty million books, we hit one million user-uploaded covers. So, we’ve decided to give them away—to libraries, to bookstores, to everyone.

The basics. The process, patterned after the cover service, is simplicity itself:

  1. Take an ISBN, like 0545010225
  2. Put your Developer Key and the ISBN into a URL, like so:
  3. Put that in an image tag, like so:
    <img src="">
  4. And your website, library catalog or bookstore has a cover.

Easy details. Each cover comes in three sizes. Just replace “medium” with “small” or “large.”

As with Amazon, if we don’t have a cover for the book, we return a transparent 1×1 pixel GIF image. So you can put the cover-image on OPAC pages without knowing if we have the image. If we have it, it shows; if we don’t, it doesn’t.

The Catch? To get covers, you’ll need a LibraryThing Developer Key—any member can get one. This puts a top limit on the number of covers you can retrieve per day—currently 1,000 covers. In fact, we only count it when a cover is made from the original, o our actual limit will be much higher. We encourage you to cache the files locally.

You also agree to some very limited terms:

  • You do not make LibraryThing cover images available to others in bulk. But you may cache bulk quantities of covers.
  • Use does not involve or promote a LibraryThing competitor.
  • If covers are fetched through an automatic process (eg., not by people hitting a web page), you may not fetch more than one cover per second.

You will note that unlike the new API to our Common Knowledge data, you are not required to link back to LibraryThing. But we would certainly appreciate it.

Caveats. Some caveats:

  • At present only about 913,000 covers are accessible, the others being non-ISBN covers.
  • Accuracy isn’t guaranteed–this is user data–and coverage varies.
  • Some covers are blurrier than we’d like, particularly at the “large” size. This is sometimes about original files and sometimes about our resizing routines. We’re working on the latter.

Why are you doing this? The goal is half promotional and half humanitarian.

First, some background. This service “competes” with Amazons cover service, now part of Amazon Web Services. Amazon’s service is, quite simply, better. They have far more covers, and no limit on the number of requests. By changing the URL you can do amazing things to Amazon covers.

The catch is that Amazon’s Terms of Service require a link-back. If you’re trying to make money from Amazon Affiliates, this is a good thing. But libraries and small bookstores have been understandably wary about linking to Amazon. Recent changes in Amazon’s Terms of Service have deepened this worry.

Meanwhile, there are a number of commercial cover providers. They too are probably, on average, better. But they cost money. Not surprisingly many libraries and bookstores skip covers, or paste them in manually from publisher sites.

That’s too bad. Publishers and authors want libraries and bookstores to show their covers. Under U.S. law showing covers to show off books for sale, rental or commentary falls under Fair Use in most circumstances. (We are not lawyers and make no warrant that your use will be legal.) We’ve felt for years that selling covers was a fading business. Serving the files is cheap and getting cheaper. It was time for someone to step up.*

So we’re stepping up. We’re hoping that by encouraging caching and limiting requests, we can keep our bandwidth charges under control. (If it really spikes, we’ll limit new developer keys for a while; if you submit this to Slashdot, we will be Slashdotted for sure!) And it will be good for LibraryThing—another example of our open approach to data. Although none of our competitors do anything like this—indeed our Facebook competitors don’t even allow export although, of course, they import LibraryThing files!—we think LibraryThing has always grown, in part, because we were the good guys—more “Do occasional good” than “Do no evil.”

If we build it, they will come. If the service really pick up, we’re going to add a way for publishers, bookstores and authors to get in on it. We’d be happy to trade some bandwidth out for what publishers know—high-quality covers, author photos, release dates and so forth. We’ve already worked with some publisher data, but we’d love to do more with it.

*In the past, we had been talking to the Open Libary project about a joint effort. We even sent them all our covers and a key to the identifiers that linked them. But nothing came of it. To some extent that was our fault, and to some extent not. (I think them and us would differ on the blame here.) In any case, I was tired of the time and transactional friction, and wanted to try a different approach.

Labels: apis, book covers, covers, open data

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Thirty Million Books!

LibraryThing has hit 30,000,000 books cataloged! We also recently hit 1,000,000 user-uploaded covers and 500,000 pieces of Common Knowledge data.* Tags stand just shy of 39 million.

Thirty million—more specifically 30,011,748—was the number of books in the Library of Congress, the largest “real” library in the world. Having passed two and three—Harvard and the Boston Public Library—our sights were on the LC. But the LC grew and the number changed (see ALA fact sheet), and now they have 32,124,001 books (the one at the end is priceless). So it’ll be another month or so before we surpass them.**

The thirty-millionth book was The Making of a Surgeon by William A. Nolan (Wikipedia). It was entered by new member RobGillespie, and tagged “biography, medicine, surgery.” Rob gets a free account.

The Making of a Surgeon, a landmark 1968 personal account, represents one of LibraryThing’s strengths well. Amazon lists it at 393,843, but it’s 74,730 on LibraryThing and in 1,300 WorldCat libraries. So, while it may not be selling well this year, it’s on a lot of shelves and “in a lot of heads.” If your surgeon went to school in the 1970s, there’s a good chance he read it, much as doctor today might be reading Atul Gawande. One doctor-turned-novelist who read Nolen was Walker Percy, whose library members entered into LibraryThing. Small world.

The book is even more appropriate in light of the current publisher, Mid-List Press. Mid-List, a Minnesota non-profit publisher***, focuses on a segment of the book world, arguing:

“In the past, publishers built their reputations on midlist books. In recent years, however, such factors as the enormous prices paid for high-profile “frontlist” books and the growing domination of mass merchandisers have eaten away at the traditional support for the midlist.”

My take is somewhat more optimistic—that the logic of the Long Tail is and will open up demand for mid-list and “bottom-of-list” titles. LibraryThing has a part in that too. One reason people read bestsellers is to talk about them with others. Sites like LibraryThing make it possible to have that sort of shared reading experience well down the Long Tail.

The hub of the Hub of the universe (Credit)

*In commemoration of the Common Knowledge milestone, we have released all the data VIA a free, creative-commons-licensed API. There’s more free data coming soon—rhymes with “hovers.” We’re doing load-testing now.
**For the record, I am under no illusion LibraryThing is “as good” as the LC, or even as big in any real sense. For starters, we have a lot of duplicates—the unique count is more like five million. From a database and programming perspective, however, the number is fun.
***Among Mid-List’s many books, I noticed The Writers’ Brush (LT), a book of artwork by famous writers, which promises access to “the manuscript sketches that Fyodor Dostoevsky made of his characters, or the can-can dancers secretly drawn by Joseph Conrad.”

Labels: milestones

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Free Web Services API to Common Knowledge

Introducing the LibraryThing Web Services API.

The API will eventually do many things.

For starters it includes all of the data in LibraryThing’s Common Knowledge project, our groundbreaking “fielded wiki” for interesting book information (see original blog post). It includes fields like series, important characters, important places, author dates, author burial places, agents, edits, etc. If you’re interested in building or enhancing book-data applications, this should be very interesting.

Common Knowledge is always in progress, but the results so far have been quite impressive. Members have made over 500,000 edits, and certain data types have become exceedingly useful and comprehensive. I’m particularly proud of our Series coverage (eg., Star Wars), better—we think—than any commercial series data. 

Oh, and it’s free! The data is made available under the highly permissive Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license.

Architecturally, the Web Services API is a straightforward REST XML-based API.  The back-end is modular, allowing us to easily expand the available methods in the future. It’s request and response styles were modeled closely on Flickr’s API—Chris is a big fan—so it should make it easier to find similar sample code. The documentation resembles theirs too.

Kudos to Chris for his work on this and let us know what you think (here).

Update: The other big announcement—another data release—won’t be happening today. Too much to do!

Labels: api, apis, common knowledge, web services

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Abebooks news: The scoop for LibraryThing

Today Abebooks, the Canadian bookseller, announced that it was being acquired by Amazon, a company that needs little introduction. (See Amazon press release.)

Abebooks owns a minority stake in LibraryThing. This means that, after regulatory approval and finalization, Amazon will become, through Abebooks, a minority investor in LibraryThing.

I congratulate Amazon on a shrewd acquisition. Abebooks is a great company, full of wonderful people. They have accomplished great things (link). I have no inside info, but I can foresee Amazon’s extraordinary technical infrastructure giving Abe a big lift.
Here’s the scoop:

  • LibraryThing did not have any knowledge of or influence over this deal.
  • The majority of LibraryThing is in my hands. Abebooks holds a minority of the shares, with certain notable but limited rights. This situation does not change when Amazon acquires Abebooks.
  • Amazon will not get access to your data. The LibraryThing/Abebooks terms are specific. Abe gets only anonymized and aggregate data, like recommendations, and they can only use it on Abebooks sites (eg.,, Nothing has changed here.
  • Abebooks customers won’t see much a difference. The name will survive and the site will continue. Both employees and management will remain in Canada.
  • LibraryThing remains LibraryThing. We will continue to uphold and advance LibraryThing values, including open data, strict privacy rules and support for libraries and independent bookstores.

As always, I want your feedback on how to make LibraryThing the best book site on the web. I’ve started a Talk post to talk about all of this, or you can comment here.

Stay tuned for two more blog posts, both major. We have rushed two projects forward that demonstrate LibraryThing’s commitment to open data and support for libraries and other book lovers.

Tim Spalding


  • Check out the blog post of Boris Wertz, long-time COO of Abe and co-founder of JustBooks.
  • Local Victoria TV has a story with a good photo of Hannes, the CEO.
  • It’s funny to watch the news fly by. 90% of the news stories rehash the press release without pointing to it, as if they are engaging in reporting. Odd

Labels: abebooks, amazon, canada