Archive for January, 2009

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Twitter your books to LibraryThing

We’ve added integration with Twitter, the popular SMS/microblogging site. Basically, it’s an easy way to add a book to your LibraryThing while standing in a bookstore, library or friend’s house.

Go to the new Edit your profile: Sites page to add your username. Once you follow LThing, you can direct message at any time to add a book to your library.

D LThing [ISBN or Title] #tag1, #tag2, etc.

Add my wife’s novel, Every Visible Thing with the tag “wishlist”:
D LThing 0066212898 #wishlist

Add Huckleberry Finn:
D LThing Huckleberry Finn

Search always goes off Amazon for now. It picks the first edition if you don’t specify.

Coming soon: We’ll be integrating deeper soon, so you can let your Twitter friends know when you add or review books on LibraryThing.

Follow us: The LThing account will only be used to send out Twitter/LibraryThing messages. If you want to follow what I’m doing my Twitter account is LibraryThingTim.

Labels: new feature, new features, twitter

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Did we mention we sell barcode scanners?

Why did we order so many? Buy a CueCat barcode scanner for $15 or the LibraryThing office’s floor will give way and rain dot-com destruction on my family’s home.

CueCat scanners work on LibraryThing without any modification. Got one already? Read the handy—user created!—guide to using CueCats with LibraryThing.

Labels: barcode scanners, cuecat, cuecats

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Brains! Brains!

New Feature. I just released a minor feature, a new meme “Dead or Alive?” which breaks down your LibraryThing authors by whether they’re dead, alive or unknown. Check out mine or go to your profile and select “Memes” to find yours.

The information is based on the various authors’ birth and death dates in Common Knowledge. It works pretty much as you suspect. People with death dates are dead. People with birth dates only are alive, unless they’d be over 100. The rest are unknown. The system tracks when you use it, so I can add some statistics on whether your authors are more or less dead than others’ authors.

UPDATE: For clarity, you can change authors by going to their author page and editing in a birth or death date. For now, organizations are identified by being of the gender “n/a.”

New Books. I need no segue to mention two books I recently discovered. The first is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies from Chronicle Books, due out in April. According to the description:

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies — Pride and Prejudice and Zombies features the original text of Jane Austen’s beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action. As our story opens, a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield as Elizabeth wages war against hordes of flesh-eating undead. Complete with 20 illustrations in the style of C. E. Brock (the original illustrator of Pride and Prejudice), this insanely funny expanded edition will introduce Jane Austen’s classic novel to new legions of fans.”

It’s an amusing idea. Taking on classics from a different vantage point has been done many times—think Wide Sargasso Sea, whose heroine is the “madwoman in the attic” of Jane Eyre. Others have have done prequels and sequels to famous works; at a low-point of my youth I read the entirety of Heathcliff—The return to Wuthering Heights. But has anyone taken the full text of a classic and inserted scenes of an entirely different character? The possibilities are endless. It’s the tragic story of star-crossed lovers set against the backdrop of 16th-century Verona—and an alien invasion! (Working title: Romeo and Juliet and Aliens).*

Another good titles is Jailbait Zombie by Mario Acevedo, picked up by Sonya at the recent American Library Association meeting in Denver. According to Sonya’s friend, another zombie-lover (but not literally), Zombie Jailbait “isn’t as good as the author’s Undead Kama Sutra,” an assessment that brings into high relief the problem with comparatives.

* I’m looking for other good titles. There is, of course, the moving story of two parents locked in a tragic custody battle over their young son—and stalked by a killer from another planet (Kramer versus Kramer versus Predator), but the movie is better known than the book.

UPDATE: A commentor points out All the World’s a Grave by John Reed, piecing together Shakespearian lines into a new play. The granddaddy is Pingres of Halicarnassus’ lost reworking of the Iliad, inserting a pentameter of his own creation between Homer’s hexameters (here). Those aren’t quite what I’m talking about.

Hat-tip to Lux Mentis for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Labels: humor, new feature, new features, zombies

Monday, January 26th, 2009

January Early Reviewer bonus batch

We just posted a bonus batch of Early Reviewer books for Janurary! Spiegel & Grau are offering 100 copies each of two new books.

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 Wednesday, February 4th at 6PM EST.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. The books in this batch can be sent to the US only.


Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

LibraryThing and CIG—the deal!

LibraryThing has just partnered up with Cambridge Information Group, which owns Bowker, AquaBrowser, ProQuest, Serials Solutions and RefWorks.

The deal went down as follows:

  • CIG bought a minority stake in LibraryThing. I still own a majority of the company myself.
  • CIG, through Bowker, is now the exclusive distributor of LibraryThing for Libraries, our cool catalog-enhancement project. LTFL puts tags, recommendations and reviews directly into your library catalog (see the Seattle Public Library for an example).

It is an excellent deal. We got a new minority owner, with a lot of experience in the book world (but with different strengths than our other minority partner, AbeBooks), much-needed growth money and a great opportunity to reach more libraries.

There is no downside whatsoever. Nothing else has changed. Member data stays with us, under the same rules. All our free, public or Creative-Commons data, including covers, stays as it was. Management and majority ownership stay with me. We stay small, quirky and in Maine.

Selling LibraryThing for Libraries. We are overjoyed that Bowker is taking over sales and marketing of LibraryThing for Libraries. LibraryThing for Libraries has been a success, with almost 150 libraries so far.* But we aren’t salespeople—the libraries mostly came to us. Sonya has done a great job as stand-in-salesperson, but neither she or anyone else at LibraryThing has sales experience, let alone to libraries. We’re programmers and librarians!

Partnering with Bowker and its extraordinary sales team gives us the chance to reach out to many more libraries—and lets the LibraryThing team do what we do best—make things.

Don’t worry. LibraryThing for Libraries pricing isn’t changing. We’re still in charge of tech support. And we’ll still be going to the big library conferences and usually have our own booth—jumping over to Bowker’s for presentations and such. The rhino stays. We just have more people to rhinotoss with.**

Moola. LibraryThing has been profitable for a while, but we didn’t have much of a cushion. It was a nail-biter. We needed servers and new employees, but what if we had a few down months? And did I mention the economy is sick? (Cut to Tim worrying.)

The CIG deal frees us from worry and gives us room to grow. While the rest of the economy downsizes, we’re going to build and hire. We had already bought two new servers and brought on an employee and a temp to replace Abby for a while. More is coming. Did I mention we’re hiring? Oh, we’re also looking for library programmers, wherever.**

Partners. For us the big sell was the Bowker sales team and the opportunity to work with some talented technical people. We look forward to working with Bowker, ProQuest and Serials Solutions. (We did get a sneak-peak at Serials Solution’s new “Summon” product, a sort of Google for your library—and think it’s excellent.) But we’re particularly happy to talk to the people at AquaBrowser, a wonderfully innovative Dutch company acquired by CIG last year. We’ve had a crush on AquaBrowser for some time now. Theirs was the first library catalog software (OPAC) to integrate LibraryThing for Libraries content directly into their software—a deal cemented in ten minutes over sushi and beer. We are going to try hard to think up projects that require face-to-face meetings in Amsterdam.

As a side deal, some LibraryThing data will be appearing in Bowker’s flagship Books in Print service. This was, however, planned before the larger agreement, and is a data sale like any other—only anonymous or aggregate information is provided. You can change who gets your reviews on your account page—anyone, just libraries or nobody at all.

Our shot. I have a simple internal label for this deal: We are going to get our shot. LibraryThing has done very well considering its humble origins and structure. If we had gone the venture capital route we’d have started with a lot more money, but we’d have to “flip it” about now–just when things were getting exciting. Instead, this deal means we get to keep our souls, and get our full shot at making and LibraryThing for Libraries everything we want them to be. That’s a wonderful opportunity.

For members, this is also great news. You’ve waited a long time for some features, and scaling has been a problem. Everything can’t happen right away, but it can happen. With your help and criticism we can continue to build the site you want, and support the community you created.***

*Eighty-five are done by us. The rest get LibraryThing for Libraries data though Aquabrowser MyDiscoveries.
**It wouldn’t be LibraryThing if I didn’t come as clean as I can. I made some money on the deal. I can’t say how much, but it wasn’t very much. It was essential to me that most of the money go to the company, because I’d rather have opportunities to do cool things than money and limits. (Kudos to my wife for seeing it this way too!) As you might imagine, I’ve had offers to sell out, and I’ve refused them. I am having the time of my frickin’ life. My work life was never like that before, and it bleeds over into everything. It is a joy, a pleasure and an honor to be building the scaffolding of site inhabited by so many interesting people doing so many interesting things.
***The averages won’t change, but Bowker may ditch our weird self-created metrics (eg., “circulation, but for books only, not counting ILL or renewals” a number absolutely nobody knows).

My thanks to the team at CIG for their patience, particularly CIG President Andy Synder, who wouldn’t take no for an answer and guided this deal through many shoals. It’s a confident, strategic company that looks ahead like this in a period of financial uncertainty. Thanks as well to Boris, Hannes and Russ at Abebooks and Amazon for sticking with this, to Angela and the team at Bowker who are so clearly going to make this work, and to Jasper and Taco over at AquaBrowser for promising to fly me to Holland—and hey, Curaçao is Dutch, right?—for bi-monthly very important work meetings.

Labels: bowker, CIG, deals, librarything for libraries

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Inauguration at the LibraryThing offices

Labels: 1

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Open Shelves Classification

The first draft of the top level of the Open Shelves Classification is ready.

If this means nothing to you, check out this post I wrote for our ideas blog, Thingology.

Want to help? Go to a work page in LibraryThing and scroll down to the bottom. You’ll find a chart of the top-level categories. If you see a good match, click on it. You’ll be prompted to say whether you know the book yourself or not. And then you’ll get to see how your classification vote match up with anyone else on the site.

You can classify anything in LibraryThing. If you want to help the most, however, click the “Find a random work” link here or below the classification chart. It’ll take you to a random work, but also contrive to get multiple members classifying the same works. The idea is that it’ll give us a good idea what categories are easy and obvious, and which are causing doubt.

Whatever you find, come and talk about it on the Open Shelves Classification group.

Labels: open shelves classification, osc

Monday, January 12th, 2009

New home page

We’ve been working on a new home page. Here’s our latest version, largely Alana‘s work.

Right now some users get it and some don’t. You can force it to show the new one or the old one.

Come talk about it here.

I shouldn’t forget to mention that members debated earlier mockups extensively (392 messages!). Wow. Kudos to Alana for keeping her cool in the face of a hundred-headed critic!

Labels: design, new features

Friday, January 9th, 2009

January Early Reviewer Books

The January batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 38 books this month, and a grand total 670 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 the end of the month— January 31st at 6pm EST.

Eligiblity: Publishers do things country-by-country. This month we have publishers who can send books to the US, Canada, the UK, Israel and Italy. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

12 Bantam Barbour Books
Candlewick Canongate Books Clotho Press Doubleday Books Doubleday Canada Foremost Press Gefen Publishing House Grand Central Publishing Henry Holt and Company IAP Picador Pomegranate Random House Canada Shambhala Springboard Press St. Martin’s Press The Overlook Press The Permanent Press Toby Press W.W. Norton Weinstein Books

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Friday, January 9th, 2009

Will you like it?

I added something I’ve been working off-and-on for about a year*: “Will you like it?” Here’s an example, correctly predicting that I will like Nabokov’s King, Queen, Knave:

You’ll find the section on work pages.

Because it requires a lot of processing, you have to click to get the result. Here it is, correctly predicting that I would not enjoy a popular book about Knitting:

Each assessment has a “certainty” score (eg., “high,” “low,” etc.) based largely on how popular the book is. You can see the raw scores by hovering over the downward arrow.

How good is it? Meh. It’sokay.

This is a devilishly hard algorithm to get right. I have some ideas for improvement, but it’s fundamentally a lark and a conversation piece at present, so I don’t want to waste too much time on it.

How it works. In case you’re interested, it works completely apart from our book-to-book recommendation system, or the system that aggregates those recommendations into member-specific lists of 1,000 recommended books. Instead, “Will you like it?” works directly from the data, examining the users who have a book and how their books relate to yours.

As such, it isn’t very good at sussing out where your tastes differ from those of people who share your books. For example, my large collection of books on Greek history match me up with people who enjoy other ancient history, but I am not that interested in early Republican Rome, no matter what the algorithm thinks.

What’s interesting? I’m not going to claim it’s perfect, but it’s interesting that, to my knowledge, nobody’s every tried this before.

I think this is yet another case of Amazon limiting the horizons of what people imagine online, particularly in the online book world. Amazon pioneered book-to-book and user-to-book reviews. The work was groundbreaking but it was also routed in commercial success. User-to-book recommendations drive customers to books they’ll like and book-to-book recommendations help them find the perfect book, as well as increase the number of items in each order. Giving people honest assessments of whether they’ll like a book is murkier. Does Amazon want to tell a customer they won’t enjoy something? And what if they’re wrong?

Meanwhile, LibraryThing succeeds by being fun and interesting, not by selling books. It gives us a rare freedom to invent features that don’t sell books, like our Unsuggester—what books will you hate?—and now this.

I started a topic to discuss it.

*Don’t worry. This didn’t distract. I just pushed two combination/separation bug fixes, and Chris and I are hard at work on the catalog, in preparation for some larger changes (ETA: one week?).

Labels: amazon, new features, recommendations