Archive for June, 2009

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Widget Contest Winners

Back in March we updated the widgets for sharing a bit of your LibraryThing library on your blog or other web page. We asked for your best widget design, and a bunch of you delivered the goods. I know its been over a month since the contest closed, and would like to assure you that this is at least 80% due to making cool new things for LibraryThing, and only 20% due to the creation of a company skateboarding gang. Such is Springtime.

First Prize. These five winners get a one year membership to the site. Transferable to a loved one if desired. Also their choice of a CueCat or t-shirt. The top 3 will go into the preset styles list on the make widget page.

paradoxosalpha‘s entry reminds me of a math classroom. I’m going to put it in the preset styles as “classroom.” Steal it.

Besides having a great comic collection, stephmo displays them with gusto. Many users do a cool things using the tags from their library to create themed widgets, with a background style to match. Look for it in the preset styles as “shazam.” Steal it.

gordon361 submits another one in green. The covers that float through here are often biographies, military, or history related, and they look very at home on this poker table green background. Its going in the presets as “Poker Table.” Steal it.

pratchettfan‘s widget looks very at home on his blog where it resides. I like his use of color matching. Steal it.

poxd painted outside the lines a bit, using our API and some code from Yahoo to create this. It was too good not to reward.

Second Prize. These 10 winners will recieve their choice of a CueCat or t-shirt.

In no particular order (links go to the widget):

Everyone who submitted to the Contest threads will recieve a laptop/car sticker, a real-world widget.

If you’re one of the entrants, send a comment to user timspalding or email to claim your prize. Include your member name, mailing address, and choice of prize, if applicable.

(post by Luke, not Tim)

Labels: contests, widgets

Monday, June 29th, 2009

More servers, less sleep

We just finished moving about a dozen of our original servers from our “colo” in Maine to one in Somerville, where another dozen were waiting. In the process, we’ve basically doubled our server power.

We’re still waiting to get all our metrics back up, and we have a few weeks of retasking servers (a lot will be wearing different hats), but, so far, the results have been very encouraging. We are faster today, and will be getting faster tomorrow. We have a lot more memory, disk space and system redundancy too—so keep adding books.

We’ve collected all our pictures on a Flickr tag Great LibraryThing Server Schlepp. Here are some of the better ones.

The move was a group affair. Abby, Sonya, Mike, Dan and I did all the physical work. Our Australian systems administrator directed us by video chat—and burned through his monthly bandwidth doing it. Abby and I did a trial run with one server on Wednesday. The rest pulled an all-nighter, except Sonya who arrived like a well-rested and showered cavalry at 7am. When we were done, Mike and I went back to my parents’ in Cambridge and slept like logs. Abby, who was taking care of a toddler, stayed up the whole day. Ouch—and kudos to her.

Labels: new features, servers

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Reviews in many languages

I’ve added a bunch of features around the language that members write reviews in.

Reviews by language. The result is to make LibraryThing more attractive for non-English users—they now get reviews in their own language by default. A few languages, especially our Dutch, French and German sites, already have a decent number of reviews, and this should make it more fun for all non-English users to review books.

For the English-only members, the feature is mostly negative—it’s now easy to screen out the clutter of reviews in languages you don’t understand.

Most popular works have reviews in other languages. Something like the Da Vinci Code has reviews in thirteen languages, including twelve in Dutch, three in Swedish, two in Catalan and one in Greek! (“Un dels millors llibres que he llegit mai”, “Το λάτρεψα”—maybe it’s better in translation!)

Reviews uClassified: Most reviews have already been assigned to a language. Rather than use the default language in LibraryThing profiles, which turns out to be very, very weakly related to the language members write their reviews in, I took advantage of the excellent language classification service offered by uClassify ( uClassify runs a Bayesian filter on a piece of text and sends back a list of languages, and confidence scores.

It isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good. Only very high scores were accepted as definitive. Short reviews weren’t sent for the same. As a result, about 1/8 of LibraryThing’s 730,267 reviews remain as “not set.”

Feature changes. A bunch.

  • You can now edit your reviews language everywhere you can edit or enter a review.
  • Your library statistics page (link) now shows how many reviews you’ve written in every language. Mostly importantly this shows the number of reviews that haven’t been assigned to a language.
  • For reviews going forward your default language is set on your account page.
  • The catalog now has a “Reviews language” field and a special search for all your reviews in a given language (eg., reviews in English, language not set). These links are available from your stats page).
  • You can Power Edit review languages, and when you’re looking at all your reviews in a language, if it differs from your default language, you will get a link to make all unset reviews be in your default language. For example, here are all your unset reviews (link).

Statistics. The numbers turned out something like this.

English/Unset: 650,988
Dutch: 8,636
French: 4,666
German: 4,651
Spanish: 4,463
Italian: 2,876
Swedish: 2,329
Danish: 1,587
Norwegian: 1,231
Portuguese: 1,098
Finnish: 662
Catalan: 443

To be done, talked about. As usual, there’s more to do. So far, there’s no good list of recent or top reviews by language. Come to discuss it on Talk and suggest other improvements.

Labels: book reviews, catalan, french, german, greek, languages, new feature, new features

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Flash-mob catalog party in Omaha

Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts has planned a flash-mob cataloging party in Omaha, Nebraska on Wednesday, June 24th, between 9:30am and 5pm. They have a 600 volume library to catalog and can use all the help they can get. They recommend arriving between 9:30-10am, but come whenever for however long you can!

Volunteers will be honored with a complimentary Bemis Center membership and some delicious snacks. Contact BemisCenter or email ( if you’re able to attend. Directions here on their website.

Labels: flash mob, flash-mob cataloging

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Collections in Widgets and Import

The new collections feature is making its way around the site. Two new features now, thanks to Mike:

Collections in widgets
There’s a new option on the widget builder page that allows you to show books only from designated collection(s). Make a widget that shows off your “Currently reading” collection, or your “wishlist”!

Talk post about it.

Collections in import
Want to import books directly into your wishlist? Or another collection? The Universal Import now makes that possible. After you upload your file, you can pick which collection to put all the books into.

Talk post about it.

Labels: collections, import, widgets

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

June Early Reviewer Books

The June batch of Early Reviewer books is up! We’ve got 68 books this month, and a grand total of 1,796 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 Friday, June 26th 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, Australia, France and Germany. Make sure to check the flags by each book to see if it can be sent to your country.

And if you haven’t been paying attention, we just released Collections. This is great for Early Reviewers who need to review their book but don’t necessarily want to keep it in their library. Just make an Early Reviewers collection, and put the book there. That way the book (and review) stay associated with you, but you can, if you like, keep it separate from Your Library!

Thanks to all the publishers participating this month!

Howard Books Canongate Books HarperCollins
Crossway Scribner Raven Tree Press
Touchstone Steerforth Press Bloomsbury
Hachette Book Group Ecco Demos Medical Publishing
Bantam Open Letter WaterBrook Press
Doubleday Canada Bottletree Books HighBridge
Chin Music Press Bell Bridge Books Henry Holt and Company
Orca Book Publishers Delacorte Press Workman Publishing
Bethany House Scholastic Masterstroke
St. Martin’s Press St. Martin’s Minotaur Ballantine Books
St. Martin’s Griffin Beaufort Books Conari Press
Bancroft Press The Permanent Press Skyhorse Publishing
Phoenix Books WEbook Viking Books

Labels: early reviewers, LTER

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Collections, at last

It’s arrived. Members can organize their books into “collections.”

The Motive. From the beginning, LibraryThing members have used the site for different things. Some used it to list only the books they own, others what they’ve read and a few even just the books they wanted. Meanwhile, people like me used it for everything—owned, read, lost, destroyed, wanted—using tagging as our sole way of keeping everything straight. But even tag-zealots like me had to admit there were times you wanted sharper distinctions—”buckets” or “sub-libraries”—and ways to tie those to how you connected with other members and with book recommendations. New members, whether familiar with tags or not, were regularly asking for some way to do wishlists and currently-reading lists.

The Feature. The feature, literally years in the making, gives members the ability to separate out categories of books, like “Wishlist” and “Currently reading” more definitely than could be accomplished with tags. Each collections works like a mini library and can be separately viewed, sorted and searched. Other members can see your collections, on your profile and elsewhere. Features like member-to-member connection and book recommendations react to the new system as well. (See below on integration progress.)

As we offer users new flexibility, we avoid forcing members into “our” way of thinking about books. We’ve provided a number of default collections—Your library, Wishlist, Currently reading, To read, Read but unowned and Favorites. Data from these collections can be aggregated across all users, and their names are even translated on LibraryThing’s non-English sites. But you can also create your own collections, and remove ours. And you can ignore collections entirely, keeping everything in “Your library.”

A Work in Progress. As members know, we play things pretty fast and lose here. Our motto is “beta, forevah!” But collections had to be different. Before public release we subjected it to a month of testing in our large (and non-exclusive) BETA Group. We cannot thank that group enough for all the work they did, and the passion they showed.

We hope we got most of the major bugs, but the feature is not “finished”—and this is hardly the last blog post you’ll see about the feature! Most significantly, collections is now mostly a “cataloging” feature, with only limited reach to other areas of the site. Although you can specify how collections affects member connections and recommendations—so you can stop having your Wishlist or for that matter your husband’s books running the social and recommendation parts of the site—implementation is basic and, in light of extraordinary collections-related load, there’s a lot of caching in place. We left a few features out in order to get it the main features out now.*

We also think “unfinished” (we prefer not prematurely specified) features are the best way to engage users, and get the best for everyone. Come and contribute on Recommended Site Improvements and Bug Collectors. We also have a Announcement post in New Features.

*We had spec’ed out a complex interaction between reading-dates and “Currently reading.” But the system was probably more than most members wanted. And it certainly was taking a long time to finish, so, for now at least “Currently reading” is just a collection.

Credits: Chris (conceptDawg) headed up the project, doing most of the user interface and a majority of the back-end code. Chris and I (timspalding) designed the feature together, and I did some core back-end code. Abby (ablachly) didn’t code, but she dogged us about it for years. (I’m not sure what she’s going to do with herself now.) But the most important factor was the members. Members, particularly the BETA group, contributed to the effort as I’ve never seen it—not in any website or project, ever. Chris and I owe members an enormous amount. (I’ll be blogging about this specifically soon. It needs telling.)

Top photo by radiant_guy” (Flickr, CC-SA).

Labels: cataloging, collections, new feature, new features, tagging