Archive for the ‘new features’ Category

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Recommendations, part 2

I’ve added a few improvements to the new member recommendations:

  • You can now dismiss individual recommendations and never see them again.
  • I’ve added a checkbox to make member book recommendations reciprocal–so both books recommend each other.
  • The Recommendations Zeitgeist page is more complete.

Labels: new feature, new features

Monday, May 26th, 2008

LibraryThing recommendations!

LibraryThing Recommendations—called “the best feature on the site” by one user—are back and much better than before.

You can find recommendations at the top of your profile page. Or check out mine.

The new recommendations include:

  • A large number of primary recommendations for ever member—usually 1,000—based on a single comprehensive algorithm.
  • Individual recommendation lists for each member’s tags.
  • Filtering of recommendations by popular LibraryThing tags.
  • Individual lists of other members’ recommendations (member recommendations were added two weeks ago)
  • Up to 500 so-bad-they’re-good recommendations, building off the LibraryThing Unsuggester, and called “Your Unsuggester.”* We hope “What I shouldn’t read” has some meme legs.
  • A “why” feature for each recommendation, laying out what the recommendation was based on.
  • A pony.**

I let the recommendations themselves out early—see the original talk post, with over 140 messages!—and members had mostly positive reactions. Those who don’t like them can perhaps be molified by the greater number and ways to filter and angle the recommendations.

Recommendations now change daily—faster if you are below 200 books and keep adding them. The system keeps track of all recommendations and when you received them. In the near future I plan to provide personalized recommendation emails based on new recommendations.

I’ve created a new Talk thread to discuss the changes, and suggest changes. My thanks to those who participated in the initial thread, influencing development in a number of important ways.

*If Thomas Jefferson is in Hell, I am confident the Devil is torturing him with books from Jefferson’s Unsuggester List—heavy on the chick- and tween-lit!
*With apologies to

Labels: new feature, new features, recommendations

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Works, editions, ISBNs and cocktails

We got your Harry Potter and the Angus an Orchloch right here!

Short verson.I’ve just completed a major change in the “substructure” of LibraryThing’s data, the “works system” that links different editions together. The system is better and will allow more betterness down the road. It was the reason we were down most of last night. We regret that, but think the change will prove worth it.

Long version—What are “Works?” LibraryThing’s work system brings users together around the books they’ve read, not the peculiarities of publisher, format or even language. Works are created and tended by members, who “combine” editions together into works. Anyone can do it, but the die-hards created a large and active group—Combiners!—to trade tips, debate philosophy, muster effort—and complain about the system!

Combiners is a remarkable community, and one that has gone without a nod from me for some time. I hope these changes encourage them, and the prospect of future improvements built on surer footing.

The Combiners! know the stakes, as their group logo tells us.

Since the beginning I’ve promoted the idea of the “cocktail party” test.* This test answers whether two books belong to the same work by asking whether their readers would, in casual conversation, own up to reading the same book or not. So, for example, in such a context it wouldn’t matter if you had read a book in its hardcover or paperback edition, or listened to it on CD. If the cute girl with the backless dress mentions she’s fond of the Unbearable Lightness of Being, the edition is immaterial (but see this link). I also suspect that title differences occasioned by marketing considerations—eg., Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (UK) vs. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (US)—wouldn’t matter. Nor should language itself matter; few would turn a cold shoulder to a Finnish Tolkien fan merely because he read Tolkien in Finnish.**

What’s Changed? The core concept used to be that a work consisted of a discrete set of title-author pairs. We chose title-author to emphasize the loose, verbal nature of the cocktail party test, and because ISBNs are much less perfect than many believe.*** These title-author pairs we called “editions.”

Unfortunately, there are a small number of works that can’t be identified based on title and author alone. This happens particularly in science fiction and graphic novels. (Apparently the Fantasy Hall of Fame currently entombs two distinct works—same title, same authors but different contents and publisher. Someone should be punished for that.) My bête noire are Cliff’s Notes filed in with the works they “interpret.” No appletini for you “Great Expectations”!

The system still automatically assigns new editions based on author and title. But I’ve added ISBNs to the mix, so members can combine and separate editions looking at and according to their ISBNs.

Other changes:

  • Title-author-ISBN bundles are now distiguished by the smallest details, so you can separate “Hard Times” from “Hard times” from “Hard times” with a period at the end. It has vastly increased the number of editions in the system. (There are now more than 1,200 editions of the Hobbit!) This is was mostly a technical decision.
  • The original system produced a few “hash collisions,” utterly different books thrown in together unhappily. This has been a long-running defect—and complaint. The new system will allow their separation, although existing ones will need to be separated.
  • The Combination and Debris (renamed “Editions”) pages should be faster. Some will start—and stall!—on a message about updating edition information. Once the editions have been calculated, the page will be faster.

As mentioned above, the new system was responsible for our extended downtime last night. Between a few mistakes and a database just shy of 27 million books, it took longer than we thought. I hope that the changes prove worthwhile in and of themselves.

Being much better designed, the new system should enable:

  • Edition-level pages
  • Edition-to-edition and work-to-work relationships
  • Member and book matching that takes editions into account
  • An end to the “dead languages” exception to the cocktail party test.
  • More opportunities for me to discuss the Pop-Up Kama Sutra at library conferences.

I’ve created a Talk thread for members who want to discuss the changes.

*Perhaps wishing I’d get invited to a few more cocktail parties! Speaking of which, are you going to Book Expo America 2008 in Los Angeles? We are.
**Whether you choose to avoid the Finnish Tolkien fan at cocktail parties is, of course, up to you.
***In fact, publishers recycle ISBNs, steal ISBNs, make up ISBNs, print wrong ISBNs, apply ISBNs to large sets of seemingly discrete items and otherwise abuse the system all the time. Most of the time they work in a bookstore context. They aren’t really fit for a project of LibraryThing’s size and scope.

Labels: frbr, library science, new feature, new features, work pages, works

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Import upgrade

Mike—welcome Mike!*—has completed a major upgrade to the import system. The improvements are:

  • Better user interface.
  • Import now reads files from LibraryThing competitors, so you can move to us or synch your accounts.
  • Depending on the site, we pick up tags, reviews, ratings and comments. If you already have the books in your library, you avoiding adding the books again, but synch your user data.
  • The sites include Anobii, Shelfari and Goodreads. If you use someone else—there are more than 35 of them!—let us know. If the offer export—not all sites do—we can work it out.
  • If your file is formatted properly—formatted like the LibraryThing export or any of our competitors’—we now import non-ISBN books.

Import is still based on the idea that—when possible—LibraryThing re-fetches the bibliographic data. This adds another step, an “import queue.” But it also allows members to import full records, which no other site exports, and to get high-quality library data, if they want it.

Tell us what you think on Talk. It’s probably going to take a while to spell out what it does and doesn’t do and to update the old Adding and Importing FAQs.

*Mike (member: notmydadslibrary) is a new intern up here in Portland. This was a doozy of a first project!

Labels: import, new feature, new features

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Member book recommendations

I’ve just added a small new feature, Member recommendations. You can check it out under “Recommendations” here or here.*

Basically, you can now add your own recommendations to LibraryThing’s six (!) algorithmic recommendations. If you want, you can also leave a short explanation of your choice.

I’m throwing this one out pretty raw.** It’s available from the primary page of a work, and from its recommendation page, and on a single Member Recommendations page.

To be done:

  • A way to see all the recommendations you’ve given
  • A way to see all the recommendations others have applied to your books
  • Recommendation flagging
  • Up/down voting on recommendations?

Come talk about the feature and where it could go on Talk here.

*I hope to link to some better examples soon, one members start adding them. I find fiction recommendations very hard, so most of my recommendations so far have been off ancient history, which makes the feature seem much less interesting than it is!
**I’ve had this on ice for a while, while dealing with tags and scaling issues. I don’t think I’m going to be making major changes until Chris comes back from paternity leave later this week or next.

Labels: new feature, new features, recommendations

Friday, May 9th, 2008

BookSense Events!

We just added over six-hundred and fifty events to LibraryThing Local, LibraryThing’s portal for local bookstores, libraries and events.

The events come direct from our friends at BookSense, the nationwide organization of over 1,200 independent bookstores. They made their complete events calendar available to us, and we were only to happy to add all the events we didn’t already know about.

BookSense is the best; if you have a favorite local bookstore, chances are they’re a BookSense store.* BookSense also gets the best authors. Upcoming events include David Sedaris at Vroman’s in Pasadena and Salman Rushdie at Vroman’s and at Caucer’s in Santa Barbara. Of course, as happens with distributed data collection, not every BookSense store has their events in the feed. And some events had already been added by members. Be the total gain is some 660 upcoming events—a big leap. We’ll be updating from th BookSense feed periodically from now on, which should take some of the data-entry load off of dedicated LibraryThing members.

So, thanks to the people at BookSense for working with us on this, and happy event-attending to the rest of us.

PS: There’s a short article about this in the ABA’s Bookselling this Week by David Grogan.

*My favorites—Books, Etc., Longfellow Books and the Harvard Coop—are all BookSense stores. My wife spent much of her 20s working at another, Bookline Booksmith, together with her best friend, who went on to work at Booksense. So, I’ve wanted LibraryThing to do something BookSense since we started.

Labels: authors, booksense, librarything local, new feature, new features

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

Top bar better, cuter

I made some changes to the look and functionality of the “top bar” in Your Library. They include new “pads,” new icons, yellow and baby-blue colors and new tag functionality. Non-English users will also notice the labels can nw be translated–no more untranslateable “text as image.”




The tag bar includes a new new features. “Down” and “Across” control whether the tags are sorted “down” (like an index) or “across” (like some other things). You can also control the size of the text and the space between tags, and the number of columns to show.

Come talk about the change and suggest more on Talk.

Labels: new feature, new features, tags

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

New feature: Tag view / edit your tags

I’ve added a new feature—a “Tag view” for “Your library”, alongside the List and Shelf views.

The Tag view replaces the Tags tab. Like the tab, it shows your tags alphabetically, or by frequency and allows you to jump to a tag in your catalog.

But the tag view also allows you to edit your tags, “gardening them” in a very satisfying way. You can rename tags, delete tags or add tags. For example, from the tag view you can add “history” and “greece” everywhere you use the tag “greek history.” Editing is done in a lightbox, and “ajaxes” the changes back onto the screen with the “yellow fade technique.”

The technical infrastructure here is going to key to the upcoming (really) collections feature. Collections, which I think I’ll call “sets,” will turn the Tag view into “Sets/Tags.” (Anyway, that’s the plan!)

Let me know what you think about the new feature here, or on Talk.

Labels: new feature, new features, tags

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Covers: Better, Bigger, Blanks, Defaults and Statistics

Casual visitors are often surprised to learn that LibraryThing members have contributed more than 800,000 covers, for use when Amazon doesn’t have the right cover. It’s time to make the most of this strength!

I’ve added a five new features related to how LibraryThing handles covers. I hope you like the changes!

  1. Choose member-created “blank” covers for every book.
  2. Choose your default cover.
  3. Better cover “guessing”
  4. Cover Statistics and links to different cover types.
  5. Member-contributed covers now available in all sizes.
  6. Member-contributed covers now available in maximum quality.

Choose member-created “blank” covers for every book. Way back in November, I asked for members to send in images of blank covers–real, doctored and built from scratch–for books that have no other cover (see post and follow-up). More than a dozen members sent covers, often very many and beautiful. These covers are now available from the “change cover” page of every book. They vary from ordinary to fanciful, general or tailored to look like a specific publisher’s books. They’re a blast. Go crazy.

It’s hard to understate the care that some members lavish on projects like this, exercising their creative side and helping other members out. Check out the image credits, available under the display and when you roll over the images.

Choose your default cover. The same member-covers are also available as default covers, the cover you get when you have no other cover. You can change your default cover from every book’s change-cover page, as well as from your Cover Statistics.

Better cover “guessing”. This feature caused some members consternation when it was released provisionally a few days ago. Suddenly members got a whole bunch of new covers, some of which they didn’t want, with no way to opt out. I’ve added powerful opt-out options, so it’s time to reintroduce the feature.

The feature takes advantage of LibraryThing’s 800,000 member-uplaoded covers. If you have books from more than a few years ago, like I do, a lot of your books don’t have Amazon covers. Before now, you could choose these covers manually, replacing our “blank” cover with your own or someone else’s uploaded cover.

Now were taking that data—the covers people choose for a given ISBN—to “guess” at the covers for coverless books. In general, members choose the right cover for their edition, especially when LibraryThing can look at many members’ decisions. In the case of my books, LibraryThing found 69 covers. Only one is dead-wrong, with two others being subtle variants of the cover I have. Of course, you can easily switch to a different cover, a blank cover or no cover.

Cover Statistics and links to different cover types. I’ve added a page for Cover Statistics. It shows where all you covers come from, with a link to all the books in that category. It’s a great way to go through your blanks or confirm LibraryThing’s new “best guess” covers.

The Cover Statistics page also has a link to change your default cover. (In case you’re wondering, I’m working on a all-encompassing “preferences” page. One thing at a time.)

Member-contributed covers now available in all sizes. Until now, LibraryThing only displayed two sizes for member-contributed covers–tiny and medium. For the last eight months we’ve been saving large versions, but we didn’t use them. Storing all the sizes or making them on the fly scared us.

A new server and some technical changes have given us the opportunity to show covers at whateve size they’re needed. The result is a much more attractive and even Cover View, which scales from teeny to upsettingly large (see image).

Member-contributed covers now available in maximum quality. As said, we were not previously taking advantage of original images, but only two presized versions. Although early-on we didn’t store them—server space was just too dear—we have been storing original versions for about eight months. This amounts to some 300,000 out of 800,000 covers. (Of course, not all “originals” are actually large; some are thumbnails.)

The result is that some member-contributed covers can now be sized to elephantine dimensions within your catalog, and look great on work pages, which use medium-large images. Unfortunately, some covers look a bit “pixelated” at these large sizes. The examples below illustrate both effects:

A final word. I want to thank members who pushed me on this feature. Although the general change has been planned for some time, it received impetus from a “bug fix” that introduced many best-guess covers. Without an easy way to “opt-out” of guesses—without choosing another cover—a few members went bananas.

The were right to do so! It created a weird situation, one I realized the more when I spent an hour “gardening” my covers. Once again, it was a pleasure to work through the issue with members. I’ve very pleased with the feedback, and as I rolled out some of these features over the weekend.

Maybe some day I’ll write a book about working with and for you guys. But you’re doing the cover.

Labels: book covers, new feature, new features

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

Common Knowledge in your library

What just happened. Yesterday saw two huge announcements I’m loathe to “push down.”

(What it didn’t see was an April Fools message, although some took the 160% increase in sources for one! Does this mean we get to fool people later on this year?)

Common Knowledge in your library.

Today we’ve introduced our “Common Knowledge” feature directly into your catalog—allowing members to look at and edit series information, important places and the rest directly in their catalog.

To look at it, go to your catalog and choose the “edit” link to the right of the A, B, C, D, E styles. You’ll see a number of CK fields as options. To edit CK fields, just double-click in the cell. A CK editing “lightbox” will pop up (see right).

Some thoughts. On one level, this is a minor feature. The data was always a click away. But I suspect it will substantially change members’ relationship to Common Knowledge—and make it grow all the faster. Together with my introduction of pages for member’s series, CK now “does” something.

Caveats. Right now you can’t sort by CK fields, and you can’t search by them. Sorting is doable, although it will take some sort. Searching is going to be harder, frankly. But it’s not out of the question. Lastly, we still haven’t solved CK language issues, so you may get series information in a language you don’t understand.

Discuss it here


Labels: april fools, common knowledge, early reviewers, LTER, new feature, new features, new libraries