Archive for the ‘new features’ Category

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.com). 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
Etc.

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

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

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Better statistics, other improvements

I spent the weekend cooking up code, not sausages:

1. Series statistics. By popular demand, the member Series Statistics page can now show your series books you have in context of the complete series. (See talk post.)

2. Awards, characters and places. I’ve added similar statistics pages for three other “Common Knowledge” categories—Awards, Characters, Places. (See talk post.)

I also added series, awards, characters and places stats in your profile* and the “Your Zeitgeist” box on your home page (see talk post.)

3. More Green Checkmarks. Green check-marks, the mark that shows when you have a work, have spread further. They are now appearing on work-page recommendations, recommendation pages and in other members’ catalogs. (See talk post.)

4. Power Edit gets better Previously, you could only Power Edit a page at a time (ie., no more than 100 books at a time). I added a feature to allow you to power-edit all the books in a given result set. So, you can do all your books, all the books that match a particular search, etc.

See the talk post.

5. Message Flagging. I’ve improved message-flagging in Talk, so that members can reverse their flagging, as well as counter-flag a message, if they think it was wrongly flagged. (See talk post.)

I also proposed making the Wikipedia policy “Assume good faith?” an official LibraryThing policy, triggering a lively debate about community norms, just what spam is and so forth. See the talk post.


*Originally high, but I moved it down when members hollered.

Labels: common knowledge, new features, statistics

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Author interviews posted

Our first two author interviews, first seen in the revamped State of the Thing newsletter, are live on the site itself. The interviews are:

Abby and I enjoyed reading the books—we both read from Bad Mother (thumbs up, but it will tweak you), and Abby read The Song is You (thumbs up)*. Philips’ interview convinced me I should check him out. “A child actor, a jazz musician, a speechwriter, a dismally failed entrepreneur, and a five-time Jeopardy champion” and a huge fan of Pale Fire? Will he come to our next party?

Want to do an author interview? Know someone who might? We’re looking for authors, and we’d rather get great ideas from members than declare open-season on our inboxes from publisher PR types. Email abby@librarything.com about it.

We have a number of other things authors and publishers can “do” with LibraryThing on the about page. We’ll be sprucing it up in time for Book Expo America in New York.


*I think we have to stop saying if we liked a book, as we’ll eventually read one we positively hate and “Check out this interview with Mr-Can’t-Write” probably won’t win us any friends.

Labels: authors, librarything authors, new features

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

State of the Thing

Our monthly “State of the Thing” newsletter just went out.

We “did it up,” with a full HTML version and some special features. Notably, the May newsletter includes our first two author interviews:

Ayelet Waldman, author of the Mommy Track Mysteries, and now Bad Mother
Arthur Phillips, author of The Egyptologist and The Song is You

We ask penetrating questions like “Describe your library” and “Is your husband really that perfect?” We’ll be doing more of them as time goes by, and making them available on the site generally.

For now, however, you can only get them in the newsletter. So if you want to get a copy, be sure to edit your account preferences. We’ll send you out a copy soon after.

Labels: new features

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Compare your library with others’

I’ve added a new “Compare: Connections” feature, similar to the Legacy Library feature. But instead of munging statistics about Jefferson and Yeats, the new feature works on your friends, interesting libraries and other connections lists.

Members: find yours here.
Others: here are mine.

As with the Legacy Libraries page, you get a couple options. First, you choose which list you want to look at—friends and so forth. Then try:

  • Shared books, books. Shows the most popular books you also share.
  • Shared books, people. Shows all the connections, with how much they share.
  • Top books. Shows the most popular books, whether or not you share them. It’s a “Most Popular Books” for your friends and other connections.

I’m anticipating some time-outs on larger libraries. The calculations here are brutal—100MB of RAM is not atypical. I’ll mitigate them tomorrow.

A feature for LibraryThing Authors. I’ve also added a small, but cute feature for LibraryThing Authors. In certain circumstances, LibraryThing Authors now get a “Your Readers” list, alongside their friends and so forth. Right now, these lists are appearing on all author and work pages—again, only if you are a LibraryThing author. They aren’t showing up in the “Compare” feature because many authors have hundreds or thousands of readers, and the system can’t handle all that calculation right now.

Talk about both features on this blog or here.

Labels: new features

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Who reads an author?

I’ve “brought back” top member lists on author pages, significantly enhancing them with lists that show the author’s readers among your friends and connections, and among Legacy Libraries (eg., C. S. Lewis had a lot of Twain).

Also new, LibraryThing Authors now get a new “Your Readers” connections category, so they can find out what your readers think of a given author or work.

Discuss here

Labels: authors, librarything authors, LT author, new features

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Commune with the dead

Can you guess what they are?

I’ve made some major changes to members’ Legacy Library pages, bringing this wonderful member project—the private libraries of over 100 readers from the past—closer than ever before.

It has never been easier to compare the reading of Jefferson and Adams (427 books!), Hemmingway and Fitzgerald. And is has never before been possible to compare that of Tupac Shakur and LibraryThing’s Australian systems administrator John Dalton!

The core, default feature is a list of Legacy Libraries and the books they share with you. New features include:

  1. You can get it book-by-book, instead of person-by-person.
  2. From that, you can now see the top shared books across the Legacy Libraries, with you or any subset.
    The top books list is somewhat surprising. I’ve pasted it on the right, with the titles blacked out. See if you can guess number one. For combination reasons it’s not the Bible, but it’s probably not any of the others that leap immediately to mind. The top books between signers of the Declaration of Independence is also quite surprising. And why on earth did three American presidents bother to acquire General view of the agriculture in the county of Somerset?!
  3. The libraries are broken down into groups, so you can see what you share with actors, musicians, politicians, etc.
    Among these are the splinter project, the Libraries of Early America, which Jeremy, the Legacy Library project leader, is working on in collaboration with archives, libraries and museums across the country.
  4. You can filter everything in all sorts of clever ways.
  5. Although the page is a dynamic explorer, it provides a permalink to send to friends and a nifty “Share on Twitter” button. (Did you know you can enter your books through Twitter?)

Later today I’ll push out a podcast I did with Jeremy, a long but enjoyable romp through the legacy libraries, cataloging, the meaning of books through history and book-love generally.

Discussion going on here.

Labels: legacy libraries, new features

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

What’s hot?

I’ve added a “Hot topics” category to Talk.

Heat is calculated every hour, and is based on posts and viewers in the the last 48 hours. It adjusts for the length of posts, so one-line posts don’t count as much—You hear me Drop a Word, Add a Word? A topic with a lot of flags is penalized and it adjusts the numbers slightly to prevent groups from dominating the list.

More heat on its way…

Labels: new features

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

“New” catalog look/features

We’ve gone live with a number of aesthetic and functional changes to members’ catalog pages.

Some examples, or see my catalog.


Before

After

Before

After

Together the changes aim to:

  • Look better. Those big clunky icons have been with us since the beginning—August 2005. The original files are on an old OS9 iMac. I’m sad to see them go, but man, they were clunky. LibraryThing is something of a “ransom note,” but we’re moving toward uniformity and beauty. You’ll see the little icons popping up elsewhere.
  • Prepare the way for collections. Collections was too deeply integrated into the “new” catalog to bring it live separately. Doing both at the same time would have been a lot of work too. We’re getting closer*.
  • Address some usability issues, particularly confusion over how to sort and “what the little numbers mean.”
  • Speed up the page. The new page uses CSS sprites, moving from dozens of images to one.**
  • Fix some bugs.

Some things are missing, including:

  • Collections!
  • Better “covers” display. Mike is working on that. We decided to go ahead without him.
We’ve started two conversations:
  • New Catalog #1: Larger issues. Larger reflections on what we did. For the sake of argument, assume that it’s “working” for you, and concentrate on whether you like how it works.
  • New Catalog #2: Bugs and small issues. Small issues, particularly ones we can just fix. I want these sequestered, so we aren’t stuck with messages 2-20 in the main thread being about some trivial bug that got fixed.

*At least you’re all now on the catalog we’ve been using for months, anyway.
**As Chris says, “Tim has found a hammer.” It’s all CSS-sprite-shaped nails to me now.

Labels: design, new features