Archive for the ‘new features’ Category

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

Widget statistics and work page customization

Widget Statistics: The new LibraryThing widgets now have their own statistics page, so you can see how often your widgets are visited.

Check out your Widget Statistics or Luke’s account, with some data.

The graph has an exceedingly nifty feature that makes the lines the same color as the background of the widget or, failing that, the main font color. This makes it easy to see which is which and is the kind of nice little detail Luke enjoys putting in.

Discuss it here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/62183

Reminder: There is a best widget contest going on.

Work page customization. Work pages are now customizable, with each section collapsible, and rearrangeable with a nifty drag-and-drop action, remembered between sessions. The feature is quite powerful—a lot cooler than I’d have thought possible.

Discuss it here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/62134

Collections progress. Follow our collections progress here.

Labels: new features

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Widgets get a lot better

We’ve just brought live new, improved widgets, available from the make widget page.

Some highlights:

  • New “animated” style cycles through your covers in a oddly mesmerizing way.
  • Widgets are extensively customizable, so you can fit them to your blog without any special knowledge.
  • Power users can do more, with Javascript and CSS customization. Check out Chris’ blog for stylish use.*
  • The new widgets are shareable (an example) so members can show off and swap styles. (Yes, we’ll be having a widget-creation contest soon.)
  • Widget links don’t go off somewhere, but open up a slick lightbox “mini-book” page, with your information and (optional) links, to LibraryThing and elsewhere. You can, of course, fill in your Amazon Associates code, if you want to make money off your widget.
  • Widgets now include (optionally) tags, ratings and reviews. You can filter by reviews and tags too.
  • The code is good—based on our improved JSON Books API and designed not to slow down your page (they’re “lazy-loading”). Weirdly this can make the widget look slow. That’s because it’s not slowing down the rest of the page!
  • Internationalized from the ground up.
  • Orcas, baby!

Go ahead and make a widget.

Talk about it here, or on Talk.

Luke! Widgets were helmed by new employee Luke (member: LibraryThingLuke), who wrote most of the core code, all the styling options, the share system and so forth. Other LibraryThing people helped. Chris—hard at work on collections, we promise—chipped in some attractive styles. Mike wrote the crucial cover-animation code, something he’s been working on for our upcoming Facebook application. I made sure Luke got a list of changes every morning, including at least one thing I wanted the other way the day before.

Luke offered the following thumbnail bio:

“Luke Stevens lives in Portland, Me with his wife and three kids. He enjoys single malt scotch and silver-age comic books. He rides a motorcycle from the early 80’s that elicits laughter from his evil co-workers. Twitter: saintlukas; blog: sacremoo.com.”


*Chris swears by Colourlovers.com.

Labels: new feature, new features, widgets

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

LibraryThing Mac Screensaver

At the end of our Week of Code, Chris and I put together the RSS feed and directions you need to turn the built-in Mac OS X screensaver into a LibraryThing Screen Saver.

To do it you’ll need to grab the following URL: http://www.librarything.com/labs-screensaver.php?userid=timspalding and change “timspalding” to your user name (public users only, of course). Then watch the video.

Update: Does anyone know of an easy way to make a Windows one?

Labels: mac, new feature, new features, osx, screensavers

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Male or Female?

I’ve added a new meme page for “Male of Female?” (see yours or mine).

The page is similar to Dead or Alive?. It’s based on our Common Knowledge, an editable, fielded wiki for author and work information. So if someone shows up under “Uncertain” you can edit in the right gender.

This feature is, of course, frosting. The cake was released Saturday: Introducing Distinct Authors. Check that out.

Labels: authors, new feature, new features

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Distinct authors, phase 1 / Steve Martin is funny again

Short version. I’ve added a mechanism to “split” distinct authors with the same name. You can find it on the right of any author page, under “Author Disambiguation.” The feature is only partially rolled-out, without separate pages for distinct authors or other rammifications for the LibraryThing system.

Long version. Since its inception, LibraryThing has been plagued by the “Steve Martin” problem. We all know Steve Martin, the comic and author of Shop Girl. But what about Steve Martin the author of Britain’s Slave Trade, Sold! How to Make it Easy for People to Buy from You or some book about Newfoundland ships. Why was the original wild-and-crazy-guy writing such evidently unfunny books—or who were these other people?

The problem is deep in the data. Libraries have a system for disambiguating authors, called Authority Control, based on coming up with authorized forms of a name and adding dates and other metadata to make them unique, and then applying these forms across the books. Authority control is a good idea—if often problematic to implement—but it falls down in the face of LibraryThing’s data. Libraries don’t coordinate their authority control as much as you’d think, and LibraryThing draws from almost 700 libraries. And even if authority control worked in libraries, 90% of LibraryThing content comes from other sources, mostly Amazon. This data has no concept of authority control. (See Steve Martin at Amazon, for example.)

In solving the problem, I decided to ignore how libraries solved the issue and concentrate on how LibraryThing could do it most easily. Authority control requires librarians to assemble data (eg., birth and death dates) about name variants before a split is made. (Thus was born librarians’ unfortunate policy of putting out hits on individuals they could not otherwise distinguish.*) Although LibraryThing members have done an amazing job finding birth and death dates, it was still a lot of work. And a full authority-control solution would have members updating each other’s records with the “authorized” forms of the names!

I felt a better way could be found. Instead of establishing unique names and pushing them to records, members could split works arbitrarily, and the authors would come to be known by the name they share and the works that cluster under them. This is actually an old system—calling someone “the author of Ivanhoe” or “the one who wrote the Parthian history.” And, as with other features of LibraryThing cataloging, it accords with how regular people talk about. In a real-world situation, like a meeting of Newfoundland commedians, you wouldn’t refer to “Martin, Steve, 1945-” and “Martin, Steve, 1947-” but “Steve Martin, you know, the one who wrote Shopgirl” and “Steve Martin, the one who wrote that book about that boat.”

How it works. To split an author, find the area on the right labelled “Author Disambiguation.” It will take you to a splitting page; here’s Steve Martin’s. This page allows you to assign all the author’s works to numbers. As you assign the works, LibraryThing assigns separate colors, making it easy to see at a glance how the thing is going.

More to do. This is just a first step. The “distinct authors” feature has to “go” all sorts of places on the site. First up will be separate pages for distinct authors–and a “disambiguation page” (a la Wikipedia) tying them together. Once that’s done we can move to separate author metadata, such as Common Knowledge, bettween distinct authors.

Quite frankly, I’m going to do a few more things and then let this sit for a while. My main focus right now—and Chris’—is to see “collections” to the finish line. When I realized I could bang out the first phase of distinct authors in a long evening (it’s after 5am now), I went ahead and did it. But now I need to refocus on collections.

Talk about it. I’ve set up a New features post to discuss the change, and its potential rammifications. I suspect that the Combiners! group will get in on the act quickly as well, working out various technical issues. They have a number of threads (here, here and here, at least), in which members have made lists of “identically named authors.” They would be a good starting-point.


*The hits are, of course, carried out by OCLC.

Labels: distinct authors, new feature, new features

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Member Giveaways: Early Reviewers for everyone

We’ve just introduced a major new feature: Member Giveaway, a simple but flexible way for authors to get review copies into readers’ hands, and other members to clean out their attics!

Member Giveaway is built on top of our Early Reviewers program, which invites publishers to send LibraryThing members pre-publication copies of upcoming books. It has been a huge success, often giving out more than 1,500 books per month. But Early Reviewers has strict rules on participating, quantity and release dates, to keep up quality and encourage publishers to send out as many copies as they could spare.

Member Giveaway differs from Early Reviewers in a couple of ways:

  • Any LibraryThing member can participate.
  • There are no quantity restrictions. You can post a single book or a hundred.
  • Books do not need to be pre-release or even new.
  • Members are encouraged to review Giveaway books, but not reviewing them cannot hurt you.
  • Giveaway selection is random, not based on a similar-books algorithm. To discourage sockpuppetry, requesting members must have cataloged at least fifty books or be a premium (ie., paid) member.
  • Early Reviewers has a bird, but Member Giveaways uses squirrels. As you know, squirrels are lovely, sociable animals who share books readily.

Some other fun details:

  • If you’ve signed up for Early Reviewers, you are ready for Member Giveaways. The two programs have the same sign-up.
  • When you post a book you have a lot of options, including length of time it will last and where you’re willing to send it.
  • The sending member is responsible for all shipping. If you request and receive a book, the sending member will get your shipping address.

We made Member Giveaway for authors who couldn’t get their publisher to sign on to Early Reviewers, couldn’t get enough copies together or whose book was already out. (Early Reviewers also does not allow most self-published works, which has angered a few members, but both publishers and members reacted strongly when we included self-published books before.)

Publishers and authors aside we wanted to give regular members a chance to send good books to good homes. We have long pondered whether LibraryThing should enable book-swaps. But our friends at BookMooch do that so well already, and swapping is very hard to get right. But many members still wanted a simple way to get their old books to new homes. So, we set up a system to do that too.

We’ve started Member Giveaways off with seven great books.

Cancer is a Bitch and Beef were offered by my friend Larry Weissman, literary agent to both authors.

Released this Fall, both have already drawn great reviews from LibraryThing members and others. LibraryThing member skrishna wrote of Cancer Is a Bitch: “It’s funny, witty, sarcastic and will have you laughing out loud. Read this book. That’s all I really have left to say.” Of Beef, a microhistory in the tradition of Salt, the Boston Globe praised its “bovine evolution is riveting stuff.” Eats.com called it an “eloquent, poignant and influential account of man’s historical relationship with the cow.”

The other five books all come from a single member, keigu, Robin D. Gill, of Paraverse Press, which promises bilingual books “at a monolingual price.”

The books consist of Japanese text and English translations of hundreds or thousands of short Japanese poems—haiku and senryu on various topics. The publisher, who is also the author, sent LibraryThing a huge box some time ago, in anticipation of such a program. Abby and I, custodians of the books for so long never got around to reading them, but we will sorely miss people’s reactions at finding tall stacks of The Woman Without a Hole and Rise Ye, Sea Slugs!.

Three cheers for Mike! Memeber Giveaways was developed by Mike Bannister (LTMike) after I rather blithly tossed out the idea of opening Early Reviewers to everyone on a separate page. It took a while, but i is a beautiful, and solid piece of code.

Its completion frees Mike up to concentrate on Facebook full time, while Chris and me (but my programming time is somewhat hobbled by everythin else I do) continue work on collections.

Come talk about it here.

Labels: early reviewers, new feature, new features

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.

Example:
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

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 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

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