Wednesday, September 7th, 2005

Amazon and the Library of Congress: Together at last

Well, I think I’ve come up with the right solution, using Amazon and the LC together. It’s a little complicated, but the complexity is hidden from the user.

It works something like this. First it looks in the LC. If it can’t find it there—either because it’s not there or because the search didn’t follow LC rules—it goes to Amazon. If it finds it on Amazon, it makes one last heroic and generally successful effort to find it at the LC, this time using Amazon’s data in a LC lookup.

People who don’t care about LC data can structure their search as loosely as they want and will still end up with LC data most of the time. People who must have LC results can make sure they get them. If you have any doubt, the Add books screen tells you where the data came from for each book.

When there’s LC data, it tends to prefer it over Amazon data. This is because Amazon plays a bit loose with authors and titles. Authors are first-last sometimes, last-first others. Titles often include the name of the series the book belongs too. The LC is more careful. At the same time, it always uses Amazon date and publication info. This ensures that, although the LC may have an older edition, your info will match the book you clicked.

Inevitably the multiple sources hamper attempts to “match up” equivalent books. Right now it tends to match books up by LC control number (which can embrace two ISBNs) or by ISBN. In the future I’ll be doing a more sophisticated sameness test, involving titles, authors and other data. The same/different issue can never be solved fully, but I’ll try to strike a reasonable balance.

Confused? Don’t be. I think it works pretty well. Feel free to differ.

No response from Amazon yet. If they insist on freezing data and requiring constant refreshes, I will have to make some changes.

Labels: 1

Tuesday, September 6th, 2005

Social features (2); Amazon

I’ve added a few more requested social features:

  • Profiles now show users with overlapping libraries, so you can spot who has similar tastes.
  • When you look at someone else’s profile you can now see exactly what your “shared” books are.
  • When you browse someone’s library you can click on to add a book to your collection.

On the Amazon front I’m waiting for word whether LibraryThing can bend their terms of service.

The problem: Amazon’s terms seem to preclude users modifying data. If Amazon says a book is by C. S. Lewis, LibraryThing users ought to be able to change that to Clive Staples Lewis, but this seems forbidden. Amazon also requires that most data be “refreshed” every 24 hours, which would wipe out any changes anyway.

Refreshing has its own problem: you can only make one request a second. In less than a week LibraryThing has acquired 8,100 books(!). That’s a lot of back and forth with the Amazon servers, and once LibraryThing hits 86,401 there won’t be enough seconds in the day to refresh everything, let alone add new books.

LibraryThing’s “competitors” (about which more in a later post) all use Amazon and seem—correct me if I’m wrong—to allow changes. So maybe there’s an exception for sites like ours. Or maybe they just turn a blind eye.

If Amazon won’t do it, I’ll take the data from somewhere else. Booksense would be my first choice. Although they don’t have an API I can find, I could screen-scrape. Better, I could not only give users the info but also hook it up to their nearest independent bookseller.

Labels: 1

Monday, September 5th, 2005

Blog widgets

I’ve added “blog widgets.” Paste the widget into your blog and tell your visitors what you’re reading, who your favorite authors are, and what tags your using. You can even display random books from your collection (“LibraryThing Shuffle”?), or keep track of the whole community’s books.

Comments welcome. Next up: RSS feeds, Amazon integration and tag-completion.

Labels: 1

Sunday, September 4th, 2005

New Social Features

I’ve added some new social features, and the “infrastructure” for many more.

First, all books now show either or , meaning either that others have the same book or don’t. Click the icon to find out who else has it, what they’ve tagged it, and what are the author’s other books. For example, see Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Second, LibraryThing now sports an oh-so-trendy “tag cloud,” a graphic representation of tag frequency. I also made an “author cloud.” I find the latter particularly interesting. What’s going on with Agatha Christie? ssquier is a big fan—a really big fan.

Next up, more social features, including library-to-library matching (“whose library is most like mine?”) and the ability to, when browsing someone else’s library, add the book to your collection.

Comments, criticisms, concerns and bugs most welcome. Thanks to all for your suggestions so far.

Labels: 1

Friday, September 2nd, 2005

Feature priorities

Here are my current priorities:

  1. RSS feeds (with HTML version and a blog-widget)
  2. User-defined fields
  3. Add Dewey, author clicking
  4. Book-level view, showing who else has it and what they’re tagging it
  5. Improve some graphics

Labels: 1

Thursday, September 1st, 2005

Library feeds?

Thanks to Steven Cohen of LibraryStuff for blogging about LibraryThing (“Finally, a site with a name that is more generic than mine.”*) He suggests:

“I’d love a feed for someone’s catalog or specific tag. Let RSS technology take this tool to the next step.”

Interesting idea, and not too hard to program. It’s on my list. I’m thinking each library should have a feed. Should each library’s tags have feeds, or should the tag feeds cover all books? Hmmm..

*I originally planned to reify the “thing” graphically, either as my dog or as a Victorian monster illustration. Still pondering which…

Labels: 1

Thursday, September 1st, 2005

Delicious Library

I added a filter to import from Delicious Library, an elegant OS X application. It currently cross-checks everything with the Library of Congress, picking up LC call numbers and so forth. This takes time, and I think it’s been tripping people up. So I may cut it down to just picking up the information Delicious Library already has.

If you have problems, email me your file. I only had two files to work on—mine and some random guy who posted his music and video game collection—so I may not have caught all the format wrinkles…

Labels: 1

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

Export added; what now?

I just added a CSV export feature, so you can throw the data into Excel, Access, Filemaker, etc. So, what now?

Some ideas:

  • Import filters for popular book-cataloging software. I’d start with Delicious Library, an elegant OS X application.
  • User-defined fields. I can add user-defined fields. For my sake, I prefer to use tags to keep track of where a book is, or who gave it to me. But others may prefer flexible user-defined fields.
  • Use of Amazon. How are people finding the LC data? It works for me, but I see some problems. The LC doesn’t always have copies of paperback reprints. So, you have to choose between the original edition or entering the paperback manually. I was thinking I could make it “fail” to Amazon—check Amazon if the LC doesn’t work. Or Amazon could always be an option.

What do you think?

Labels: 1

Monday, August 29th, 2005

LibraryThing “beta”

After a few weeks of development, LibraryThing is ready for public “beta” release.

When I worked in educational software, betas were suspect. Giving one to a customer would have probably been a firing offense. Google and Flickr have broken that taboo, and even given the term bleeding-edge chic. This is particularly amusing as “beta” means essentially the same thing as “under construction,” now as repellent thirty-somethings with Razor scooters.

What LibraryThing’s “beta” means:

  • Features are still being added. The user-to-user features aren’t fully developed. It makes no sense to find your closest “library match” when there are three libraries in the system.
  • I’m listening. Tell me what you like, what you don’t like, what you find confusing, etc. Post them here as comments, or email me at
  • I’m giving away memberships. I’m giving away memberships to anyone I think will use it well, and might tell others about it. Mostly these are library blogers. Are you one? Let me know.

That’s it for now. Enjoy!

Labels: 1