Archive for July, 2006

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Leverage LibraryThing within the OPAC

No, that’s not a real idea, that’s an idea from Dave Pattern’s hilarious spoof The Library 2.0 Idea Generator, better and funnier than the original Web 2.0 Idea Generator.

Some examples:
revitalize the Netflix model using the Netflix model
unclassify the perpetual beta and mash-it-up with Google Maps
discard your staff using a wiki
podcast about Lorcan Dempsey and use him to replace the OPAC
analyze faceted browsing just to annoy Michael Gorman
disrupt microformats and use them to replace all of your librarians

And related to LibraryThing:
completely reinvent LibraryThing by harnessing the ”Long Tail”
deconstruct LibraryThing and become a billionaire
visualize Lorcan Dempsey using LibraryThing
hack OCLC using LibraryThing

It’s all very funny, but it actually generated my secret “next big idea.” (No, it’s not “completely reinvent the biblioblogosphere and then paint it purple.”)

Hat tip: Panlibus.

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Thursday, July 27th, 2006

There is no shelf.

I just finished listening to the latest Talis Library 2.0 Gang podcast (on headphones though, so Tim wouldn’t wince at the sound of his own voice), this week on tagging and folksonomies. I’m struck by one thing that Casey Bisson mentions. He relates a story of a patron asking if they can put all the books he’s interested in, and just those, on one shelf–the answer of course, is to laugh, of course the library won’t be rearranged just for that one person!

In a virtual library, however, you can pull all the books you’re interested in, and just those books.

In a library, each book has a call number, which places it on the shelf somewhere, next to the other books that have similar “aboutness.” I might start looking for At home in the studio: the professionalization of women artists in America in the history section, because I know the author is a historian–but I wouldn’t find it there, because the Library of Congress Call Number is an N (Fine Arts).

The answer to the patron at Casey’s library, is that it doesn’t matter where the books are physically located in the library – as long as he can pull them together intellectually.

For the purposes of shelving, in a library, At home in the studio is “about” fine arts – it can only be on one shelf, after all.

If that book was in my LT catalog though (and it is), it can be “about” multiple things–there doesn’t have to be one essential place that it lives. I could tag it (and I have) so I could find it when I was searching for my history books, and when I wanted my art books. It can be on both “shelves”, on any shelf – because there is no shelf (oh, postmodernism)…

Ok. Enough rehashing. Go bend spoons with your mind.

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Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

LibraryThing and exploding mentos

(We’re going to get back to serious intellectual thoughts soon, we promise.)

Advertising Age blog (Bob Garfield):

“Coolness, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. Exactly one blogger, a college student named Suze Bramlet, used “coolest thing ever” in the same thought with “Birkenstocks.” Nobody in the blog universe did so with Carrot Top. But the pool of cool is predictably deep:, Google Earth, Google Ride Finder, BenGay, Pandora; the Diet Coke and Mentos video; tennis and the fact that nurse sharks have two uteri but no placenta.”

Let’s dig deeper. I decided to take advantage of my old school friend Kevin Shay‘s Google API Proximity Search (GAPS)*, asking for the number of pages that include “cool” and the terms below within three words of each other.

Google Earth – 134,100
Pandora – 65,730
Mentos – 15,632
LibraryThing – 390
Birkenstocks – 271
Nurse sharks – 114
Google Ride Finder – 76
BenGay – 24

Kevin is the author of the humor piece “Pirate Riddles for Sophisticates” (McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, 6/14/00):

Q: Of which concept shared by Jungian psychology and Northrop Frye’s literary theory are pirates especially fond?
A: ARRRchetype.

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Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

Does tagging make you want to kill yourself?

There is help.

Found on Metafilter (and Google’s Adwords).

PS, related to some of the deeper issues involved in ontologies and folksonomies: The web is a remarkable filter. Good stuff rises. Bad stuff sinks. But I would have never discovered this article, Bill Thompson’s “Dump the World Wide Web” if this always held true. Sometimes something is so bad it actually rises—as an shining specimen of badness.

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Tuesday, July 25th, 2006

Tags: A reading and listening list

We’re doing tagging and folksonomies tomorrow on the Library 2.0 Gang podcast. I’m busy reading the stuff I “should” have read before. I’ll blog some reactions later. In brief, I think most academic LIS articles do not “get” tags. Coming from an academic background—albeit another one—this surprised me. The stuff you’re supposed to read is broken.

So, here is my recommended list—what it takes to really understand tags, ontologies, classifications and “what is going on with knowledge.”

  • Clay Shirky, “Ontology is Overrated.” Available as audio and text. The audio is more fun. Academic articles usually cite this, but neither refute nor confront his arguments.
  • David Weinberger, address to the LC (audio) on why “everything is miscellaneous” (the title of his upcoming book). Weinberger is a philosopher and author, now at Harvard’s Berkman center.
  • David Weinberger, “Messiness is a virtue” (audio). A lengthy, intellectual and, yes, messy slice from his upcoming book.
  • David Weinberger, another slice, if the last one went down easy.*

*I am a fan of Weinberger, and keep saying so in blog contexts, but I want to distance myself a bit. He is right right right about tags, and wrong wrong wrong about politics! No doubt there are many other subjects on which we might disagree—different kinds of food, plane travel versus train travel, that sort of thing. I’m not intellectually crushing on him, really.

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Saturday, July 22nd, 2006

How to wreck a website in one page

Before reading this post, you must fill out the following form:

That’s the sign-up page at, a new book-swapping service getting a huge bounce from CNET. According to Alexa, they are–today–the 6,834th most-visited websites on the entire web, around the highest LibraryThing’s been. The site looks inviting, attractive and usable. It surely took a lot of skill and effort to make.

But look at how many books have been added—230! That’s the worst conversion I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to turn Alexa numbers into raw traffic, but Alexa 6000 is a fire hose. To get 230 books out of that is a disaster of Biblical proportions.

Surely the sign-up page is to blame. It’s an object-lesson in how to wreck a website’s chances.

Why does a book-swapping service need to know my gender? (Is there dating involved?) And my birth date?* And—good grief—my PHONE NUMBER?! I got to that question and closed the window. No, actually, I wrote an angry comment to the administrator, blogged about it and THEN closed the window. 🙂

Even if you take those away, I’m still not satisfied. Yes, they may need my address eventually, but why not let me play around a bit without giving them my address? Then, once I’ve determined I like the site and make a swap, they can ask me for shipping info. Doing this way is putting all the pain and risk up front, before you know whether it’s worth it. Do stores block your way in and require credit-card validation and a phone number before you can enter?

And what about the email? They’re not generating random passwords. (I hate sites that do that.) Is it for lost passwords? Why not trust me, and let me add an email only if I want that extra protection? My desire to look at a new site is NOT greater than my need to keep my email free of spam. Anyway, in this case, If I lose my password they can just call me up!***

The real kicker: they don’t publish their own email address, or their mailing address or who runs it, etc.*** Privacy for me, but not for thee!

Let me say again, so far as I got—which wasn’t far, obviously—there’s nothing wrong with the site. LibraryThing is still looking for a break-out swap site to partner with. We are currently tracking fifteen book-swapping sites on Alexa, hoping one will get big enough to throw our energy behind****. Maybe this is the one, but it sure won’t be if they keep the current sign-up page.

Hat tip to Steve Cohen of LibraryStuff.

*It’s not COPPA; they already note that you can’t sign up if you’re under 13.
**As a former usability person I’d like to add that first-name last-name is culturally wrong, notably for Chinese people. On the other end, it might be culturally sensitive to have the list of countries sorted alphabetically, starting with Afghanistan, but it’s obnoxious to 95% of the audience for an English-language site. Lists like that should start with a section including the United States and the United Kingdom, at least. Most people don’t know to use keys to get to the end of menus, so they’ll be scrolling down to the bottom, past hundreds of countries that will never contribute a single member to your site.
***You have to go to their WhoIs record to discover a post-office box in Moscow, PA.
****, Book Relay, PaperbackSwap,,,, Community Books, Swapthing, ReaderSwapIt,,,,,, If you know of others, let me know.

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Monday, July 17th, 2006

Library 2.0 podcast / Too tasteless for Talis

Talis hosted its first in a new series of bi-weekly “Library 2.0 Gang” podcasts, this one on “mashups.” You can hear it here.

I was in on the call, as were leading lights of the Lib2.0 demi-monde. It’s hosted by Talis’ Paul Miller. This week also included Richard Wallis, who made LibraryThingThing. Rather than list the rest—with inevitable perils of description and order—I’ll just mention those I know somewhat, namely John “AADL Dynamo” Blyberg and Ed “Super Patron” Vielmetti. I don’t know Jenny “Shifted Librarian” Levine, but I read her blog. Casey Bisson will be in on future podcasts; I guess this week he had Paris Hilton on the brain.

“Library mashups” were the topic, with a nod to Talis’ Mashing up the Library competition. We ended by talking about our “dream” mashup. John* wants a Netflix for libraries. Ed wants something like Coverflow for books. Richard Wallis wants a sort of “browser book vulture,” watching what you browse and helping you find related books.

I argued that the first step was getting libraries to provide more mashable data, and the second would happen when non-library people got involved. After all, the cartographers didn’t give Google Maps lift-off, so why should the librarians be the ones working on library mashups? Pushing that a bit I said:

“I want to see a mashup that no one on this panel approves of. That’s when we know that library mashups have succeeded, when everyone thinks it’s in bad taste.”

I’m actually semi-serious here. Unexpected, “uncalled for” mashups have often been the most interesting—think Google Maps and sex offenders or the High-Yield Detonation Effects Simulator (Google Maps and blast radiuses). Googleing “tasteless mashups” I get the cartoony San Francisco Earthquake mashup. And the issue gets at library data vs. patron privacy, IMHO the most important barrier to Web 2.0 in the library, and a good topic for a future podcast.

Let’s open this up to comments, shall we? Talis is offering £1,000 for their competition. I can’t offer as much for my Too-Tasteless-for-Talis Competition. How about eternal ignominy? Remember, you can post anonymously!

*Earlier, John** suggested library data on iPods. Andy Latham, at Talis, took up the topic on Panlibus. I think he missed the point in talking about text-to-audio. You can get textual information on iPods very easily. I’m not sure how useful a “This Week in your Overdue Books” would be.
**Another asterisk on John Blyberg (why isn’t he working for LibraryThing?). I also plugged his Virtual Card Catalog. Doing so got me jazzed up about it again. I think LibraryThing’s going to steal it—it’s open source after all. Talk to me about that too, if you want.

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Friday, July 7th, 2006

Friendster wins social networking patent

Check out this story from Red Herring. Friendster, the ailing granddaddy of social networks, has won a patent for online social networking.

LibraryThing’s not in trouble. The patent is about social networking, particularly systems that limit you according to degrees of social separation, not shared book tastes. Still, it’s a pretty obnoxious award. What’s next, patenting one-click shopping? Oh. Never mind.

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