Archive for January, 2008

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Kindles in libraries? Amazon says “get lost.”

Amazon prohibits libraries from lending out Kindles. It’s unclear if you can let your spouse use it.

(Hat tip Jessamyn West).

I’ve refrained from posting about the Kindle because everyone else is talking about it and I don’t have strong feelings, except on the licensing issue.

There are cultural plusses from the fact that books are objects people can sell, loan, swap and pass onto your children, and that their continued functioning does not depend on the good will and financial stability of a company. There are cultural plusses from some of the extra things Kindle could do too, but those are the things we could lose.

I’m worried that, for most people, these plusses aren’t that important. Shocked as I am by the practice, most people throw away books after they read them. But it’s only books for me. I’ve somehow managed to accept that, when my father dies, his fabulous classical music collection will go to his heirs, but my son won’t be getting my music.

Maybe this aspect of the issue won’t be noticed until people see how DRM-based solutions cut libraries out of the equation. Then again, Amazon will probably move to allow libraries to provide short-term rentals, and libraries will accept that.

What does the library of the future do? I worry it won’t do much more than aggregate rights-managed subscription services. It’s already going that way with databases and journals. Yuck.

Think I’m cantankerous? You haven’t heard David Lynch on the iPhone.

Labels: kindle

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Tagging: People-Powered Metadata for the Social Web

“Walk into the public library in Danbury, Connecticut, and you’ll find the usual shelves stacked with books, organized into neat rows. Works of fiction are grouped alphabetically by the author’s last name. Nonfiction titles are placed into their propper Dewey Decimal categories just like they are at tens of thousands of other libraries in North America.

But visit the Danbury Library’s online catalog, and you’ll find something rather unlike a typical library.

“A search for The Catcher in the Rye bring sup not just a call number but also a list of related books and tags—keywords such as “adolescence,” “angst,” “coming of age,” and “New York”—that describe J. D. Salinger’s classic novel … Click the tag “angst,” and you’ll find a list of angsty titles such as The Bell Jar, The Stranger, and The Virgin Suicides.”

So begins Gene Smith’s newly released book Tagging: People-Powered Metadata for the Social Web (New Riders). That’s right. The first book dedicated to tagging begins with LibraryThing—specifically our LibraryThing for Libraries project!

Library 2.0 people pause a second. How about that: a book about new developments in social media starts by talking about new things going on in a library? Not a social networking site, not a photo sharing site. A dream come true.

That’s all I have to say for now. I knew the book was coming; Gene interviewed me for it (selections on page 134). But I haven’t finished it yet.

My first impression is that it’s rich and detailed, covering everything from what tagging is and why it matters, to how to implement it at the level of user interface and even technically. But But, as is my wont, I’m already scribbling little objections and expansions in the margins. That’s the sign of a good book, right?

I’ve created a discussion group on Talk for people reading the book. Come join me to talk about it.

Labels: gene smith, librarything, librarything for libraries, social media, tagging, tags

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

Ah, the Onion.

Labels: Uncategorized

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

ISBN check API

A smart young programmer from a book-related company and I were talking. It turns out that, to validate ISBNs and get back both 10- and 13-digit versions he was submitting ISBNs to Amazon Web Services. That’s like calling NORAD to find out if it’s raining.* Nor did he seem likely to hunt around for an ISBN library for Ruby. After all, what he was doing worked.

So I made a quick, very stupid API, ie.

  • Give it any old ISBN and it does the math to return the ISBN10 and ISBN13 forms, if both exist.
  • It removes dashes and other junk.
  • It transparently fixes missing initial zeroes. This is a common problem with data from Excel files, which turn 0765344629 into 765344629.
  • If the ISBN isn’t valid and can’t be easily fixed, it returns an error.

Don’t hit it more than 10 times/second. Otherwise, there are no usage restrictions.

*Amazon take note—I got your back, buddy!

Labels: apis, new feature

Friday, January 18th, 2008

Library of Congress Classification, the game!

Seriously. Check it out:

See Carnegie Mellon’s arcade.

Labels: Uncategorized

Friday, January 11th, 2008

Crazy ideas for LibraryThing for Libraries

One big question around LibraryThing these days is “Where do we take LibraryThing for Libraries?” There is an obvious answer–direct user participation. Right now, LibraryThing for Libraries provides services that “arise from” user generated data without bringing that sort of interaction to the OPAC. So we provide tag-based searching based on LibraryThing’s almost 30 million tags, but patrons can’t tag books in their catalog. Nor can patrons assemble book lists, write reviews and so forth.

We’re clearly going this direction. We’re not sure that patron tagging is a big deal, but there are things to do here. And that’s all I’ll say about that!

But what else can we do? We have interesting data, an interesting technology, Casey Durfee, and the will to act on small, interesting ideas quickly. Direct us!

So here are four ideas I’ve been having. I wonder what the people—and particularly the 37 LTFL libraries—think of them:

Idea 1: Widgets. We could give libraries an easy way to let their patrons create library widgets for their blogs and Facebook pages. These would be little “what I’m reading” widgets–covers and titles–not unlike the popular LibraryThing widgets–but they would integrated with the library catalog. Clicking on a book would take you to the catalog, of course. The library could also add a “Add to my widget” buttons to their catalog pages.

I think widgets are a great missed opportunity for libraries. Although RSS is supposedly “Web 2.0,” there’s something backwards about libraryland’s embrace of this static, pushy technology. Although the vendors have all rushed to implement it, not that many people really want to turn an OPAC search into an RSS feed and insert a catalog search into their otherwise human and enjoyable feed reader. (And feed readers are still a cool fringe activity–a step above drinking absinth.) But people love to show off and tell their friends what they’re doing. As the saying goes, patrons don’t want “your” content, their want “their” content. Widgets would be perfect there, and the data and hooks LTFL has puts us in an excellent position to do this.

Idea 2: Super-simple catalog API. We could provide an extremely simple API to individual LTFL library catalogs–just checking whether a library has a book, and maybe returning the ISBN, title, author, the direct URL and maybe related editions in the library. That’s basically all we know, but it’s 95% of what API developers want and 900-times easier than trying to figure out Z39.50 and MARC.

I’m not sure libraries would do anything with this, but I think some patrons would. Lightweight, fast APIs are red meat to mashups. Also, it’s only a day or two of coding. I like projects like that.

Idea 3: Library Bookmarklets. Along similar lines, we could provide bookmarklets and Greasemonkey scripts that would help patrons link their library in with the rest of their online book experience. So, for example, a patron is on an Amazon page thinking about buying a book. They click their library bookmarklet and up pops a little box that says their library has the book, and links to the page.

Idea 4: Put libraries in LibraryThing itself. Right now, LibraryThing tells you if a book is available in a small number of independent bookstores and seven or eight swap sites. But it doesn’t tell you if a library has it. For most libraries, we can’t know. But we do know for LTFL libraries.

Five ideas is enough for now, I think.

As mentioned before, Abby and I are at ALA, boothless and fancy free.
Tim’s cell: 207 272-0553

PS: I left on—multiple tag searching and library tag clouds. We don’t need your feedback on those; we already think they’re good ideas.

Labels: librarything for libraries, ltfl

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

LTFL at 33 34 36 / Abby and Tim at ALA

Casey has just updated our list of LibraryThing for Libraries customers. We’ve hit 33 libraries, which is wonderful. (See the full list.) With no sales force and only half a developer, that’s fantastic. LTFL is clearly starting to matter in the library world. We will be adding resources to it accordingly, and look forward to finding out more about what current and potential libraries want from it.

Not coincidentally, Abby and I are going to ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia. We didn’t buy a booth; they’ve expensive and tie you down a lot. Instead, we’ll be going to as many talks as we can, meeting with people and describing cheesesteaks as a “business expense.” If you’re at ALA and want to chat in passing or over a beer, let us know.

Contact details:
cell: 207 272-0553 (note area code 207, not 208, as first posted!)

UPDATE: Thirty-FOUR. As Casey whooped: “I totally outsold Jesus” (source). Then Casey dropped dead.
UPDATE 2: Thirty six. Holy smokes.

Labels: ala, ALA midwinter, librarything for libraries, ltfl, ltfl libraries

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

While you were sleeping, ThingISBN got better.

LibraryThing does a lot of cool things nobody else does. And, as we grow, we do them better and better.

I’ve got a very good example for today: the ThingISBN service. It was good when it was launched more than a year ago, becoming LibraryThing’s first API, and it’s been getting better ever since. (And where its competitor became a paid service, ThingISBN is still free for non-commercial use.)

The ThingISBN service provides something called “edition disambiguation.” Give it an ISBN and it will shoot back a list of “related” ISBNs—other editions, other media, and translations. Edition disambiguation is valuable stuff. Retailers use it to aggregate reviews and other data across editions, and to sell you something when the book you searched for is no longer available. Libraries use it to make sure a patron leaves with a copy of a book, even if the edition the patron searched for is checked out.

You can get ThingISBN in two ways:

  • As a REST-based API. Just change the ISBN in this URL as needed.
  • As a complete feed (thingISBN.xml.gz in /feeds). We ask that people not hit the API more than 1,000 times per day. Instead, pick up the full feed.

What’s cool here? LibraryThing isn’t the only supplier of this data. The other supplier, OCLC, the Dublin-Ohio based library data organization, compiles its data through clever automated analysis of OCLC’s billion-plus records. Their data and algorithms do a great job. Unfortunately, they charge for the service, called xISBN.

LibraryThing does it differently, relying instead on members, who add, combine and separate editions by the thousands every day. For doing this, LibraryThing members get better connections with other users. That is, you gain connections and enhanced recommendations by connecting your edition with others. The result is a detailed list set of correspondences between editions, assembled by thousands and improving every day.

You’ve got to admit it’s getting better. If you improve every day, you can get pretty good, and that’s what’s happened to ThingISBN. OCLC still beats LibraryThing in quantity, but LibraryThing is closer, and, it seems to me, has a clear advantage for paperbacks.

I want to revist some of the examples I gave when ThingISBN debuted:

  • OCLC’s canonical example is Frank Herbert’s Dune. I don’t have the exact counts, but LibraryThing originally trailed OCLC. (I know because I used it as example in a number of talks.) As of now, however, LibraryThing has passed OCLC, with 89 ISBNs to OCLC’s 80.
  • Peter Green, Alexander of Macedon. When ThingISBN started, both LibraryThing and OCLC knew the recent hardback, and one other edition. That is, LibraryThing knew the paperback and OCLC knew the 1974 first edition. Since then, LibraryThing has discovered the first edition, giving it three ISBNs; OCLC still doesn’t know about the paperback.
  • Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator. OCLC knew of two editions, LibraryThing eight. OCLC now knows three, LibraryThing eleven. It’s about paperbacks, obviously.
  • Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights. Originally LibraryThing had 92 ISBNs, OCLC a commanding 326 ISBNs. OCLC is still in the lead, with 424 ISBNs, but LibraryThing has more than tripled its count, to 285.

Now, I’m quite sure that, overall, OCLC’s xISBN service still beats LibraryThing in coverage. LibraryThing only covers 2.7 million ISBNs. OCLC must cover more.

But LibraryThing is gaining. It’s getting better faster.

And while OCLC continues to sink resources into the project, including staff, now a paid service for all but minimal use as part of its Peace-is-War-ish Openly division, I can tell you honestly that I haven’t touched ThingISBN in six months. I haven’t made it better, even a little. Members made it better.

Now as then, that’s pretty revolutionary stuff.

See you next January, OCLC.

Labels: apis, frbr, oclc, thingisbn, work disambiguation, xisbn

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Webcam misanthropy

The picture from the right is a screenshot for SightSpeed, some sort of video chat thingy I read about on Mashable.

Yawn. But check out the screenshot and tell me if you share my reaction to the cheery ensemble—namely, a strong desire to drown the lot of them or—if that pleasure is denied me—to banish the window as fast as possible.

A bunch of gorgeous 20-something actors* playing “office,” sipping water, sitting too close together and laughing—is there anything more odious? Will somebody older and uglier please barge in and fire these flesh mannequins?

Does anyone see this and see anything other than money wasted and good-looking people pretending? Does this stuff still work on the internet? Aren’t we beyond this?

I was hoping to tie this into LibraryThing’s heroic avoidance of little square profile pictures, of the home page festooned with bibliophile hotties, of book website clip art of attractive non-readers reading in unlikely poses. But you get the picture.

*There remains the possibility that these people actually work for SightSpeed—engineers, systems administrators and so forth. If so, can I short this company?

Labels: profile pictures, sincerity