Archive for the ‘book covers’ Category

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

CoverGuess: The game that helps people find books…

See the main blog. (Posted to the wrong blog and too many links to this to just delete it.)

Labels: book covers, new feature

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

More on covers

Three quick updates to our announcement that we were releasing one million covers.

  • We’ve raised the daily covers maximum to 5,000. In fact, you get much more than this as we only count when the cover has to be made. That is, if you or anyone else hits the same cover more than one within a few days, it counts as one hit. If that’s not enough, let me know and I’ll raise your number.
  • Art Zemon has released a simple LibraryThing covers caching script in PHP. We welcome local caching.
  • Library Journal did a nice piece on the effort.
  • UPDATE: Blogger Alejandro Garza has instructions for the Millennium Module for Drupal.
  • UPDATE: The LawLibrary Blog has a nice piece on the legalities of the issue.
  • UPDATE: We’ve started a wiki page for Covers with basic instructions.

Labels: book covers, coverthing

Thursday, August 7th, 2008


Did you hear that? It was the sound of LibraryThing announcing A million free covers for your library or bookstore.

Won’t someone in the library world, um, blog this?

Labels: book covers, coverthing

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

Zoomii: Book covers, physicality and cover usability

Recognition vs. Discovery
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown Cannibals and Kings by Marvin Harris

Have you played with Zoomii yet? It’s a new bookstore—a skin on—that uses a very attractive and dynamic cover-browsing interface. Instead of text, or a mix of text and graphics, Zoomii is all covers, laid out as if they were on an “endless shelf.” The effect is very impressive but also, and with due praise for the ingenuity involved, unsatisfying.

There is no shelf. Part of the problem stems from the “physicality” of the idea. The limits of shelves are the limits of the physical world. Importing physical limitations into the online world is a familiar error. As Clay Shirky remarked in 2005, we ought to be over it.

“People have been freaking out about the virtuality of data for decades, and you’d think we’d have internalized the obvious truth: there is no shelf. In the digital world, there is no physical constraint that’s forcing this kind of organization on us any longer. We can do without it, and you’d think we’d have learned that lesson by now.”

In Shirky’s analysis, not “learning that lesson” results in information architectures like that of the original Yahoo directory:

“Yahoo, faced with the possibility that they could organize things with no physical constraints, added the shelf back. They couldn’t imagine organization without the constraints of the shelf, so they added it back.”

In Zoomii’s case, the whole point was to add the shelf back. It was surely a conscious reversal, and therefore an audacious one, but like swearing off email in favor of handwritten correspondence or communiting in cars in favor of horses, not an efficient one.*

Covers and usability. Zoommii also helped me answer a question I have been struggling toward for some time but never fully worked out for myself: What are covers good for?

If you had asked me a month ago, I would have mentioned Gardnerian “Theory of multiple intelligences,” and the contrast between visual learners and those who do better with text. This concept has a lot of relevance in my own life.** And I would have mentioned how covers were a great way to browse other people’s library.

The truth is, I think, much more simple:

  1. Covers are great for recognition, because visual memory is faster than reading.
  2. Covers are terrible for discovery, because reading covers, with all their different typefaces and layouts, is slower than reading words.

Transferred to web design, these are fundamentally uability principles, and for the bookstore or OPAC developer up there with any overbroad dictum of Jacob Nielsen—not the full story, but a good rule-of-thumb and starting-point.

In retrospect, this patterns can be seen all over LibraryThing. On the new home page, your recently-added books are shown as covers because you are expected to recognize them at sight, but recommended books are in list format by default, because you probably aren’t familiar with them. This principle also solves why list and cover view are both useful. Cover view is, in particular, a great way to scope out someone else’s library quickly—when you’re looking for commonality, not making a detailed assessment.

Obvious as this discovery is in retrospect—and you may have known it all along—I think it was worth spellng out carefully. In my estimation, bookstores and online library catalogs lack a clear rationale for when covers should be used and when they shouldn’t. Often the idea seems to be that covers add “panache,” which to some extent they do.

But there are some deeper principles at work in the decision to use covers, and the decision to put them on virtual shelves.

*In this vein there’s a good deal to be said from David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous. In Weinberger-ian terms, Zoomii is a throwback to the “first order of order.” Incidentally, for a quick fly-by of both Shirky and Weinberger, check out Mike Wesch’s Information R/evolution.

**Although obviously a reader, I am an unusual visual person. I learned this when in a group of graduate students preparing to take Latin. We all took a standard learning-styles test so that we understood the idea. The class was perfectly split between visual and textual learners—the archaeologists were visual, the philologists textual. Except for me. I showed up on the visual side. It was a revelation to me because I couldn’t even understand my fellow philologists. Confronted with the task of navigating to an unknown place and offered a choice between a map and a set of directions these people chose the directions? Were they insane?

Labels: book covers, clay shirky, david weinberger, jacob nielsen, usability, zoomii

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Covers from Google: Too good to be true?

I created this cover (well except for van Gogh’s contribution). You may use it!

A few months ago when the Google Book Search API came out, I was among the first notice that GBS covers could be used to deck-out library catalogs (OPACs) with covers, potentially bypassing other providers, like Amazon and Syndetics. I subsequently promoted the idea loudly on a Talis podcast, where a Google representative ducked licensing questions, giving what seemed like tacit approval.

It seemed so great–free covers for all. Unfortunately, it now seems that it was too good to be true. At a minimum, the whole thing is thrown into confusion.

After some delay, Google has now posted–for the first time–a “Terms of Use” for the Google Book Search API ( If you’re planning to use GBS data, you should be sure to read it.

The back story is an interesting one. Soon after I wrote and spoke about the covers opportunity, a major cover supplier contacted me. They were miffed at me, and at Google. Apparently a large percentage of the Google covers were, in fact, licensed to Google by them. They never intended this to be a “back door” to their covers, undermining their core business. It was up to Google to protect their content appropriately, something they did not do. For starters, the GBS API appears to have gone live without any Terms of Service beyond the site-wide ones. The new Terms of Service is, I gather, the fruit of this situation.

Now, I am not a lawyer and I am not a reporter. I don’t know who, if anyone, messed up. Nor do I fully understand what the new Terms of Service requires or allows. Although I am told they put the kibosh on using GBS as a replacement for other cover providers, I can’t find a straightforward prohibition on using GBS for covers, primarily or secondarily. But it starts out with the statement that:

“The Google Book Search API is not intended to be a substitute or replacement of products or services of any third party content provider.”

And there are other concerning clauses. There is a vague bullet about not posting content that infringes any other parties’ “proprietary rights.” And there are clauses that should give pause to many on the library-tech listservs–about not reordering results, not crawling, not caching, and so forth.

My interest in free data is well known. I think the days of selling covers—something publishers give out for free—are passing away. But if this happens, it must be done fairly. Those who provide proprietary data should be able to protect it, at least as far the law allows them to. (Since no data suppier can “copyright” their cover images, any restrictions must be based in licenses.*) Those of us who argue for free data** must respect this. That’s the difference between “free as in freedom” and “free as in ‘fell of a truck.'”

Meanwhile, being among the most vocal proponents of using GBS for covers—and having no idea the covers’ weren’t Google’s to do with what they pleased—I have been asked to sensitize librarians that “some of this content is licensed and they need to be respectful of infringement issues.”

So, that’s the word. Now if I only understood it.

*And, I gather, there is some doubt about “posted” licenses on publicly-available websites, as opposed to licenses that require explicit agreement. By the way, did you know that, by reading this, you’ve agreed to dance on the table like a damn fool next time you hear the Gypsy Kings? Do not disregard this license. We’ll know.
**At least those who believe in the right of contract or property.

Labels: book covers, google book search

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Headless body in topless bar*

I love book covers; I designed one of my wife‘s—not the best, but it broke a long publisher/author stalemate—and marveled as the rest went by. Cover design is a dark art. The right cover is crucial to the success of a novel, but designers can’t afford to spend too much time or money on them, and seek safety in herds.

Book Cannibal has a funny piece on The Mystery of the Decapitated Cover Models, “There are certain trends in publishing that baffle me. … [W]hat’s with all these covers that feature half of some girl’s face?” They start with the Gossip Girl books, but they’re everywhere, including LibraryThing author Elizabeth Bear‘s novels.

Book Cannibal wonders about the phenomenon, providing one good explanations, via her editor:

“The editor explained that B&N wants covers with live models (as opposed to scenery, or abstract painting, or an icon). Sometimes, the models aren’t quite the right age (I’m guessing this is the case re: Gossip Girls), but if you cut off part of their face, voila! Youth. You can slice away the years.”

Readers provide some others. I’m minded to look a few years back, when feet and shoes were all the rage, as Trashionista reminds us (see also GalleyCat’s dissection). First it was just feet, now we’re up to the jaw. This is progress, I suppose.

Anyway, I spent an enjoyable hour surfing book covers. This ended in 20 minutes of uncontrollable laughting at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, including this cover, with the nice observation “Why is the executive wearing a prep school jacket?”

*Famous New York Post headline, also the title of a book subtitled “The Best Headlines from Americas Favorite Newspaper.”

Labels: book covers, fun