Today’s ToDo: Go to LibraryThing and poke around. If you want to know what the web will be good for in its next cycle this is a place to visit and reflect upon.
If you’re a book geek you’ll have found a new home. If you’re social networking type, a natural extrovert, take a look–you can hang out with the sorts of folks who read Socrates….or Rowling (or, hey, join both groups). If you’re a web entrepreneur this is an absolutely grand place to take a close look at how to leverage user input into a real, paying business. It’s web 2.o in all its senses. For a site whose major hook is the utterly banal one that it will help you build a catalog of your books this is a wide range of appeals. But we all have our interests and LibraryThing manages to be attractive to a wide range of those interests. But don’t take my word for it, go and poke around. (The quickstart page would be a good place to go early.)
I am a book geek. Even online I go for the printed word. I’ve got books on my walls. I’ve got (many) more books in boxes. I’ve got book boxes I haven’t unpacked in more than a decade. If I don’t have at least one book “going” I get uneasy. I have a pile that are as yet unread. I have a mental list in several topics of books I’d like to order when I clear out my current pile. I like books….It’s not all my fault. My mother was a librarian. I blame it on her. (She is also the reason I still have trouble writing in books.)
It is also my mother’s fault that I like catalogs of books and actually have a preference in cataloging systems. (Dewey Decimal just makes more sense–to me.) So naturally I like the LibraryThing. It makes it easy to keep track of my books. All it takes is the ISBN number. (If you don’t know what that is you are not a book geek; you are, at most, merely a lover of books.) The International Standard Book Number is a book’s unique identifier. Every edition has its own number. Give LibraryThing that number and it will go out onto the net and patiently build up a complete standard reference–and more. For instance, for most books, you can get an image of the cover of your edition. This is a verry nice thing for me since for a big chunk of my live while I was a grad student and professor I had a personal book and article database that included the ISBN of books. Built in HyperCard, it fit me perfectly…but it no longer runs on my latest machine. I keep it on an older ‘puter that I use as a server and kids machine but….the end is in sight. Presto! Export the ISBN numbers and upload them to LibraryThing and the basic reference data is preserved. I can then export them to various flavors of basic database files and I’ll have a nice, clean, vetted set of personalized references.
And yes, this is a good thing.
As lagniappe, it will use Amazon-style algorithms to suggest new books I might like based on my current library. It goes in and looks for similar patterns in other users’ libraries and recommends “missing” ones to me. Even with the random 35 ISBN’s I uploaded to test the system it was frightening just how accurate these recommendations were. I owned a majority of the top 10 and was familiar with all but one. (And I really ought to look into that one. It sounds very interesting. (Oh, of course, the recommendations link to reviews and all that…)) It will even toss your recommendations or library up on your net-enabled mobile phone for you to puruse at Barnes and Noble. Nice. Actually useful.
(You say you find typing in ISBN numbers tiresome? and can’t imagine typing in those arcane numbers for boxes and boxes of books?…you can scan in your ISBNs using a 15 dollar barcode scanner you plug into your computer. Zip, Zap, upload. Really. There’s a page on it.)
It’s got all the social networking goodies. Groups for every genre, subgenre, author, and whatever category you’d like to start up a discussion around. You can publish your library, or not. You can tag your books and share those tags. Review books…argue with reviews. A real community of interest would be the basis for any communication you might have. You can find other users whose libraries have the most overlap with yours. (So, you are into Education, Social Cognition, Connectionism, and hard Science Fiction? There’s probably somebody out there whose interests overlap with your oddest obsessions. Write ’em.
One of the most intriguing things about LibraryThing is the pretty clear monetary value the data you gather would have. It’s web 2.0 to the nth. ALL you ask your users for in exchange for the site and all its goodies is a list of their ISBN numbers. Given a large enough database you can predict users’ future book purchases. That is the most commercially valuable bit of information in the book (or any) trade. I am utterly confident, given how accurate they seemed to be for me, especially given th tiny set of titles and the oddities of my tastes, that other users will find their recommendations on target. Since you can click through to Amazon and buy the book every purchase originating from an accurate prediction of their users’ interests will feed this site a little money. There’s real gold in those finders fees. But it goes beyond that — Random House, one of the biggest publishers around, has made a deal with the site to offer free books for review to users whose library indicates the kind of interest in the topic of the new book they want reviewed. That kind of early feedback from potential buyers (not professional reviewers) could tell you how to best market that book to multiple audiences–and which audiences not to bother with. If the publishers of LibraryThing are not charging a healthy fee to put the publishers and their certified potential audiences together the ought to be. It’s a win-win all around.
Oh, they’re marketing their engine, the user review framework, data, and software to real, physical, libraries as well. They hope users will find it a more interesting and useful card catalog. Sure. But I bet there real money lies in having a handle on their users’ future purchases.