Sunday, April 16, 2006

LibraryThing: Best Thing Since Dewey

I thought I'd take a brief foray out of the political realm this morning to extoll the virtues of a great new web tool I've been enjoying lately: LibraryThing. It's a viciously (but pleasantly) addictive site that allows you to catalog your library, "tag" your books so they're sortable by subject (or any other feature at all, really) and to check out similar libraries. Since late August of last year, more than 32,000 people have signed up (you can catalog 200 books for free, after that it's $10 a year or $25 for a full lifetime membership), and almost 2.3 million books have been catalogued into the system ... pretty incredible!

After discovering LT in early January (via an article in the Christian Science Monitor), I slowly began inputting my books; that took quite a while, but was great fun. Now I just tend to tinker with things, which can be done absolutely endlessly. You can add pictures of your books (or choose cover images from Amazon, or use those other LTers have added), post reviews of books, you name it. The possibilities and the flexibilities that LT offers are (almost) endless, and the designer, Tim Spalding, is constantly adding new features and improving the existing structure. Just this week a new "Pssst!" page was added, which offers recommendations for you based on how you and others have tagged books.

With a system like this, the potential for statistic-harvesting is fantastic, and Tim does an excellent job of providing all sorts of goodies on his Zeitgeist page: from the 50 largest libraries in LT (someone with over 8,100 books is the current leader!) to the most prolific reviewers (I'm in the top ten with 341 and counting) to the 25 most contentious books based on user-ratings, etc. etc.

Another of my favorite features are the Tag and Author clouds (links are to those of my own collection) - there's also an Author cloud for all of LT, which is quite interesting (JK Rowling blows away the competition). As I said, the possibilities really are endless, and Tim's done an excellent job with making this site as useful and usable as it is.

A very committed community of LT folks (they've started calling themselves Thingamabrians) has sprung up, and they are always debating very interesting issues about LT, cataloging, tagging, etc. in the GoogleGroup or on Tim's LT blog - should music be allowed? How will it handle Japanese characters, or Finnish? Should you catalog books you don't own but want, or books you haven't read? Interestingly, some people say no on that last one ... it's a very diverse crowd, as you might expect on a site like this.

I've finally gotten around to implementing one of the great blog-widgets the site offers (you can see random books from my library over in the sidebar), which was what prompted me to post this morning about LT. There's much more I could discuss, but you really ought to go check out the site yourself. I will warn you, it really is addictive (it's been called "the booklover's equivalent of crack" and "heroin for book junkies"), and you may spend many hours with it - but it's a great site - the web and the world are better for it.


At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intriguing. As a librarian, I have not heard of this yet. Will check this out.

At 5:45 PM, Blogger Charlie said...

That looks quite interesting. I think I may have to try that.

At 8:27 PM, Blogger pacatrue said...

The clouds were interesting. Shows a lot about who uses the site. For instance, I only saw one big romance author name with a big cloud, yet romance is one of the largest, if not largest, genre categories selling. Tells you the romance readers aren't using this so much yet.


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