Thursday, March 23, 2006

LibraryThing - Books meet social networking

Having purchased Book Collector to manage my book collection, I was intrigued by a relatively new web site that is combining some existing ideas into a new twist on social networking. The site is called LibraryThing.

In their own words, "LibraryThing is an online service to help people catalog their books easily. Because everyone catalogs together, you can also use LibraryThing to find people with similar libraries, get suggestions from people with your tastes and so forth. "

I really like the approach. One of the nice things about browsing in a physical bookstore is that the books are normally arranged by subject, then by Author. Which means you tend to meet people with the same interests if you hang around that section. In the days of the independent small bookstore, you could also count on the owner and staff to be a source of suggestions.

Amazon uses a similar concept to suggest books by looking at the patterns thrown up by the books people buy, then making suggestions - "People who bought X also bought Y, so we think you will like it".

While mega-stores like Borders and Kinokunyia are welcome additions to the Singapore scene due to their huge and varied inventory, the staff appear to be functionally illiterate, negating one of prime value propositions for a bricks and mortar bookstore..

LibraryThing goes further by incorporating all the latest Web 2.0 technologies. Using open API's from Amazon, and the Z39.50 protocol, you can look up book information and retrieve cover images, just like Book Collector. You can also use Tags to categorize books according to how you think of them, giving you a convenient way of remembering things the way your own mind works, rather than being forced into the Library of Congress classification for instance.

All that would be worthwhile, but there is more. Becasue all data is kept centrally instead of on the user's PC, LibraryThing can do a lot of pattern recognition. This can be seen on the Zeitgeist page, where there are list of things like "most owned book", "most reviewed", and my favourite, "most contentious" which list the books with the highest deviation in ratings between reviewers. I personally find that I ofter love books that others hate, so this is a good place to start.

The business model, according to the "About" page, is straight subscription. You can maintain a library of 200 books for free, then it costs US$10/year or US$25 perpetual for an unlimited number of books.

The final seal of approval comes from the ability to import and export data. I have written before about the need to be able to move data between devices and formats, and LibraryThing says it supports import and export. No kidding. With an absolutely fuss free interface, LibraryThing basically sucks in any data source and intelligently looks for ISBN data, then goes and looks it up.


Highly recommended.

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