Rediscovering LibraryThing

To prepare for an interview with Tim Spalding, the founder and lead developer of LibraryThing, I re-registered with LibraryThing, spent some quality time with the service, and was wildly impressed.

At one point in the interview, Tim asked me how I, Mr. LibraryLookup, as likely a person as there is to use and appreciate LibraryThing, could have gone so long without hooking up with it.

I think part of the answer is hidden in the first paragraph: I had to re-register for the service, which I had tirekicked a year or two ago. The friction of joining and re-joining online services has become a major barrier.

There’s also conceptual friction. LibraryThing is a deep application that does lots of things, but on the surface, it appears to be a mechanism for cataloging books that you own. In fact it isn’t only that, you can just load it with books that you’ve read, or might read, as a way to seed discovery and recommendation.

Finally, there’s data friction. There are bibliophiles who will obsessively catalog their own collections, but I’m not one of them. I do, however, maintain a list of books on my Amazon wishlist. I syndicate that list to the version of LibraryLookup that alerts me when books on the wishlist become available in my local library.

What I needed was a frictionless way to reuse that list. And on this go-round with LibraryThing I found it. Sort of. You can import your Amazon wishlist into LibraryThing, which is a great way to jumpstart the discovery and recommendation process. It doesn’t yet syndicate from Amazon, so the initial import won’t be refreshed, but Tim says that’s coming.

It turns out not to matter at all that list of books I’m interested in happens to be an Amazon wishlist. All that matters is that I can keep it in some service, somewhere, that can syndicate data to other services elsewhere.

8 Comments

  1. I agree that LibraryThing is great. I’ve been a supporter for a long time.

    Sadly I am also not a obsessive cataloger. I tend to be more interested in keeping track of books I want to read, have read and am currently reading. While you can do that in LibraryThing it’s not the focus and it takes a lot of mouse clicks to do.

    Some other sites have more of a focus on reading like GoodReads, Shelfari and ReadingSocial. But even these sites don’t seem to have enough focus on simple book triage to really make me happy.

    I tend to like my tools to do one thing and do it well and all these sites seem to try and incorporate too many features with out just focusing on one function.

  2. I went back to my LibraryThing today as I was realizing the one thing I *thought* it was missing was a ‘to be read’ option. Well, I found it. Now all I have to do is edit 90% of the books on my LibraryThing bookshelf. I wonder if there is a report to get a list of the to be read books. I could definitely use that.

    BTW, thanks for the reminder about LibraryThing’s existence.

  3. Ah, glad to hear Amazon wishlist syncing is coming–have pestered Tim about that for a little while now.

    See, LibraryLookup works so well, it’s hard to think of LibraryThing as a place for wishlist items..

  4. Oh, now I look like a jerk! Anyway, my point was that I hadn’t looked at Library Lookup in years either. I find this happens to me all the time. I’m out of touch on the very subject I’m supposed to be an expert on. With something like LibraryThing I find that second-hand information too easily drives out the need to explore something on your own. So, for example, a lot of librarians have seen a few slides in a talk or something in Library Journal, but you don’t really get something social—be it technology or, say, dating—until you do it yourself. Reading about it doesn’t count.

    I don’t know what you’re going to keep and what you’re going to cut, but we got into some debate about friction. I concede the problems with friction, but I also think there’s a case to be made *for* it. Depending on what goes up and what doesn’t I’ll try to re-express my point on my blog. I feel like I didn’t say it right, and that it would probably benefit from some time in the head-oven too.

    It was a fun interview!

  5. > Oh, now I look like a jerk!

    Not at all, awareness and discovery and adoption are key issues.

    > you don’t really get something social—be it technology or, say,
    > dating—until you do it yourself. Reading about it doesn’t count.

    Exactly. And that being the case, how can we arrange for people to sample new things in non-trivial ways? Portable context has to be part of the answer.

    > I concede the problems with friction, but I also think there’s
    > a case to be made *for* it. Depending on what goes up and what
    > doesn’t I’ll try to re-express my point on my blog. I feel like
    > I didn’t say it right, and that it would probably benefit from
    > some time in the head-oven too.

    I wound up leaving that stuff out because we were already past the 1-hour mark, but I’d look forward to some cross-blog discussion because I agree there’s something there that we didn’t do justice too. The interview should be up sometime tomorrow BTW.

  6. It’s the obsession today with cataloguing everything we can – book lovers want to catalogue their shelves, people can post their every move in twitter and even mums can post pics of their chilren on sites like gurgle. Now it’s so easy online with these tools. Having said that, I love a good old fashioned book list written by hand…might take a bit longer but it gives a bit of individuality!

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