We’ve introduced a series of improvements to LibraryThing’s core strength—high-quality book cataloging.
Detail pages and edit pages. We’re replaced the previous detail and edit pages with more attractive and functional ones. That’s an edit page over on the right. For a detail page, check out my copy of my the obscure-but-wonderful*, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army.
Employing a simple tabbed interface, the new detail pages cover both the “work” level and the individual book level. The latter has been sorely lacking.
Multiple authors, roles. When it comes to cataloging our weakest point was always our handling of “secondary” authors—illustrators, translators, editors and the like. Doing them better has been one of the most insistent requests.
We’ve got a real system now. Books added today come with secondary authors and author roles built in. We’ve set down a small number of preset “roles,” such as Editor, Translator, Photographer and so forth—based on Amazon’s preset roles—but all roles are editable. In time, these roles will be spread throughout the system, so that the author page for someone like Steven King will include not only his own works, but collections he appears in. Translators in particular will finally get their due.
For now, enhanced author and role information is available only for newly-added books. As the system is firmed-up we will begin allowing members to “upgrade” existing records, with multiple authors as well as other cataloging enhancements.
New fields. So far, we’re releasing only two new fields. The first is for the number of copies, in case, like I, you have 500 copies of your wife’s novel, resisting relocation in the foyer. The second is the much-anticipated “private comments” field. Go ahead, pour your hearts out. The field is only viewable when you are signed in.
We’re starting with two, but we have many more waiting in the wings, including fields for edition, publisher, place of publication, binding, physical size and weight, list price—even OCLC number and ISSN. Casey and I spent a lot of time figuring out what more we can squeeze from library data, and from Amazon too. (Did you know, for example, that all library data records declare whether or not they are a Festschrift, but there is no standard way of indicating a CD?)
New Libraries. We’ve been unveiling libraries slowly. By New Years, however, we will have almost 700 libraries. Including among these will be many outside of English-speaking countries, and including books in non-Latin scripts, such as Arabic, Korean and Armenian. Library systems are notoriously twitchy with non-Latin data, and between LT employees we cover nothing beyond Greek. If you’re interested in helping us test these systems, we’d love to hear it.
New Languages. LibraryThing is already available in more than a dozen languages. We’re about to release sixteen more. They are:
Afrikaans, Arabic, Armenian, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Farsi, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Macedonian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Tagalog, Urdu
Some of our existing translations have done well—German, Dutch, Welsh—while others—Basque, Latvian—have languished. I think I see now that the key ingredient is a small cadre of zealots willing to do enough initial work that subsequent, interested but less-daring helpers can carry thing the rest of the way. If you’re interested in helping out on one of these languages, let us know. We’ll give you a special key in.
MARCThing. Underneath many of our improvements is an exciting new package we’re calling MARCThing. Developed by our own Casey Durfee, MARCThing is a complete, self-contained and largely idiot-proof way to access and parse library data. We’re going to making it available for non-commercial use and extension. We expect lots of interesting things to come of it.
I’ve asked Casey to write up a post on MARCThing over on the Thingology blog. It’ll be there in a sec. Check it out.
Talk about it. Yesterday was Götterdämmerung for everything new. So much changed so completely that a lot ended up broken. For that we apologize. Chris and I are very grateful for the flood of bug reports, suggestions, criticisms and encouragement. That thread is threatening to hit 200 posts, so I’m starting a new thread for lingering issues (there are a few) and other topics related to this blog post. Of course, you can also comment on this post. Blog posts are a lousy place for bugs, but they’re a great place for more detailed questions, disagreements and so forth.
Future steps. In the next week we’ll be unveiling the other new fields, and building a “data-enhancement” option for older records. After that, the path is clear for collections. (But don’t shoot me if I slip a Secret-Santa feature in this week.)
Final thoughts. We’ve undertaken to improve this aspect of the site despite some contrary advice—that most people don’t care about getting the data right, and that we need to focus on the purely social parts of the site. After all, we’re already the best at this side, so why spend time and money to get better?
Although, with cataloging improved, we intend to turn our attention to better UI—such as collections—and to improved social features, we feel that LibraryThing isn’t MySpace—that content and conversation are inextricably linked. As Tim O’Reilly recently put it in an interview, LibraryThing is one of a number of sites that provide different, interesting takes on the “social graph.” You don’t get to interesting relationships around books without making the book-side as powerful and flexible as can be.
*And, on LibraryThing, insanely over-promoted!