Interesting: LibraryThing

January 1, 2007


Always looking for stuff to blog about, I thought I’d check out some of the websites listed on the Mashable social sites list. I’m coming from a perspective of a new user, along the lines of “will I use this?” or “does this site make any sense?”

The first site I thought I’d take a peek at is LibraryThing. My first impression was, frankly, it looks cheesy. But after further interaction, I left quite impressed. It’s function first here – as with reddit or Craigslist. Ultimately, the real value is in the staggering amount of people who have signed on, offering up their information. This could possibly be a bibliophile’s dream – maybe bringing to light of day some obscure, dusty tomes stored deep within personal bookshelves and libraries.

For a glimpse at the sheer wealth of information, take a look at the Zeitgeist- it’s pretty fascinating. Talk about being open with your stats. They have 123,893 members and 8,571,045 books cataloged. There are lists of the Top 25 Books, the Top authors – all kinds of tempting info-nuggets.

I signed up and found entering a new book really easy. You start by typing in a title (or ISBN, author, etc.), which is searched for on Amazon or the Library of Congress. A list of books matching the search appears on the right. Just click on the correct title, and it’s added to your library. Once added, you click on a pencil icon to add your information: tags, reviews, your rating, dates you acquired the book (and started and finished reading).

This information is then added to the LibraryThing site. Now, when you go back to “Your Library” you can see a list of your books and ratings. You can sort this list view by any of the columns (title, author, rating) iTunes style. Nice. If you click on a book in your library, the “social” part comes in. There’s a tag cloud, a list of other users that have this book, the cumulative ratings, other people’s reviews, and similar books you might be interested in reading.

So my basic impression is that LibraryThing figured out what they wanted to do (enable people to share information about their books), how to do it (make it easy to enter information and then combine the data in interesting and useful ways), and then did it in a simple, easy to understand manner. Two questions I had before checking out the site were, how easy is it going to be to enter in my book information? And once I did that, what benefit would there be? Largely, both proved to be a positive experience.

So what’s a down side? Well, I’m not a terribly voracious reader – I might read a book a month if that. So realistically, after an initial flurry of activity of entering in my book data, I may not return to LibraryThing often.

Maybe I’m just waxing philosophical about the long term prospects for a website like this, existing in a culture that obviously watches much more television, movies, and YouTube videos than reading. Still, I’m pretty sure there’s enough of a niche audience to support LibraryThing.

Note: I’ve used a program called Delicious Library for the Mac that lets you scan in books by holding the bar code in front of the iSight camera. And there may be a way to import data to LibraryThing from Delicious Library.


  1. AndrewB says:

    Welcome to LibraryThing – it’s a brilliant website, especially with the very active discussions with “touchstones” that link to authors and titles within the site.

    It pays to note that as well as Amazon and the LoC, you can choose from around 50 worldwide libraries (LT uses free Z39.50 connections from these Libraries to search data) to search from and find works to add to your collection.

    As for importing from Delicious Library – the site has a “Universal Import” on the “Joy” tab – this will accept practically any kind of file format or even copy/pasted links. It scans through the file and pulls out the ISBN’s which it then places into a queue and queries them against the sources of your choice. Depending on how many other people have ISBN’s in the queue will affect how long your import will take, as they have to limit the number of queries they push onto sites like Amazon and the Libraries.

    If you have any questions, feature requests or bug reports – see the discussion groups under the “Groups” tab, there’s a heading entitled “Standing Groups”, which are all the site-related groups.

  2. webomatica says:

    Hi Andrew, thanks for the additional info. Although the LibraryThing book entry setup is pretty convenient through the web interface, the ability to import data from Delicious etc. is a huge plus. I think I’ll be checking out LibraryThing again just to test out that feature…

  3. AndrewB says:

    Sure thing :-) It pays to note LT cannot currently extract any other data from your import, apart from the ISBNs. It’s just considered too darn complicated to create an import that supports every possible file format by the variety of cataloguing apps (not to mention home-cooked spreadsheets etc).

    But maybe one day we’ll see such a feature – the site is still young, but backed by ABEbooks and an enthusiastic and growing team. The thing I like is LT may not be extremely “Web 2.0 pretty” but it is heavy on data, I find similar sites too focussed on good looks rather than features and quality/quantity of data.

  4. Webomatica says:

    Thanks. Coincidentally, I noticed this article on ZDnet about social websites and portability of data… something I’m interested in.

    Glad to see you folks are thinking ahead and realizing that once I as a user gets all my book data into in your site, I might want to get it back out someday.