LibraryThing – In Depth Review

Stack of BooksLibraryThing is a great new app that let you catalog you’re books. It’s in early beta and although it needs a lot of feature as far as search, design, and usability it’s a stellar start to what could be the next great website. It’s so easy to bash sites for what they don’t have and so I’m gonna make an extra effort to highlight why it’s so great.

First, as a designer and developer, I was glowing when I saw the “One-step sign up / sign in”. This is such a usable sign up form that it almost made me cry. Simplicity at it’s best. After you sign in you can go to the Add Books tab and start searching for books. Search results are listed in a side iframe which allows for dynamic loading of results. Wonderful use of AJAX as if you are unhappy with your search you can edit what is already in the search box. Clicking any link will add the book to your library and if you make a mistake you can just X it out directly after you add it. It’s some nice work of javascript. Back on the Catalog page you can view all your books. On the right you can edit the book and add tags (yes tags!) and comments as well as view the Library of Congress Card Data. All the text is searchable through a little javascript find link on the top right. Other features include exporting a CSV format which works with excel and (still being worked on) importing your library from Delicious Library. The free account only lest you index up to 200 books. The best part is that the pro account is a one time fee of $10, which if you have more then 200 books is a very worth while investment.

Okay, now for the downside. While it’s a wonderful site and I love it to death it still has some growing pains it needs to get through before it comes out of beta. One immediate downside is that you can not browse for books. This will hopefully be fixed in the future as for some searches like “Harry Potter” where hundreds of books are listed it’s hard to find the six published books you are looking for. On top of this when you do search for “Harry Potter” you can only view the first 10 or so entries. It shows how many entries are not displayed but gives no option of viewing them. Currently the search function is very particular and searches such as “harry potter and the azkaban” for the “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” returns no results while google doesn’t even blink. A hack (or feature) around this is to separate items with a comma. While “harry potter and the, azkaban” does result in a search for “harry potter and the” and separately “azkaban” it still returns results that are too general to find the book you are looking for. If you do find multiple books you own in one search it’s difficult to add them all with out constant use of the back button. Selection of a book refreshes the page and clears the search bar forcing you to retype your search. The hack around this is to (in FireFox) middle mouse click and open each book in a new tab for multiple selection. This does not seem much easier then using the back button but either way there should be a way for javascript to better handle it.

In the Catalog page there are also a number of usability issues. Top left is a Display list that shows what appears to be the multiple pages your library spans. In fact this a list to change how the books are displayed. In preferences you can edit what fields of information are shown and have multiple presets. This makes changing how you browse the books and is very useful. It’s not clear at all that the Display list has anything to do with the preferences until you mess around with it for a few minutes. One reason it is not clear is also because there is no way to jump to a page of your library. You can only display up to 50 books at a time and you only have the option of next or previous pages. The creator of the site, Tim Spalding, currently has over 400 books and how he pages to the end is beyond me. Not to mention that this sparse navigation is not repeated on the bottom of the page causing even more unneeded effort to get through your massive library.

Another short coming is the inability to add other user’s books to your own collection. How easy it would be to build up your library by finding a user with similar taste and just click all the books that you also own. With a little javascript it could make short work of quickly indexing your library. In this way the site is very focused on what you own and not on looking at what other people own. This is in fact slightly counter intuitive to the social aspect of the site. While books link to amazon (where Tim surly hope to get some amazon affiliate love) there is no current benefit to searching others libraries. You can’t add book to your own list with out searching for them. What the site really needs is a wish list of books. This would get people in the buying mind set and in fact might generate more money for the site, possibly even removing the need for the pro account. Other wise it makes little sense to click the books in your library that you own to buy them again from amazon.

Wow this is really long. While I have been rather harsh to LibraryThing only my love for it could develop this much passion (which is the new way to market of course). When it’s all said and done the site is in beta and is being actively developed. While it is interesting that some elements are done beautifully and some are badly designed or even missing there is every reason to believe that they will be addressed and quickly.

Visit my Library at STHayden!

Update: (11-01-05) Most of the problems listed above have since been fixed.

LibraryThing, library, catalog, ajax, Tim Spalding, Delicious Library, tagging

And across the street…

There is a Lewis Black bit where he predicts the end of the world has already come because there is a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks. I was walking down Harvard Ave over by Coolidge Corner and noticed another CVS just down the street from the giant CVS on the corner. How is this possible? I know CVS is all over the place and Coolidge Corner is a happening place but no one needs that many pharmacies by them. If I was expecting this unfortunate event from any store I was expecting it from Dunkin Donuts, a Boston based chain which just so happens to be on every corner.

You got to love Boston but it’s still fun to poke at little inconsistencies.

Coolidge Corner with 2 CVSes

boston, cvs

Slide and Web 3.0

Kottke recently went on a tirade about Web 3.0 or the WebOS. A kind of blurring of the line between desk application and web content. Currently there are a lot of desktop applications that leverage the web and, in a simplistic explanation, WebOS is seems to be the opposite. An application that can be managed locally on your computer (online or not) but can be accessed world wide. Kottke points out a number of web 2.0 applications like Flickr and Gmail that only need some additional feature to reach WebOS status. Mainly Gmail needs to cache mail locally for when you are offline and Flickr needs to let you store your photo collection offline seamlessly with the online version. Kottke put a large emphasis on being off line and I don’t quit grasp why but I do see how storing and managing files on your computer is much more powerfully then having to manually upload them.

Is Slide web 3.0? Well probably not but it’s ridiculously close as far as I am concerned. A large part of Web 3.0 is turning the individual in to the provider. Instead of loading your pictures to the Flickr server you host the pictures on your computer just like a mini web server. That is how Slide works. Slide takes content on your computer and broadcasts it to any one who also have Slide and subscribes to you. Slide turns you in to the provider. As you ad pictures, music, or videos to the folder on your computer your subscribers are notified. The notification is done by visibly scrolling the content across your screen when Slide is running. Not only is this a great way on instant updates it does not require a place to upload the files. Slide does not need to worry about people uploading massive files that will choke their servers.

While I’m in love with the idea I think Slide misses the base on a couple of things. The first is what keeps it from truly being web 3.0. You need to have the program to get any updates to the people you are subscribe too. This keeps the service from being accessible world wide. As smooth and pretty as the interface is it would have been nice to access updates online.

Slide allows people to include all sorts of media files like pictures, movie and music. They even made a mention of links streaming though I have not figured out how to do that one. How they can let people stream their entire music collection to the world is beyond me but more power to them.

As more of a general annoyance Slide does not allow sub folder to be included in the stream. This kept me clicking through the interface for what seemed like forever to include all my sub folders. Easy fixed but it still drove me insane.

The Beta goes live tomorrow, thanks to Johnnie Manzari for the early invite, and hopefully it will take off. Either way Slide is a view of the future in personal hosting and publication. No longer will you have to run Apache to serve document online. From now on they will come with a built in server.

Slide, WebOS, web3.0, review

Falling all over the green line

I’m not really from NY but if I had to pick a city that I considered mine it would be NY. This is mostly because all my local channels were out of NY and not Philly. In NY, and possibly other cities, There is a stigma if you can’t stay standing on the subway. All the local laugh at the out of towners as they try and stay standing. It’s amazing to watch some one who takes the subway all the time. Some people can stand and read with out holding on to a single thing.

On my trips in the sub way I was fairly skilled. I didn’t need to always hold on though every once in a while I would lose my balance and reading while not holding on was out of the question. I was definitely not from NY. Boston has a public transportation system called the T and if not now, I will soon have ridden the T more then the subway in NY. The great things about the T is that everybody falls down. Way out on the green line the T is above ground and lurches through stoplights and attempts not to hit people running across the tracks. It’s impossible to not need to hold on while riding the above ground T.

It so nice being in a place where it’s hard to tell the seasoned professionals from the newcomers.

boston, greenline, subway, ny

Podcast reviews at the Bostonist

For any interested I’m going to be doing a series of Boston podcast reviews over at the Bostonist. After moving up to boston and being O so bored for the first week or so I feel confident that I am a podcast expert. With podcasting being so new there is a real lack of reviews. While ranking systems at Podcast Alley, iTunes, and our lovable friends over at Odeo help they can’t be the only way to find good new content.

podcasts, boston, bostonist, reviews