The internet is so chock full of new ideas these days, it’s almost impossible to keep track. And it shows in the explosion of community based sites that let you share just about every aspect of yourself you can think of. It’s no small wonder that gimmicky flubs like Time’s Person of the Year (it’s You, if you haven’t heard) pop up almost as rapidly as the sites and services that spawn them.
But, that’s not to say that those services aren’t sometimes amazing and innovative, or at least thoughtful. One site that’s been getting a lot of buzz of late, if not for its impressive utilization of the tools already being used by so many other services, but for the sheer coolness of it on the many nerd echelons of coolness, is LibraryThing.com.
I remember a little more than a year ago scrounging around for this exact site, a place where I could upload and share with the world (along with keeping organized records) of every book I own. As an English Major in college I’ve managed to accumulate a fairly substantial collection of books new and old, many of which I would more than willingly share with the world at large. A few hundred of my favorite reads that everyone I know should also read. Is that so much to ask for? At the time, it was. But now, as the population of self sufficient mass community sites explodes across the e-landscape, I decided to look back and the first thing I saw was LibraryThing.
No small wonder either, as LibraryThing is still the first and only site to offer the service properly. I’m sure more will soon follow, but honestly I don’t know why they would bother, because LibraryThing manages to do it almost all right.
First off, the rules. You enter the site and you find a fairly plain, wiki style layout. It’s simple, mostly text and has a ton of links. But, the purpose of the site isn’t to astound you. It’s a library. And like any decent library, the good stuff is inside. Registration is as simple as any registration can be. Email and password and you’re set. And it’s time to start entering books. You have a variety of databases to choose from, but the first two options are the most useful and in my case all inclusive, Amazon.com and The Library of Congress. Between the two, you’ll be able to find any book you could possibly own. I found college pressed text books with near non-existent print runs.
When you enter the name of the book, or the author you’ll receive output identical to that of Amazon’s search function, or if you use the Library of Congress that of a library search engine. The key to remember here is that the site doesn’t differentiate between editions or printings of a book unless they are substantially different. You’re 1979 copy of 100 Years of Solitude will show up in your library exactly the same as the 2003 Oprah Book Club Edition. So, don’t worry about digging through pages of search results to find your exact printing of a book. Just pick the first one you see (that’s in the right language) and you’re set. Right off the bat you can enter up to 200 books for free. After the 200 mark, they do lock your account, but it’s only $10 a year for unlimited additions, or $25 for a lifetime membership. What about that ugly Oprah sticker on the cover though. You want the world to see your original first printing cover? Well, it’s actually a fairly simple process to change the cover that displays for each of your books.
When you switch views to Your Library, you’ll see a myriad of the books you’ve entered. Each of them will either have a cover photo or a brown spot with the title. Don’t fret though, you can fix each and everyone of them to display the cover you have on your book on your bookshelf. Just click on the image, go to Info and then Change Cover, and listed will be every cover Amazon has and that users of the site have uploaded from their own collections. In some cases (Dickens for example) more than 500 cover options appeared for me to choose from. And if your cover still isn’t available, you can upload your own. That’s what I call customization.
But the interface isn’t all there is to this site. The community aspect is just as deep. Built into each and every book is an option to see who else owns your book, what they think of it, what conversations are being carried on about it in the forums, and what books are recommended from those who own your book. You can view general recommendations based on your entire library, giving statistics on people who have similar libraries to yours, or even which books you’re least likely to read based on what you own.
What about your blog you say? Well, the developers thought about that too and have built in an option to add a widget to your blog displaying random books from your collection, or if you have your books tagged, a collection from your library. And if you have an Amazon ID, add it to your widget and you get affiliate dollars for any buys through those links.
Library Thing is by far one of my favorite additions to the community web in the last couple of years. YouTube is amazing, but I’ve always been a man of letters, and for those of you similarly inclined to read than watch, to buy books than DVDs, this is the site you’ve been waiting for.