04 July 2006

The Book’s The Thing

Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran an article about a new(ish) online book cataloging site called LibraryThing.com (the article was called “Social Networking for Bookworms,” by Aaron Rutkoff, 27 June 2006). As someone who happily accepts the label of bookworm, I have been testing the site myself since I saw the article, and it is a very clever creation, with much of its cleverness lying in its simplicity. LibraryThing.com’s purpose is to enable you to catalog your own books, and to connect you (somewhat loosely) with other book owners with similar – or completely different – interests.

Thus far, one component that I have found most intriguing is the rating and commenting system, which allows users to review a book, either in brief form (by selecting from a scale of five stars) or at greater length by posting a review. Other sites do this too – Amazon.com allows people to rate a book – so it may be off-base to suggest there is greater purity to the reviews posted to LibraryThing.com. However, the books that are reviewed here are not necessarily those that attract the most attention on sites like Amazon, which is what makes this network of bookworms more interesting. I would guess that most active book readers will also have little difficulty finding someone they know with whom they can discuss a book and how they felt about it; nor are professional book reviews difficult to come by. Still, another group of reviewers makes for a different range of perspectives, and that is always engaging. (I was pleased to see that someone else owns a copy of Amanda Filipacchi’s Love Creeps; I liked the book too, as mentioned here.)


The following quote in the Journal’s article also caught my attention: “Mr. Spalding’s book community has grown almost exclusively by word of mouth. Referrals from book-oriented bloggers have helped, but LibraryThing has grown mostly gradually.” The site, which was launched in August 2005, now has more than 45,000 registered members and a catalog listing of more than 3 million books, according to the Journal.

So, the site launched in August of 2005 – almost a year ago – and this article is the first I heard of it. That is intended as an expression of surprise, and yes, I am surprised: partly because I have both friends and family in the publishing business; partly because even in my own line of work, books play such an important role and are so often discussed, fiction and non-fiction alike. Indeed, at a recent meeting I attended in Portland, Oregon, I made a trip to Powell’s City of Books – and I was hardly the only person amongst the many present to do so. Along with music and writing, books are an enormous part of my life. That I am eleven months behind the curve fascinates me.

Clearly, I’m not reading the right things that I didn’t come across this earlier... Where else might I have heard about it? A search on Technorati.com for references to LibraryThing.com is only so revealing since there are thousands of mentions, and distinguishing between the early-adopters of the bunch is no easy task. Not a single friend of colleague mentioned it; if anything, I have mentioned it to a number of people I know since seeing the Journal’s article.

Maybe this isn’t much of a mystery. I did get there eventually – and in its own way that proves the point made in the Journal’s article about the LibraryThing.com’s connection to the “long tail” concept of supply and demand: that technologies like the web are making it possible for consumers to get more of what they really want, because for the systems that supply them the cost of providing such items is dropping, and more products can be reached more easily by more people. If all this means I’m more in the “long tail” than in the body itself, well, I guess I can live with that – as long as I keep reading, to make up for what I’ve missed.


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