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Sunday, 2 March 2008

LibraryThing's interface changes are gradual, like personal knowledge. But before you know it something amazing has occurred.

Or else, it's like waking up (as I did this morning) to find the sneezes and constant nasal evacuations of the previous evening have disappeared. LT regularly has downtime - usually to increase some part of its processing capacity - but the evidence (23 million books catalogued in around two-and-a-half years) shows people don't mind.

I look out the window today at the six-thirty skyline's remote pinpricks of light disappearing in the sub-cloudal grey and relish the vacuity of my sinuses. I am no longer sneezing every two minutes. I am ready for a new day.

LT's member profile page alone has several interesting developments. Some of these are layout changes, which may not be trivial. Changes in layout can potentially enrage a user not expecting them.

Here, the 'tag cloud' and 'author cloud' links have been shifted from the main block to the global navigation that sits just beneath the site nav tabs. And there's a new arrival here too.

The 'recommendations' link takes you to a page where you can use your keywords to generate a list of similar books (similarly tagged) belonging to other members. The accuracy, naturally, depends on the likness of your keywoards to others'.

For example, if I go to the Recommendations page, select 'history' (a keyword of mine) using the drop-down, and click 'non-fiction' next to the 'Similarly-tagged books' label, I get an interesting list of others' holdings:

1. The landmark Thucydides : a comprehensive guide to the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
387 copies. 7 reviews. Average rating 4.41. Why?
2. Fourteen Byzantine rulers : the Chronographia of Michael Psellus by Michael Psellus
104 copies. 3 reviews. Average rating 4.06. Why?
3. Byzantium : the decline and fall by John Julius Norwich
217 copies. Average rating 4.12. Why?
4. The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan
392 copies. 3 reviews. Average rating 3.97. Why?
5. The Dutch Republic : its rise, greatness and fall, 1477-1806 by Jonathan Israel
97 copies. 1 reviews. Average rating 3.83. Why?

If I click on the word 'why?' next to a listing, LT gives me something like:

Because you own: The History, The History of the Peloponnesian War

I can also click on the link next to 'Special-sauce recommendations' and get:

1. History of Art - Ancient Art by Elie Faure
10 copies. Why?
2. History of Art - Medieval Art ( Trans. by Walter Pach ) by Elie Faure
12 copies. Why?
3. Love, death, and money in the Pays d'oc by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie
21 copies. Why?
4. Capitalism in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century by Violet Barbour
9 copies. Average rating 4. Why?
5. The Barbarian West : The Early Middle Ages, A.D. 400-1000 by J. M. Wallace-Hadrill
76 copies. Average rating 3.5. Why?

Hey, this is a lot of fun! Elie Faure was a fave of mine as an undergrad.

My first question? Just how are the lists generated... I find odd, for instance, that there are so many books about ancient and pre-modern history instead of, say, books of twentieth-century history. I would have thought it more likely that LTers would own books about WWII than about the Peloponnesian War. I would have been incorrect.

We do get told why, of course.

Rather than using your own tags—and not everyone uses tags — "Similarly-tagged books" uses the most significant tags applied by the entire LibraryThing community.

As normally happens, a book's ranking is based on frequency: the book that has the most copies in LT matching your keyword, appears at the top. There are other new items, too.

If I then go back to my profile page and click on the 'stats' link in the global nav section, the regular page appears. But there's something new, here, too. A series of book lists below the bar graphs shows famous individuals who owned books of mine.

Alfred Deakin is here, as is Marie Antoinette. Thomas Jefferson sits just above Sylvia Plath. Being in such company adds a certain glamour, not only to my personal book selections, but to books themselves. They gild the lily (which was already a bright shade of pale).

The fleur-de-lis is a recent object of fascination for me. I'm daily tempted to purchase some object with this design as a dominant element, or a cast or carved exemplum.

Speaking in these terms makes me remember how easy it was, yesterday, to burn a CD using Vista. This is because Vista assumes (like the Mac OS before it) that if you copy a file and paste it to a volume loaded to the DVD R/W drive, it means you want to burn a CD.

For this reason today I salute Microsoft, whereas yesterday I damned the company.

The navigator, moreover, is very easy to use. It now has more axes of movement for navigation. Instead of going up and down a tree structure (as you used to do with XP), in Vista you can also shift horizontally between trees. So you can more readily copy a file from a deep location on your hard drive to a temporary drive such as a USB stick.

Speaking of convenience brings me back to the picture on this post. My LT 'work multiples' keep growing because my library has no storage method. If it were alphabetical, I'd see a shorter list. This calls for a complete makeover, but how to find the time!

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