Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Introducing thingISBN

UPDATE: thingISBN is now also availabe in feed format.

Many of you are familiar with OCLC's xISBN service. Give it an ISBN and it returns a list of "associated" ISBNs from WorldCat. So—xISBN's canonical example goes—give it an ISBN for one edition of Dune, and it will return a list of ISBNs of other editions, in XML format. This is red meat for mashups. (Speaking of which, did you know about Talis' Mashing up the Library competition?)

Today I'm releasing "thingISBN," LibraryThing's "answer" to xISBN. Under the hood, xISBN is a test of FRBR, a highly-developed, well thought-out way for librarians to model bibliographic relationships. By contrast, thingISBN is based on LibraryThing's "everyone a librarian" idea of bibliographic modeling. Users "combine" works as they see fit. If they make a mistake, other users can "separate" them. It's a less nuanced and more chaotic way of doing things, but can yield some useful results.

To use thingISBN, point your browser at a URL like this, replacing the ISBN as appropriate:

To compare xISBN and thingISBN add &compare=1

thingISBN vs. xISBN.
UPDATE: OCLC has disallowed comparison.
I've done some preliminary comparisons between the two services. The results are pretty interesting. For starters, OCLC has much broader ISBN coverage. The dataset is orders larger, and "regular people" just don't own certain books. Where the data sets overlap, however, LibraryThing can contribute a lot, particularly when it comes to paperbacks and non-US editions.

  • 031228884 (Elizabeth Cook, Achilles). Recently-published novel. OCLC and LibraryThing know about two ISBNs. LibraryThing adds two others, a UK hardback and a UK paperback.
  • 0553212583 (Wuthering Heights). OCLC and LibraryThing share 60 editions. OCLC alone knows 266. LibraryThing alone knows 32.
  • 0520071654 (Peter Green, Alexander of Macedon...). OCLC and LibraryThing both know this hardcover ISBN. LibraryThing knows the paperback, but OCLC includes the 1974 first-edition.*
  • 0310241448 (Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator). OCLC and LibraryThing know of one hardcover edition. OCLC knows of no other editions. LibraryThing knows of seven others. Wow.**
  • 0393049841 (Jason Epstein, The Book Business). OCLC and LibraryThing share two ISBNs. OCLC knows one by itself. LibraryThing also knows one by itself, but it's to Simple Pineapple Crochet. Yes, you read that right. I'm not sure where the error is from, but it's either a pitfall of the "everyone is a librarian" system, or of LibraryThing's occasionally ratty data.
Mashups? I brought out thingISBN in part to provide more grist for Talis' Mashing up the Library competition. I was careful to make thingISBN's output follow the conventions of xISBN, so that existing xISBN code could be reused. I'm looking forward to see if anyone does anything with it. (One obvious application would be as an addition to LibX, an open-source Firefox extension that leverages xISBN to help you find things in your library. Here's an excellent screen cast of it at work.)

As usual, comments, criticisms, bug reports and feature requests are asked for and gratefully received.

The fine print. By using thingISBN you agree to the following terms and conditions:
  • thingISBN is available for non-commercial use only.
  • You cannot hit thingISBN more than once per second.
  • If you're going to hit thingISBN more than 1,000 times/day, you must notify LibraryThing (we'd love to hear what you're doing). This is the current policy. If thingISBN turns out to be a success I'll optimize the code more, put it on my second server and allow it to be hit as hard as people want to hit it.
  • ThingISBN is provided "as is," without any promises or guarantees. LibraryThing is not responsible for any errors in the data, damages resulting from its use, your teenager's attitude or the state of the world generally.
  • We reserve the right to change these terms and generally make things up as we go.
*Stratch that. LibraryThing knows it now too. A user had it, but it wasn't combined; I went ahead and combined it. Actually, Green changed a lot between editions, but they still qualify as one "work." (This edition, with another ISBN, may also be the same work, but I'm not sure, so I left it.)
**I started look around to see if this disparity was true in general of religious books. I think it isn't, or at least the effect isn't as striking.

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Blogger dennis said...

That last biography of Alexander is by ROBERT Green, not Peter. There's a cataloguing error to be fixed there.

6/14/2006 2:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are there any plans to introduce an SRU/W interface to LibraryThing so that book metadata and user networks can be used in a mash-up?

6/14/2006 4:23 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I don't think I'll be adding SRU/W any time soon--it looks very thorny to write--unless someone can suggest some open-source tools I should look at.

I am, however, quite willing to roll out APIs based on ISBNs. I might do a title-base one too. What data do you want back?

6/15/2006 1:09 AM  
Blogger Bob F said...

It took me a couple of tries to realize at 2 a.m. that isbn must be ISBN. If this is an easy thing, how about allowing lower-case? I found all the Norton Anthology's of Poetry!!

6/15/2006 3:07 AM  
Anonymous Magnus Enger said...

Thanks for releasing thingISBN, I think it makes for a very interesting complement to XISBN!

I for one think it would be really, really interesting to have an API into LibraryThing that, given an ISBN, returned 1) identifiers (ISBNs) or 2) metadata (title, author, year, ISBN - the basic stuff) for *related* ISBNs. That could be either or all of "People who own this book/Similarly tagged/Special sauce".

6/15/2006 9:24 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Sorry about the caps. URLs are case-sensitive unless you fiddle with the server. Keeping them case sensitive has speed and "search engine optimization benefits."

I can't return "standard" metadata that comes from Amazon. Nor do I think it's really what LT does best. (You can get titles and etc. from Amazon or a library.)

I could return social data. The question is, which?

6/15/2006 3:02 PM  
Anonymous Felius said...

I could return social data. The question is, which?

The three sets of "Book Recommendations" that show up on the social page for a given work would be the best thing to start with, in my opinion.

If I could take an ISBN, then use Librarything's works and recommendations data (through your API) to get back a list of ISBNs of books under one of those recommendations lists, I'd be very excited :)

6/19/2006 2:05 AM  
Anonymous George Burke said...

These APIs are a great idea Tim. Especially the book recommendation social data.

6/20/2006 10:31 AM  
Blogger Steph said...

I've recently stumbled across this blog and though I find it quite interesting my technology vocabulary and skills are a bit behind the times. Can anyone recommend a site to learn the basics on?

I'm familiar with blogs, wiki, tags, RSS/Atom and the likes, but that's about it. I'm still fuzzy on mashups, APIs and the xISBN and LibX stuff. How much programming does one need to understand these technologies? What programming languages are recommended?

I hope these questions stay within the standard etiquette of the blog. I'm not trying to be annoying, just trying to get my skills up to speed. Thanks.

6/20/2006 3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Under the hood, xISBN is a test of FRBR, a highly-developed, well thought-out way for librarians to model bibliographic relationships. By contrast, thingISBN is based on LibraryThing's "everyone a librarian" idea of bibliographic modeling."

A note on this, becuase misunderstandings of FRBR are one of my pet peeves. This isn't really so. xISBN is no more or less a test of FRBR than thingISBN.

FRBR is a conceptual model. The part of it that is relevant to what we are talking about here is the model of Work, Expression, Manifestation, and Item. xISBN (and OCLC's general "work set" model), just like thingISBN (and LibraryThing's general 'work set' model), is concerned only with Work and Manifestation.

The FRBR model doesn't actually give specific instructions on when a manifestation is or is not a part of a work. It gives general guidelines, but says that the exact determination will neccesarily be both subjective and context-specific. The FRBR model is not in fact about highly-developed specific specifications.

OCLC's coordination of work sets is algorithmic and based on manifestatons having the same title and author etc. It's purely automatic--although based on human-supplied metadata, it's not human supplied metadata originaly intended to specify worksets, exactly.

LibraryThing's coordination of worksets is based on "everyone a cataloger" (although it starts with a similar automatic algorithm to OCLC, true?).

This is an awfully interesting and potentially useful thing to do. But it's no less (OR more) FRBR than what OCLC is doing. And in fact, what OCLC is doing is no more highly developed or well thought out. All that FRBR supplies to BOTH projects is the idea of "Work" and "Expression" (and in fact, that idea is not unique to FRBR of course, but FRBR is an attempt to develop some consensus and common vocabulary around it). The exact way that OCLC puts work sets together is not in fact any more specified by the FRBR model than the way that LibraryThing does.

6/21/2006 3:41 PM  
Blogger kencf said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/07/2006 3:18 AM  
Blogger kencf said...

And just to add another layer of spime, courtesy of Slashdot, consider Barcodepedia, a community based online barcode database.

7/07/2006 3:22 AM  
Blogger Glen Davis said...

I suspect that the difference with Strobel's book is that it was written to be an evangelistic giveaway, and has thus been printed in many different editions (for example, there are special economy bulk sets for churches, college ministries, and youth ministries).

I suspect that you will find similar disparities with other books meant to be handed out.

7/21/2006 8:49 PM  
Blogger Deep Furrows said...

It would be great if LibraryThing could add some libraries of religious institutions like seminaries, notre dame, georgetown, etc.

7/28/2006 9:49 PM  
Anonymous jasmine said...

What do you mean the user can combine and separate works?
I am a librarythings's user where and how can I do this job?

Thank You :)

5/17/2007 2:43 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

See .

5/17/2007 7:39 AM  
Anonymous corinne said...

Are you using the new 13-digit ISBN's in this resource or just the old kind?

7/03/2007 1:32 PM  
Blogger Brad said...

Could I get this as json with a callback?

8/24/2009 1:15 PM  

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