Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Introducing Reviews for LibraryThing for Libraries!

We've just released a new feature for LibraryThing for Libraries: Reviews. We've been working on this for months, and are itching to show it to you. (If you're at Internet Librarian in Monterey, come by the booth for a full demonstration.)

The idea is simple:
  • Your library patrons get to review anything in your library.
  • Libraries share reviews, so a critical mass can build.
  • Implementation is absurdly simple—one short piece of JavaScript added to the catalog template. Period.
The "extras" send it into orbit:
  • It comes with 200,000 high-quality, vetted reviews from LibraryThing.
  • Your patrons get blog widgets and a Facebook application to show off their reviews—and their love for their library. Don't get why this is great? Keep reading.
Check it out. Three libraries are currently showing reviews, together with the other LibraryThing for Libraries enhancements--similar books, tags and other editions and translations. Click on the reviews wording (see above) to launch the reviews "lightbox."Reviews in your catalog. The reviews wording shows up on all detail pages--not just books. You can also elect to show reviews on "search" or "list" pages. (Neither Los Gatos or High Plains have done this.)

LibraryThing for Libraries is not an "external" service. Everything happens in the catalog, not on some external site. "Reviews" works the same way. Like the rest of LTFL, it loads after the rest of the page, so it doesn't slow it down.

Lightbox magic. Other reviews solutions have either put showing and editing reviews in an external window--kludgy and likely to trigger pop-up alerts--or shoe-horned reviews into the catalog page, mucking it up and subjecting reviews to space and style constraints.

We decided to do something different, putting reviews in a "lightbox," like our Tag browser. This combines the best of both solutions--in-place action and a rock-solid, stylish look. Reviews are in the catalog, but they aren't imprisoned by it.

Two-hundred thousand LibraryThing reviews. We think LibraryThing for Libraries reviews, especially with our widgets and Facebook app., are going to push patron reviewing to a new level. But the fact remains that no library project has yet managed to get patrons reviewing on the scale of an Amazon or a LibraryThing. And nothing kills people's incentive to review than a desert--like restaurants, emptiness begets emptiness and success success.

So we're kicking in over 200,000 LibraryThing reviews--gently vetted by LibraryThing staff.

These 200,000 reviews put LibraryThing miles ahead of our only "reviews" competitor, Chilifresh. They doesn't release totals, but their numbers are low. Here for example are Chilifresh vs. LibraryThing for Libraries numbers for the last eight Pulitzer winners:

Pulitzer Prize winnersChilifreshLibraryThing
2008The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz1 review24 reviews
2007The Road by Cormac McCarthy8 reviews199 reviews
2006March by Geraldine Brooks1 review50 reviews
2005Gilead by Marilynne Robinson0 reviews45 reviews
2004The Known World by Edward P. Jones1 review40 reviews
2003Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides1 review120 reviews
2002Empire Falls by Richard Russo1 review32 reviews
2001The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon1 review69 reviews
2000Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri0 review27 reviews

When push comes to shove, you don't need 199 reviews. But Putlizer winners are popular books. When a popular book has 199 reviews, less popular books will have five or ten. Conversely, if Gilead and Interpreter of Maladies can't get a review, the rare stuff definitely won't have it.

Want to blog that table? (I wish you would. It took me forever to make.) Here's the HTML.

My reviews at Los Gatos Public Library
Blog widgets and Facebook application. I do a lot of talking about "User Generated Content" (a horrible, dehumanizing phrase). Again and again I hit one point that--I think--Library 2.0 too often misses: User Generated Content isn't about "getting something"--it's about giving something.

People don't review books to help a library, or even their community. They do it to get something back--a record of what they read and an opportunity to express themselves--and express themselves to the people they know.

This means two things. First, unlike some other systems, we made sure every member had a page--and one with a permanent link, so they could send it to friends. And second, it meant that we make sure patrons could showcase their reviews outside of their library catalog, where they "live" on the web. Both options are available from review members' "settings" page.

Check out LibraryThing for Libraries' "Reviews at My Library" on Facebook in the screen-shot. (The application is here, but you need to have a Facebook membership to get to it.) Here's the blog widget in action:

More soon. I've got to run to our booth at Internet Librarian, but I'll blog more soon. LibraryThing members will want to know how the two systems connect.*

*Members can opt-out of their reviews being seen in libraries--just edit your profile, although, because of caching, changes are not immediate.

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Blogger Fyrefly said...

Since I'm not a library, what I really want is the "more soon". Do all of these people signing up through their libraries have LT accounts created for them? Do their reviews show up on the works page? Does the helpful/not helpful voting affect the thumbs (or vice versa)? Is there a Facebook application in the works so that us folks whose library doesn't run LTFL can still share our reviews?

10/21/2008 3:07 PM  
Blogger prosfilaes said...

What exactly does gently vetted mean?

10/21/2008 6:44 PM  
Blogger michael said...

The short answer is a librarian has looked at it and determined if it will be included. Tim, or anyone else, would be more qualified to provide the long answer. -Mike (mike @ librarything.com)

10/21/2008 7:36 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

"Gently vetted" means:

1. We have an algorithm that throws out reviews. It has a whole bevy of criteria, which we're not making public, but it starts with certain "red" terms, like "Copyright XXX." It threw out reviews that were very short, and reviews that were very very long.

2. After that, Sonya has gone through the reviews approving them. In general, she went user-by-user. She looked at everything, but she didn't read through it. Mostly she watched for certain problems, like non-English text or excessive quoting (quoting so significant that it raised issues).

The end result is a subset of LibraryThing reviews—205,000 or 507,000. This number may change over time--the first priority was to make few large mistakes, not to include as many reviews as possible or, for example, to go after other languages.

10/21/2008 7:46 PM  
Anonymous lorax said...

How is the order in which the reviews are displayed on the library sites determined? I had a look at 1421 on the Los Gatos library site, to see if my review showed up -- it does, but way down the list, which is odd since it's second if sorted by thumbs-up. The order doesn't seem to correspond to date, either, unless all the recent ones are too short -- I didn't look beyond the first screen of "recent".

(On a side note, how come LT for Libraries users get to rate reviews as "unhelpful", but we don't? I'm jealous!)

10/22/2008 12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second fyrefly's last point. We've been asking for ages for a facebook application. Can we use this to post our own reviews to our facebook profile?

10/23/2008 5:55 PM  
Blogger Heidi said...

"People don't review books to help a library, or even their community. They do it to get something back--a record of what they read and an opportunity to express themselves--and express themselves to the people they know."

Ah, somebody gets it! LibraryThing has actually allowed me to USE libraries again, because now, once I've catalogued, reviewed, and rated a book, it feels like it's part of my library, even if I've returned it to the public library. I make much smarter decisions about what books I do buy and have been able to clear a lot of books that are less important to me off my limited shelf space to make room for books that are.

I second (third?) the desire for a widget to display my reviews on my social networking sites, and for the ability to flag reviews unhelpful.

10/24/2008 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How come Tim's own review of The Civilization of Ancient Egypt didn't make the cut?

10/24/2008 2:07 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

The official reason is: too short.

The real reason: Too awesome!

10/24/2008 2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Putlizer? Whoops!

11/09/2008 6:39 PM  

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