On Book Listing Services

November 6th, 2005

For years I’ve wanted a decent website where I can manage my relationship with books. (not especially complicated, but voluminous)

For a while there was largely nothing, then there was Allconsuming which was wonderful, but slowly died, and went dark before being re-incarnated in the mold of a 43x tool. And I have this memory of there being a nifty little $14/mo tool, back in the days when I didn’t pay for websites, but I wasn’t able to find it.

Last Fall, I started sketching down notes towards building my own, and in the intervening year its become an interestingly crowded space. (who knew so many other people felt the pull) Even in the 6 weeks since I first started jotting down sites for this blog post, the space has evolved with LibraryThing coming out solidly on top as the most active: most actively developed, most actively used, and most actively engaged developer.

That said, in a cursory search (mostly of my del.icio.us links) I turned up 5 other very similar services

Also the Bookshelf example app from 24L, and the intersting related services What Should I Read Next?, and Library Elf

None of them are quite there yet, and I want more, more, more!


  • So like I said, LT is rocking out in terms of development and growth. When I first found it, it lacked import, ratings, and feeds. Wow.

  • Additionally the search is amazingly comprehensive, fast, and accurate. Search is where LibraryThing originally shined, and it blows every other service out of the water. LT was the only service to successfully come up with “Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town” when I searched for “someone comes”. Which is good, because there is no way I’m typing in full titles. (just re-tested, and Allconsuming which wasn’t finding anything last time I checked, also came up with the correct results)

  • Surprisingly zippy.

  • One-click export. Sweet.

LibraryThings: The Downside

  • No per-tag feeds, apparently on the todo list, but I need per feed tags.

  • No feed of reviews, also on the todo list, but I’m simply not willing to create content without an RSS feed. (which is why I’ve stopped writing $0.02 reviews on Netflix)

  • Feeds lack anything beyond basic data. No structured meta-data (authors, isbn/asin, cover art, etc), so very limited usefulness.

  • One dimensional tags. (no tag combos)

  • Ugly, and awkward. Totally in the eye of the beholder, but I find the interface consistently confusing and awkward to use. I only have a handful of books in my catalog, but already its feeling unmanageable. Not a designer, so I can’t do much more then complain.

  • One comment/review per book, meaning you can’t use it to blog your ongoing experience with a book. One of my use cases for a book service is that I can use it to power a book blog.

  • Uses frames!?!?? In this day and age? Meaning it can’t be the that “definitive URI for books” that I keep looking for.


  • More then just books if you’re in to that thing. I’m not really, and find it kind of frustrating that I sometimes end up searching DVDs.

  • Slick, clean, attractive.

  • Allows browsing by author! (key missing feature for LibraryThing)

  • Per tag feeds, multiple reviews/comments per book.

Listal: Cons

  • Feels sluggish, aggravated by a click heavy interface.

  • Limited import.

  • Not run by a book nut, and in general the site is voiceless failing to expose either the developer, or the user community. Feels stagnant.

  • Search failed the “Someone Comes” test.


I thought I was going to like Bookshelf. I love the concept of the Ning “Pivot”, if not the implementation. Unfortunately Bookshelf is very slow, and buggy. I dived into the code (I can do that with Ning, whoohoo!!!), and unfortunately rather then the domain specific langauge for building social webapps I expected to find, I just found a messy of PHP code. :(

What I Still Want/Need/Dream About

I wrote down a list of things I wanted a while back, and LT is converging on it very quickly, and for that I’m inclined to overlook the interface.


I need more feeds. Per tag feeds allow for intelligent interaction with the site. Beyond topical tags, functional tags (e.g. *to:read) allow me to syndicate the information out in useful ways

And richer feeds please. E.g. if you can’t syndicate the cover art give me the necessary metadata so I can pull it from AWS.

More data and Webservices

And note, I’m happy with my primary webservice being a feed, but I need richer way to interact with the data before I can make it work for me.

I’d like to be able to hook this up to my local library (auto-request books flagged *to:read), Upcoming, and Amazon.

Plus I should be able to power my involvement in What to Read Next/Books We Like/innovative new service from within LT (or at least with my LT data)

More Pivots

I’d like author, and ratings smooshed down into the tag namespace. So I can browse by author, and by rating. Additionally I’d like to be able to browse tag combos, author plus tag combos, and author plus rating combos.


I love the idea of integrating a forum into the site. And really integrating it.

  1. Allow people to start new threads from a book page
  2. Tag those threads with the book
  3. Display only properly tagged threads on the book page
  4. Aggregate all threads in a more standard forum view.

(We’ve discussed doing something similar for Social Source Commons, though haven’t yet)

Book Scanning

Ala Monster’s Delicious

What would be involved I wonder if writing a simple app/Firefox plugin to scan barcodes using something like an iSight or a CueCat, and have it post the data to a URL?

Blue Sky: Peerflix for Books?

Like Bookcrossing for books you want to get back someday.

update: Also Stuffopolis, and Douban

One response to “On Book Listing Services”

  1. otts says:

    Hey Kellan,

    Wondering if LibraryThing still floats your boat in the same way. I’ve been keeping my eye on it for a while, but never signed up. Always thought I’d eventually break down and get Delicious Library at some point (hasn’t happened yet, but maybe once Leopard comes out…).

    A friend just emailed something about Goodreads (goodreads.com), which looks to take a different approach: more of a what I’m reading now (Twitter for books?) vs. what I own. Have you heard of the site? Any opinions? I haven’t looked into its features yet.

    But it appeals to me because recommendations from friends with similar tastes are often what guide my reading. (Thanks for Nalo Hopkinson, btw, gearing up to read Bujold). I’m sure I would end up using it as a repository for my recommendations for friends, rather than limiting it to current reading. Wonder if that would lessen the experience of it. Interesting…