My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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wanting to like books we like

By now, y’all know that i have a book fetish. Just a small one. [Wanna help me move???] So, i really really want to like Books We Like, especially now that i’m revisiting content-motivated recommendation networks. And i do really like their intention (and their kind request for participants to “Be forgiving.”). There’s one small problem: i have *ZERO* desire to input all of my books again. Zero.

Most people bitch about creating a new profile on each service. I feel this way about my books. I currently have two Excel files: one for all books that i own and one for all articles that i own. I am awaiting the kind soul who will build my ideal application for text management. It would start with a XML or DB schema that would access my half.com and Amazon purchasing habits, record when i bought it (which indicates more label material than anything else seeing as i buy books while writing papers or starting classes). And it would allow me to scan what i already have using Marc Smith’s magic toy.

What makes last.FM so valuable to me is that i don’t have to do much but listen to music which i do all the time anyhow. I don’t even have to tag anything since i’ve already done that work for other purposes, namely to listen more without painfully crashing Gwar into Nina Simone (even if some whacked children think this is a good idea… hrmfpt).

Why can’t something like Books We Like connect with my already present habits? Why can’t it help me organize my books. I already write commentary on them – why can’t it help me connect this together? Why can’t it let me simply rate my books for others when i don’t feel like writing a commentary? Why is there so much overhead for participation? Sadly, i can’t be bothered to input information in there – i just don’t see the value as outweighing the effort required. And this is super sad because i really want to like the people’s republic of books.

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8 comments to wanting to like books we like

  • ooh! hadn’t come across that before. I like it, whatever the imperfections. Two comments on your post:

    1) you’re very unusual both in having such an organised list of books, and in writing so much about them elsewhere. That makes you a valuable user/connector for bookswelike, but also a very pretty one to satisfy. I’m not sure how widely your angst will extend to everyone else.

    2) what you’re after in terms of inputting existing lists of books is probably quite easy to tack on, but not something that it’s essential to have from day one. It’d even be possible to do it yourself: just write a script to enter ISBNs into the search box, and add the book to your reading list.

    Meanwhile, I’m off to play with it…

  • hi Danah,
    great feedback. and yes, as oedipa points out, you’re a little, unique. but we’ll convert your Excel files for you. might take a bit, but it shouldn’t be hard. that’s not really a long-term solution, but it’s a good exercise for us.

    we’re in the process of creating an Amazon wishlist importer, which would actually be more generally useful for most people.

    thanks again for the valuable feedback, and for being forgiving AND patient.

    Brad

  • Amazon wishlist importer – even nicer would be something that combined an Amazon purchase list, with the “I’ve read that” responses to Amazon’s recommendations (which catch books you’ve read but not bought on Amazon).

    For this to work, Amazon would need to componentize its records of the books its customers have purchased (from them or elswhere). Then Amazon, or somebody else, would enable the user to create a public view that could weed out gift books (Audobon Quarterly, for the birdwatching uncle), and purchases one might rather not advertise.

  • More ideas for book social software

    danah boyd wants to like Books We Like, an online service for collective discounts and recommendations in book purchasing. In…

  • tony

    How does a bookstore do it?;)

  • danah, this is ‘books we like’, not ‘books we’ve read’. When you worry that “i can’t be bothered to input information”, you’re wanting the site to function as a comprehensive list of every book you’ve read, which is secondary to what the site seems to be aiming for.

    The cataloguing function you’re after would be great, both for users who want that and as a means of getting more data into the system. But I doubt most users will remember all the books they’ve read, and most wouldn’t relish the prospect of inputting that data in whatever format.

    The planned function (I assume; I’m not involved) is to get people discussing the books that are interesting them *now*, and to help them find new books. And that is a reward in itself: if people post comments and lists at amazon, won’t they be ten times more willing to do so when they’re helping a non-profit group rather than a corporation, and when they can have more fun showing off the weird things that interest them?

    Knowing what you were reading a decade ago would be useful for the second, but it has its limitations. What I’m reading now, and what I was reading then, are probably as different as Gwar and Nina Simone.

    That said, it would be awesome if bwl could find some way of dealing with what you want to do with it, and I’m impressed by how Brad’s rolling out the red carpet for you.

    Some more comments on my LJ (http://www.livejournal.com/users/oedipamaas49/5414.html?#cutid1) – don’t want to clog up here *too* much with mammoth comments.

  • I know this may seem like a stretch, but have you tried using Deep Prose Software? It sounds like book management is exactly your problem, and with this thing you only have to wave the book in front of a camera and it will read in the barcode.

    Disclaimer: I have not used this thing myself.

    http://www.deepprose.com/versions.html

  • D, check out, http://www.delicious-monster.com/
    It’s a mac osx tool for managing collections of everything. It can import from XML, which you should be able to get excel to export fairly easily — but here’s the killer thing: you can use an iSight to scan barcodes. Pow! Pow! Pow! Zing! When my mac comes back from service, I think I’m going to give this a try.

    I’m not sure it will handle your collection of papers/articles though.

    BTW, I read about this via Apple Developer Collection, which sends out weeky (?) mail highlighting cool uses of mac technology: http://developer.apple.com/devnews/
    (There’s some way to get it for free.)