Monday, October 15, 2007

LibraryThing Launch Wiki Books In Print

The success of wikipedia, Librarything and other social databases has always intrigued me in terms of the models potential application to the development of a wiki-like bibliographic database. Well, it looks like Librarything has launched something that seeks to build a collective database of book catalog information. They call it Common Knowledge and describe it thus:

Common Knowledge works like a wiki. Any member can add information, and any member can edit or revert edits. All fields are global, not personal. Common Knowledge diverges from a standard wiki insofar as each field works like its own independent wiki page, with a separate edit history. Some examples:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I've been conservative with characters and places. (See Longitude, worked on by Chris for the opposite approach.) But I wish I had her editor! The history page for "important places" in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, showing improvement over time.
David Weinberger. Half-filled. He mentions his agent, but I can't tree his major at Bucknell and the honors section is empty.
Hugo Award Winners. This is going to get very cool.
The global history page. Mesmerizing.

In order to get Common Knowledge off and running, Librarything are "slapping fields up there" but this effort it really intended to give Common Knowledge some initial heft. Since all fields are editable this gives significant content for users to react to and add, correct and expand which is, of course, the intention. Tim at Librarything says that this is the perfect Librarything feature and he is very excited about it. As with other similar wiki like applications, users will be able to use and build off the data (as long as they cite the source) and there is strong encouragement to do so. Tim goes on to say that they will be building API's to promote even greater use.

As a result of this initiative we are going to see a much greater blending of user generated content and structured content from the likes of Ingram, Nielsen and Baker & Taylor. The commercial database companies would be crazy not to incorporate this content into their products but they have to be careful. What Librarything is doing is compounding the notion that biblio data is a commodity. Value still exists in the logical compilation of bibliodata but how long will it be before crowd sourcing encompasses the development of logical frameworks, data standardization and taxonomies. Perhaps this is starting to happen and indeed examples such as software development (Linux) prove that groups can build logical and powerful constructs. A wiki biblio database is probably easy by comparison and I can see the day when a biblio manager will no-longer have 50 data entry staff in New Jersey but will rely on an army of free contributors with far more collective expertise. The trick will be how each of the current commercial providers are able to differentiate themselves.

1 comment:

Eoin Purcell said...

Really liked this feature I have to say! Sounds like they are stealing a march a little on Book Depository's effort which is on the way next year: