8 January 09 | Chad W. Post

Although he includes a few caveats about its effectiveness, Tim’s post at the LibraryThing blog about their new “Will you like it?” feature is pretty interesting.

Each book page now has a little bar that, after clicking, will predict whether or not you’d like a particular book. How does it work?

How it works. In case you’re interested, it works completely apart from our book-to-book recommendation system, or the system that aggregates those recommendations into member-specific lists of 1,000 recommended books. Instead, “Will you like it?” works directly from the data, examining the users who have a book and how their books relate to yours.

As such, it isn’t very good at sussing out where your tastes differ from those of people who share your books. For example, my large collection of books on Greek history match me up with people who enjoy other ancient history, but I am not that interested in early Republican Rome, no matter what the algorithm thinks.

Even though it’s not perfect, this is pretty fun to play around with. (Yet another prompting that I really need to add books from my library to my LibraryThing profile . . . )

The philosophy behind the creation of this algorithm is pretty interesting as well:

I think this is yet another case of Amazon limiting the horizons of what people imagine online, particularly in the online book world. Amazon pioneered book-to-book and user-to-book reviews. The work was groundbreaking but it was also routed in commercial success. User-to-book recommendations drive customers to books they’ll like and book-to-book recommendations help them find the perfect book, as well as increase the number of items in each order. Giving people honest assessments of whether they’ll like a book is murkier. Does Amazon want to tell a customer they won’t enjoy something? And what if they’re wrong?

Meanwhile, LibraryThing succeeds by being fun and interesting, not by selling books. It gives us a rare freedom to invent features that don’t sell books, like our Unsuggester — what books will you hate? — and now this.

(The “Unsuggester” is awesome. I love the example at the top of the page: If you like Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, you will not like Confessions of a Shopaholic. Never has a truer non-recommendation been spoken.)


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