Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tag Mirror: See your books the way others do

UPDATE: I'm really enjoying the Talk discussion of this feature. Also, at this point it's better to talk about the feature than to use it. Everyone using it at once has the server that handles it taxed rather seriously!

A major publisher recently asked us to show them a tag cloud of their books. It took a mental flip, but only a few lines of code to adapt this for individual use.

The result is Tag Mirror, available from your and everyone's profile—here's mine (and Abby's, Altay's, Giovanni's and Casey's*). If you're signed in, here's yours. (Please note: It takes serious processing power to analyze 22 million tags. Everyone is going to hit it at once, so be patient.)

Tag Mirror "holds a mirror" up to your books and to you. Instead of showing what you think about your books—what a regular tag cloud shows—it shows you what others think of them, in effect using LibraryThing's twenty-two million tags to organize and surface interesting topics from within your own collection.** As with other tag clouds, size equals importance. When you click on a tag, you get a relevancy-ranked list of books tagged that way.

I can't decide if it's just the sort of cherry-on-top feature that makes LibraryThing unique or if it's something genuinely new and interesting. I think it might be the latter. As Altay put it, it's the sort of idea that seems obvious in retrospect.

I didn't know I was interested in gender studies.

Here's a for-example. I don't use the tags gender studies, patristics or theory. They're just not terms I use. To some extent, that reflects who I am. But I have a fair number of books that, to others, fall under those categories. It's interesting to slice my books up in an alien way—to see them through other eyes. Maybe I'm more interested in gender studies than I thought.

More concretely, I do use the tag "alternate history," but browsing my tag mirror page called up some alternate histories that I hadn't tagged that way—useful stuff.***

Finally, Tag Mirror gives everyone a tag cloud, even those who don't bother to tag anything. It seems almost unfair.

As our recent discussion of what tagging does to knowledge brought out so well, tagging is a complex mixture of private purpose and public good. I agree with those who say that we tag best when we tag for ourselves. But when everyone does that, a rich web of meaning is created.

I've done my best to push tagging in some new directions, trying subjects and tags together statistically, making book recommendations based on tag patterns, and with the tagmash feature. You can add Tag Mirror to that list. Little things. But they keep getting more interesting.

UPDATE: It's 4:30am and, of course, I couldn't finish blogging it before someone else started a thread about it ("Just noticed this on my profile"). Come talk about it.

*Casey has a surprising number of cookbooks! He's coming up here in a few weeks—it'll be the first time any of us have actually met him. We usually just order pizza. I think that plan's changed.
**It doesn't actually exclude your own tags. They still have an effect.
***It also brought up Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States. People tag unexpectedly, if humorously.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I haven't yet worked out where this comes on a scale of "Awesome" to "Very Awesome"...

8/23/2007 4:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found out that 'deckare' is Swedish for detective story. A bunch of my books had been tagged with that word, and I just had to find out what it meant.

Oh yes, and I'd go with pretty awesome, I suppose. I just hate that I automatically click back to get out of the detail screen, and that throws me out of the tag mirror.

8/23/2007 5:36 AM  
Blogger Hugh Macdonald said...

Wow - very cool....

Some weird things come up in there.... I noticed "birding" on mine, and didn't have a clue where that came from.... It appears that someone has tagged all of Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey/Maturin books with that tag....

8/23/2007 5:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The genius in this is the bit that gives a proxy tag cloud to users who haven't actually tagged anything -- thereby creating a new facet of interest out of ... nothing! Fricking awesome.

8/23/2007 7:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tag Mirror & Privacy

It is an interesting new feature, but I feel it seriously threatens people's privacy or may create false impressions with people which could be misunderstood or misinterpreted by other people. What if your students or a prospective employer decides to have a peek at a "mirror image" of your library.

First of all, I consciously avoid using certain tags to protect myself. I know that there are many other users on LT who do that. Now I (may) get all those tags which I carefully avoid thrown in my face.

Secondly, tagging is subjective and certain users may apply tags to books which are offensive or can be misunderstood by users with other backgrounds. For example, notice that some people tag the Koran with tags "Jihad", "Jihadism" and "Heresy". I suppose people are free to express their own ideas about the book *in their own library* but how do you think a muslim would feel if such words would show up on a "tag mirror" of their library.

I agee that it is an interesting feature, but hope you will give it a second thought.

I think this is a move to data mining and I think it is risky.


8/23/2007 7:09 AM  
Blogger Joe Pomonomo said...

way cool! Thanks.

8/23/2007 7:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*giggles* LTers are up at all hours of the night! Of course you should expect someone beating you to the punch in Talk.
Although I haven't actually tried out this new feature yet, I had to run over here and say how utterly AWESOME this is!! I think I'll be using it a lot, to have fun with and maybe add some tags to my catalogue!

And edwinbcn, I can't see any way in which this threatens privacy, since this is using the exact same tags that are already available for everyone to see... nothing is getting pushed out into the public here, it's just getting put into a handier little device.

8/23/2007 7:54 AM  
Blogger mo said...

Hi, great feature! I think the whole issue of the relation of community and personal tagsis a very interesting and important one. Here is my (visualization) take on tags:

8/23/2007 8:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is fantastic!

A suggestion, related to: More concretely, I do use the tag "alternate history," but browsing my tag mirror page called up some alternate histories that I hadn't tagged that way—useful stuff. Could we perhaps get a link after each book on a tag list to add that tag to our particular copy?

8/23/2007 9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...and now I'm running into something here that I've noticed before but had forgotten about. Some of my titles with apostrophes in them are listed with escape characters before the apostrophes (e.g. "Ender\'s Game") -- but this ONLY shows up on certain parts of the site. The tag lists on this page are one such part. Anything that can be done to fix this?

8/23/2007 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


8/23/2007 9:49 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I replied to Edwin's objection here:

I'm actually more sympathetic than you might think, so let's figure out how to deal with it.

8/23/2007 10:31 AM  
Blogger chanale said...

Do others' tags include your own, or is it written so that the user's tags are taken out of the equation?

8/23/2007 10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool. I like new toys to play with. Thanks!

(Somewhat humbled that my tag cloud has blogging and philosophy similarly weighted. And that I read "chick lit."

8/23/2007 10:44 AM  
Blogger kageeh said...

I so love all the different ways tag features slice and dice my library that I may have to stop reading entirely and just spend the rest of my life playing with all the tag features.

8/23/2007 5:38 PM  
Blogger Rob Szarka said...

What a great idea! I love it!

Most the differences between my tag cloud and my tag mirror aren't that surprising, although apparently someone thinks "dragons" is an important dimension to note. (I assume this is because I own so many of Anne McCaffrey's books.)

It's interesting that "gender" is prominent in my tag cloud by "feminism" is prominent in my tag mirror. Similarly, where I tag "marxian", others apparently tag "marxism". And "conservatism" shows up in my mirror although I don't use the tag myself. I guess I'm just not that big on -isms.

My I make a plea for my fellow Bucky Fuller fans to adopt the tag "livingry"? And why aren't more of us tagging "smut" instead of "erotica"?

edwinbcn - I always appreciate folks who think about privacy concerns, but for me this is not an issue. IMHO, if someone puts their book collection online linked with their real identity, it's unreasonable for them to expect to maintain any kind of privacy.

As I think I've suggested before, though, being able to flag books as private rather than entire profiles would be a good solution. (This approach seems to work for True, some data would fall out of the public realm, but maybe we'd gain it back from some now totally-private profiles. (And LT could still use that data in the aggregate.)

8/23/2007 6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See, now I just want to go fix other people's tags. An open note to 8 unknown LibraryThingers:

Cry to Heaven is not a vampire novel, even though it's written by Anne Rice (7 tags).

The book Lost Boys, by Orson Scott Card, is not a vampire novel, and should not be confused with the movie of the same name (1 tag).

I'm afraid to follow any of the other links now...

8/23/2007 11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just fyi, the tag mirror does not exclude your own personal tags. I suspect this dilutes the effect for people who do lots of tagging.

8/24/2007 7:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just fyi, the mirror does not exclude your personal tags, which dilutes the effect for people who use very personal taxonomies.

8/24/2007 7:31 AM  
Blogger sharon said...

Very cool! I have tagged very few of my books--basically out of laziness--so it's very interesting to see how my collection stacks up. If I hadn't sold those 50+ programming books last year, it would be even more tilted.

8/24/2007 1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love it love it. But would like an easy way to go back and add tags to untagged items. On the "add books" page, you can go in and edit the tags recently-added books, and the cache will bring up your tags after typing just a few letters. This feature would be enormously helpful on the "your library" pages. Have mercy on those of us with carpal tunnel/radial tunnel/bursitis/arthritis (yup, got all four. Oy!)

8/24/2007 5:40 PM  
Blogger kencf0618 said...

Can AntiTag be far behind?

8/25/2007 4:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terrific idea, Tim! Seeing "my" world of books described by others is a remarkable twist of perspective. We really can learn from each other.

BTW: I'll add this to my LibraryThing class Tuesday.

8/25/2007 10:47 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Strange...when I tagged Peanut Butter and Jelly for one of my books someone else tagged Peanut Butter and Jam for the same exact book. I guess everyone has different tastes

I only jest...great feature

8/26/2007 7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like it, and I agree - it would be helpful to have an easy way to add a tag to a given book and/or to see if I'm already using that tag for that book.

8/28/2007 7:20 PM  
Blogger Rob Szarka said...

@Kenneth: ROTFLMFAO!

Bring on AntiTag!

9/02/2007 7:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is really cool - I cannot wait to see what my mirror cloud is like - I used tags on all my books, but wasn't always 100% happy with how they are characterized. Very creative - I'm sorry it ability is not working at this point and will be ON IT as soon as it's available again.

11/16/2007 2:44 PM  
Blogger Geoffrey said...

Will the Tag Mirror be working again soon?

12/10/2007 10:15 PM  
Blogger Brunellus said...

I miss the tag mirror too!

12/18/2007 2:40 PM  
Blogger undeadgoat said...

If the mirror's not coming back anytime soon, can the message be updated to indicate that? Pretty please? I've been going back every week or two (well, not when I was writing a term paper, but that's about it) to see if it's not "temporarily" down anymore, and it always still is . . .

1/06/2008 6:59 PM  
Blogger jed said...

Yea, I check every so often. It seems odd that such an (apparently) open company would leave a popular feature in such an odd and unexplained state.

2/09/2008 12:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wondering about the tag mirror as well...

2/12/2008 6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wondering if there was an update,i.e., is it coming back or is gone for good?

2/13/2008 10:14 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Tag mirror update, pleeeease!

3/10/2008 1:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to chime with the others asking for an update on the tag mirror. I use LT to give booktalks to teenagers and can see where having more tags than what I come up with would be very nice for different collections.

Thanks for all this site brings to so many of us.

3/25/2008 8:33 PM  
Blogger Brunellus said...

The Tag Mirror has been up and running again for just over a couple of weeks – as I discovered today after trying it on the off chance. Hooray!

I'm pleased to see that, despite the passage of time, I haven't lost my tag team of "dictionary drama". (By "tag team" I mean a pair of adjacent tags that happen to have the same font size and yield a promising phrase.)

4/16/2008 3:39 PM  
Blogger Kathy said...

I am not usually a fan of the "extras" on LT, and I don't tag myself (except for C. S. Lewis,) but I do like this. It's quite interesting to see what subjects come up in my tag mirror, and the weighted display is particularly helpful. This feature has actually begun to convince me that perhaps tagging has some value after all.

4/20/2008 12:36 PM  

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