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Tuesday Two.Oh! A Tool for Book Recommendations

Tuesday, May 17, 2011
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Tuesday Two.Oh! is not meant as an endorsement, but as an exploration of the tools that are out there. Click at your own risk. 🙂

Today on Tuesday Two.Oh! we’re going to be talking about BookLamp.   This tool is geared towards book loves- and is framed as a sort of “Pandora for Book Lovers.”  I thought this sounded interesting enough for an exploration- even though it might not have any practical use for libraries.  That said, we deal at least partly in books, and it might be nice to give our patrons options if we don’t own exactly what they’re looking for when it comes to fiction.  I’m excited to take a look at BookLamp!

From the site: “BookLamp.org matches readers to books through an analysis of writing styles, similar to the way that Pandora.com matches music lovers to new music. Do you like Stephen King’s It, but thought it was too long? BookLamp allows you to find books with a similar level of tone, tense, perspective, action, description, and dialog – while at the same time allowing you to specify details like… half the length. It’s impervious to outside influences – like advertising – that impact socially driven recommendation systems, and isn’t reliant on a large user base to work. Take a look at the above video to see how we do it in detail. ”

Find them on Twitter.

Registering for the site was extremely easy- just the usual name, email, password routine.  I was allowed in after two attempts at the captcha, but that’s not so bad.  I’ve certainly had more attempts in the past.

Once you’ve signed on you can go to either the BookLamp Interface, the request books link, you you can post to the forums

So I decided to start with the BookLamp Interface.  The first thing I tried to do was search for the latest book that I absolutely loved (The Disappeared, by Kim Echlin).  Unfortunately there were no results for either the title or the author.

So, I decided to go with another beloved author, David Mitchell.

I looked for Cloud Atlas, my favorite by Mr. Mitchell, but it was not in the database.  However, Black Swan Green was- but I have no read this one yet.  But, as I love the style of writing in Mitchells novels, I figured I’d just go ahead with that one.  But it’s starting to look like the database for BookLamp has not really been developed.

Once you’ve hit search you need to select your title out of a list of several other near matches.  Then BookLamp will generate a list of suggestions that match Black Swan Green.

On the right next to the title there’s a button that says “Show me the graph to this book.”  So, curious, I clicked on it.  What you get is a graphical (surprise!) look at the novel broken down into Pacing, Density, Action, Description and Dialog.  You can choose which of these elements to view on the graph.  Here’s the graph for Black Swan Green.

After looking at the graph I assume that the suggested titles graphs will closely match Black Swan Green.  I chose to look at Emily Climbs (of course), by L.M. Montgomery.

Once you choose a suggested book you get the details (title, author, ISBN, etc) as well as a brief summary.  You also get a link that says “Match this Book.”  This will run a new search for titles similar to Emily Climbs, and in the results Black Swan Green is number 1 as a suggested match.  Here’s the graph for Emily Climbs.

I think now I’d like to figure out just how BookLamp rated these books in order to graph them.  That said they’re FAQ is…. interesting…

Back to poking around the site.  If you click on the Request Books like I mentioned above you can request that a book be listed in the BookLamp database.  So, I went ahead and added The Disappeared by Kim Elchin. 

After that what’s left is the forums.  It’s an interesting way to find out what the conversation is on BookLamp.

That said, it seems like the site needs a lot…a LOT of work.  The first flaw is obviously that the book database is incomplete- and that’s the one appeal of the site.  I’m sure there’s a lot of time involved in graphing the novels in the database, but if that’s the main draw to the site then it should be a little more fleshed out.

I like the idea, though.  I think that the creator of the site could really have something here if there was a little more money involved.  Some things about the site seem to have been static for a really long time, but there are also fairly recent comments in the forums (April of this year- though this forum post is unanswered).

So, what do I think?  In the end, it’s an unfinished site with some neat potential- especially for libraries!  Just the other day I was helping a patron on the reference desk.  He wanted Sci-Fi books, and…well, I just don’t read Sci-Fi.  It would have been so useful to put the author he was requesting into a database that would have identified similar material.

I think I’ll keep my eye on this one.


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