Hacker News

Folks at the Lab have heard me talk about Hacker News.  I love it.  You may already know about it.  If not, it’s a social news bulletin board: news.ycombinator.com

The news is start-up, tech, or internet related (or otherwise compelling).  Good stories get voted up, and over time, gradually fade to the background. The ranking algorithm is explained here: http://amix.dk/blog/post/19574

In practice, what HN is is a large group (thousands) of really smart people, that become your extended curators/editors of all things web.  They crawl all the corners of its corners and post what they think the community would find interesting.  The thing that really sets it apart though is the quality – this is a really smart crowd.  What gets voted up, is worthy.  The comments are very good too.

Simple, information rich presentation

Hacker Monthly

Okay, so one thing that HN spawned/inspired was Hacker Monthly. Their model is super simple:  “Every month, we select the top voted articles from Hacker News and put them in the magazine format.” And printing is handled on-demand by Mag Cloud.

Don’t know if it’s a business or what, but it’s kinda profound:

  1. A compelling magazine
  2. crowd-edited
  3. printed on-demand
  4. designed, “edited”, put together by 1 person, the hatcher of the idea

Hacker Books

Now somebody’s (Daniel B Markham)  just come out with Hacker Books. www.hn-books.com

It’s a list of all the books recommended by hackers to other hackers on Hacker News.  But also with the caveat that those recommended texts had to themselves get voted up by other readers.  So again, it is the community providing the editorial intelligence.  And its a compelling list of books.


Both Hacker Monthly and Hacker Books are pure fallout of the vibrant Hacker News community.  They are also really interesting examples of how communities and publishing (and published) can interact.

Should we start a Hacker News for reference librarians/tech folk/book enthusiasts — start mining library intelligence?

Barnes & Noble has launched PubIt, a service for authors who want to publish directly to readers — well, directly through B&N. Create a B&N user account and upload some files, and PubIt will convert them to ePub, list your book on its site, collect money from sales, and about 60 days later will send you your money.

Some miscellaneous points about PubIt: You can optionally add DRM to your books, but you don’t have to. You don’t need an ISBN number. You set the list price, but B&N can set the sale price. You have to charge at least $0.99. You have to guarantee that you won’t list it for less elsewhere.

How much does an author make per copy? B&N says: 65% of the list price for books priced at $2.99-$9.99, and 40% for books outside of that range. But a warning: I think I got that right, but B&N refers to the money paid to “the Publisher,” leaving us to figure out whether the publisher is the author or B&N. It’s getting so hard to tell!

(BTW, you can still buy books published at LuLu.com at B&N.)

I feel waves of evilness from big tech companies.

I’ve never felt evilness from a library.   Never even occurred to me.  They’ve been nothing but good to me.  Welcoming, safe – yes.  Evil?  No.

I trust libraries and it’s well earned — they’ve spent decades defending privacy (primarily, I think, by not keeping records).  But could libraries begin to keep records, applying that same diligence and upholding of values?

I’d much sooner entrust a library with my social graph than I would Facebook.

On our home page and on the main blog page we run a list on the right of “Stuff we’re looking at.” These are various postings on the Web that one of us has founding interesting enough to share. We tag ‘em and run the feed.

At some point, we’ll start tweeting as well, and will probably automatically tweet what we’re tagging. Unless you think that’s a bad idea, in which case just forget we ever brought it up. So, WDYT?

So “Future of the Book” was just put out by IDEO.

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

Here’s an article about it:


It’s interesting, IDEO is obviously very on it.  I don’t think there is anything that is absolutely relevant to us, but it is worth viewing.

What it does make me think of is the necessity to begin really trying to work out “The Future of Libraries”.

I think we as a Lab need to define our mission in the context of a vision of the future.

Over the weekend, my wife’s mom, Emily, set aside this awesome article from the New York Review of Books. Go Emily!

Written by Anthony Grafton and Jeffrey Hamburger, it is titled “Save the Warburg Library!”.  In it, they explain the crisis the Warburg is in financially (hence the title).  But more importantly, they describe what makes this Art History library so unique — the cataloging scheme.  The stacks are open, and the juxtaposition of books “will bring the reader not only to the books he or she is looking for, but also to their unexpected ‘good neighbours’.”


From the Warburg Institute Library’s web site:

The 350,000 or so volumes are classified in four sections: social and political history (fourth floor); religion, history of science and philosophy (third and fourth floors); literature, books, libraries and education (second floor and basement); history of art (first floor, with classical art and archaeology in the basement). There are c. 2,500 runs of periodicals, about half of them current (mobile stacks in the basement). Readers have free access to the Library Holdings.

Needless to say, this is very different from how the Library of Congress organizes things.  But who’s to say that the LC system is better?  Different researchers have different needs, so this begs the question: Can we make Harvard’s collection “look” like the Warburg’s?

I’ve been looking into visualizations book collections, so what if we rendered a shelf of virtual books based on the Warburg logic?  Or Princeton Univerity’s Richardson system which groups all the books by each author together?

What are the benefits to our library singing Karaoke?

BBC has a brilliant new site, Dimensions, another wonder of design by BERG.  It is an effort to communicate scale (of real life events and disasters) in personalized and meaningful, ways.  From my POV, it’s the best google maps mashup out there.   Again, visit:

http://howbigreally.com/ (and great name too)

It reminds me of Sherman Williams’ logo, which is a truth:

I think communicating the profound scale of collections, and the human hours that go into creating it, could be useful.  Perhaps it would help better communicate the respect which libraries are perhaps due.

How many linear miles is Harvard’s Collection?

How man human years have gone into cataloging all of its records?

I’d like to wrangle these.

Sorry. A week late with these staff meeting notes :( (Still not sure there’s value in posting them, but that’s not why there was a delay.)

We’re going to look at the Australian national Trove system for metadata standards.

The new Web server is up.

We are working on getting data from Cognos more directly and usefully.

We are continuing to look for a contract developer to help with some legacy projects that are important but are distracting us from tasks more in line with Lil’s mission.

We are working with the Harvard Coop to get a list of books ordered for courses.

We are pretty consistently working with Harvard information systems that were not designed for sharing data across departments. People are being very helpful. But we should be documenting this process because other schools are facing the same issues. We’re going to set up a meeting with one of the main info shops in the school to see how we can collaborate on this.

We are beginning to investigate doing a book locator that shows books in physical maps of a library. This requires numbering the stacks physically. We talked about which library to start with.

StackView is looking at how to visualize multiple subject neighborhoods.

We are continuing to investigate real time notification systems.

We reported on our meeting with Jim Neal, University Librarian of Columbia University, in which we talked about ShelfLife, LibraryCloud, and the possibilities of collaboration.