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In English İnternet Notları | Notes From Internet Rethinking the Internet

Adventures in Building a Library Catalog

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series Rethinking the Internet

Introduction

Some time ago, I wrote about the problems with Goodreads and how StoryGraph can be a good alternative for many. This is something I’m really interested because most of what I do is about books and because of my ADHD brain, not being able to track the books I have causes quite unique problems such as having multiple copies of the same book, sometimes in different languages.

This is why one of my major quests in life is having a personal library catalog in which I can track what I have. But this is not an easy task.

Chapter One: Storygraph

Although Storygraph seemed like a good alternative with many promising options, there were many problems which made it really hard to use. The most important one was the issues with finding and adding Turkish books. Most of them were not available and some were only returning the results for English editions. Which is a huge problem because if I’m going to keep track of my books and my library, I have to make sure the correct editions are logged. 

Another important issue was the limits of its social aspect. There’s no way to know if someone I know is on the platform unless they tell you. There’s no easy way to find people, no way of communicating, etc. Since I was also trying it as a Goodreads alternative, this was an important issue for me. Because I really like seeing which books other people are reading and what they think about it. 

Missing the social side plus not being able to track books in Turkish simply made Storygraph a bad choice for me. I had to move on.

Chapter Two: LibraryThing

Then I tried to give LibraryThing a shot. It seems old school and not really sure how many people actively uses it, but it seemed like a better place to keep a library catalog because of the power tools such as scanning book barcodes with the iOS app. 

At first, LibraryThing was working just fine, until I’ve decided to start adding my library at home to have a catalog I can easily search. Although LibraryThing can search the university libraries in Turkey, most of the data was either incorrect or totally missing. Yes, it was finding most of the books, but occasionally the names were wrong, sometimes the authors. Some books had Turkish character issues in their names, some showed the translator as the main author, some had completely unrelated information.

This is why I’ve returned to using Goodreads for the online and social part of the book tracking adventure. But Goodreads also has issues about Turkish book data, even though much less than the other options. Those issues mainly caused by volunteer librarians on the platform, and although I’m one of them, I don’t have the time to track every issue and fix it.

This means I still need a solution for building my library catalog. That’s when I decided to give an old friend a chance.

Chapter Three: Calibre, The Old Reliable

For those who don’t know, Calibre is a digital library software that’s mainly used for organizing your e-book library. It also has so many power tools and plugins inside, which makes it a crazy powerful software. I’ve been using it to organize my e-books for years, but it never occurred to me that I can use it for more. Until now.

You can simply use Calibre as it is, and it’ll probably work just fine but if you want to make sure that it can find anything, you can go to add-ons and search for these extensions too:

List of Calibre plugins I've installed.
The list: Amazon.com Multiple Countries, DNB_DE, Goodreads, Wikidata, Find Duplicates.

After this, all you have to do is expand the Add Books menu and select “Add Books by ISBN”. This screen will open, and you can add as many ISBNs as you want and let Calibre do its thing. If you need an easy way to separate e-books from paper ones, you can simply add a tag like I did and all the books will have this tag automatically added.

Calibre menu screen for adding ISBNs for import.

Now I can keep track of my library in one place and easily add more books whenever I buy new ones. All I have to do, write the ISBNs on my phone and then paste them inside the Calibre. While other solutions had dozens of missing books or books with incorrect information, Calibre only had two missing ones: one of them published a couple of weeks ago and one published by a small publisher. All I had to do, copy and paste book info from the publisher websites, and it was done.

Conclusion

So, this is where I ended up:

Calibre will be the tool to keep track of our household library for everything, e-books and dead-tree ones. I wish I could find a way to simply turn that into a one-person book blog, but until I have enough time to give it a shot, it’s a dream project waiting in my notes. 

For a more public facing book tracking, I’ll keep using Goodreads. But I’m thinking about other alternatives too. Maybe creating a special category on my blog and write small posts every time I finish one. I’m not sure about it yet.


This experience taught me a lot about platforms, books, ISBNs and many other things. But one common thread I’ve been facing in many online tools is how Western —and sometimes simply US— centric those tools and projects were. I can easily use many tools as long as I keep everything limited with English and/or US-based. When you step outside English, you’re on your own. Nothing fully works and most of the time you have to figure out the problems you face by yourself because most of those were never occurred to the developers or not seemed urgent. 

We always talk about how internet is global and open for everyone in the world, as long as you live in English. And it will seem mostly true if you’re in the US, UK, or some other Western country (although the same problems may be faced by Europeans or people in the US who doesn’t speak English). But when you try to work with another language, even if you’re using a global standart like ISBN, things change quickly. 

If the global internet starts throwing bugs at your face when you’re trying to work with a global standart, think about what kind of problems people are facing regularly when it comes to more serious issues such as content moderation.

Categories
Blogchains In English İnternet Notları | Notes From Internet Rethinking the Internet

Rethinking How I Use Internet: 8

This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Rethinking the Internet

Goodreads today looks and works much as it did when it was launched. The design is like a teenager’s 2005 Myspace page: cluttered, random and unintuitive. Books fail to appear when searched for, messages fail to send, and users are flooded with updates in their timelines that have nothing to do with the books they want to read or have read. Many now use it purely to track their reading, rather than get recommendations or build a community. “It should be my favourite platform,” one user told me, “but it’s completely useless.”

Why Goodreads is Bad for Books

Goodreads is one of those platforms people really hate but feel like there’s no other option. Especially with Amazon buying it years ago and only adding Kindle integration and not dealing with anything else (such as their major spam account issue and not even being able to report them) it’s turning more and more into a website which is used by Amazon for selling more stuff.

There has been some discussions I’m following about what could be done about it. Tom Critchlow‘s “Library JSON“. Decentralized projects always gets me excited but at the same time I know that it’s practically impossible to turn it into something adoptable by everyone. Mostly because decentralized projects generally think about people who are technically more capable.

This doesn’t mean that I’m not going to test it when Tom makes a more robust version of Library JSON. I’m sure I will. But right now I have a new possible favorite called TheStoryGraph. There are many things I like about it and it really solves a lot of the personal problems I have with Goodreads.

From there, The StoryGraph recommends books, marked by thematic tags and length and accompanied by well-researched synopses. But beyond the design and descriptive tags, there is one major difference Goodreads users will notice: ratings are almost unnoticeable, deprioritised to the bottom of the page.

Why Goodreads is Bad for Books

TheStoryGraph is definitely more social but not like Facebook or Twitter, which are focused on playing you with their algorithms and not actually caring about what you want from these platforms. They’re actually focused on helping people to find new books.

Of course there are things TheStoryGraph has to be careful about while growing up. Tom’s quote on this summarizes it beautifully:

But Tom Critchlow argues that a “better Goodreads”, with functionality such as The StoryGraph offers, must avoid falling for the “seductive and imaginary ideas about social networks” that doomed a long list of previous competitors, including his own. “So many people dream of disrupting Goodreads,” he says, “[but] focus on the wrong things, myself included.”

Why Goodreads is Bad for Books

So far it seems like they’re not going to fall into it and I hope I’m not wrong.

Right now I moved all my Goodreads data to TheStoryGraph and will be using it actively. You can check my profile and see how it works and looks like, you can do it from here.