ISBNdb – it’s IMDB for books

Paul Raven @ 10-04-2009

Heads up, academics and A-grade book geeks – here’s a site you’ll want to be adding to your bookmarks for research purposes. ISBNdb, as its name suggests, attempts to do for books what IMDB does for movies. From the FAQ page:

ISBNdb.com gets the data in a unique way – it scans libraries all across the world for book information. The scanning is random and similar in a way to how general purpose web search engines scan web sites.

Scanned results are then parsed and stored in a searcheable and browseable database that you see here on ISBNdb.com. An attempt is made at cross-indexing the database by author, publisher, category and so on. Cross indexing is still a work in progress and is likely to improve as the time goes on.

For each book you can see records received for it from different libraries, you can download original MARC record for the book as it was returned by the library.

Another interesting feature is ‘Books on the Same Shelf’ — it allows to quickly look up similar books in the same way they would be placed in a real world library. Currently, two classification systems are supported — Dewey Decimal Classification (trademark of OCLC) and Library of Congress Classification.

Starting late 2004 we also started scanning book merchants for best book prices. You will see best prices for new and used copies on all book pages below the left menu in most cases fraction of a second after you load the book data. Active and historic prices are also available through the data access API.

I just lost half an hour of productivity to that thing without even trying! And that API is just begging someone to do some good mash-up work; it’s the sort of thing author- or genre-specific fan sites could get some great mileage from.

My inner bibliophiliac library employee needs to go lie down in a dark room right now… [via GalleyCat]


Escaping the downward spiral of newspapers

Paul Raven @ 13-03-2009

printing pressYou know what they say about rats leaving sinking ships… but then again, you know what they say about rats being survivors. The sinking ship of newspapers is seeing a few of her passengers make a beeline for the portholes; now The Guardian has followed the lead of the New York Times and is opening itself up to the web with APIs rather than shutting the doors. [image by Baltimore City Paper, ironically enough]

As TechDirt points out, many Guardian staff are quite keen for competitors like the NYT to (as they keep threatening) start charging for access to content – because it would hand Teh Grauniad a naked advantage for no effort on their part.

That said, the NYT isn’t sitting on its hands:

“Paper is dying, but it’s just a device,” Bilton told Wired.com […] “Replacing it with pixels is a better experience.”

Bilton, a youthful technologist who programs mashups in his free time, is charged with inventing the future for the Gray Lady in an era of troubled times for newspapers. Fewer people are subscribing, classified ads are decamping for the internet and online revenues aren’t making up for lost print ads.

But Bilton envisions a world where news is freed from the confines of newsprint and becomes better.

It’s whether the shareholders and board of directors agree with him that counts, of course.

Also via TechDirt we see that Slate are using crowdsourced reportage (in this case photojournalism of Depression2.0, or whatever you prefer to call it) to lower costs and improve audience engagement at the same time. Contrary to the teeth-gnashing of industry pundits, newspapers aren’t going to die… but it’s clear the herd is going to be culled pretty seriously as it passes through the needle’s eye of technological and sociological pressure.

Unsurprisingly, younger members of the newpaper business believe that newspapers could save themselves by learning from the Silicon Valley approach – by embracing technology, change and way-out ideas rather than suppressing or ignoring them. They’d better move quickly, though.