Friday, January 06, 2006

a book I'm reading

I've been reading James Surowiecki's book, The wisdom of crowds: why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economies. It shows up on this blog as one of my three current reads with a link back to my catalog in LibraryThing. My bib record for the book in LibraryThing contains a notation reminding me that a post in Chris Anderson's blog, The Long Tail, put me on to it.

It's an interesting book, fitting into my current interest in Sir William Petty and the tumultuous times in which he lived. It's also currently a relatively popular one (much more so than the other stuff I read).

Partly because of this popularity, there's a lot to be learned about it. That's the topic of this post: Some of the many things you can learn about a book before you lay your hands on it.

It's easiest to present this as the story of my encounter with The Wisdom of Crowds. So ...

I saw the post in Chris Anderson's blog. I then searched the online catalog of the Library of Congress. There I found a full bibliographic record plus links to three additional pieces of information: Contributor biographical information, Sample text, and a Publisher description. I requested and borrowed the book. Once I had it in hand, I called up bib data for it in LibraryThing, added the LT record to my personal catalog and put in a tag indicating that it is current reading (this triggers the javascript widget which shows the book as such in this blog). I also inserted the extract from Chris Anderson's post to help me remember how the book came into my consciousness and why I thought it worth reading.

That's where I am now. But, supposing I wanted to write about the book, borrow from a local public library, or purchase a copy of it, there's much more that I could do. Here two additional steps I might take:

1. Check OCLC's Open WorldCat to see what informaton it can provide. My Firefox browser's search box gives me Open WorldCat searching via both Google and Yahoo (OCLC has made available brief records representing most of its cataloging database to these two search giants). So I search OWC for WOC. Here's what I find:

-- a list of editions and alternative formats: New York: Doubleday, 2004; New York: Random House Large Print, ©2004; London: Little Brown, 2004; London: Abacus, 2005; and New York: Doubleday, Computer File, 2004.

-- a service that gives me the opportunity to find it in a library (by entering a postal code, state, province, or country).

-- some bibliographic details, including the same information that the LC record gave, plus the book's contents, an opportunity to browse similar items by subject, and -- this is new -- an opportunity to add some notes of my own to the OWC record.

-- a reader review and an opportunity to contribute my own if I wish -- also new.

2. Check to see what says about the book. This proves to be a surprisingly bountiful source:

-- Amazon lets me search inside the book so I can find out, for example, whether Surowiecki mentions William Petty at all (he doesn't).

-- Not surprisingly, Amazon gives the table of contents, access to other editions, a list of books on related topics, and plenty of bibliographic details (including shipping weight).

-- There are also links to sample pages, such as the covers, and an opportunity to browse pages.

-- In addition, Amazon provides a condordance and some interesting text stats.

-- Amazon gives a link to books that customers who bought this book also bought, a link to editorial reviews. a star ranking based on based on 93 customer reviews (four stars).

-- We get the Sales Rank, both today and yesterday, as well as lists of Statistically Improbable Phrases and Capitalized Phrases.

-- Not surprisingly, these days, there are also lists of tags that customers have used for the book and links to the customers' tag lists.

-- There's more including Amazon's well-known Spotlight Reviews, Listmania, forums for customer discussions of the book, and an opportunity to find similar books by category and subject.

All this is a bit overwhelming. I wanted to add more about the Google Book Search program works, sources for buying second hand books, and how LibraryThing works and is evolving, but this post is long enough so I'll leave that to another one.

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