I received an e-mail from a friend that pointed me to goodreads, a book-oriented social networking site. It’s nice enough, a little more focused on what you’re currently reading than on what you have in your collection, which is what LibraryThing is so big on tracking. That thought reminded me that I’ve been meaning to give LibraryThing a proper once-over for a while now, and so I opened an account there as well, and entered the ISBNs of a few books I had at hand.

The next thing I knew, I was tearing through my entire collection of books, entering ISBN numbers into LibraryThing’s data entry form (which is very smooth to use) as fast as my meager ten-key skills would allow. I think I have all of the books in my apartment in the system now — at least I hope I do, because I’ve already dug into the back corners of my closets to find the stuff in cold storage, and if there are any deeper, darker nooks that I’ve hidden books in, then I just don’t think I’m ever going to find them again.

While keying in my books was a pleasant, if slightly manic way to spend a Saturday morning (as well as a good opportunity to give my bookshelves a desperately needed dusting), I can’t say I’m particularly enthusiastic about going back through all 300+ entries and tagging them, even though LibraryThing’s tags are much more successful than, say, Amazon’s.

Tags serve two main purposes for their users: retrieving your own stuff and discovering new stuff (presumably through others’ tags). Retrieval isn’t much of an issue for me in LibraryThing: Since I went to the trouble of acquiring all the books in my collection, and have even gone so far as to read most of them, I don’t need a whole lot of help finding the name of a book I already own in the way that I need help sifting through my morass of bookmarks in del.icio.us. Tagging doesn’t pay off as richly with books as it does with bookmarks.

Tagging for discovery works wonderfully on a site like Flickr, where photos are all unique (no two people take the same photograph) and have very little other metadata to tie them together. Tags allow people to create groupings and add meaning to each other’s pictures, and provides an opportunity for surprises amidst the links. It doesn’t pay off as richly on a site like Last.fm, where lots of people listen to the same songs, which allows for a more interesting way of connecting things. By simply looking at the music you listen to, seeing who else listens to that music, and seeing what other music they listen to, Last.fm can build a network of songs for you that’s both an accurate predictor of your tastes and an avenue for constant surprises. Of course, Amazon has done the same thing with books for years with their “customers who bought this also bought…” feature.

At any rate, it turns out that LibraryThing does this sort of tagless networking just fine, and I’m already finding things I’m going to have to add to my “to read” list. On top of that, the UnSuggester (basically the negative of all the suggestion mechanisms I’ve been talking about) is a constant source of delightful mismatches.

To be honest, though, I don’t actually read all that much.