Rocking out on Pandora!

April 27, 2006 at 11:58 pm 18 comments

I was working online tonight doing my freelance gig as a VR Librarian on QandANJ and playing my customized Pogues and Tragically Hip radio stations in the background thanks to Pandora — one of my favorite Web 2.o goodies that I recently discovered. I was between questions when it struck me like a lightning bolt that we need an equivalent project and application in the library world. I am serious. We need to find a way to fund or create a “Book Genome Project” that is similar in size and scope to the Music Genome Project that was the impetus behind the creation and launch of Pandora.

Pandora made its public debut about 6 months ago and it was recently named one of the top freebies in PC World’s recent article 101 Fabulous Freebies. For those of you who have not yet discovered Pandora I urge you to go play with it — just be warned that it is addictive. You can also read a fantastic interview about Pandora on Blog that Web or read the Wikipedia entry for more information.

So, back to my lightning bolt — a “Book Genome Project”. I know we have many reader’s advisory tools and even databases such as Ebsco’s NoveList to help our customers select books, but they all seem “Oh So 1.0” when put in a side-by-side comparison with Pandora.

What I like best about Pandora (besides the fact that it always seems to play music that I like based up on one suggestion) is their objective to “capture the essence of music at the fundamental level”. They really seem to be doing it. How? By assigning a variety of attributes to songs that get at the core of what the music is really about and what people might like about that particular song.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a tool that was freely available on the web and simple to use that captured “the essence” of books. I doubt I am the first to have thought of this, but the way I am envisioning might be unique. A Pandora replication for fiction and non-fiction to help connect people to books. It is late at night and I have not had time to think this all the way through… but I believe I am on to something. I would love suggestions on how we could create our own Pandora for the library world.

More to follow on this (after I get some sleep).


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  • 1. Ben Crowder  |  April 28, 2006 at 10:58 am

    Great idea. FYI, LibraryThing has something similar to this, but not nearly as extensive. Even so, I think a separate Book Genome Project would still be worth its while.

  • 2. Janie L. Hermann  |  April 28, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Ben: Thanks for the link to LibraryThing, I had yet to stumble across this on my wanderings. Looks like I will be in for some fun this weekend as I explore how it works.

    It does seem to be very similar to what I had in mind. But still, I am not sure if it is getting at what is the “essence” of books. Glad you think my Book Genome Project might still be worthwhile even with LibraryThing doing its thing.

    Oh, and I also noticed that when you quoted me on your blog that I had made a typo in my post [up on instead of upon]. It is what I get for blogging after midnight — oops.

  • 3. LibraryThing  |  April 28, 2006 at 12:51 pm

    I hope you enjoy the tour. If you want to talk about it, shoot me an email.

    One attempt to do what you propose is “StoryCode” ( and You code novels according to certain criteria, and then the system matches them up. It’s an interesting idea, and I hope to syndicate their recommendations alongside LT’s, but in general, I think LT does a much better job of generating recommendations. LT gets at the content idea by generating suggestions based upon “similar tagging.” With 3.6 million tags, a lot of books now have enough to evaluate whether tagging produces good recommendations. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

    Ultimately, what is the DNA of a book? If you enjoyed Bel Canto, do you want to read other novels about opera and Latin American strife? I think you’re really getting into issues of taste and style. It’s hard for regular readers to code books that way. Why I love Nabokov isn’t a series of drop-down boxes, it’s an essay.

    Ultimately, I think “people who own/buy/read X also own/buy/read Y” is the best way to get at the issue. I’m not too familiar with Pandora, but that’s how does it, and they’re matching is similarly touted. I also think LibraryThing, which tracks ownership and readership, gets it right more often than Amazon, which tracks purchase patterns.

    Considering that LibraryThing is one guy with no funding, that’s quite something, I think.

  • 4. emily  |  May 1, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    Great post–and nice observation by librarything about the differences in approaches between Pandora and LastFM. Pandora aims to group music by inherent similarities (e.g., “strong female vocalist,” “mild syncopation,” and, for some reason “extensive vamping,” which seems to apply to many of my favorite tunes), while LastFM takes a social approach: if you like band X, and 23 out of 25 people who enjoy band X also enjoy band Y, you’ll probably like band Y too.

    So what WOULD a book genome project look like? For nonfiction, we might have it down: subject headings! (At least in the Pandora sense of “genome.”) But subject analysis of fiction is pretty poor in most library catalogs. Amazon often takes the LastFM approach: “readers who bought X also purchased…”

    Interesting stuff.

  • 5. F.G.  |  February 20, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    Hi! You know, I found this Blog because I typed “Book Genoma Project” on google. I was listening to Pandora and had exactly the same idea. Are you working on it? Do you know if someone is?

    F. G.

  • 6. Anonymous  |  March 12, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    Absolutely it’s being worked on. – go and watch the video on the site. They’re currently talking to and Google.

    Anyway, I know this topic is old, but there you go. It’s as close to a Book Genome Project that exists.

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    Excellent post. I’m dealing with a few of these issues as well..

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