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CanonicalTomes.org

By Johnath in MLP
Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 03:24:56 AM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)
Books

After the groundwork is laid, the most important part of a community based site is just getting the word out, and getting the visitors in. CanonicalTomes.org is all about books, and what it needs right now more than anything, in order to be the useful site I kind of hope it will be, is people.


The Story

I kept seeing posts - here, at advogato, and at slashdot -- asking for definitive books. I've seen requests for C, for Unix, for Compiler Theory, but also for stuff like Nanotech, or Evolutionary theory. Anytime someone makes one of these requests, suggestions and pros seem to crawl out of the woodwork with useful suggestions, and with alarming frequency, consensus emerges: it seems some topics just have one or two works that simply must be read. That's where it started.

The Site

CanonicalTomes.org is a site I've glued together in the past month, after an initial comment on advogato about creating it garnered me several offers of free server space, if I would put the site together. It's DB-driven (postgres) and perl-written, and is dedicated to the task of cataloguing the definitive tomes of every topic - and every subtopic -- that its users can generate. Users can add books, create new subtopics, and vote on submitted books -- the hope being that with enough eyes, the clear winners in an area -- or perhaps just several compelling candidates -- will rise to the top.

The site is also very aware of its origins, I think. What I mean by this is that I have tried not to forget for a second that this site, the brilliant resource it might possibly become, is more a product of its contributors than anything else. It's for that reason that I put together its Free Use of Data Policy, which essentially says that once things are up and running, there will be nightly (or maybe weekly) packaging of the useful DB contents into some generally useful formats (e.g. XML, or comma-seperated values) which people can grab and parse for whatever reasons they like (for instance, a compressed copy, perhaps of just certain information, or certain topics, is something I'd love to throw onto a palmpilot). I've also tried to put together a pretty straightforward privacy policy. The site can be browsed without login, obviously, but to do anything that impacts the DB - voting, adding books or topics -- requires being logged in, so I thought it important to explain why this was not part of some nefarious plot. The login's there to protect the site from, on the one hand, accidental stuff, like web crawlers inadvertently pulling down all the voting pages, and on the other, to faciliate troll removal. Bad books, topics, etc., will all be linked to a user_id, and can be removed all at once, so the site can always be restored to a pre-troll state (with enough editorial diligence.:)

The Point

The site in its current state is fully usable, but because it lacks publicity, it only has about 35 books -- enough for us to test with, but not enough to really be a useful resource yet. I'm hoping the k5 community will be the start of something -- it has to start somewhere -- and start checking the site out, and adding their favourites. I'd also love feedback on any part of the site that merits it, especially any new FAQs of note. I'm also putting this up here for discussion because of the data: people have expressed general interest in the data this site will eventually possess -- but I'm not sure what formats would be easiest to work with, and what type of applications people might see for it. I know this sort of feels like shameless self promotion, but I also think canonicaltomes is the kind of site that might appeal to the k5 readership, so here's hoping it generates a little traffic -- and discussion.

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CanonicalTomes.org | 21 comments (12 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
dmoz and ui feedback (4.75 / 4) (#5)
by kellan on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 11:39:13 PM EST

A friend got in touch with me a couple of days ago about building a directory of left and progressive organizations, and asked if I had any feedback on the UI. I gave him this same advice, "If you're going to build a directory, look at Dmoz." The people behind Dmoz(better known as the open directory project) got a lot of things very right.

For example, one thing that Dmoz does, that will really help CanonicalTomes (nice name by the way) is let you know how many items are in a category *before* you click on it.

This keeps you from being disappointed when a topic of interest turns up empty, and also highlights sections of the site that could use work.

kellan

Am I so transparent? (3.50 / 2) (#6)
by Johnath on Thu Feb 22, 2001 at 11:46:14 PM EST

I actually looked at dmoz' design repeatedly, when thinking about CT. :)

You're right, and I have contemplated a couple schemes - an actual number, bold'ng topics with books, or listing, yahoo-style, a couple of the sub-entries in each category. They'll all work, and they're all fairly intuitive, but I wanted to see how the site's dynamics turned out first. See, I've found in my usage of the site that I will sometimes create a category I *don't* know the tomes for, to see if someone will fill it. I don't want people dissuaded by this. But in principle, I agree that empties should be flagged, and will continue to think about a way to flag them.

Thanks for the feedback though,

Johnath

[ Parent ]

directories of orgs, both ends of spectrum (none / 0) (#15)
by Maniac_Dervish on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 10:55:10 AM EST

if you're looking for lists of politically charged organizations, there are only two books you need. the left book and the right book. they usually appear in reference sections at the library. both are lists of political organizations. addresses, phone numbers, officer names, etc. they're fun to play in. :)

[ Parent ]
Amazing (4.00 / 2) (#11)
by Devil Ducky on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 01:14:20 AM EST

I am truly surprised that something this conceptually simple and yet so needed has not been done before.

Bravo! I hope this is it and it is popular. I will certainly be submitting my ideas, not to mention (desperately) using it.

Devil Ducky

Immune to the Forces of Duct Tape
Day trading at it's Funnest
Why did you remove the troll how-to? (4.25 / 8) (#13)
by cp on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 05:07:35 AM EST

I submitted spiralx's slashdot troll how-to to canonicaltomes.org because that's what it is: the canonical tome for slashdot trolling, replete with psychosocial insight into weblog groupthink and with broad implications for online discussion sites outside slashdot. And yet you deleted it. Why?

You have to learn to distinguish between resources for trolls and resources that are to be considered "trolls" (in the sense more accurately conveyed by the term "crapflooding"). The former belong at canonicaltomes.org; the latter don't.

troll howto (4.00 / 1) (#17)
by Johnath on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 02:57:07 PM EST

Hehe - okay, perhaps I was a little over-zealous with my initial troll protection - but then, it's hard to put the troll howto up on the shelf with stroustrup and spivak.

I do however want to stay as editorially neutral as possible - and generally my editorial duties, as I see them, are to prevent real crapflooding, as you mentioned, and to resection stuff which seems inappropriately placed (a task to which I'm sure you can relate. :) So here's the thing: trolling resources do not really belong under "General Reference", where my mother might go to look for encyclopedias or the like - that much I hope you can agree on. If you were to create, for example, an "Internet Etiquette and Behaviour" topic, somewhere under computers & technology (or maybe in a sub-sub-topic), that would seem a more appropriate place to throw it.

My apologies for deleting instead of resectioning, though.

Cheers,

Johnath

[ Parent ]

Concerns (none / 0) (#16)
by zephiros on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 11:52:12 AM EST

From a conceptual standpoint, this is an awesome idea. I can't tell you how many times I've dug through Amazon/Fatbrain reviews trying to find the best book for a totally new field. I think I'd use this a lot, both recommending books and researching them. However, I do have a few concerns:

The interface is icky. The design doesn't intuitively communicate to the user how to operate the site. I realize the site is new, but having "add a subtopic" and "add a book" in larger text makes no sense. Ideally, most users will be trying to find content, not trying to create it. If you're familiar with use case development, this can be really helpful in defining site structure and navigation.

I'm not too keen on forcing 640px width for data-centric sites. I've got a whole additional 640 px on my screen. Let me use it to view more data, not more whitespace.

Create a unique view for each book. That way, when someone posts "You must read Applied Cryptography!" they can add a link to your site.

You might consider allowing subtopics to include a short text description. When you're dealing with fairly high-level concepts, this isn't necessary. Once you start getting fairly granular topics, some explanation might be helpful. This is especially true in the enterprise systems field, where you have a lot of overlapping terminology.
 
Kuro5hin is full of mostly freaks and hostile lunatics - KTB

Thanks (none / 0) (#18)
by Johnath on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 02:58:20 PM EST

These are great comments, and the kind of feedback I was hoping to get. Obviously some of these will take more work to implement than others, but they've all been added to my TODO list as possibilities.

I appreciate the feedback.

Cheers,

Johnath

[ Parent ]

Voting question (none / 0) (#19)
by ChrisCampbell on Fri Feb 23, 2001 at 08:48:29 PM EST

Great idea for a site!

I have a question about how voting works, though. Once I've voted for three books in a topic, are all my votes for that topic "used up"? This would suck if a new book were subsequently added that I thought better deserved one of my three votes. An alternative way to handle this would be to count only the three most recent votes I have used in a particular topic.

Anyway, good luck with the site.



Page width (none / 0) (#20)
by anewc2 on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 12:39:13 PM EST

I'm not too keen on forcing 640px width for data-centric sites. I have a lot of stuff on my screen I don't want to hide behind the browser, so my browser window is less than 640 px wide. The page should flow with the browser width, not enforce some arbitrary width.

The world's biggest fool can say the sun is shining, but that doesn't make it dark out. -- Robert Pirsig
"Liquid" Tables (none / 0) (#21)
by Johnath on Sat Feb 24, 2001 at 03:45:25 PM EST

Okay, just a quick note that you can stop sending in the "640 pixels sucks man, use percentages" comments. :) The site's been changed to a percentage based system so that those of you with 2400x1800 displays can see everything, and those running it on palm pilots at 180x180 can too. :)

I'm kidding of course, about the "sucks" comments, by and large the feedback has been very positive, and to tell you the truth, fixed table sizes are something that bother me too, I'm not quite sure what compelled me to change it here, but happily, it is now changed back.

Cheers,

Johnath

PS - Thanks a bunch to everyone who's visited and added info, it's great to watch the site grow. I'm glad people are finding it useful.

Linking (none / 0) (#22)
by titus-g on Sun Feb 25, 2001 at 08:58:56 PM EST

Coupla things that could be useful: if ISBN is a URL, automatically creating a link.

Is it possible to link in the text?

e.g. 'This book is a followup to <LINK>ThisOne</A>' or for linking to a glossary for some terms...

--"Essentially madness is like charity, it begins at home" --
[ Parent ]

CanonicalTomes.org | 21 comments (12 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
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