because we can't have too many visualizations of awesome information June 7, 2010 9:49 PM   Subscribe

I searched and didn't see anything like this: a spiffy pony that would help track Mefi favorite books and how many times they are mentioned!

I want a pony inspired by this thread (among others.) The book threads on MetaFilter are amazing, and at the same time, I'm often curious to know what's been recommended the most. If there was some way to visualize all the data being poured into the linked thread - and better yet, keep it updated, that would be neat.

I know there's the wiki - I'm saying a step beyond.

But then again, it's way too late out here, and I'm sure I'm ignoring the fact that someone would have to code this thing.

But it would be so cool.
posted by canine epigram to Feature Requests at 9:49 PM (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I'm sure the mods will have something to say tomorrow morning, but this sounds really hard to code properly, identifying book titles, the context they're mentioned in, and so on. Otherwise Atlas Shrugged would be a #1 MeFi book.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:58 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I get you on the "it would be cool" thing, and it's possible that some enterprising mefite could try and make it happen on a going-forward basis just by like digesting the askme rss feed and compiling data, but it's not the sort of thing that we'd be likely to implement server side. That's a lot of complicated data mining in service of a very niche result that doesn't have a lot to do with what mefi is actually for, so it doesn't really seem like a good fit for us to dedicate resources to.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:14 PM on June 7, 2010

How about something that would look for Amazon links? Obviously that would only capture a small subset of book mentions, but it would seem to be simpler to code for - especially since MetaFilter already works some magic on Amazon links.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:02 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Atlas sighed. He was so, so bored with his day job - that of holding up the sky to prevent it from falling on people's heads. He'd been in this role for quite a few years now, and despite endless half-promising conversations with his supervisor, he had been passed over for promotion time and time again. It was that time of year; Bernard had arranged a 2 pm meeting for his performance review, but Atlas could hardly summon up the enthusiasm to talk about work. As he knocked, he glanced at the motivational poster Bernard had stuck to the outside of the door - Remember: Support Staff are the Pillar of the Organisation!

"Atlas! Come in, sit down!" Bernard smiled and waved towards a chair. "Take a load off - wait, scratch that! Keep holding the sky up, you ol' rascal! We don't pay you to take breaks, ha ha!" Bernard was the least funny manager Atlas had ever had.

"So! Performance review, huh?" Bernard searched his desk for a certain sheet of paper and took up a pen. "Great! OK, so, Atlas, tell me - how have you been enjoying your work recently?"

Atlas shrugged. At that very moment, every wealthy industrialist on Earth decided to stop producing and innovating, thereby stalling the engine of the economy and casting the world into a bleak and despairing nightmare of anarchy and economic retardation. Millions starved to death, wars erupted between hitherto allied nations, and humanity teetered at the brink of apocalypse.

"Now look, Atlas," said Bernard, "I've put in a good word for you with Corporate Affairs, up on the fifth floor. They are seriously thinking about fast-tracking some people for executive positions next quarter. But they need people with the right attitude, if you know what I mean. So I need you to turn that frown upside down, OK?"

Atlas smiled weakly. "No problem, Mr. Stevenson" he said. At that very moment, the poorer surviving members of the human race realised that it was the hard work of wealthy industrialists that had maintained the integrity and prosperity of human civilization over the millenia, and so they immediately started giving them all blow jobs.

Atlas returned to his cubicle, the sky still resting on his broad shoulders. He knew that, despite his misgivings about his job, he would do everything he could for that promotion. And then he could let the sky fall on the heads of every motherfucking office manager he'd every known, and they would be crushed to death instantly, reduced to nothing more than a smear of blood, feces and splintered bone. "Let them try to prepare for THAT performance review!", he giggled, as the thick sky weighed him in place.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 12:20 AM on June 8, 2010 [12 favorites]

Yeah, you should be dumping on other people for their lack of innovation and poor taste instead. Much more original.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:40 AM on June 8, 2010

This is one of those ponies that on close inspection would need to have six legs, titanium skin, Bluetooth compatibility and the ability to stay waterproof to a depth of 100m.
posted by Electric Dragon at 5:22 AM on June 8, 2010

I knew it was a reach :)
Why do you guys search out for stuff other people on here are doing (or reading) just so you can do the same thing?
So.. dickish.

My fellow Mefites have consistently (with adjustments for taste) recommended some really great media (books, web sites, et cetera). I just thought it'd be cool to share it in a digestible visualizable fashion. Looks like the Wiki is it for now, but I can dream!
posted by canine epigram at 5:31 AM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Reenum recently started a Goodreads group.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:21 AM on June 8, 2010

Do you really care what MeFites in particular read? Or do you just want to find stuff that you are likely to like? If the latter, check out any of a number of book sites on the intarwebs. I happen to use LibraryThing and it's doing a pretty good job so far of recommending stuff I (or my kids) will like.
posted by DU at 7:21 AM on June 8, 2010

I searched and didn't see anything like this: a spiffy pony

Expect to hear from my crackerjack law team.
posted by SpiffyRob at 7:37 AM on June 8, 2010

Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell: "How about something that would look for Amazon links? Obviously that would only capture a small subset of book mentions, but it would seem to be simpler to code for - especially since MetaFilter already works some magic on Amazon links."

If I remember correctly, when you log into Amazon as a webmaster, it already does some interesting compiling of how many products have been linked and how many clickthroughs there have been. Although this wouldn't be exactly what you're looking for, it would be interesting to see.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:17 AM on June 8, 2010

".. I'm sure I'm ignoring the fact that someone would have to code this thing ..." and that's where the magic comes in. The cooler the pony, the more expensive the ribbons to braid into its shiny mane. This particular pony demands a stable made out of the wood of the Mpingo tree, for it is a fancy prancy pony.

Short of throwing into the top line of a Python script, import ai, let's answer the most basic question: What does a book title look like to a computer?

Italicized? Well, sometimes, sometimes not. Of course, some folks use the <i> for their italics and some folks use the <em>. Most of the time, folks just use capitals, like A Confederacy of Dunces. Occasionally, you'll get quotes — that makes me itch.

At that point, all this means is that you've recognized that something is a title, but that could also apply to Supreme Court of the United States, or the Pope. How do you know the title you are looking at is a book? You've got a few approaches to combine here:

1) Take the title, compare against a list of common titles and proper nouns, like Archbishop or The End of the World As We Know It. That does not necessarily rule anything out — proper names can be book titles, too, it's just a little less likely.

2) Compare that possible title against a list of books pulled regularly from, say, the Library of Congress. That would add a few points to the "this is a book title" column.

3) Context ... is that title surrounded by words like "read," "reading," "book," "tome," "grimoire," "chapbook," and, to a lesser extent, "publish," "buy," "bought," "wrote," and so forth? Also worth a few more points. A lot of words, each worth varying amounts of points, subject to tweaking by their distance from the title.

At that point you have some probability that you have detected a Title with some elevated level of Bookness. But then you're left with, "Is this a recommendation?" Whereas before you at least have some sloppy, handwaving notion of book titles in a given thread, you're now facing an enormous problem: understanding the meaning of the mention of that title in the embedded text.

Some basic places to start would be, if it were an AskMe, searching the text of the question for words like "recommendation" and "favorite" such. Also, looking in the tags for "book" or "books" or "writer" or "writers" or, to a lesser extent, "series" might clue you in that you're about to get some book recommendations. That's just priming you to see if a discussion is about to take place.

But how, then, would a computer read through something like "If you like that kind of visceral horror, check out Ray Garton: steer clear of Scissors and his later stuff and go for earlier works like Live Girls ..." Clearly, "Scissors" is a title, and we would pick it up as a book ("scissors" is rarely capitalized, and it would be in the Library of Congress list), but this is a clear anti-recommendation. Book threads are full of anti-recommendations (see also Hannibal).

Hyperlinks as meaning — Google did it, why not? I would count a hyperlink to, say, Amazon, Borders, or Barnes & Noble, landing in the book products (because people do recommend CDs and DVDs like this, too) as a recommendation. That would be a clear and easy win, but it isn't widely used.

Restricting human speech to "I recommend The Black Company" won't work, and I seriously doubt that some kind of microformat language wherein we tag our words with meaning will be adopted by the populace, either.

All of the naive approaches I mentioned above have serious drawbacks to them, and, combined, lead to a system of threshold values and carefully managed, human-watched weightings of strategies just to make a halfway readable list. Imagine the personal joy of adding .001 to some value in a table and waiting to see if important books get dropped from the list, then judging that against the new gains.

Computers are just so amazingly dumb, they can be compared to the rocks from where their silicon passed through. You, as a human, can effortlessly skim threads and summon out meaning, but to a computer, serious work is required to turn a seemingly endless strings of zeroes and ones into letters, numbers, spaces, and punctuation, and from there into chunks like words, phrases, and sentences. And then we're doing this in English, primarily, where words are already so overloaded in meaning (count the number of definitions for "set" sometime), it's a wonder we can understand this at all. We take our massive pattern recognition and comprehension for granted. Most processing of text involves a lot of basic trickery and feeding our own words back to us, rather than finding meaning.

Parsing meaning out of human chatter is hard. (Hrm, this text of the post contains "books" and "favorites", so we're primed to a book recommendation thread, and the word "hard" is in italics, but it only an <em> ... let's go check the Library of Congress records for a book named "Hard" ... it's not capitalized but sometimes authors do that ...)
posted by adipocere at 10:21 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I happen to use LibraryThing and it's doing a pretty good job so far of recommending stuff I (or my kids) will like.

There's a MeFi group for LibraryThing (that I haven't visited in a hundred years) that allows you to browse other MeFites' libraries. And I think you can make it work so that it only displays book covers. A pony in someone else's stable, but a pony nonetheless.
posted by carsonb at 10:43 AM on June 8, 2010

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