I’ve been evaluating online book cataloging tools recently, and have found just two of real note: Listal and LibraryThing.
Let’s do a quick overview. What I’m looking at is a tool to catalogue my library of books in an easy manner, and make it available online. That’s it really. Delving into the murky depths of the internet, only Listal and LibraryThing managed to come up smelling somewhat like flowers. Although, as you’ll soon discover, one more so than the other.
For comparison, however, I’ll only be looking into Listal’s book cataloguing feature. The cataloguing of other media is very similar to books, so the features aren’t too different to worry about anyway.
A quick list of similarities:

  1. Both allow you to add books to your library by searching Amazon (although LibraryThing allows you to search from more sources). You enter a keyword (author, title, isbn, whatever) and it will return a list of hit results. You select the book you want, and click Add. Simple.
  2. Both allow your online library to be browsed by other people.
  3. Both allow you to add custom information on each book – comments or reviews or some such custom tagging.

Differences:

  1. Listal is free. LibraryThing is free only for the first 200 books. Any more and you’ll have to be a member – a one year subscription is USD$10 while a lifetime membership is USD$25.
  2. LibraryThing supports mobile access. Not important if you’re not a *total* geek, but imagine being able to check your online library via your mobile phone when you’re browsing in a bookshop.
  3. LibraryThing allows you to import and export your list. Listal’s simply sits there – it’s basically stuck in Listal’s server. All the hours you spend inputting your library is basically sucked down the drain if Listal suddenly disappears from the face of the earth. People tend to overlook the importance of import/export, and they shouldn’t.
  4. LibraryThing has a much more matured implementation of social networking. This makes more of a difference than you’d first think.

Both are very nice, however in my opinion, LibraryThing wins hands down. LibraryThing understands the one advantage online lists have over similar functionality offered by offline programs doing the same thing: the social component.
The ability for LibraryThing to help you find like minded readers via its Users with Your Books functionality really allow you to see who shares the most number of books in your library with you. It allows you to see what others have written about the book you own, just to see if others share your thoughts. It even shows you what books people who own your book also own, thereby giving you a wonderfully accurate recommendation of books you’re likely to enjoy.
LibraryThing encourages exposure to new books given what others have recommended or own, and exposure to new and interesting reads is always a good thing.
This social element is sadly lacking in Listal. All Listal does is cataloguing, and little else. And because it lacks many of LibraryThing’s social features, that’s all it really is – a catalogue. One that others can browse, granted, but Listal can be so much more.
I wish I came up with the idea for LibraryThing. It’s brilliant, a true example of a labour of love by a book-loving programmer. Now if only it weren’t so damn pricey for someone outside of the States, I’d be a lifetime member in a flash. 🙂