AlexLit

I was one of the early users of
AlexLit
and have long been enthralled by their highly addictive collaborative filter. I think I joined up and started rating books around 1997. Over time, this thing has been freakishly accurate at predicting books I will like. For a long time, I had Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds as my top recommendation and when I finally read it thought it was one of the best books I’ve ever experienced. When I got my first PDA, the first thing I did with it was buy some ebooks from them and sync it up.

Over time their fortunes have waxed and waned. I’ve met and like very much the founder, Dave Howell, who initially funded this venture with money he made as an early employee of Wizards of the Coast. Unfortunately, Dave never seemed to focus hard enough on the selling end of it. What he did do was build a really neat geeky tool in the AlexLit recommender. Go in, create yourself an account and begin rating books on a nine point scale from “Fabulous” to “Dreadful”. After you rate a few, 50 I think is the minimum, it will recommend books to you. The more books you rate, the better this gets. It works by determining from what you like and dislike which other people fit your tastes as “neighbors”. It then uses these people and their closeness of fit to you to determine what things they liked that you haven’t yet read, weights for their nearness to you, and make a prediction for what you’ll enjoy. It’s been years since one of my Alex Lit recommendation has been off by more than one point on the scale. Probably 80% of the time, it is right on the money.

Over the holidays, I’m going to make a serious effort to read my top five recommendations. Some of these have been in there for a number of years. They are:

  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard
  • A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge
  • The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
  • The Princess Bride by Wiliam Goldman
  • King Lear by William Shakespeare

I already own Deepness in the Sky and Princess Bride (both were review copies from the radio show days, the latter in the reissue). The other three I’ll check out from the library. It will be an interesting experiment to see how it goes. I’ve seen Rosencrantz in the film version with Tim Roth and Gary Oldman and didn’t like it much. We’ll see how I like it in script form.