It’s very obviously in early days yet—the company’s still trying to negotiate deals with more publishers, as right now its selection leaves something to be desired; the founders actively point this out as “our biggest criticism of our own project,” however, and are encouraging visitors to email them if they know publishers who might be interested. And the service seems to be getting results: According to a blog posted four days after the website opened, 34 publishing houses (including Bloomsbury Publishing, the folks responsible for Harry Potter) have since contacted the company.
Despite the limited selection, however, the technology is impressive. BookLamp breaks down a book into graphed “subjects”—my search on Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man showed it to contain Criminal Investigation / Detective Work, Expressions of Emotion, Domestic Envrionments, and Financial Matters / Debt / Money. The keywords may be bland, but they’re accurate. Additionally, the BookDNA panel contains a whole section devoted to language: its Motion (the amount of physical motion in a scene), Density (complexity of the text), Pacing (of the story and the text), Dialogue (amount of speech), and Description (how many pages the author spends describing wine on cobblestones). As far as I can tell, you can only search by keywords and books at this point—not by language—though it would be a welcome addition.
The actual book-matching process, although not the prettiest, works surprisingly well. Books suggested from my Thin Man search ranged from Raymond Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake to another Hammett favorite, Red Harvest, mixed in with several books I’d never read (Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series) but which made perfect sense in context with my search.
As for BookLamp’s social aspect, well, it hasn’t even been fully enabled yet. Users can register and request to be notified via email when user accounts are turned on, but until then, there’s no way to bookmark interesting titles, add them to any sort of virtual bookshelf, what have you. Even so, it’s still awfully fun to poke around.
There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done here for BookLamp to come into its own, but I found myself intrigued by this new contender. If it focuses on tightening and freshening up the look, provides solid user support, and—dare I suggest—develops a simple iOS app (something that allows me to scan a book ISBN and receive instant book suggestions would be an excellent library companion), I can see myself using it for recommendations on a regular basis.
Adding Books and Managing a Collection: N/A.
Recommending New Books: Phenomenal, lacking only in overall title availability.
Social Features: N/A.
Just the facts
No, I didn’t find the perfect book service for my needs. (It either hasn’t been built yet, or I’m too picky—possibly both.) For most, however, Goodreads is perfectly serviceable, if a bit daunting to jump into. And even if I don’t have a good place to list the books I’ve read, I have new places to visit when looking for more to read, or a place to go listen to an author. Hopefully, after reading this account, so will you.