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Building Shepherd - Book API results & what comes next...

Shepherd is like wandering your friendly local bookstore but reimagined for the online world (friends don’t let friends buy books like they buy toothpaste).

Summary: March 7th to March 18th
What is going on at Shepherd?
A lot!
  • Serita put together a fantastic doc around editorial guidelines and it feels good to have more of that written down. I am very proud of the quality of our recommendations and Serita is doing great work there!
  • I spent a lot of time improving how our systems track author submissions to streamline the process and help us not lose anything. That isn’t done yet, but within 2 weeks we should have a lot more in place there. We are still running 3 weeks behind on publishing, but I hope to catch up very soon.
  • A lot of SEO grunt work.
And, here are updates on some of the bigger items…
Testing the book API (here are the results)
I spent a big chunk of the last 2 weeks testing a book API provider (along with the developer). Things are going well, and we will buy a license so we can start using this data (expensive license).
Why is this data so important?
Currently, we are manually setting up every book you see on the website (now at 20,000). We don’t even know if books are nonfiction or fiction.
We need this data in order to create features around genres and other cool stuff.
What did we learn?
Data: Genre & subgenre
The data looks good and we are going to use both THEMA and BISACto assign books to different genre buckets.
This data will allow us to create pages where readers can browse books based on genre, and filters so that readers can filter to see only books about WW2 that are historical fiction, or only science fiction books about AI (rough examples).
Data: Intended reading and interest age
This was the biggest disappointment. It was hard to tell how well children’s books have data around interest level and readership level. We are planning to do a large data dump to see how many books actually have this data and hoping for the best next month.
This data will allow us to narrow down books to a specific age and do things like “filter to show books about dragons for age 9”.
Data: First date published
This is going to work “ok” but not great. I was hoping there would be better data connecting different editions of the same book (there is not). So we have a pretty accurate date for 80% of books, and the other 20% are a mess that will require manual labor to improve. We do have some options to work around this, but the data looks messy.
This data will allow readers to filter based on when a book was published, or vague concepts like “new”.
What features are we building next?
Add book data to our platform (Starting in April)
The developer will build a system to add the book data mentioned above from the book API into our platform. This is the first step so that we can start using that data to build features for readers and authors.
Improve our topic engine & optimize our backend
These are some small projects we must do that I have been putting off for too long. They will improve the quality of the topic engine and optimize and fix some things on the backend.
Things like:
  • Adding breadcrumb navigation to improve site navigability.
  • Improving the topic engine so that it is more accurate (this will be the first feature to use the book API we just finished testing).
  • Improving how we manage ISBN data on the backend.
  • Fix the UK links (not working great).
  • Improve some backend tools to help us work better/faster/smarter.
Improving the bookshelf design for users
We will add a new recommendation card on this page. It will better emphasize the author making the recommendation and why this is a great person to listen to. A rough mockup was in the previous week’s newsletter if you’re interested.
Adding the new recommendation engine to book lists
This will add the improved recommendation engine to every book recommendation list, plus some small UI/UX improvements.
After that?
It gets a little foggy after this and I will know more in a few months.
New book launch feature delayed...
I was going to launch this feature in Spring but I am delaying it. It was a very hard decision. I want to wait until we have more traffic to the pages we would advertise new books on (bookshelves and the eventual genre pages). I did not want to add a feature that didn’t help authors enough, and I would rather wait until later this year (when we have more traffic).
I am going to check back on this toward late summer to see how traffic is looking.
What else is going on?
Ferry ride across the Rhine with my bike!
Ferry ride across the Rhine with my bike!
We enjoyed our time in Düsseldorf Germany! I had a great bike ride where I got to ride a ferry across the Rhine which was a cool experience. The city was beautiful and now we are headed to our next stop.
Have a great weekend! :)
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Ben Fox

Follow along as I build the Shepherd book discovery platform (updates every 2 weeks).

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