Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Using Barcode Readers with FictionDB

I will do just about anything to speed up a process. In my corporate days I was the annoying person always coming up with new ways to do something better, faster, more efficient... I drove the change-averse people nuts! Well, you get the picture. A couple of days ago I bought OmniPage 15, the software that I use to convert covers to text. Scansoft, the software company, just loves me. Whenever they send me an e-mail that they have a new version, I'm the first person buying it. Here's why. I scan over 1000 covers a month. The new software will save me 15 seconds per cover. Not much for one cover but that's over 4 hours per month, 48 hours for the year. Well worth the $100 pricetag!

I have now scanned a significant percentage of the romance covers. Since I buy the books that I scan, I can't just buy a box of books knowing that I'll probably need to scan a large percentage of them. I needed a quick way to determine whether I should buy the book or not. Technology is great. Whenever I have an idea, there's usually a solution. I had received the new Treo 650 cell phone for Christmas last year (I created the FictionDB Mobile site just for my new phone). I learned I could buy a tiny barcode scanner that would plug into my phone. Awesome! I could now whip out my phone, scan a barcode and know whether I should buy the book.

Of course, this got me thinking about other ways I could use a barcode reader. I came up with lots of ways to increase my throughput using a scanner, but I didn't want to use the one on my phone. I wanted one attached to my computer, but I wanted something cheap. eBay to the rescue. I bought a CueCat barcode reader for $15. You may remember Radio Shack was giving these away for free several years ago. If you want to buy one make sure you get one that has been MODIFIED. Most eBay sellers put this in their description.

So what does this all mean for you? Well, if you're like me and want to catalog your 4000+ book collection, the thought of entering all those books into FictionDB seems like a nightmare. If you collect by author, this isn't so difficult. You can add an author's complete backlist with just one click. But what if you have lots of onesy-twosy books? Enter them with our new Barcode Scanner page. Just scan the barcode that starts with 978. For mass market paperbacks this is usually inside the front cover. For hardcovers and trade paperbacks, it is on the back cover. Not all barcodes are in our database, but a large percentage of mass market paperbacks are available. Books in hardcover that have not been released in paperback are also available.

Give it a try and let us know what you think!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The New Look

We hope you like the new look of FictionDB. We are always looking for ways to improve our visitors' experience with our site and we believe the new site offers significant improvements over the old design. The new design is also more simplistic. The old site incorporated many graphics that took quite a while to download. For our users without high speed access, you should notice a significant improvement in page speed.

Why was the redesign necessary?

I am probably FictionDB’s most active user. I have over 4000 books catalogued and use the site as a daily reference tool. Every time I have a “If only FictionDB could do this….” moment, I write it down. Many of these were not possible with the old site design. The biggest limiting factor was the left hand navigation bar. The bar took up almost 2 inches of prime data real estate. I would look at that bar and covet that space. FictionDB is a data driven site and the more data we can make available, the better. Unfortunately, under the old design, the data was getting smashed together and wrapping onto multiple lines making it really hard to read. So I wanted to consolidate all the navigation at the top of the page. A left nav bar is not any more accessible after you scroll down from the first page.

Give us your comments on the new design.

Like anything new, it always seems strange at first, but then you get used to it and can’t remember what the old way was like. I have been living with the new design for several weeks now and have found it easy to use. If you have a different experience, we’d love to hear from you. Obviously we can’t make every change that is requested, but when many people have the same suggestion, the item is often quickly implemented if possible. We are currently looking for ways to allow visitors to change the font size they see. The new font on the data pages is not any smaller than the old font, but there is a perception that it is.

New Features

So what are some of the new features? Well, the biggest addition is the sorting you’ll now find on many of the pages. You can sort by date published, title, and author. We’ve also added several new search items like a search for continuing characters. Other additions are on the book detail page: Paperback release date and mulitauthor series.

A big thanks to our redesign team!

The site was designed by Vivian Lund of electric-webs.com and we think she did a fabulous job. My neighbor, Alix Morehouse, drew all the great characters you see sprinkled throughout the site. Without the creative expertise of these two women, FictionDB would be a purely text site!

As always, we are looking to make the site more useful, so if you have suggestions or comments, please let us know at Kelly@fictiondb.com.