Live, From the LitKicks Laboratory:

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Earlier this evening, I disappeared into the LitKicks Laboratory (we have one, seriously) to test the website known as The purpose of this site, as far as I can tell (I didn't feel like reading the FAQ) is to give readers personalized recommendations based on their ratings of books they've read. Simple enough, yes?

Well, okay. Yes. But also no. Let me explain my reasoning to you by outlining my testing method:

Step 1: Arrival -- When I first got to, I was a little preoccupied, because the American Idol finale was going to be starting in a few minutes (shut up, it's awesome). Even so, I had work to do in the name of science. Or literature. Or literary science. Or something. So, I created an account and looked at the screen which listed some books to review (or, excuse me, code). This leads me to...

Step 2: Coding -- I picked A Clockwork Orange because even though I read it about eight years ago, the title was familiar, and I didn't have time to deliberate because American Idol, people! Seriously.

So I set about coding the story. You'd think coding a story would be something intense that involved charts and graphs and blood tests, or something, but I was pretty disappointed to find that all I had to do was rate the story on a sliding scale according to questions about plot and characters. Whatever.

Step 3: Recommendations -- After I finished coding A Clockwork Orange, I was taken to a page with a lot of books listed on it, such as House of Leaves and American Psycho. Interesting. I decided I would code the one by Bret Easton Ellis, since I hated that book. Then I had to go watch American Idol, after which I came back and clicked around the site some more, trying to figure out why exactly it was in any way necessary to anything ever.

Step 4: Perplexity -- (Is "perplexity" even a word? Of course it is, and I totally knew that.) The thing is, I was beginning to wonder why this site was in any way better than having a friend who reads books and talks about them or, um, going to the library and browsing the shelves (I hear people do that sort of thing). It was at this point that I finally decided to read the FAQ.

Basically, the site stores all this coding information so that users will always have a list of books to read. (Great. My list of books to read is already so long that if all I did was read all the time for the rest of my life, I still wouldn't get through the whole thing before I died.) It's kind of like the way gives you recommendations while you're browsing, except without seeming like it's just blatantly trying to sell you stuff you're not even looking for under the pretense of being nice enough to give you the Super Saver Shipping. I think I may have just digressed a little bit there, but anyway, I came to see that the site could be for some people useful and (dare I say) fun.

Because really, anyplace that recommends a book called A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian to me when I click on a link for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is interesting, to say the least.

Step 5: Verdict -- My personal method for picking reading material has always been haphazard and random, and I very rarely ever read things because someone recommends them to me, choosing instead to read things for reasons that are so illogical and pointless that I couldn't even begin to decipher them. Be that as it may, I think the site has an interesting concept and could very well introduce people to reading material they'd never think of picking up if they were just wandering the aisles of their local bookstores.

I'd say that's a good thing.

But enough about me. How do you pick what you read?

7 Responses to "Live, From the LitKicks Laboratory:"

by Rubiao on

tractorsI'd like to hear more about those tractors in Ukraine. Like, what do they use to get through that deep Ukrainian brush? (By the way, I've been to Ukraine, and they were using scythes. I have a photo of me scything in Ukraine. This leads me to believe that the history of tractors in Ukraine is a short story.)

by jamelah on

Well... I have this feeling that it's probably not much about tractors at all, seeing that the book summary thing said it was about two sisters and their parents, or something. But maybe the dad buys a tractor and he's the envy of everyone on his street, and it causes all this strife for the family. Although doubtful, it could be so. You never know with books.

by firecracker on

Code BlueI checked out too and it seems to be still under construction -- probably would be better if there were more stories already "coded". I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more of a "Yahoo personals" aspect to it, as far as filling out personal preferences, details and such. I'm also curious how the "code" is calculated... are certain aspects weighted? Do the recommended books rely only on having the most similar "code" or is there something else at work here. Like voodoo? In any case, I'm sure it involves a lot of math and I'm (pretty much) ok with it being a mystery. Now ... about those tractors ...

by SteveJohnston on

the creator writes..Hi Jamelah, Thanks for taking the trouble to talk about StoryCode.I am delighted that ultimately you came to the conclusion that what we are doing is a good thing.Yes it is early days for us, but we have over 1200 stories in our database, and despite any reservations you may have about the matches our system generates, we convinced they will prove a very powerful way of choosing what to read next. If that is your problem.Keep visiting as our database grows, and I am sure you will find it more and more useful. Steve Johnston, CEO,

by SteveJohnston on

Hi Caryn,The code is calculated, in a very mathematical way, by looking at the response to each question for each story. And they are all equally weighted. So no, not voodoo, just enough questions to provide sensitivity and some clever enough math to make sure the comparisons are valid.Steve Johnston, CEO,

by firecracker on

Hi Steve!Glad you could stop by and clarify -- I am looking forward to seeing how Storycode develops and I hope you'll keep us posted on new features and updates. And if you need any input on the voodoo, just let us know.

by jamelah on

Hi Steve,Thanks for coming by. I think your site is fueled by a really innovative idea, and even though my skepticism sometimes gets the best of me, I definitely have to admit that it's pretty cool. Best of luck to you as your site grows!jamelah