24 September 2007

Gnod books (that's not a typo)

Awhile ago, I discovered Pandora, an online music service. You tell the program what artists or albums you like, and it plays selections from them and identifies similar music and plays selections from those.

I've found it to be wonderful. I typed in a dozen names of performers in almost as many genres, and I can listen to music through the tinny speakers on my computer all day without hearing an advertisement, a repeated piece, or having to change a CD. And for every piece Pandora plays, you can click on "I like it" or "I don't like it." If you don't like it, the selection stops immediately, and won't be played again for you. You can also tell Pandora that you're tired of hearing a song or a performer right now, and the program will put that piece of artist on hold for awhile.

This all leads up to something similar for readers.

Bird Loomis sent me a link to a "literature map" centered on Elmore Leonard. Leonard, the author of 3:10 to Yuma, has been writing westerns, mysteries, and screenplays since the early 1950s.

The map purports to show what other authors' books are read by readers of Leonard's books. The annotation also says that the "closer two writers are [on the map], the more likely someone will like both of them."

There's very little explanation of the artificial intelligence behind these mappings, but it seems that there's a group of Leonard readers who also read Christopher Moore, Anthony Burgess, and Bernard Malamud. (Malamud?) Does that happen because this is so new and there aren't many contributors yet? Another cluster of names includes Dave Barry, Ian Rankin, and Matti Yrjänä Joensuu. (?) Joensuu is a Finnish writer of crime fiction. Maybe there's a club of crime fiction readers in Finland. Rankin is a Scottish crime fiction writer. Okay, maybe the readers club is Finnish-Scottish-Detroitish (Leonard's home town). But Dave Barry?

Interesting and curious connections show up in these maps. They might be a good source for suggestions of what to read next. And you can click on any name on the map and see a map centered on that writer.

For instance, the map for Tony Hillerman shows that there is one group of Hillerman readers who are fans of Michael McGarrity, Beverly Connor, Mikhail Sholokov, and Patrick O'Brian. (Sholokov?) There's another group who read Conan Doyle and Emma Lathen. And that group is near a group who read John Mcphee, Loren Eisley, and Alexander McCall Smith. (Smith?)

In other quadrants, there is a cluster of people who are likely readers of Marcia Muller, George P. Pelecanos, William Cruz Smith, Nancy Atherton, Nick Toshes, Louise Erdrich, and Nevada Barr. Laurie King readers are also likely to be readers of Dick Francis.

I don't quite know what to make of these maps. They did point out to me one thing about the books I've read most recently. Few of the names on the map for Faye Kellerman showed up on either the map for Janet Evanovich or the one for Elizabeth Peters. That's further demonstration that Evanovich and Peters appeal to very different audiences than Kellerman.

As a matter of fact, most of the names on the Kellerman map are unfamiliar to me. That probably helps explain how I've missed her earlier books.

These are fun to play with. More fun than most television these days, so turn off the tube and play with these maps for awhile. The literary maps are part of Gnod, which describes itself this way:

"Gnod is my experiment in the field of artificial intelligence. Its a self-adapting system, living on this server and 'talking' to everyone who comes along. Gnods intention is to learn about the outer world and to learn 'understanding' its visitors. This enables gnod to share all its wisdom with you in an intuitive and efficient way. You might call it a search-engine to find things you don't know about." I have no idea who the owner of this is. But the maps are created by participants' inputs.

Besides books there are "maps" of "Gnod Music" and "Gnod Movies." Things on the site are really new, and you might not yet find what you're looking for. But, you might find good recommendations for your next library book, DVD rental, or iTunes download.

Could be good fun.

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