Friday, November 27, 2009

Guest Blog: Greg of

I hope everyone had a splendid Thanksgiving (or Thursday, if Thanksgiving doesn't apply to you) and have by now slept off the aftereffects of stuffing yourselves silly. I know I slept for a loooong time today, but now I'm all set to do some work and then to see New Moon with my friends--finally! I feel like a bad YA blogger, not having seen New Moon for purely observational reasons yet. Ah well, as one of my friends who's going with me says, "I think an Edward [or Jake, if you are on that team] would be lovely on the big screen."

Today's guest blog comes from George Palmer, founder of the cool site, which is perfect for people like me who are obsessed with "Best of" lists. I mentioned 5ftshelf as an interesting site to check out in a post a couple of weeks ago, but here is George, explanation his inspiration and the process of creating the site himself. Welcome, George!


Dr Eliot, head of Harvard University in 1900, often claimed in speeches that a liberal eduction could be achieved by reading a collection of books totalling no more than 3ft in width. When a local publisher challenged him to name the books and he sat down to work out the items to include, he found that he actually needed 5ft of space. The collection of books that he listed became know as Dr Eliot's 5ft shelf--later the Harvard Classics. It contains some of the most important and influential works of our time--Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, Darwin's The Origin of Species, and Shakespeare's Hamlet, to name just a few.

When I first heard of the Harvard Classics over 2 years ago, the idea fascinated me, and not long after I started to wonder what a modern equivalent would look like. Disappointed that my research as to
whether such a list existed failed to materialise any matches, I started to wonder whether I could create a website to do just that--find a modern version of the Harvard Classics.

It took another 18 months before I could start on the project, but after much hard work I finally had an initial version I could release to the world (which happened just two weeks ago). I decided to name the website 5ft Shelf after the original name for the collection. I also decided to slightly change the criteria for selection--the original list was composed of solely books and I decided that two new quintessential forms for modern living had emerged in music albums and movies. Whilst books were the one of the major forms of entertainment 100 years ago, I decided music and film had really come through as mediums in the last 100 years and they should be represented as well.

The concept of the website is that people register to create their own personal 5ft Shelf which they can then share with others. Whilst there's no social network right now, we plan to release one in the coming weeks, as we think it'll be interesting to watch your friends add and remove items over time. Of course, the real point is to find a modern version of the Harvard Classics and we call this shelf (which we find by combining all users' shelves and finding the most popular items) the Ultimate Shelf. By using all the users' shelves to find the modern shelf we're also creating a "people's version" of the shelf (rather than the original which was created by one definitive source--Dr Eliot and an assistant). Early results are encouraging, and a lot of the books, albums, and films that have emerged on the Ultimate Shelf are considered modern classics.

There are also a few other nice features that early users have reviewed positively. The first is mini-shelves. These are shelves of items belonging to just your chosen category. So whether it's DIY, murder mystery's, or children's books that you're passionate about, then you can see the most popular items that fall into just that category on a shelf. The other feature people have really enjoyed is recommendations. Based on the items you add to your shelf, we search for other people with similar items and see what they have on their shelves that you don't. We then recommend these to you as ideas for items you might like to think about in the future (plus we've provided a link straight through to Amazon if you want to buy the recommendation).


Thanks, George, for the informative post, and I hope you readers check out for hours of procrastinatory usefulness and enjoyment! :)

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