So today I bought Delicious Library, mostly because I’ve been wanting to get stuff organised and I’m trying to shed some heavy media matter and I thought being able to see it all in one place might make it easier to work out what to do. Also, bluntly, I was extremely bored. So this evening, over a couple of hours, I barcode scanned around 150 books, a couple of hundred albums and a few videos and DVDs. What follows is my general experience of using the application. But if you want a quick summary of what I’m going to say, it would be Don’t do it. Or at least – don’t do it yet…
Firstly, if you’re outside the US then consider very seriously if this is going to be useful for you at all. All the options for interacting with Amazon are with Amazon.com and there is no way of regionalising it to your local Amazon store. I have no idea whether or not the difference in location means that it’ll find it harder to find products you’ve bought outside the US or not, but given that you can’t actually use your local branch to buy or sell anything then it’s still kind of annoying and makes the whole application just generally less useful if you don’t live in the States. I know they’re working on this stuff – it says so in their FAQ – but really, aren’t you supposed to have built your functionality into your products before you start selling them?
So then there’s the barcode scanning stuff. It’s not the only way of adding products to Delicious Library by any means – you can manually input Amazon numbers or do searches by name or author or some. You can even just type everything in by hand if you want. But let’s be honest – if you’re really planning to start keeping track of all your books/DVDs/CDs etc then it’s going to be enormously simpler and faster to use a barcode scanner than to do anything by hand.
I used the iSight as an input device for scanning the barcodes and was generally impressed by how it worked. It takes a while to figure out how far to put the barcode in front of your camera, at what angle, and to get used to the image being reversed. There’s scope for improvement here – the amount of times I found myself moving my book one way to try and get the barcode closer to the middle of the camera only to find it moving in the opposite direction on screen… All in all, this part of the experience – the camera capturing the barcode – was pretty successful and pretty cool. Eight out of ten because I didn’t have to buy a new barcode scanner.
However the utility of the barcode scanning proved a little less than totally useful. Books were okay – once it had captured the barcode, it queried Amazon and managed to return useful information on 128 of the 135-140 books I tried to scan. Not all the covers came back correctly and not all books came back with a cover at all, but that’s to be expected. Publishers change covers all the time and some of my books are pretty obscure.
When using the barcode scanning to identify CDs, DVDs and videos however the Amazon API via Delicious Library brought back precisely no results. You read that right. That’s no recognised albums or DVDs out of around two hundred scanned. So basically – if you’re hoping to use Delicious Library to quickly scan and track albums or DVDs then all I can say is that this is not something that my experience of using the software would support. Again this could be a function of me being in the UK and having bought all my DVDs and CDs in the UK, but I’m not sure I’m convinced that that’s the case. Utility for books: seven out of ten, utility for CDs / DVDs / Videos: 1 out of ten. Maybe two at a pinch.
So what about the quality of the information that comes back? Well you get fields from Amazon that might include name of book, author, publisher, release date, illustrator, genres, formats, ASIN, ratings, language, number of pages, value, retail price (and other stuff). Just over half of these fields come back filled with data. Delicious Library adds some other fields you can fill in yourself – including the location in your house, whether it’s been signed by an author and what you paid for it. Some of these fields seem pretty useful, others (the genres) clearly fulfil clear business needs for Amazon but are almost totally useless for everyone else. There’s also a different view for seeing ‘similar items’ on Amazon.com – which is of mixed utility. I guess it’s nice to have it with you on your computer, but on occasion it seems like the whole interface is designed to be like an iTunes for physical products – complete with the continual imperative to buy. Not a big deal, though. Not bad. Five out of ten?
Then there’s the interface for lending things to people. For some reason when I started the application it chose five apparently completely random people from my Apple Address Book with whom I might wish to swap books and stuff. The initial impression I had (given that four of the five were people I work with) were that the people on the list were people within my Rendezvous orbit. This does not appear to be the case – it just seemed to choose people completely at random. You can add as many people as you want, it seems, but the interface element doesn’t seem large enough to support a big list and there’s no way to remove the buddy images or anything. You don’t seem to be able to move them around or reorder them either. People appear to be ordered by their first names alone.
If you select someone you are then presented list of the things that you have let them borrow. You can drag a book or a DVD or a CD to their name and select (quite beautifully) a day on a calendar when they should return it. You can even print out little cards if you want. This is all relatively nice. However it’s also an enormously missed opportunity. If they have Delicious Library too there doesn’t appear to be any Rendezvous functionality that could allow you to hook into their libraries. If someone’s nearby you should be able to see their library – even query it. There’s no functionality that would alllow you to drag a book to one of those libraries in order to lend it to them and none to allow them to see it appearing on their screen as part of their library, complete with details about when it should be returned. All of this is a shame and makes it feel like a job half-done. ‘Smart shelves’ would have been nice too (including the option to make shelves based on Genre information).
And for every bit of missed functionality that would seem obvious given the structure of the product, there’s some other thing lurking in there somewhere that doesn’t really seem to be particularly useful. By default it will speak the name of any product that it can get Amazon to recognise. Er, great. Thanks for that. Apparently it can be controlled by spoken commands as well. Fully worked through design / functionality choices: four our of ten.
Finally I should talk about some of the user interface things that I noticed around the place. The search box is nicely Apple-style and responsive. Good work there. There are some lovely UI bits that are very different from the stuff that David Watanabe has produced for NewsFire and Acquisition but equally good. The top of the main ‘shelf’ pane has some particularly lovely little widgets, and unlike many OSX apps they get the look and feel of the brushed-metal buttons spot on. All in all it looks pretty lovely and what’s there mostly works extremely well conceptually.
But while it works conceptually, the app is – on occasion – clearly not working terribly well in practice. Selecting individual items for deletion seems occasionally to have some pretty strange effects, and it appears like you lose or delete the objects in between the ones you have selected. This is either a clear bug that needs to be fixed or a highly confusing bit of UI work. Another example of this confusing UI work is that when you delete some things from a list, you are always taken up to the top of the list again afterwards. If you imagine using iTunes and deleting a song in a 10000 song strong library only to completely lose your place and have to carefully find it again, then you’ll probably realise how infuriating this kind of stuff can be (particularly as the application isn’t exactly punchy to use).
All in all my reaction to Delicious Library is that it’s an extremely interesting beta product that I just got suckered into paying $40 for. Give it six months and it might be really really worth buying and playing with. But in the meantime there are too many rough edges, too many bits of functionality that don’t seem to be in place and too many UI quirks in need of resolution for me to recommend it in good conscience. The lack of international support seems particualrly galling since there’s absolutely no shortage of international support for buying the damn thing in the first place.
In conclusion: loads of potential, come back in six months when it might have moved from a four our of ten app to a nine out of ten app. But play with the demo for longer first (and pray that they don’t have the nerve to put all their promised features in a paid upgrade).
Addendum: Read more reviews of Delicious Library: