It’s no secret I like books, so when I wanted to learn to code last year, the first thing I made was a site that tracked the books my friends and I were reading.
Laisin was mostly a novelty, but its sleeper hit was its subscriptions: once a month, I’d pick out a book just for you and send it to your door or Kindle. You’d pay the book’s list price – what you’d pay at a bookstore – and I’d make sure you always had another, great “next book.”
In the spring, I experimented with a few recommendation algorithms,
trying to hack my way to decent book suggestions. It didn’t really work. A friend deployed a version of PageRank on Laisin’s data, but those recommendations were sterile, sorta the one-degree-removed, right-I-knew-about-that-already that Amazon gives. Sometime this summer I realized: I really really like recommending books, and I do it often for friends. I should do it for Laisin subscribers, too.
Though hand-picking books isn’t the most scalable, Laisin’s problem has never been too many users. So for the past few months, I’ve been choosing and sending books to my boyfriend, two friends, and a friend-of-a-friend. It’s gone really well: my boyfriend was a softball (it’s easy to pick books for your partner, right?), and the friends were great, but the friend-of-friend’s been the biggest surprise; I still haven’t met her, but after reading her tweets and mulling through potential books, I feel like I know her. (I’ve also realized: having someone’s Twitter account, more than their 5 favorite books, is the quickest route to solid book recommendations.)
Over the holidays, Laisin began accepting bitcoin in addition to credit cards. Though I doubt it was a lack of payment instruments that held up Laisin Subscriptions’ adoption, I’m still pretty excited to have found a decently-practical application of bitcoin.