What ever happened to SingleFile?
November 27, 2005 6:16 PM   Subscribe

Anyone know what happened to SingleFile (37signals' online book cataloging software)? Bonus question: why is LibraryThing succeeding (or so it appears) when SingleFile failed?

I'm working on a project along these lines for a business plan competition, but the fact that the 37signals guys entered the space and subsequently retreated is ... dismaying. Reports from anyone who used SingleFile while it was online would also be appreciated.
posted by zanni to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm reasonably sure that SingleFile wasn't run by the 37signals guys, but rather was a UI redesign project that they undertook for another company. Note the phrase on the page you linked to: "Not content to simply repackage Spinfree's BookBin for the web, we built an entirely new interface from the ground up."

That said, I have no idea why it failed.
posted by cerebus19 at 7:13 PM on November 27, 2005

I can't provide any infoon what happened to SingleFile, but I am a happy user of LibraryThing.

The thing I like about it is the great extras that have been added, like a list of users that share a large number of your books and recommendations. The price isn't bad either.
posted by meta87 at 8:15 PM on November 27, 2005

I thought it was just a redesign at first too, but according to this it was created by Jason Fried "of 37signals fame" and David Hansson.
posted by zanni at 8:27 PM on November 27, 2005

LibraryThing is new to me but pretty well established in the library blogger community as Something Cool. My guess as to why it works, and works well is that it takes a few things many of us are familiar with -- a book list, Amazon.com, an online catalog in a library -- and takes the best parts of these and tosses out all the stuff that sucks. Additionally, the barriers for entry are really low. If you have a current booklist that includes ISBN information, even an Amazon wishlist, you can import it with almost no fuss. Plus, it's cheap. What I like about LibraryThing is watching it evolve. Tim is clearly working on it all the time and new features roll out that are fun and interesting.

Add to that that LibraryThing doesn't have the downsides of bad user interface design, and it's not trying to sell you anything [there are unobtrusive "buy this" links that allow for some vendor choice] and it's easy for people to join and stay joined. As more and more people discover social software and tagging, having a really good example to answer the question "so why do *I* care about tagging?" is crucial. del.icio.us is great if you're already a nerdy linky bookmarker, but this takes something that exists in the analog world and makes it relevant to people who may not be online junkies, and yet it's full featured enough that people who are tech savvy don't think it's pitifully dumbed down.

That said, I don't know if LibraryThing is entirely a self-supporting organism, so you might have to email Tim and ask him about the nuts and bolts.
posted by jessamyn at 8:42 PM on November 27, 2005

Also according to that link, SingleFile was $20/year with a 500 book limit, and free trials were limited to 25 books. LibraryThing is $25 for a lifetime account with no limit, and trials have a 200 book limit. This seems like the kind of product that people would be hesitant to pay for on a recurring basis.

From my own successes and failures at web projects, I can tell you that it can be difficult to drive good customers to your site. Your skill at bringing in the traffic can have a much larger impact on whether the project flies than the project's own merits.
posted by trevyn at 8:44 PM on November 27, 2005

In a later post, apparently October 2004, Hansson said

Singlefile is currently in a bit of a lingo. There hasn't been a final decision made to the future of it, but we didn't want to sign up new people when we weren't sure where we wanted to go with it.

For lingo read limbo; Hansson is Danish.

Aladfar was a user, and had some thoughts.

Getting off-topic, SingleFile was clearly a learning experience for 37signals regarding building web applications and creating web businesses which led directly to 37signals building Basecamp. I'm not actually certain it was ever intended as more than a side project or a demonstration, though. The primary motivation may have been leveraging or monetizing an investment in Spinfree, which is open source. In any event, the case study was clearly a bit of a ringer ... which underscores the 37signals marketing skillset.
posted by dhartung at 10:08 PM on November 27, 2005

I saw an announcement on Singlefiile's web site site earlier this year that they were shutting down because the site was unable to support itself. They gave users a while to grab their data, but the site is clearly dead now.
posted by spira at 11:58 PM on November 27, 2005

Thanks for the responses everyone.

jessamyn: actually, I was surprised that adding books was so clumsy. I'm glad you don't find it so. I've tried other book cataloging software (desktop based) that imported all my Amazon past orders just by clicking a button. I didn't have to hunt around for the URL on my own. Pesonally I can't wait for the day that everything has an RFID tag and cataloging is automatic.

trevyn: I think you're probably right. Another close competitor is Reader2 which seems to have substantially similar functionality but only has 25K books on line (vs. 900K for LibraryThing, and that in just 3 months). Somehow LibraryThing caught the attention/imagination of the blogosphere, I don't know how. I know it crossed my path originally at Metafilter shortly after launch. Reader2 and SingleFile I didn't discover until doing research for my project.

dhartung: I saw Aladfar's review. Didn't realized he was a Mefite. Cool.
posted by zanni at 4:48 AM on November 30, 2005

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