Frequently Asked Questions
- What type of audience are you targeting?
We want to be of interest to everyone who likes books, music and films—or who likes famous people. One or the other!
In particular, we constantly keep the following types of audience in mind: book lovers, high-school students, university graduates, song and pop-music lovers, amateur musicians, film buffs, parents of children, parents of teenagers, teachers, professionals, teenagers, librarians. And of course, the general public.
- What do you mean by “famous people”?
We mean people who are either still alive today, recently passed away or are now part of history, and who are today considered, or used to be considered well-known, influential, important or prestigious. Simply being well-known in one's own sphere of activity (whether today or, say, 300 years ago) is enough to be considered, by infloox, a famous person.
Examples of famous persons include present, past or long-gone politicians, business people, thinkers, artists, writers, movie directors, celebrities and distinguished academics, to name but a few broad categories.
- What is the difference between the book lists published by infloox and other types of lists already in existence—such as best-sellers lists, book-recommendation lists, and “best books” lists?
The difference is in the time frame as well as, in many cases, in the solidity and rigour of the information.
Best-seller lists tell you which books are currently popular. They typically change frequently—every other week. In addition, best-seller lists are based on book sales (that is, on number of books sold or dollars generated). Being related to a market, they are at the mercy of fluctuations.
Book-recommendation lists, on the other hand, are typically based on one specific person's preferences. They are sometimes incorporated in interviews, in which some famous person identifies some good “picks of the month”, for example. Although it is not always the case, these generally also tend (very much like best-seller lists) to be relatively short-lived and subject to frequent changes. One specific month (or year) someone may recommend some books, and some other time, their recommendation might be completely different, bearing no resemblances with previous lists. Like best-seller lists, these types of lists too tend to be closely connected with current fads, commercial hits and new titles.
Infloox, on the other hand, is not interested in the short term (defined in terms of weeks, or months), but rather in the long term (defined in terms of years, decades, or even centuries). Remember that our quintessential focus consists in the life-long favourite books of famous people—and the ones that were the most influential, ideally, during their entire life. (We do, however, recognize that influences may change somehow in the course of someone's life, but we always qualify, note and take mathematical account of all those cases). Our fundamentally long-term perspective gives more stability and permanence to our lists and conclusions. It also offers more relevance to our role as a new kind of encyclopedia. In addition, we don't count the importance of a book in terms of units sold or money generated, but rather in terms of the actual strength and depth of each book's influence.
Finally, “best book” lists are usually subjective compilation, often made by respected critics, professors, journalists or intellectuals of books that are, or were, particularly important and influential given specific categories. You will sometimes find articles, or sections of books, titled “the most influential books ever written”, or “the most influential books in Europe”, or “the most important novels of the 20th century”.
Although they are usually interesting, well thought-out and authoritative in their own right (most members of the infloox team are, and have been, avid readers of such writings), such articles have one fundamental flaw: they depend on the subjective discretion, knowledge and personal biases of their respective writers, and not (as would, on the other hand, be the case with infloox), the product of rigourous computations upon thousands of data points entered together with several quantitative parameters.
- Through your aggregate search features, you provide lists of the books that have most influenced specific generations as a whole, countries, or cultural groups. What is original about that?
So far, virtually all lists of book titles that rank works in order of importance for, say, a specific group of people, a specific country, or a specific generation, are compiled manually by respected critics, professors, journalists or intellectuals, and experts in their respective field. These people would often write an article, perhaps a whole book, about what they think are the most important books for a specific group of people. You will sometimes find articles, or sections of books, titled “the most influential books ever written”, or “the most influential books in Europe”, or “the most important novels of the 20th century”.
But never before were such rankings compiled by the joint effort of large numbers of data (all chiseled by a variety of quantitative descriptional parameters) and of artificial intelligence—by a computer's brute computational force.
- You produce aggregate lists through calculations based on individual famous persons' preferences and influences. Is this basis appropriate for such types of calculations and claims?
We think it is. In fact, we think that using inputs based on famous persons (especially when the sample is very big—in the hundreds or thousands of data points) is the best way.
First, being part of a specific country and historical period, famous persons are representative of a culture in their own right. The convenient thing about collecting data about these types of people is that such data actually exists—the more famous one is, the more one's life and preferences are documented somehow, somewhere. In addition, as we mentioned, we attempt to consider a large number of them—so as to make our sample bigger and our conclusions statistically robust.
Second, by considering famous people, we are effectively compounding the effect of a book—of its influence towards society. We are, so to speak, considering the influential books of influential people. Therefore, when it is time to produce an aggregate list (for example to determine the most important books in a specific field of activity, in a specific cultural context) we are effectively basing ourselves on books that have, really, an even stronger, a double, reason to be there!
In conclusion, there are three elements that make our aggregate lists relatively credible. First, all books (or authors) included have somehow been “mentioned” by an individual belonging to that sample. Second, we consider as many individuals as possible in a sample (hence our statistical robustness). Third, those individuals so-to-speak “sampled” also happen to be influential in their own right, thereby giving more authority and a stronger reverberation effect on all the books mentioned!
- Are there similarities between the aggregate lists found on infloox and the so-called “h-index” used in academia?
We have not designed our product with any similarity in mind. However, looking at what we have created, we can see some similarities, although vague.
Through the h-index, the academic world attempts to rank intellectuals, writers, thinkers and academics based on the frequency with which their respective works are cited in other articles or books. These lists, of course, are for the most part generated electronically, and they do give a very good sense of who, in general as well as with respect to specific groups, are the most influential writers.
As a similarity to this specific academic practice, we at infloox seem to be doing, among other things, something vaguely related, relying for our part not on academic citations, but rather on biographical (ideally recurrent or life-long) preferences of individual famous people who somehow seem (directly, indirectly or conjecturally) to “cite” (so-to-speak) specific works as their favourites.
- How sure are you of the specific titles of books you mention as influences?
We have done the best we could to use some of the most reliable, authoritative, and neutral sources. We continuously try to improve the quality of our data, as infloox is an ongoing engine, always in the process of getting stronger, more reliable, more complete, and richer with data. Of course, some sources that we may choose to use in specific instances may at times be wrong. That's normal, and we strive to revise quickly anything that we have identified as being inaccurate. In addition, our contributors' forum will allow us to keep in touch with people who may be closer to “true” data—whether for specific niches or famous persons.
- How sure are you of your actual rankings of books?
We have tried our best, using appropriate academic and deductive principles. In some cases, we have instructed the computer as to what special ranking we want. In other cases, we have simply instructed the computer how to assess the relative importance among influences and therefore how to compile a table of ranking. One of the strengths of our search engine is precisely that: we have programmed it to be as “intelligent” as possible in coming up with answers when us human beings cannot decide ourselves.
You can see our research and synthesis efforts as being divided in three distinct parts.
The first research phase consists simply in collecting data from various sources (including books, interviews, magazines, newspapers and the Internet).
The second stage consists in aggregating all that data and taking care of all those instances in which sources contradict each other or give incomplete information (“incomplete” in the sense that are missing some aspects that infloox may be particularly interested in). This second phase is performed individually, case by case, by our research team.
Finally, after all possible human and traditional research efforts are made, we rely on the computer to make algorithmic decisions, often based on a series of arithmetic parameters we have attributed, one by one, to each famous person, to each author, to each specific title, and to each influence. We have programmed our software using a combination of state-of-the-art computer technologies.
- On the page dedicated to specific influences, how should I interpret the varying number of bananas on the plate of each scale?
The more there are bananas on the scale, the greater is the weight of the specific influence under examination. If the book was somehow present in a specific famous person's library (or perhaps the family library), but we either strongly doubt or are simply not sure that they actually read it, you will notice one banana on the scale. This is the weakest possible influence we even attempt to monitor.
If a famous person read a specific book, without necessarily having loved or been influenced by it, you will notice two bananas on the scale.
If a famous person very closely read, studied, or perhaps even memorized a specific book (perhaps under the obligation of, say, the high-school curriculum), you will notice four bananas on the scale.
If we have evidence that a famous person considered a specific book as a favourite (either throughout their life or for a good part of it), you will notice about eight bananas on the scale.
If we have evidence that a famous person was influenced by a specific book (either throughout their life or for a good part of it), you will notice about fifteen bananas on the scale (if you can still count them!)
If we have evidence that a famous person was strongly influenced by a specific book (either throughout their life or for a good part of it), you will notice about twenty-five bananas on the scale (at this point, they will look like a big, messy pile).
If we have evidence that a specific book dominated the inner or intellectual life of a famous person (typically either for the totality of their life or for an extremely long portion of it), you will notice about fifty bananas on the scale (this should look like a monumental pile, and we discourage you to actually count them, unless of course you want to).
- I wanted to buy one of the titles mentioned in one of your rankings, but was not able to find it neither at my local bookstore, my library, nor on some online book retailer's website. Why is that?
There are four possible explanations.
First, the specific title you saw may be out of print, perhaps because it relates to some long-forgotten book that is very hard to find except in very big research libraries.
Second, the specific title may have not yet been translated into English. For the convenience of our visitors, we took the liberty to translate ourselves some book titles when no English-language title is available. We figured that it is better for our visitors to have some sense of what a title means (if it is only known in its foreign-language version) than only to display its official title - but one that is often completely incomprehensible. Note, however, that ever in this case (when we provide our “free” translation), we always indicate the official, original-language title.
Third, the specific title you saw may have indeed been translated into English, but many different variations of this title might be used by the different publishers. Sometimes, we tried to specify (for the benefit of our visitors) as many variations of these translated titles we could, but we cannot guarantee that our database will include all of these variations.
Fourth, the title indicated may not necessarily refer to a stand-alone work as such: it may either refer to a collection of books (or series), or to a part within a book.
In some cases, it may refer to an umbrella title (or collection of stories, novels or poems), such as the “Hardy Boys series, “Sherlock Holmes”, or the “Human Comedy” (Balzac): it may not be possible for you to find, in a bookstore or in a library, a book with such precise titles. You may more realistically find the specific titles of stories you want by searching the individual books (or works) that make up the collection.
In other cases, the title that you cannot find in a bookstore or library refers to a portion of a work: for example, it may refer to a poem (or a song) within a collection of poems (or an album).
In any case, we made the website user-friendly enough so that you can quickly put the title you found within the context of works into which it belongs.
- I don't agree with a specific title you mention in one of your rankings. Can I do something about it?
Yes, and we encourage you to! Perhaps you are a student who studied a specific historical figure, perhaps you are a teacher, or perhaps you simply happen to have read to know a lot about a specific famous or historical person. In these cases, you may feel you know something about a famous person that you would like to share with the other people of the infloox community.
The interactivity features are still under construction and will be available very soon. Go to the Contribute section, for further information.
Once construction will be completed, you will be able to contribute in several ways. You would be able to write a narrative (text) comment (or entry) about a specific page—that is, about a specific author, book or influence.
- Why do the arrows in your web-page design have specific directions?
Through the various graphic designs of arrows, lines and colored paths, we wanted to convey artistically the fact that influences have, at least in theory, specific directions: they have an origin (which we called “infloox”), and a destination — that is, a final audience or group of readers (the “outfloox”).
However, as we pondered at great length about the appropriate direction that we should give to these lines, we stumbled across a serious linguistic dilemma. Within words, terms, such as “influence”, or “influential” there is embedded the idea of some sort of centrifugal force â that is, something (in our case, an influence) that emanates from them. When we say that “Einstein was an influential figure”, we mean that Einstein radiated ideas (from him) out to other people.Â Einstein outpoured knowledge and wisdom onto other people—but, paradoxically enough, we still call Einstein “influential”. If language were really accurate in this specific instance, we should, really, call Einstein “outfluential”.
This linguistic paradox, which people always resolve instinctively by simple social convention and habit, was difficult for us to deal with, for example when we tried to decide on the direction of our graphical arrows. Well, we had to decide under heavy linguistic constraints. At the end, our priority was to choose the clearest and most intuitive graphical translation. So, anyway, here is the result, as you see it on the page!
- Don't favourite books change over time? I know that, at least in my personal case, the books that were my favourite five, or ten years ago were not necessarily the same ones as today. How does infloox deal with this issue?
This is an extremely delicate and important question.
So far, we have resolved this issue in what seems to us to be the best possible way at this moment. However, future versions of this website will address, solve, and chisel this issue increasingly more, especially as increasingly richer content will demand a greater degree of precision.
Remember that we are attempting to answer this question: what are each famous person's favourite books (or better, if available, their most influential) over the course of the longest possible number of years, or throughout their entire life. In other words, an influential book that has lasted as an influence over someone's lifetime will automatically be ranked higher than a book that is simply someone's “favourite” — especially if that books was perhaps a mere “favourite” for only a few years. Visitors of our web-site will be able (and increasingly more so, as months pass) to be informed of the various details, minutiae, qualifying statements about the relationship between a specific book and a specific famous person.
For now, it seems best for us to assume that, first of all, favourites may indeed change (although some so-to-speak “weighted average” or algorithm can be used to achieve some ranking), but that dominant, strong influences change less during one's lifetime.
Of course, there are many exceptions: people who, all of a sudden in their mid-life, were transformed by the reading of one specific book they had not even heard about six months before! In all those difficult cases, we make an editorial decision (or, alternatively, let the computer generate its own ranking), and qualify our answer with increasingly more numerous and more detailed explanations, that will help our web-visitors decide for themselves and take issue against our own rankings.