Sunday Salon: on Goodreads and Amazon
Judging by some of the reactions to Amazon’s announcement this week that they are buying Goodreads, you’d have thought the Mayans got their calculations wrong and the end of the world is now, not December 2012 as originally predicted.
Whether you agree with those Goodread users for whom Amazon is the very antipathy of ethical business or those concerned about privacy under the new regime, the announcement has been enough to send them in search of alternative reader forums. There are not many serious contenders.
- libob.com is an attractive and easy to use cataloguing site which allows users to create and share three libraries containing any number of titles. You can add comments on the books but that seems to be about, no discussion groups or abilities to link with other users it so not very appealing for those who like the book discussion options on Goodreads.
- Shelfari LibraryThing. This one does have discussion groups as well as cataloguing but since it’s owned by Amazon, it’s not really an option for anyone trying to avoid Amazon. Since it’s unlikely Amazon will want to run two similar businesses, potentially we could see Shelfari close down anyway.
- The biggest of the options and the only truly viable option is LibraryThing
I’ve been experimenting with both Goodreads and LibraryThing since September 2012, trying to make up my mind which is better suited to my interests. I haven’t reached a conclusion yet — both have advantages and both have elements I don’t care for much. If you are equally undecided, here are my thoughts so far..
Library Cataloguing/Book tracking: At the basic level, both sites make it easy for users to keep a personal library of books whether they are owned but unread, or yet to be acquired. Searching for a title and then adding it to your own library takes just a few clicks on either site. Both also offer good options for categorising and tagging. If you want something more sophisticated (for example, if you have some old editions of books published pre ISBN days or want to indicate a particular source from where you acquired the book) then LibraryThing offers far more options than Goodreads.But that’s a level of detail I don’t need. So either site works fine for me.
Winner: No clear winner for me but it depends on how serious a collector you are
Design/Appearance: Goodreads looks attractive, is well designed and its easy to find your way around the site.
Your personal home page is well organised – it shows you at a glance updates from other users with whom you are connected and quick links to functional tools like your library (called My Books) or Groups you’ve joined.
LibraryThing. Looks very old school web design in comparison.
The personal home page comes jammed with so many words it’s overwhelming. Some of it is helpful but most of the features are ones I’m really not bothered about (Zeitgeist statistics for example). The design and the functionality gives the impression this is a forum for serious people rather than those brought up in the Facebook era. Apparently you can change the home page to remove the sections of little interest but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.
Winner: Goodreads is a class ahead in this respect.
The real value of both sites comes from the platforms they offer for people to connect with other users who have similar interests and to share thoughts on books they’ve just read or recommendations for future reads. There are many more users on Goodreads than on LibraryThing which suggests there would be more people with whom to connect. You can find pretty much any interest group whether its fans of a particular genre of book (women’s writing, science fantasy, etc) or particular authors or people who like reading the same title at the same time as others. Joining a group is simplicity itself on both sites and the members are always welcoming but there seem to be marked differences in the kinds of discussions themselves. LibraryThing appears to attract a more ‘serious’ type of discussion than Goodreads. Not so erudite that you’d feel loathe to participate if you didn’t have a Masters in Literature, but good thoughtful discussion beyond the ‘I like it’ type of comment (I know this is a huge generalisation but that’s what I’ve observed!).
Winner: LibraryThing – I like the way the groups I’ve joined introduce me to books and authors I’ve never heard of previously. A few of the GoodRead groups I joined never got beyond basic commentary.
Ease of Use: Now this is where, for me, the waters part in a very significant way. LibraryThing is a wiki and some of its features require the use of html. For example, if I want to participate in a group with my own thread, then to even make the title bold requires me to remember the format <b> name of book </b> each time and if I want to include a photo it’s an even more complicated sequence. I still haven’t figured out how to just post a picture straight from my laptop – instead I have to put it on Flickr first and then do some copy/paste stuff. I know regular users don’t have a problem with this but to me its a stupid waste of time. Goodreads simply says that some HTML can be used, but doesn’t insist on it
Winner: LibraryThing needs to up its game here. We live in a Mac and Windows era where users should be able to execute any instruction with a simple click or double click.
What have your experiences been with these sites? Any favourite?