Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Reader Sites

Apparently, my current method of managing my TBR pile--with, you know, the books being in actual physical piles or resting mercifully on the bookshelf and not running around the room wreaking havoc and giving the dog papercuts (which will never happen again, do you hear me, books? *shakes fist*)--is woefully outdated. So I decided to try some of the book managing (or "library") websites to see if they could at all add to my reading experience. Or at the very least give me something I could waste more time on while not reading.

There are tons of sites out there ready and willing to help you manage your library, but the three major ones are Good Reads, Library Thing, and Shelfari (just a quick note: I'm going to be looking at sites that are more focused on TBR managedment instead of buying or trading books or getting recommendations). These three sites have pretty much the same features: social networking options, recommendations, widgets for your blog, links to buy or trade, and ways to sort and keep track of your books. But each site seems to be focused more on one than the others. Here's a rundown of the pluses and minuses of each site:


I've been a member of Shelfari for a few months now, although I admit I'm a desultory one. Of all the library sites, Shelfari is the best-looking. The site design is awesome and makes it really convenient to add and edit books on your shelf.

All you have to do is roll your mouse over the cover and you can quickly change which shelf the book is on, give it a rating, remove it, make it a favorite, put it on your wish list, or add it to your "own" list (never saw the point of that last one). You can also get a pop-up window where you can write a quick review by clicking the "edit" button, or click on the cover for the book's page, where you can see related reviews, discussions, a link to buy the book on Amazon, etc.

To get recommendations, people can click on the "Should I read this?" link and Shelfari will ask people who have read the book if you should read it or not. This is an interesting feature, although why you would want a bunch of totally random people telling you what to read, I don't know. There are also reviews on the site, as mentioned before; but the reviews are typically more along the lines of, "The book wer gud, I liekd it," so they aren't of much value.

As for social networking, Shelfari has book groups, and you can leave notes or friend members. I don't really use this feature that much, but in the interest of scientific inquiry, I decided to try to start a conversation with users I didn't know but who are reading the same book I am (easily accessible from the drop-down menu). So far I've received no replies, but it was easy to find potential people for discussion.

Shelfari also has widgets you can put on your blog with a lot of different choices in how to design your virtual bookshelf, so that's nice as well. However, Shelfari doesn't let you sync your bookshelf with other social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, which both Library Thing and Good Reads does, so that is a major negative point for the site.

Overall--Shelfari is a great-looking site, and the easiest of all the sites to add books to, but lacks social networking options.

Library Thing

When I first went on Library Thing, I was really impressed with it. Signing up is a snap, and they have nifty features like getting ARCs from publishers or signing up for book givaways.

However, as I played around more on the site, I became more and more frustrated. Winning the drawings for advance readers' copies seems like a long shot considering the number of applicants, and they didn't even have any books I'd be really interested in reading. The pool to get books from others is more of a, "Hey, I finished this book and I don't want it anymore," kind of thing, and there can be literally a thousand people requesting a single copy.

But by far the most frustrating aspect of this site was adding and managing books. There is no rollover menu like there is at Shelfari, so every edit of a book (for example, if I wanted to move a book from currently reading to read) requires a separate click and waiting for another page to load. Also, say I'm trying to add books from an author that I love, so I've read A LOT of books by her/him. I get a list of that author's books on the right (see above), but once I click on one book, the page returns to my self. So I have to search again to get back to the list of the author's titles (using the back button just takes you back to the home page). Très inconvenient. This site definitely gave me the most fatigue for adding books out of all the sites.

I also tried my socializing experiment on Library Thing. The book pages do connect you to recent reviews and book discussions, but it doesn't link directly to them. In the end I got frustrated and gave up (I really have no patience when it comes to that kind of thing). However, Library Thing does connect to Twitter and Facebook, and you can create a widget for your blog, so those are plusses in its favor. The widget is a little bare-bones and doesn't offer many design options like the Shelfari widgets, however.

Overall--the site has a lot of great ideas floating around, but the site design could stand to be more user-friendly.

Good Reads

I had the opposite first impression to Good Reads that I did to Library Thing: at first I didn't like it at all. The first thing they have you do is look through your e-mail contacts to see if your friends on the site. That's fine, I guess, but I got annoyed in this instance. Then they give you a "book test," which is a list of books for you to rate and check. Siiiiiiiiiigh. So you finally get to the home page and it's pretty bare bones.

BUT! This just demonstrates that I should never make up my mind too quickly, because Good Reads improved exponentially upon closer acquaintance. Like Shelfari, the site offers a convenient roll-over menu that lets you quicky add a book to one of your shelves and rate it. You can also create your own types of shelves (by genre, like mystery and romance, or by any other category such as "to be reviewed," "top 20," etc.) and put books into them by tagging.

You can also post what book you're reading and even your progress to Facebook and/or Twitter, with a convenient pop-up window you can access directly from your shelf. And, when you've completed a book and have reviewed it, another pop-up window gives you the option of posting the review to your blog or sharing it through e-mail via Hotmail, AOL, etc.

For my social networking experiment with Good Reads, I clicked on the book I was currently reading and was immediately directed to people who had already read the book and posted reviews of it. I was able to comment on the reviews very easily. Also, the reviews on Good Reads seem much more valuable than the ones on Shelfari; more along the lines of what one would expect to see on a book blog. I actually learned a lot about the author and the book I was reading while perusing these reviews, which gave me a new perspective.


There are lots of other interesting features on Good Reads that I haven't had a chance to explore properly yet, like trivia questions, events, groups, and quotes. I also think they may have an offer similar to Library Thing's ARC lottery, but I only saw it in passing. And of course there are widgets, although again these aren't as fancy as Shelfari's.

Overall--Good Reads is a book lover's paradise. Of all the library sites, this one offers the widest variety of ways to organize your bookshelf digitally, connect with other readers, integrate with your blog, and do just about anything else you could want from a book site. It's not as shiny as Shelfari is, but it has more bells and whistles and the website design is actually just as convenient, if not more so.

So the winner of this informal study is Good Reads, with a great variety of features and site functionality.

As for my old-fashioned shelving ways, am I converted to keeping track of my books on library websites? Ummm... not really. The fact is, for me putting books online and keeping track of them that way is just a waste of time--an entertaining waste of time, perhaps, but a waste nonetheless. Even though my TBR shelf (or any of my shelves, for that matter) is not organized in any sense of the word, I know where every book I own is at any given moment; so I don't need to organize my shelves.

That being said, with the growing popularity of e-books, I can see that there will be a need to have a digital library shelf soon enough. With "real" books, you can organize them physically, and look at them and decide which one you're going to read by going through a few at a time. But organizing a whole mess of e-book files could be problematic. That's where I think the real benefit of library sites will prove to be in the future: a virtual shelf for your digital library collection.

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