Goodreads: Social Media for Readers (and a Word on Bookish)

The proliferation of social media sites is almost as annoying as it is understandable.

by Josh Trapani

Wouldn’t you know it? I wrote the below yesterday morning, blissfully ignorant that the internet would soon be ablaze with the news that Bookish – a new website designed to make it easier for consumers to find books – had just gone live. Want the run-down on Bookish and its (somewhat confusing, in my initial experience) interface? Check out Publishers Weekly, Ron Charles’s somewhat cheeky write-up, or just go visit the site. However useful you may find Bookish, its launch only underscores my point below about site proliferation.


The proliferation of social media sites is almost as annoying as it is understandable. There’s Facebook for posting dumb photos and ranting about politics to “friends” you haven’t seen since your college days, Linkedin for sniffing out who knows who in your professional network, Twitter for barking short IM-esque exclamations and abbreviated hyperlinks … OK, can you tell I’m a little cynical about all this stuff?

It’s not that I don’t see some utility to each one. I don’t use Facebook myself, but the Independent does, to some success. I also don’t use Twitter, though again the Independent does, and our “feed” – that is: the stream of tweets from the people and organizations we follow – can be a terrific source of information. (Also, if you’re stuck on the Metro and have no idea what’s going on, going to Twitter and searching the hashtag #wmata is a whole lot more fruitful than going to Metro’s website or waiting for an announcement.) Linkedin is the one I use the most, almost entirely as it relates to my day job, though I really do find it more useful for the purpose stated above than for job-seeking or news-gathering.

In the aggregate, these can be overwhelming, not to mention a huge time suck. (My view is that nobody at my funeral is going to say: “Well, he may not have accomplished much with his life, but damn did that guy have some awesome Facebook updates!”)

But did you know there’s a social media application especially for readers? It’s Goodreads, and I find it strangely addictive even as I use it for only a fraction of its intended purposes. Goodreads lets you record the books you’ve read, are reading, and plan to read. For more than ten years I’ve maintained a private Amazon wishlist as a “holding tank” for books I want to read at some time in the future so I don’t forget about them. But here’s an alternative. You can record your progress in reading any given book to the page in real-time (though I’m not sure why you’d want to). You can rate books, review them, and see statistics about how many books (and pages) you’ve read.

There’s also a social aspect. You can make friends on Goodreads and compare your “bookshelves” with theirs, see how similar your literary tastes are, and potentially learn about new books. You can join book clubs, participate in discussions, and follow organizations. You can vote on your favorite books. You can enter contests to win books. Occasionally there are even live chat events with authors (I watched one with Jennifer Egan in 2011), who can use the site as a publicity tool.

I’m not discussing this at such length because I’m a secret employee of Goodreads (oddly enough, no other literary organizations have tried to poach me from the Independent yet). I am impressed with the site’s potential, but so far, I tend to use it much more as a record than for social interaction (I have a whopping three friends and don’t follow any groups or discussions). My profile, for what it’s worth, is here.

I think one of the big problems is that – like Google+ and a lot of other latent social media sites – there’s just not the critical mass of people to make it worthwhile. By this I don’t mean there’s no one on the site, but the number of people I know seems low, and finding them isn’t easy (unless of course I’d like to share my e-mail password with the site so it can scour my contacts, a trick all such sites use and in my view one of the worst ideas ever).

I am curious: how many of you use Goodreads? Which of the features do you enjoy/not enjoy? Let me know below.

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