Social Networks: Another Avenue to New Books and Friends
Starr, Jennie, Searcher
Last year, I reviewed book recommendation engines and praised LibraryThing highly because of its robust features [Webmastery: "LibraryThing.com: The Holy Grail of Book Recommendation Engines," July/August 2007, pp. 25-32]. Many of my friends thought LibraryThing interesting, but, to my surprise, not many used it regularly. Admittedly, I didn't go back to it often either, except to create a list for my book club's annual book selection meeting.
Recently a very good friend contacted me through GoodReads, a site I described as light on functionality and heavy on meeting and greeting. This friend had catalogued her entire book collection on GoodReads. After logging in and agreeing to become her "friend" on the GoodReads site, I get emails each time she uploads a new book along with her comments about them. I love these emails, as I don't have much time to see or talk with her and enjoy seeing what she's reading. I usually reply to her when I receive them and am rewarded with a brief update on her life. Today I received an update from GoodReads that showed why she enjoyed three books about dogs. None appealed to me. But, I knew my friend Wendy would flip for these books. So, I passed them along. She'd read two, but appreciated learning about the third. Again, I got the reward of a brief exchange and update on another friend's life, a gift I cherish in the midst of my crazy schedule.
In a separate incident, a friend in my child's playgroup recently invited me to become her friend on GoodReads. I like her and accepted her request. The emails that followed showed she was a voracious reader! I'd never thought to invite her to join my Book Club. I had no idea it would interest her.
This was good for me to see. While I tend to be a geek about search engine features and functionality, I had overlooked the benefits of the social aspects of sharing collections. With that in mind, I've added a few additional reviews below for more socially focused products. Still, LibraryThing remains a favorite of mine, so I've included an update for you on its new features as well. And LibraryThing is smart enough to know that while it may not build social aspects itself, it can partner with other applications to leverage its social network as well, and that is just what it's doing.
I remember last year regretting having to write that GoodReads was "light on book-related functionality and heavy on meeting and greeting." I knew I was missing something but hadn't experienced what it was. Though I still don't find the GoodReads experience on the website compelling, I do like being connected to friends and getting updates about what they're reading. Like most book sites, GoodReads encourages its readers to mark their books in categories such as To Read, a Favorite, or Currently Reading. There's no solid, techie book recommendation engine here. Recommendations are all based on "what's popular," "what's being read," etc. You can Meet People by looking at the pictures of the books they like, seeing how many books they've read and how many friends they have. You can even narrow down those choices to people who live near you and check out Top Readers and/or Top Reviewers, visit Top Shelves, Book Shelved as Favorites--top 50, and see what your friends enjoy.
One of the first newsletters I got was filled with information about random people, what they have read, and what they are talking about. To be honest, it just didn't interest me. I didn't know who they were and didn't care what they thought. However, a recent newsletter was a huge improvement. It included an interview with author Paulo Coelho of The Alchemist and then featured authors and movers and shakers (most popular books on the shelves in people's collections).
Facebook's application, called Visual Bookshelf, is a product of a company called LivingSocial [http://www. …