Get Your Reading On: Social Networks for Readers

Today, in our final post on using technology to further your reading, we will look at some social networks that are centered around the readers of the world. For those that are new to the idea of a “social network” just think of a social network as a country club (without that stereotypical snobbiness) that is centered around a particular concept. Website likes Facebook and MySpace are social networks to the fullest extent in that, they center around your social circle, whom you know and how. There are other social networks out there like Digg (news), Flixster (movies), and even Twitter (conversation) are all extremely social and centered around something very particular. So now that you understand what a social network is (at least in a very general sense) we can look at the two social networks centered around reading (I’m sure there are more than 2 but the two I’m looking at are the most popular).

Social Networks for Readers

The two websites I want to look at today are Shelfari and GoodReads. Both are social networks in that they allow you to add friends and share your reading interests with those friends. The concept for both sites is very simple. You use their search feature to find books via title, author, genre, or even ISBN number. You then add books to your shelves depending on what category they fall into. You can also rate and review the books as you add them to your shelves and as you finish them. Both sites allow you to have multiple “bookshelves” so that you can sort your books by the things you have read, the books you are currently reading, and the ones you plan to read in the future.

Shelfari

Shelfari is probably the more popular of the two sites that I will be looking at today. Out of the two sites, it is also the prettiest. It actually shows you a picture of a bookshelf with the covers of each book nicely displayed so you can easily find the books. The website is pretty but almost every action causes a complete page reload making the site a bear to use. An attractive website is kind in this Web 2.0 world but having a site that is easy to use and responds quickly to my actions is paramount in having a successful site. While many people will point and say things like “oh look it’s so pretty” they will eventually tire of the pretty when they have to spend so much time waiting for pages to reload after each click.

That’s not to say that Shelfari is without its merits. In fact they have a few. They offer a newsletter that lets you keep up with what your friends are reading and what they have finished. If they reviewed a book it will give you a nice synopsis in the newsletter. Also, Shelfari seems to have the popular vote going for it. More people use it so it has the larger user base (at least it seems this way to me). When it comes to a social site, having users is a big deal.

GoodReads

The second site, GoodReads.com, is nothing like Shelfari. Sure, you have shelves, but these shelves are really no more than lists of books. There are no pretty interfaces, just straight, to the point design. But while Shelfari prides itself on the pretty, GoodReads focuses more on the functionality. You can quickly find, add, edit, and review books without too much fuss or muss. The site is responsive and uses just enough javascript that it makes the website work while keeping the pizzazz to a minimum. That of course does not mean that GoodReads does not look good, quite the contrary. GoodReads offers a nice mix of looks and functionality. The site is not flashy but functional.

One of the things that makes GoodReads nice, is the use of RSS feeds as you update your lists. If you move a book from your “currently reading” list to your “read” list, anyone subscribed to those RSS feeds will get the update in their RSS reader. I have attached my lists to my Jaiku liftstream so any changes I make get posted to my Jaiku account. GoodReads also has an API based around these RSS feeds, so if you are a developer looking to code something around GoodReads, then you are in luck.

Which One do I Use?

Out of the two websites mentioned above, I actively use GoodReads. I like it better than I like Shelfari for the reasons mentioned above. You can access me on GoodReads at http://www.goodreads.com/profile/mkoby. From there you can see what I’m currently reading and what I have already read. I am trying to keep it as up to date as possible and even trying to review books as I finish them. So be sure to add me as a friend after you grab an account.

Conclusion

This concludes the series “Get Your Reading On” and I hope that you found some of the information helpful. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment on any of the posts or email me using the link towards the top of the page.

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