When I first started riding the train to work every day (two years ago) I found a great Facebook App called “Virtual Bookshelf” which allowed me to keep track of and share the books that I had been reading. I liked it because I could keep track of the books I was reading (one every 2-3 weeks), share it with other people seamlessly, and I could see which books my friends were reading. It’s one thing to read a review from someone you don’t know on Amazon.com but it’s quite another to read a review written by a friend, I’m much more likely to take it seriously and make a purchasing decision as a result.
Anyway, Virtual Bookshelf randomly disappeared from the scene about a year after I started using it. Shortly thereafter I found a different website called GoodReads.com (founded in 2007) which seemed to be much more popular than the Virtual Bookshelf Facebook App (78 million books and 2.9 million users). Despite it’s popularity, I found the user interface to be pretty oldschool, i.e. hard to navigate and a cluttered aesthetic. No big deal because it had a thriving user-base with tons of reviews, book clubs, and activities. However, it still drove me crazy that they were creating their own social network. As a virtual book shelf you can’t create a culture that comes even close to Facebook/Twitter/etc so why try. Why not integrate with the powerhouses that are already there. No one wants to duplicate their already well-established (and sometimes overwhelming) social networks. That’s what I liked the most about the previous Facebook App, it synced with your actual friends and not a self-selecting random group of strangers who go out of their way to be a part of a separate social media network for books. When I started the short stories month I found out that they had some pretty decent widgets for bloggers:
Then after some more research I found two other virtual bookshelves: LibraryThing and Shelfari. After reading a few reviews and checking out the website for LibraryThing I was immediately turned off because it looked archaic, it didn’t sync well with social media, and it had fewer users than both GoodReads and Shelfari. Shelfari is an Amazon.com product so I immediately gravitated toward it (acquired by Amazon in 2008). They can make money with Shelfari by driving traffic to purchasing pages so I made the assumption that their site would likely be pretty up to date and easy to use (read: easy to use and then to buy stuff from amazon.com). Well, that assumption was right. It’s a much cleaner and usable interface than GoodReads, also, the widgets are much better (fewer lines of HTML, cleaner, more functional, etc):