It’s not a site which is only useful when you are a member, it’s just a pleasant site to read and browse if you are a book lover.
It allows you to keep track of your, your friends’ and ‘the crowds’ books. Summarising:
- If you see an interesting book you can put it on your to-read shelf
- If your friend reads an interesting book he can recommend it to you
- Statistics can suggest recommendations based on your shelves, reviews and friends
- There is a distinction between friends (a symmetric relationship) and followers (an assymetric relationship)
- There is a book comparison feature: it finds the books you have both read and compares the scores you have given to those books
- It is very easy to invite friends into the site. You can put in their email address, or you can give Goodreads access to your webmail contacts (sometimes this is a questionable thing, but Goodreads isn’t to pushy (it doesn’t send out Tweets without you knowing it for example)).
They have a great ‘universal’ search box where you can search books on author, title or isbn from the same box.
It makes use of AJAX in the right locations, allowing you to update small things (“liking” a review, noting what page you’ve reached, handing out stars to a book) without having to reload the page.
The site supports many different ways of viewing and sorting your shelves. You can look at covers or at titles and sort by author, by score, by last update and more.
Before building a great iPhone, Android or whatever mobile app, Goodreads made sure their website has a great mobile version of their website. So even if you are accessing the site with your Windows Mobile device you have a great experience. When you access the website with a mobile browser it automatically redirects to a mobile version of the website. This mobile site does not have all the features of the complete website, but it delivers the essence of the experience.
Not only is it very easy to put data into the Goodreads ecosystem, it is also very easy to get your data out again. You can download a CSV file with all your books (including the data you added like reviews, date read, your rating and the metadata about the book that Goodreads stores like the ISBN or the average rating). The smart import feature looks at a HTML page (like for example an Amazon wishlist page) and imports all the ISBNs it can find in the source code of the page. An easy way to seed your shelfs. Like any good webservice it imports export files from their competition (Shelfari, Librarything and Delicious library).
Always when I am reading a book there are sentences or passages which really impress or inspire me. Then I always forget them. Goodreads allows you to favourite and rank (and thus collet) quotes easily by author or by book. You can add and export quotes as well.
Sharing your Goodreads activity to other important webservices is built in. There are integrations with Facebook, Twitter, WordPress Blogs (another example of a recently added feature) and MySpace. Goodreads also provides embeddable widgets that you can put on another website (e.g. a box with the most recent books you have read). There are simple integrations with many different bookstores. This allows you to instantly find a book that you are looking at in Goodreads in your favourite online bookstore. Then of course there is the ubiquitous RSS.
A site like Goodreads get is value from the data that its users put in. Goodreads does this at many levels. There are trivial ways of adding information (i.e. saying you like a review by clicking a single link, allowing Goodreads to display useful reviews first), but there are also ways of adding information that take slightly more effort. For example, it is fairly easy to get ‘librarian’ status which shows the site trusts their users. As a librarian you can edit existing book entries. A low entrance level is key to crowd sourcing. Another way to involve people is to allow them to add their own trivia that other users can try and answer in trivia games.
Goodreads has its own blog, keeping you up to date about the latest features and their direction.
It has an element of competition, you can see how many books are on your shelf and how many books are on other people’s shelf, but there are of metrics too: you can see who has written the most popular reviews, your rank among this weeks reviewers, reviews or who has the most followers
It has a great and open API. This allows other people to build services on top of Goodreads. The very first Goodreads iPhone app was not made by Goodreads itself, but was made by a Goodreads enthousiast. The potential for this is huge and I don’t think we have seen what will be possible with this yet. A lot of the data that Goodreads collects is accesible through the API in a structured and aggregated form. It should be very easy for other book related sites to incorporate average ratings from Goodreads on their own pages for example.
It is in continual beta and their design process seems to be iterative: it keeps evolving and adding new features at a high frequency like the recently added stats feature. That also applies to the business model. Initially there were only (unobtrusive) adds, but now they are starting to sell e-books, integrating this into the social network.
It has a kind of update stream which let’s you easily keep up to date with your friends, groups and favourite authors status.
The service has ambitious and lofty goals: “Goodreads’ mission is to get people excited about reading. Along the way, we plan to improve the process of reading and learning throughout the world.“. I do believe that this clear mission has led to many features that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. For example, there is book swap economy built into the site allowing people to say that they own a book and are willing to swap it for other books. Another book lovers feature are the lists. Anybody can start a list and people can then vote to get books on the list. Examples of list are “The Movie was BETTER than the Book” or “Science books you loved“. Another feature is book events. You can find author appearance, book club meetings, book swaps and other events based on how many kilometers away you want these to be from a certain city or in a certain country. Of course you can add events yourself, next to the ones that Goodreads imports from other sites, and you can say which events you will attend, plus invite friends to these events.
3. How could Goodreads improve
As said Goodreads is continuously changing. Change is the first prerequisite for improvement. The second is to identify and dismiss bad change. Occasionally the site feels a bit buggy. I have had a lot of grief updating the shelves of books using the mobile site with it not doing the things I wanted it do.
It is not always clear what kind of updates are triggered by a user action. I am not sure what my friends see. Sometimes you find your Facebook Wall flooded with Goodreads updates because you found a box of long lost books in the attic which you entered in an update frenzy.
I’m not sure about the 5 star rating system. Sites like Youtube ditched the 5 star system for the thumbs up, thumbs down approach. Personally I’m often doubting between 3/4 stars or 4/5 stars. Like, when it’s really not a bad book and actually quite good but just didn’t fit my personal taste, I hesitate to give it 4 stars. I’d rather give it 3,5 stars then.
Usability/UX: Some features are hard to find. Like new stats feature discussed above, I looked for it a long time only finding it hidden away on the bottom left of a page in some obscure menu. Other features are hard to use, requiring many more clicks than are actually necessary.
They could improve on locality and translation of books. In your profile settings you can select your country. But I don’t only read books in Dutch. I also read books in English if the original language of the book is English or e.g. Japanese.
The graphic design of the site isn’t top notch. When people (read: iPhone and Macbook users) initially see Shelfari, it might have more appeal just because it looks a tad better.
In-app mailing or messaging systems are always beyond me. Goodreads as well has an inbox where you can send to and receive mail from your Goodreads friends. I’d much rather use my regular mail and use Goodreads as a broker so email addresses can be private. Something like a ‘send message’ or ‘send mail’ option or button when I visit a user’s profile or click his avatar. LinkedIn has something like that I believe.
4. A small discussion on the process
Here we can discuss what we thought of using Gobby and what we have done in te editing phase afterwards.
- It’s very nice to have a real time, active spell and grammar checker.
- You don’t really need the chat window if you both sit on the same table. Question: does it make difference writing collaboratively sharing a location compared to being in different places.
- This time we agreed on the topic and immediately started writing. I would also like to try a more elaborate preparation once.
- Only after pasting the text from my text editor into the WordPress software, I realised the enormous amount of words we wrote; about 1800. Usually we try to limit our posts to between 500 and 1000 words.
In general, if you’re not on Goodreads yet, please register and friend me and Hans and tell us what you think is great and what could improve.