August 10, 2008

Personal essay: Gadzooks! I added 600 new book ratings at Goodreads this weekend!

(Every day, I like to post at least a thousand words of original content to the CCLaP website; on the days I don't have a review of a book or movie ready, I thought I would try other material, such as this series of personal essays, looking at a topic in the arts from my life that I think you might find relevant or entertaining too. You can click here for a master list of all personal essays now written, if you're interested.)

The Big List of Books, Goodreads edition

Okay, I confess -- although officially I try to stay neutral here at CCLaP over the ongoing war between the three most popular literary social networks out there, Shelfari and LibraryThing and Goodreads, I have to admit that I personally find myself turning to Goodreads in particular more and more these days, for a variety of small reasons that all add up by the end. For example, it's easily the most active of all three services, easily has the most user-submitted reviews; and since the reviews are sorted there by length, it means that right on the book's main entry page itself, you also get a good twenty or so intelligent one- to six-paragraph essays, without having to continuing to click through and get lost in some kind of link hell like can sometimes be the case at Amazon. ("Click here for the most favorable review! Click here for the most critical review! Click here for the most helpful review!" Sheesh, Amazon, just show me the damn reviews already, will you?) Also, I very much like the mix of active participants over there, a nice combination of passionate readers and professional authors and skeptical industry employees; and I like that you can post your own creative writing, that the "favorite/thumbs-up" system there is heavily employed, that it's married to a nice events system for touring authors over there, who are using the website as a sorta MySpace for literary nerds.

Perhaps the one single aspect I like the most, though, and what easily influences me going there more often when looking up a book than anywhere else, is the "compare books" feature right on people's profile pages; essentially, with a click of a button, it instantly gives you a pretty reliable snapshot look at just how much you should trust the opinions of this other person you've stumbled across, giving you an instant look as it does at how the personal libraries of you and them compare. (In fact, the results page at Goodreads gives you a lot more than that; it also shows you what scores you each gave those books, sorts the books in order of how much your scores match, and even tells you what percentage of your libraries these books constitute in both cases.) People, I'm telling you, every specialty social network in existence should have a feature like this, because it makes that specialty thing an imminently practical thing to compare; there's nothing like seeing, for example, that a random stranger also loves a good 50 weird obscure books that I love too, to instantly know that I can probably trust their opinion on all the other weird obscure books they've mentioned that I've never personally heard of. And that's one of the biggest reasons to be at a specialty social network to begin with, versus a big general place like MySpace or Facebook; the whole point is to get recommendations on the specialty thing that brings you all there, specifically from people who have the exact same hyperspecialized tastes as you.

There's only one problem with all this, though, which is such systems only work as well as the amount of data you enter into it; and that can be a real pain, especially when it comes to someone like me who has to have read at least three or four thousand books over the course of my life at this point, which makes me not want to make that kind of input commitment until I've definitively made a decision over which of these competing systems I'm going to most embrace. But since I've been coming back to Goodreads more and more, it seems, I thought this weekend I would finally start to track a profoundly larger amount of books there than I have before, not just the 170 I've read and reviewed in the last 14 months of running CCLaP, but these thousands of others I mentioned that I've read over the course of my life. I started this weekend, for example, by just inputting the books I happen to have in my apartment at this exact moment (along with all the other books by those authors I've read too), done with one eye while watching the Olympics with the other (said in Homer Simpson voice, "Mmmm, Olympics in high def"); and lo and behold, that alone added nearly 600 new titles to my total library that now exists over there, all done essentially during my spare time over the course of one weekend.

This will hopefully pay lots of dividends, especially as the list gets even bigger and bigger over time; it will hopefully bring new readers out of the woodwork, give people a better and much deeper understanding of what exactly I like, and of course with Goodreads' public application protocol interface (or API), I could even import the list if I wanted into any application that accepts an XML file or RSS feed, making it a good archival exercise on top of everything else. And I admit, more and more data doesn't hurt my public ranking over there either; in fact, this is how many of CCLaP's new website visitors are created, by me having been rated at Goodreads for the last four months or so within the top-ten of all "best reviewers" of the system, among the million or so total users there. And this is with me having barely a quarter of the total amount of books listed in my library as the reviewers ranked above me there; I figure if I can get caught up to them, I too could be ranked among the top-three there regularly, and bring in even more new readers to the main CCLaP website for essentially no cost. (I'm all about bringing in new readers without spending any money.) After all, this is the whole reason I've sat down over the last year and rated around 1,600 movies over at Netflix as well; it's not just so that their recommendation system over there will work better, but also in order to drive traffic to the CCLaP website, something that works and works better than you might imagine.

Anyway, for anyone who's curious, you can click here to go check out the master list for yourself, as well as to make me your friend over at Goodreads if you're a member too; and for the sake of fairness, here are the links to my Shelfari account and LibraryThing account as well. (And as always, let me remind people that I have no personal friends at any of these services, and do not receive payment or perks from any of these companies in order to talk one of them up in public or others down.) Like I said, here's hoping some good things will come of it over the coming months, especially as I get more and more old titles added as well.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:13 PM, August 10, 2008. Filed under: CCLaP news | Design | Literature |