When it comes to social networking sites, book lovers have it made. There are several popular websites that allow readers to catalog their books, share reviews, and connect with like-minded bookworms. But with choice comes decision and selecting the best site for you can take a bit of research and experimentation. Like many readers and aspiring librarians, I used to track my reading using spreadsheets, so I was thrilled with the features offered by Goodreads, Librarything, and Shelfari, and have been compulsively recording the books I’ve read and want to read online since 2007. Online cataloging is also a lifesaver for librarians who are inundated with information about books and need a flexible, easy way to keep track of books they want to read, titles they want to eventually add to their libraries, and remember and categorize books they’ve read.
Overall, I like Goodreads for its social features, LibraryThing for its extensive cataloging features, and Shelfari for its community-added metadata like character lists and “ridiculously simple synopses”.
What site(s) do you use for personal or professional use?
Read on for in-depth looks at each site.
Though Goodreads was actually one of the later book social networking sites to join the fray in December 2006, it has quickly become the largest. It boasts 3.4 million members who have added more than 100 million books. Goodreads is completely free, so it’s supported by ads, but those ads are always book-related.
It’s easy to add books, which are added to one of three “shelves” — read, to-read, and currently reading. You can also add custom shelves and sort you shelves by categories like author, title, average rating, date added, etc. You can rate each book on a five-star scale, enter a review, and keep track on date started and finished (though only once).
The biggest appeal of Goodreads is the social aspect. You can connect your account with Facebook and Twitter and easily find friends to add. The homepage highlights your friends’ updates, so you can see what they’ve been reading and what they’re adding to their shelves. There are also thousands of groups on any topic you can imagine. I’ve even found a local book group that now meets in real life.
While the site doesn’t do any automatic book recommending a la Amazon, each book page records lists the book appears on, what other books members looked at, and prominently displays your friends’ reviews. I’ve found plenty to read just from seeing what my friends are reading.
The Goodreads giveaways section has been gradually expanding and there are always plenty of book giveaways to enter with the click on a button.
LibraryThing, which has been around since 2005, is small compared to Goodreads with 1.1 million members who have cataloged over 52 million books. As a partly paid service, it’s more professional and ad-free. Users can catalog up to 200 books for free — for more, it’s $10 for a year or $25 for a lifetime membership (though there is a pay-what-you-can option).
The focus here is more on cataloging books than socializing. Adding books is easy and members are encouraged to tag them with keywords, rate them on a five-star scale, and add them to “collections”. Since the focus was originally on books you owned, there wasn’t always a way to keep track of to-be-read books, though that is now incorporated into the collections feature. You can create and add books to multiple collections. Your library is displayed very visually with lots of options for sorting and categorizing your collection.
You can have friends or just watch interesting libraries, but those connections aren’t very prominent on the site. The groups are fairly active though, with a lot of good discussion in the Librarians who LibraryThing and the Read YA Lit groups. For me, LibraryThing is more personal and Goodreads is more social. I only have two real-life friends on LibraryThing versus 30-some on Goodreads.
One of LibraryThing’s strong suits is the metadata it collects about each book. Besides usual things like publication date and series, it lists character names, important places, related movies, first and last words, and epigraphs. All of this data is user-driven, so it’s not comprehensive, but it’s still a fun way to browse books.
LibraryThing also has an automatic book recommending feature based on books in your library compared with similar libraries and even has Unsuggestions, which are the opposite of recommendations. It even has a feature that guesses how much you will like a particular book, but it’s a little shaky.
They also have giveaways, but only once a month and with a less extensive selection than Goodreads.
Shelfari launched in October 2006 and was acquired by Amazon in 2008. They don’t publicize their user numbers, but it ranks third of the three sites profiled here on website analytics site Compete. It’s free, but the ads seem to be more prominent that on Goodreads. The interface is flashy and focuses on the book covers. I’m not as familiar with Shelfari, though I did play around with it recently.
Adding books is very easy. Books can be marked as “plan to read”, “reading now”, or “I’ve read it”. You can also indicate if you own it, when you read it, its purchase date, if it’s signed, if its on your wishlist, or if you’ve lent it to a friend. Books can also be rated on a five-star scale, tagged with keywords, or reviewed. Your books are displayed visually on a shelf and can be sorted by rating, author, title, or review. It doesn’t seem to offer any custom shelves for users, though.
Each book’s page has a wealth of information and even has the option to hide spoilers, which is enabled by default. Some unique features include a “ridiculously simplified synopsis”, a descriptive cast of characters, table of contents, themes/symbolism, and movie info. It’s maintained like a wiki by the community, so the information isn’t complete or verified, but it can be a powerful reader’s advisory tool. Each book has user recommended titles as well as the Amazon Customers Who Bought This Book Also Bought feature.
Since I don’t actively keep an account here, I don’t know much about the friends feature, but the groups look active and the book pages I viewed are well maintained with useful information.