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By now, you've probably heard the news that Amazon has purchased Goodreads. Many of us feel that, in the battle of the books, Amazon just made the online equivalent of the Louisiana Purchase, but we have concerns that only Kindle users will be encouraged to settle there. Personally, I just like to keep my data as compartmentalized as possible online, and I don't want Amazon to have my Goodreads content.

I've also read mixed reviews of Amazon takeovers. While Zappos seems to be mostly unscathed, Audible users (particularly those outside the U.S.) have reported problems under their new overlords, and users of Shelfari, a social reading site similar to Goodreads, say that they haven't seen any updates or improvements since the buyout. They seem to have annihilated CD Now.

Then, of course, there's the whole librarian debacle. After Amazon pulled its data in January 2012, librarians donated their time and talent to rebuild the missing links and images, all out of the goodness of their hearts. Now that Goodreads has accepted Amazon's offer, I can understand why those folks feel somewhat betrayed. They helped build Goodreads' successful community, and I surely haven't heard about any of them being compensated as a result of this transfer of power.

Another aspect of why I think so many of us are heartbroken by this announcement is the ongoing problem of walled gardens. Many of us don't like being confined to the boxes that Amazon, Apple, Google, Barnes & Noble, etc. use to contain us. Goodreads provided common ground for readers regardless of platform, and many of us feel that is a significant loss. I know I do.

Even if you don't factor in Amazon's previous buyouts, the working conditions for employees in some of their warehouses are problematic, to say the least.

In light of these issues, I've compiled a list of alternatives I plan to investigate:

  • BookGlutton
    This was the fifth site I tested.

    Pros: Um, it looks nice. I've always liked rounded corners. The shade of taupe used for the background is pleasant. Yes, I'm reaching, here. :)

    You can upload ePub files. The site suggests:

    "Get a group of your peers together to read and discuss each others work. All you'll need to do is convert it to the Epub format, the same format used by Apple's iBooks software, Stanza for iPhone, Aldiko reader for Android, and many other e-reading applications. Then you can have targeted discussions about each paragraph in order to hone your craft."

    This site seems like it could be useful to writers who have uploaded new content for review and discussion, students and teachers, and book clubs, especially those that have already been formed.

    Cons: I didn't see a way to upload a CSV file for import. The site's functionality seems extremely limited, to the point that I think very few Goodreads users would be happy with this site.

    BookGlutton isn't exactly transparent in terms of use, either. A quick tutorial would be helpful, but none exists. Instead, it's the "Let's see what this does if I click it" school of learning, and even then, users might still find themselves in the dark. For example, there's an item labeled "Glutton points" that isn't explained anywhere that I can see -- neither how one accrues them, nor their purpose.

    Only after you add a book to your group and open it do things begin to make more sense, as you highlight passages and add comments.

    Finally, their book database, such as it is, appears to be only 40 pages long, and that's with each page displaying cover images for each title. It appears to primarily include public domain titles. If you're interested in popular fiction, you're out of luck: there's no Suzanne Collins or Stephen King here.

    Other: N/A

    Unknown: N/A

    Overall: BookGlutton's purpose is a fairly limited one. If you are a heavy book club user on Goodreads, perhaps it offers some utility, but for me, not so much. At an absolute minimum, I wanted to find recently-released books and add them to my collection, and I couldn't do that.

    This site does have its place, particularly if you're in a study group, but, it's pretty specialized, and doesn't offer much functionality beyond that at this time. I'll delete my account after I post this review.

    BookGlutton did make me consider one success factor for Goodreads that I've perhaps taken for granted in the past: asynchronous sharing. Specifically, that feed telling you what books your friends are reading is a great communication tool. I like knowing what my friends are reading. Naturally, some of their choices interest me enough to add them to my own list. However, this little feed provides me a sense of sociability without the burden of meeting a deadline to read a certain book for a book group. No matter where I end up, I think the presence or absence of that sort of feedback will be a deciding factor in whether or not I stay.

  • BookLikes
    This was the second site I tested.

    Pros: The Polish developers seem quite vivacious: they are enthusiastic about engaging former Goodreads users via social media, such as Twitter, and I appreciate their interest in receiving feedback. The site has a clean user interface, and is visually appealing and easy to use. I really like the blog component of BookLikes: many's the time I've wanted to make a general post or comment to my friends over at Goodreads, and couldn't do it. I also like the fact that we can assign half-star ratings to books: I appreciate the increased granularity.

    Cons: Part of the reason it's easy to use is because they are quite new and there isn't much there right now (by my definition, they're still in alpha); most of the furniture is not yet in place yet, so to speak. They want to add features, such as book goals. What they have so far is nice, if limited: a blog plus a search engine plus a bookshelf does not a social reading site make, in my opinion. :) I'd also lke to see the option to view one's blog stream as headers -- it gets mighty scrolly having to go through each post in full.

    Of perhaps greater concern than the lack of features is what seems to be a fairly prominent association with Amazon. If Goodreads expatriates are trying to get away from the big A, they may feel some discomfort when they click the Daily Deals button and see that, for all practical purposes, it's an ad page for Amazon.

    Although users can select their Search providers under Settings, the options are somewhat limited for the US: Amazon, Book Depository (owned by Amazon), Google, and Powells. Again, if one is trying to get away from the internet megacorporations, Powells is the only option. I'd really like to see this improved.

    It isn't at all clear to me how to post a comment in response to a BookLikes blog post. Is it possible to do this? If not, that's a huge negative for me, and, likely, for others. My friend, Eloisa, said something about Disqus, but I don't see anything of the sort on my page at this time.

    Other: I think the site is getting bombarded by Goodreads refugees. I registered last night and immediately imported my CSV file. It's about 18 hours later at the time of this writing, and that content has yet to show up, so I can't really tell you how the Shelf works yet or how well it handles imported content. I'll update this review when I know more.

    The blog functionality is exceedingly reminiscent of Tumblr.

    Unknown: I don't yet know whether or not they'll have smartphone apps. My guess is that it's on their To Do feature list.

    Overall: BookLikes is a work in progress. I'd like to see their association with Amazon significantly reduced, but I have hope for the site, and I know it takes time to build things. It's a little bare-bones right now, so I can't honestly say that it meets my needs today, but I do plan to keep an eye on it.

    Note: I'm still waiting on the import of my Shelf data to complete, so please don't consider this review complete.

  • BookRabbit
    This was the sixth site I tested.

    Pros: You can import a CSV file.

    I sort of like the look of the site - there's enough white space that it doesn't look cluttered. I also like being able to post a personal status update.

    There's a lot of functionality here: I like being able to subscribe to a topic in a discussion thread. I like being able to link to multiple blogs. I like being able to create widgets. I think it's interesting that I can link to a YouTube video review I've made if I choose to do so. It's not a feature I'd use, but I am sure there are people who would.

    The book matching feature is similar to the "Compare books" function over on Goodreads, but I prefer the way Goodreads displays the information. Still, it exists, and I like that it goes out and finds everyone with whom you overlap. Again, it's another way to form connections on the site.

    The Upload Bookshelf feature is something I've yet to see anywhere else. You upload a photograph of your physical bookshelf, and BookRabbit scans it and overlays hyperlinks to their database.Here's an example of what I'm talking about.

    For social media mavens, it offers the ability to connect your account with Twitter.

    Cons: Importing my CSV file was noticeably problematic. BookRabbit only brought over 281 books, the lowest import stat of any site I've tried thus far. It botched my reviews, somehow designating books that I hadn't read as having been reviewed, so I had to delete all 157 of those one by one. There doesn't seem to be a way to sort one's shelf: whatever the last book you touched happense to be, that's what's at the top of your list. "Most Recent" seems to be the only view it does.

    All of my imported books were classifed as Finished, which is incorrect. If I stay with BookRabbit, I'll have to manually move those I have not yet read to my To Read column one by one, which is tedious. There were also several version mismatches, such as BookRabbit identifying Red Storm Rising's ISBN as the audiobook rather than the hard copy.

    Unless I'm missing something, it's not really intuitive or easy to access your bookshelf. Oh, it's only about two clicks, but it's not in an obvious place, in my opinion. So, the UI could be improved a bit.

    Other: Located in the UK. BookRabbit does something interesting on their home page: they use a tag cloud to weight member participation and activity. While that could easily be gamed, if used honestly, it could be a means of connecting newer users with more experienced ones.

    Speaking of the UK, that appears to be the home of most of the site's user base. I sort of like that, as I often feel like I don't have much in common with most other Americans when it comes to taste in literature. :) Regardless, there are exactly 10,292 members on the site at the time of this writing. That could be a pro or a con, depending upon one's perspective: a small but active group is generally cozy and intimate; an inactive group of any sort is deadly for a social media site. We'll see which one BookRabbit happens to be.

    I find it a little odd that BookRabbit requires users to enter a Captcha-style code to upload a user picture. I can understand that hurdle existing for registration, but after one is already on the site, it seems a bit much.

    When one adds a book to one's Reading column, BookRabbit also seems to add it to the book's page under the heading "People Who Own This Book." I'm assuming this is to facilitate the Wishlist functionality (a bookswap tool, I presume), however, it seems likely to be quite inaccurate, given that it could be a book I've borrowed from a friend or checked out from the library.

    Summary: I think I'd like this site much more had I started with it, but there's still something about it that appeals to me. I worry that it's far too quiet, though. Still, I'll probably stay for a bit to get some perspective. I'd be glad to add you as a friend, if you're interested in testing functionality.

  • Bookwormr
    This was the fourth site I tested.

    Pros: A clean look with plenty of white space, if a little spartan.

    Cons: Very few people are using it, and there doesn't seem to be a way to import CSV data. I tried contacting the bookwormr account via Twitter, but received no response.

    I encountered the following errors when using the site:

    "Unable to write in the "/var/www/symfony/beta.bookwormr.com/app/../web/bundles/mormanskibookwormr/images/avatars" directory."

    "Cannot redirect to an empty URL."

    Despite that, I was still able to add books to my Read list.

    The bookwormr WordPress plugin seems to be having issues as well. When I checked it, the following message was displayed:

    "This plugin hasn't been updated in over 2 years. It may no longer be maintained or supported and may have compatibility issues when used with more recent versions of WordPress."

    Also, it's a minor thing, but even after bothering to select "Female" as my gender on the Settings screen, the site still defaults to the male pronoun. In other words, it says, "Olivia has not added any books to his wishlist."

    Finally, there's no Help menu that I can find, and no means of deleting one's account that I've been able to locate.



    Overall:To be honest, this looks like a developer testing a concept using the Symfony framework. He or she did a very nice job, and with some bug fixes, this could be a perfectly usable site. Mormanski, whoever you are, you've got talent. Unfortunately, I can't tell whether or not the project has been abandoned, and that, plus the bugs, makes me hesitant to commit to the site as a user. Even without these issues, the lack of import alone would encourage me to seek a better Goodreads alternative. In its current state, I cannot recommend this site.

  • Libib
    This was the seventh site I tested.

    Pros: The "General Terms" section of their Terms of Service made me chuckle: "Don't do anything stupid or illegal."

    Libib also has a great UI: it's neat, clean, and efficient.

    You can import a CSV file for your books, and you can have all your media (except music) catalogued in one place.

    Cons: The only drawback: social. No friends, no groups, no comments, no quizzes, etc. You can't yet import a CSV for your films or video games, but that's coming.

    Other: N/A

    Summary: The site is such a pleasure to use that I almost don't miss the social features. Almost. Someone (not one of the 'net megacorps), please make a social version of this site and I will throw money at you. :) Even without social, it's well worth using. The more I use it, the more I like it.

  • The Reading Room
    I began my research with The Reading Room, primarily because I like the name. To me, it suggests cozy armchairs and a salon-like atmosphere.

    Pros: the sidebar on the left provides one-click navigation to features like one's yearly reading list, friends, book clubs, and so on. I haven't tested the Live Chat feature for book clubs yet, but it sounds like it could be interesting and fun. I like the option in the Bookshelf to select books by letter of the alphabet -- it's nice to be able to narrow one's viewing range in that way.

    Speaking of the Bookshelf, it's ... different. Not necessarily bad, but different. You can click the "I've Read" button to show titles you've completed, but there's no button to click that I've found to display just the titles that you intend to read. You can create a new list and do this manually, but for those of us who are accustomed to this from Goodreads, it's a bit of an adjustment.

    I do like the fact that The Reading Room offers easy and prominent access to sample chapters from books, in many cases.

    Also, according to this GetSatisfaction page, the site's database comes directly from the publishers, so that's encouraging for those who are trying to avoid Amazon.

    Edit, 4/2/2013: I wanted to add that I appreciate the fact that the site's Privacy Policy specifically authorizes pseudonyms. Thank you, Reading Room. I don't want to get into a lengthy #nymwars discussion, but battered women, young people in situations that could escalate to abuse (such as a gay teen who isn't yet out, but wants to add GLBT books to his bookshelf), people whose political views differ from those of their employers, activists, and other people need the protection that a pseudonym can provide.

    Finally, I appreciate the staff engaging with users via Twitter. They have been friendly and welcoming without being cloying. :)

    Cons: I find the home page a bit cluttered, despite being a fairly standard three-column layout. The images for downloading their free e-reader, registering to receive advance copies, and accessing giveaways seem to dominate the home page in proportion to the rest of the information. I think part of the problem is that the middle content column should be larger, and the other two columns smaller -- it looks imbalanced as it is. I tend to prefer two-column designs, to be honest: three columns often looks cramped to me.

    The home page content also seems a bit generic: I'm used to the first page I see on Goodreads being about me: my friends, my updates, etc. I don't dislike the temporary/seasonal content, like "Easter is here" and "Quiz of the day", but I'd rather have it off to the side, with boxes like the Latest Member Reviews higher on the page. Indeed, what I'd really adore is the ability to move these boxes where I want them, much like the recently-departed iGoogle. Let me make my own home page, arranging the components according to my own priority. Note: I don't know whether this content changes based on social connections: I don't yet have any friends on the site, and I've only joined one book club.

    I can't say that the site's UI and color scheme matches the name, in my opinion: I find the blue, white, and charcoal grey combination to be visually cold. Not off-puttingly so, but not friendly, either. I'd like the ability to select from a number of different themes.

    I was able to swiftly import my Goodreads data to my bookshelf, but it wasn't a perfect transition. I have 778 books listed over on Goodreads, but only 650 came over. I'm not entirely sure why: I had to manually add perfectly normal, popular fiction titles like the ones in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series to my Bookshelf on The Reading Room.

    A bigger problem with the import comes from having to manually go back and flag the books I've read: this status and my accompanying ratings were not imported. This isn't impossible to do, but it's a little tedious. It isn't a seamless transition.

    Other: I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that purchasing options seem to be so limited. The "Buy a print copy" section includes Amazon and IndieBound, and that's it. If the book's page includes a link to purchase an e-book, The Reading Room seems to provide a storefront for various publishers, such as Simon & Schuster and Harper Collins, and I'd assume they get a percentage of sales, which helps support the site. While on the one hand, that seems somewhat egalitarian in terms of cutting out the middle man of major retailers, on the other hand, it seems to completely leave out self-published content from Smashwords and so on. And again, if one of the "Buy a print copy" options is Amazon, that seems like preferential treatment.

    The Reading Room does offer an app for Android and iOS, but it seems to be an e-reader for content you've purchased from their site and for sideloaded books. It didn't appear to provide access to either the social features of the site or a goals list.

    Unknown: I don't know if The Reading Room offers a "compare lists" function like that of Goodreads, because I haven't added any friends yet.

    Overall: I feel like I'd be pretty satisfied with The Reading Room if I'd started with them initially. It would have been normal to build my Bookshelf gradually, much as I did on Goodreads. For GR refugees like myself, however, it's going to take some unpacking of boxes and rearranging of furniture, as it were, to get properly settled in. We'll see how it compares to other candidates as I continue to explore the buffet of literary social media sites.

  • weRead
    This was the third site I tested.

    Pros: On the surface, it looks like it has a lot of the same functionality as Goodreads.

    Cons: Although it's supposedly owned by Flipkart, an Indian company, it seems to be abandoned. Stuff doesn't work: I can't upload a profile picture; the text for the book discussion links is all garbled; when you click the About Us page, it just redisplays your current page ... things don't seem to be working well, if at all. Also, I don't see a way to import your Goodreads data.

    Additionally, the Terms of Use and Privacy policy haven't been updated to reflect Flipkart's ownership -- it still says Ugenie Inc. The last copyright date on the site appears to be 2010, which was when the property was acquired by Flipkart.


    Unknown: I can't tell if they'll ever rise again with a relaunch or redesign. I tried contacting their Twitter account, but it was last updated 239 days ago at the time of this writing, so I'm not optimistic about receiving a reply.

    Overall: It's a pity that this site appears to have been abandoned: its features looked promising. My experience was so poor that I tried to delete my account about fifteen minutes after registering, and the delete button didn't work or, to be more precise, it opened a window to send an e-mail, presumably to request that one's account be deleted. I recommend that you avoid this site.


Note: I haven't tested many of them at the time of this writing, so please don't consider this an endorsement.

Not considering:
  • Anobii - Their privacy policy doesn't make me happy, particularly the "Sharing your Personal Information" section and this bit about web beacons: "Data collected from “Web beacons” including information about your journey across the Internet and your browsing behaviour around various websites, including interactions with adverts, within our network." Forget it. Your service isn't worth enough to me to let you follow me around the internet.

  • Bookish - owned by major publishing houses

  • LibraryThing - Amazon owns 40%

  • RiffleBooks.com - appears to be allied with Facebook

  • Shelfari - owned entirely by Amazon and neglected, according to users

  • Slice Bookshelf - Underpinned by Slice.com. No, thank you. I don't need a site that aggregates every online purchase I make anywhere. I'm trying to compartmentalize, not consolidate.

I'll continue updating this post as I narrow down my options. Keep watching this space. :)

For additional perspective on Goodreads alternatives, Omnilogikos is testing various sites as well.

Date: 2013-04-03 02:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fullofsecrets.livejournal.com
4/2/2013 Response, Part One

Lance, thank you. I am incredibly impressed right now. Thank you so much -- really, I mean that genuinely. You really listened, took my comments constructively (as they were intended, I promise) :), you made an LJ account just to take time out of your day to reply -- that speaks volumes about your commitment to your site. Again, wholehearted thanks. A famous and great quote attributed to Bill Gates is this: "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." While I am definitely not unhappy at all, I think it is truly admirable that you are clearly operating in the spirit of that quote. :)

We have new designs (wireframes) done that are dynamite, IMO - and are based on a 2-column layout like you say

Shiny! Can't wait to see them.

The redesign will keep the basic palette, but I'm hoping it will feel warmer. When it launches, would love your - and anyone's - feedback on whether we did well or not.

It'd be my pleasure. :) I used to do web design, and I'm married to a brilliant UI professional, so I can believe that with a redesign, it could feel much warmer, depending on the balance and usage of the colors.

Hm. Weird. I'll send this to the devs. Integration is always kooky.

Thank you very much for passing that along to the developers. :) I know stuff like that can be kind of fiddly.

Does the GR export CSV contain a flag that clearly designates "has been read"? I see the "date read" field, but I'm not sure that's universally populated. Not having been a GR user myself, I'm asking in earnest. I don't know!

Well, it must have something in there, because one of the ways in which I've been assessing sites is by comparing how well they handle the CSV import. On LibraryThing (I created it before I knew about the stake Amazon had in them), it pulled over my ratings and reviews, so it must've sourced them from that file. I am not a programmer, but my job requires me to interact with them frequently, so, based on what I know from talking with them, I would think it would be possible to configure the import to flag any items that are rated and/or that have reviews as "Read," yes?

(continued in Part Two)


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