Saturday, December 21, 2013

Post-Goodreads, Part I: BookLikes

It's been three months since I signed up for my BookLikes and LibraryThing accounts in the wake of Goodreads' review and shelf deletion fiasco. I've decided that it's time to write about how those months have gone and how I've adjusted to using those two sites.

I haven't deleted my Goodreads account or reviews, primarily because the transfer to BookLikes and LibraryThing didn't go perfectly – certain books were either not uploaded properly or not uploaded at all. So, my account still exists, I just don't update it.

I'll start this off by writing about BookLikes. The post is a little longer than I originally intended, so I'll save LibraryThing for a second post.

The things I currently do on BookLikes:
  • Have discussions with other readers
  • Keep track of books I'd like to read - This can either be done directly in BookLikes, or in Amazon using a "Shelve it!" bookmarklet
  • Enter giveaways (well, only one giveaway so far, but I anticipate entering more)
  • Cross-post my reviews - I've learned that I can copy and paste my reviews from Blogger directly into BookLikes, and the formatting "sticks," which saves a lot of my time
  • Learn about new things I'd like to read
BookLikes isn't so much a book catalog as it is a community devoted to book blogging. Writing posts there is as easy as writing posts on Blogger, with one notable improvement (from the perspective of a book blogger): BookLikes has tools that allow you to link to books without having to go hunting around the Internet for pages to link to. Granted, it only links to Amazon pages, but still. [I'm wrong, Amazon is just the default - you can link to other online booksellers, too.] It's heavenly to be able to type a title, click a button, and immediately add an image or a link. My read-alikes lists would be so much simpler if Blogger had this feature (it had something similar, at one point, but that disappeared after a Blogger “upgrade”).

On your dashboard, you can see the latest reviews and posts your friends have published and what books they have marked as “read,” “planning to read,” or something else (the something else isn't specified – you're just told they've shelved the book). You can find posts written by non-friends in multiple ways – the methods I use most commonly are searching tags/titles/authors and stumbling around on the “Explore” page.

Although Goodreads allows for commenting on reviews and in discussion groups, I barely participated in any of that. In that respect, BookLikes has been amazing. For some reason, I feel much more comfortable commenting there than I ever did in Goodreads. I think this is because Goodreads makes a distinction between “friends” and “followers.” I followed a lot more people than I friended, and I felt awkward commenting on reviews written by people I was following but was not friends with.

With BookLikes, you are either following people or you are not. I can see, “like,” and comment on anyone's posts, whether I'm following them, they're following me, or we have no relationship beyond me stumbling upon one of their posts. I've probably commented on and “liked” more people's posts on BookLikes in the last few months than I did in the almost-year I was active on Goodreads. BookLikes discussion groups aren't really working for me, but it wasn't like I was very involved in discussion groups on Goodreads either.

The BookLikes staff is very responsive. They comment on people's posts about the site, address concerns and complaints, and respond to tech support emails. Every Thursday, they introduce at least one new feature to the site. I'll admit that the new features have gotten less fantastic as time has passed, but I still look forward to these posts and keep hoping that something from my personal wishlist will be included.

One thing that BookLikes very much is NOT is a book catalog. There's no page with series data, and even checking the publication information for a single edition can be difficult. If you want a one-click way to keep track of books you'd like to read, great. If you want to link to an exact edition of something, you're going to have a bit more trouble, unless you have an ISBN handy. Also, at the moment, reviews for particular editions are segregated from reviews of other editions of the exact same work. That means that, if you click on the book page of the paperback edition of a book, you're not going to see all the reviews for the hardcover edition, or the CD audiobook edition. This is one of the things I'd like to see improved.

BookLikes still doesn't offer users the ability to export their reviews, posts, or even their shelves – this is a HUGE problem for anyone putting all their eggs in the BookLikes basket, because, if something like Goodreads' September fiasco happens, they're stuck. Either they have to leave everything behind and start over someplace new, or they have to stick with BookLikes.

And, one last issue, finding users with similar tastes takes a lot of time. You can't easily compare your shelved books to another person's shelved books, and you can't easily compare your ratings to someone else's. The “Explore” page is a mess. Although the left side of the page lists categories like “YA,” “Romance,” “Suspense, Thriller,” clicking on them does not mean you only see reviews that fall into those particular categories. Each BookLikes blogger chooses categories that best fit their overall reading tastes, and all their posts are shown in all those categories. If a blogger only reads romance, then it's no big deal. If he or she reads science fiction, romance, and non-fiction...well, you end up with the hodgepodge that is the BookLikes Explore page.

BookLikes' drawbacks mean that I can't recommend it as a sole replacement for Goodreads. However, I'm using it in conjunction with Blogger and LibraryThing, and it's working out fabulously for me. The site has improved quite a bit in the last few months, and I anticipate more improvements in the months to come.

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