05 August 2007


Within the span of just a couple hours, I was invited by two different friends to join two different book-related social networking sites.

The first invitation was for GoodReads and the second, about 3 hours later, was for Shelfari.

Not sure which one I like better. Both have minor problems with my browser of choice, Omniweb, which means that there are likely problems with Safari as well. In GoodReads, I am greeted with a blank page when I try to rate a book (I verified that all works well in Firefox). In Shelfari, various pages don't render properly - the shelf, for one. And my friends page is empty, yet my home page says I have a friend, it even shows a picture. Weird.

Both had the standard social networking features (friends, commenting, etc.), but Shelfari has bright colors and that "je ne sais quoi" look that says to me "we're trying to be hip and cool" while GoodReads has a subdued monotone look that says "we're trying to appear intellectual". I don't like GoodReads' font. Maybe it's not the font, but the fact that they don't put a capital letter anywhere in the site. So maybe I can't put my finger on it (cue Ween song), but something just looks wrong with GoodReads. Shelfari scores more web 2.0 points in the name department. Which probably reflects the "hip & cool" vs. "intellectual" thing as well.

Which one is better? Too early to say. By look alone, I am more drawn towards the Shelfari. I guess I just like the candy colors. But for an objective test, I did a search for the author Greg Stolze. GoodReads gives 15 results, all on one page. Nice. Shelfari returns 100 results across ten pages (ugh) unless I refine my search to "author" (not available in the search bar - in other words, I have to search and then refine the search to search by author name. Yuck.) Trouble is, refine by author doesn't change the results. And there is no way to return all results on one page. And there is no way to skip to an arbitrary page, just previous and next. On the first page of results, "previous" is a hot link that goes nowhere. Oops. Oh, and remember I searched for Greg Stolze? Why am I getting hits for a book called "Greg Noll" by Drew Kampion. Oh, it must be OR-ing my search terms. Not cool. Putting "Greg Stolze" in quotes drops the results to 5 pages, and gives me only results of books that are authored by Greg Stolze, either as the sole author or one of multiple authors. That's something that GoodReads doesn't give me. That is, what happens in GoodReads if I do a title search on one of the books where Greg Stolze was listed as author 9 of 11 in Shelfari? Well, the book exists, but only the 1st author (as listed in Shelfari) is in GoodReads. So if I want all of Greg Stolze's works, even where he is not the primary author, I am out of luck with GoodReads.

Neither site had Greg Stolze's book "Scary Face", which was has no ISBN and is available from Lulu.com. Jeannette was able to add it quickly & easily in GoodReads. I couldn't find any way to add books like this in Shelfari.

International: I entered the ISBN of my German version of "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" into both search fields. GoodReads churned for a while and then returned 15 results of things that weren't even remotely close. It found the right book when I removed the dashes from the ISBN. Shelfari found the book without problem with or without the dashes.

One last comparison. My browser always has multiple tabs open. Shelfari nicely puts "Shelfari" in the web page title, and therefore the tab name. With GoodReads, I only get "find books". Popping back and forth between these experiments and writing about them, I always had trouble finding the GoodReads tab. "find books" just doesn't jump out at me. "Shelfari - Search..." does.

Here's the summary after a mere 15-30 minutes of use:
Shelfari: Colorful. Frustrating search. Minor rendering problems in Omniweb. More complete book details. No obvious way to add books not currently in the database. Better ISBN search.
GoodReads: Monochrome. Nice search (except with ISBN search). Javascript(?) problems with rating books. Allows users to add books. Does not seem to support multiple authors of books. Do you think you could title your web pages with GoodReads?

Which is better? Dunno. They both have bugs that put me off at the moment. Maybe by the time I finish off the stack of Discworld books I just picked up on the cheap, one or both of the sites will have matured enough for me to be able to really use them.

What a strange twist of fate that brought me invites to both of these sites on the same day...

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At Sunday, 05 August, 2007 , Blogger Jeannette said...

Another buggish thing with GoodReads, just for the record - I started my account by reviewing those of the "most popular books on GoodReads" that I recalled reading. The Fountainhead was on the list, but as a paperback, and I wanted to increase my snob value by making it clear that I own and read it in hardcover. (Well, of course I read it in hardcover when I first read it - it was a library book! Because I don't buy books. But I liked it so much I asked for it for Christmas.) Anyway, I couldn't find my version using the ISBN search function with or without the dashes, so I decided to create a new entry. When I tried to save it, though, it told me that the ISBN wasn't unique. Tried the search again with the ISBN GoodReads told me it couldn't use (it had stripped the dashes out of the format I entered it in), but it still failed to find it. I had to page through the entries until I found the 1986 MacMillan Publishing copy.

At Monday, 06 August, 2007 , Blogger danny said...

Thats a great detailed comparison of both sites. I favor Shelfari, partly because they are my current employer, but also because I do believe that its the best web 2.0 site when it comes to books.
We love to hear feedback from Shelfari members. If you have any suggestions or problems with the website, don't hesitate to contact us at feedback@shelfari.com

Also, add me as a friend. My username is schaufferwaffer.

Take Care,

At Monday, 06 August, 2007 , Blogger Abby said...

Try searching for Greg Stolze on LibraryThing (another social networking site for bibliophiles). He's also an official "LibraryThing Author," so you can check out his personal library as well.

You also might want to try librarything.de -- LibraryThing in German.

Abby (LibraryThing's librarian)

At Tuesday, 07 August, 2007 , Blogger Otis said...

Wow since everyone else is chiming in we might as well.

We fixed your ISBN issue and your page title issue. Let us know what else is bothering you!

- Otis (Goodreads guy)

ps. hi Abby & Danny

At Wednesday, 15 August, 2007 , Blogger brian said...

So far for me (using Firefox on a windows machine) my only problem with Goodreads is it lacks any ability to quickly and easily add multiple books after a search. If I do a search for Terry Pratchett I can add one book, then go back to the list of ALL the Prachett books and look for the next one I own or have read and add it, rinse and repeat until finished. It's kind of annoying to have to start over on page one of an author's list of books as every time I add one as I go through.

Other than that, I like GoodReads better. Shelfari kind of annoys me... maybe that's because I'm neither hip nor cool.


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