From Goodreads to Jellybooks and from Whichbook to My Independent Bookshop we round up the best places for reading recommendations on the web. But do you use them? Which ones do you prefer and why? Or do you resort to more traditional methods to find your next read?
As Penguin Random House launches a social network for book recommendations – seen by some as welcome support for independent booksellers – we take a look at reading recommendations on the web. What are the best platforms for social reading? Which, if any, are you using and what are your tips for sharing your reads online?
This titan of personalised book recommendations uses algorithms created by an engine that “analyses 20 billion data points” and has a very strong social component. You can organise your own virtual library, create a wishlist and find out what your friends – or other members of the community – are reading and reviewing. The site is closely linked into both Twitter and Google+, and comes with a Facebook app which can sometimes make it seem difficult to escape.
Described by its creators as “the Netflix of book recommendations”, it also includes quizzes, quotes, its own awards and even a reading challenge. A bit much? The Authors’ Guild called it “truly devastating” when Amazon bought Goodreads in 2013, while Hugh Howey declared it was “like finding out my mom is marrying that cool dude next door that I’ve been palling around with”. But for the moment Goodreads seeems unstoppable, doubling the number of users for the second year in a row to hit 25 million users in 2013.
But did Amazon really need to buy Goodreads? The online shopping giant has allowed readers to review books for almost 20 years, making the site a massive resource for book recommendations. But do you actually use it or have you moved on to other more user-oriented platforms?
The new Penguin Random House platform, launched this Thursday, is conceived as a bunch of online personalised “shops”, organised by “streets”, where readers can review and display they favourite books in beautifully-presented shelves. Of course, users can also buy books, with a small but promising total of 70 independent shops connected to the site so far – which Penguin hope will become several hundreds. This self-described “Desert Island Discs for books” – whatever that means – already has a few authors as its first users: you can already check the “shops” of Terry Pratchett, Irvine Welsh, Lisa Jewell and Tony Parsons. Have you started using it? Let us know your thoughts.
While the selection of titles at Bookish is small compared to other platforms and it’s perhaps less effective to build an online library or get accurate recommendations, it offers very nice thematic lists, blogs andfeatures, and its small size can make it less overwhelming than bigger networks. When it comes to buying, it offers its own shop for paperbacks, and also links to the main ebook stores.
Scrolling down in this endless sea of book covers is a visual treat, but when you try to tailor the choice by genre the number of covers is very much reduced. Dig a little deeper and you quickly discover that their collection is rather limited. On the plus side, the site offers the opportunity to get free samples (the first 10% of each title) and links to buy ebooks.
Created by the Facebook marketing platform Odyl, Riffle has been described as a Pinterest for book discovery. It works in a similar way to Goodreads but is much more visual with much less noise. Recommendations are based not only on your favourite past reads, but also on reviews from your friends and other key users, such as authors, publishers or expert readers, who you are encouraged to follow from the very beginning – you are actually forced to follow four other readers when you sign up. It also allows users to create thematic lists very simply. Here’s an example of a Riffle profile.
This is a nice contrast: all this site does is simply ask you to type a book you’ve enjoyed, and it then offers a list of similar suggestions. You can also browse the results by subject. It’s as straightforward as they come and doesn’t require you to sign up – something of a relief compared to sites that make you jump through all sorts of hoops before you get to any recommendations. But if you’re after anything more than a title and a few keywords, then you’re better off elsewhere.
Now this has a completely different approach, which you might find ridiculous or a stroke of genius – depending on your mood, perhaps. Whichbook classifies titles by feelings or states of mind. Move the sliders from “happy” to “sad” or from “safe” to “disturbing” and Whichbook generates a list of best matches. If you can’t decide where you sit on the scale between “no sex” and “lots of sex” or “beautiful” and “disgusting”, then there are also curated lists ranging from “Short and sweet” to “Laugh your pants off”. A quick search for something “down to Earth”, “serious”, “unpredictable” and “demanding” came up with CE Morgan’s All the living as top result. Make of that what you will.