A year ago I rounded up a fairly big list of bookish social networks. I’ve since tried a number of them (as the list has grown to something like 40 bookish competitors) and was pretty hyped up about Google Book Search until their embeddable book clippings started breaking and I realized their full-text search only covers a small percentage of the books I’m interested in searching.
This week, at long last, LibraryThing won me over with:
LibraryThing Local: This is what led me to click ‘register’ and apparently I’m not alone. LibraryThing Local aggregates and maps user-submitted book-related places and events and allows you to keep track of your favorite book spots. So LibraryThing not only makes it easy to bump into book enthusiasts online but also makes it easy to bump into them at your favorite bookstores. I’ve been waiting for this since 2003, when I attempted a one-man New York version in the form of Bookcircuit. Books + community go together. But clearly the user-submitted path is the only way to make this scale.
Selection: Most book-focused social networks get their book data exclusively from Amazon’s ASIN database, which is basically a clone of the International Standard Book Number system. The ISBN system was introduced just over 40 years ago and there are plenty of books out there that aren’t in it. If you happen to be into old, rare or weird books, chances are you own some. LibraryThing goes beyond Amazon to tap into 255 library databases from around the world. Go ahead and try to find a book that isn’t in one of these databases.
Member-uploaded covers: Book covers, I like them. I buy old editions of books I’ve read for the covers, and seek out cover designers. When you add books to your library on LibraryThing, you get to choose the cover. Members have uploaded a lot of interesting ones that you might not have seen. If you can’t bear to look at the modern editions of old books, LibraryThing is your bookish social network.
Book collection comparisons: As you start adding books to your library, you’ll see a box on your profile called “Members with your books.” Prepare to be amazed at the number of LibraryThing members who share your unique taste. They’ll lead you to new books. Compare this experience to that of GoodReads, which has been growing fast and is by some measures the dominant bookish social network at the moment. GoodReads is focused on book recommendations from friends, and while you’re more likely to listen to people you know, there are undoubtedly people out there who you don’t yet know who could teach you something. Try stepping outside your social graph sometime : )
Community: All the true book freaks are on LibraryThing: the booksellers and librarians, collectors and hoarders (and writers—a lot of authors are members and you’re alerted when you add their books). If this appeals to you, LibraryThing is the right place for you. But besides the level of bookishness on display on LibraryThing, there is a real community feel to the site that is largely a result of the tone set by founder Tim Spalding and his team. New features are continually rolled out, blogged openly and chewed over in depth. And while I tend to be partial to the 37signals school of simplicity, this is an area where you want rich functionality and customization. LibraryThing’s got it.
And sure, it’s not as pretty as some of the other bookish social networks but guess what? You’re invited to help out with that, too.