Friday, January 11, 2008

Library/Networking Sites Comparison

In search of the ideal cataloguing website for my personal library, I have been using, for the past several weeks, three different services: Goodreads, Shelfari and most recently, LibraryThing. I offer a brief analysis and the pros and cons (according to my opinion) of each service. Feel free to chime in about the service(s) you like and why!


*My list of features for each service is in no way exhaustive. I simply point out a few really good or bad features. And because a feature is listed under one service does not make it exclusive to that service unless stated.


  • Multiple options for viewing
  • use of simple icons in list view to access information
  • generally good layout/layout options
PRICE: 4/5
  • You can upload 200 books for free, but then can buy a yearly subscription at $10 or a "lifetime" which is really more of a suggested donation, $25 is typical. Given the lack of ads and useability, I can't really complain.
  • Uploaded list easily (took awhile, but that was ok--especially since they give you an approximate timeframe...and they use a queue, so you can go do other stuff while you wait)
  • Ability to do "half" stars
  • Can report your handle/username for other networks/resources such as BookCrossing, LiveJournal, Blogger, etc. Other library sites (like GoodReads and Shelfari) are noticeably absent, however.
  • Will work with a barcode reader (available for purchase)
  • options for including date purchased, started, and completed
  • option to include BCID #
  • Indicates how many users/reviews for each book
  • "tagging" operation not ideal as pre-existing tags not listed, nor are your own tags readily accessible
  • tag clouds available for viewing, however and author clouds!!
  • blog, social networking widgets available

  • While they have made some improvements, the server is often slow or non-functioning.
  • The new "shelf" layout is cute and pretty user-friendly. The overlaid menus are ok, but don't always work that well (I'm using Mac/Firefox). There need to be more options immediately available when you put your cursor over a given book.
  • Other problem...a lot of less popular titles don't show up on Shelfari...even when using ISBNs (whereas they show up at GoodReads or LibraryThing). I'm assuming this means Shelfari doesn't have access to as many databases.
  • Tried to import a list of books. Said the import was successful and was "processing." Maybe I didn't wait long enough (an hour??!), but there should be some indication of how long processing will take.
PRICE: 5/5
  • Free, can't beat that.

  • Cute "shelf" design
  • Shelves for Reading, To Read, Own, Favorites, Wish List
  • Tells you other users who have the book
  • Indicates groups who have the book
  • Will let you customize your copy of the book, including spaces to say if it is signed, loaned out, etc
  • while tagging involves a separate operation, they do provide a list of the tags you've used from which you can select


  • Attractive and minimalist
  • Self-explanatory, and easy editing features
  • good server speed
PRICE: 5/5
  • Free
  • tags, but calls them "shelves" which then become part of a drop-down menu for easy cataloging
  • recommendation feature
  • easy export (haven't tested import, but I used my GoodReads created file to import into LibraryThing
  • good customized widgets
  • book data almost as good as LibraryThing


If I had to pick "the best," I'd probably go with LibraryThing. GoodReads comes in at a close second, but Shelfari trails behind. I know Shelfari is looking to make constant improvements, so I will stick around and I applaud their efforts (they are a smaller operation, unlike LT, which has shares owned by companies such as AbeBooks, etc).

4/13/08 UPDATE:
For further reading check out Ray Sims' comparison of Shelfari and LibraryThing here.

EDITED 1/15 to strikethrough inaccurate statement (see comments).


GoodThing said...

If I recall correctly, I think Amazon has sunk over $1 million into Shelfari. A poor product, imho.

GoodReads and LibraryThing have the most attractive interfaces (I don't like the loud 'cutesy' but inflexible shelves on Shelfari) but they're subtly different. GoodReads is more of 'what-am-I-reading-now' shortlist of books (and the display reflects that) while LibraryThing is more of a library-style catalogue of your entire book collection.

In terms of data and data manipulability, LibraryThing is probably the most feature-rich of the three sites. GoodReads is more snazzy and less obsessively bookish about books. So both appeal to slightly different 'types' of book lovers I feel. If you're a bibliophile who cares obsessively about detail, editions, obscure books, similar libraries, similar literary interests - LT wins by a country mile. If you're more of a 'what are my friends reading at the moment' person - then GoodReads is the way to go.

I've never understood the appeal of Shelfari, which seems less about the love of books than the love of hype.

Rebecca said...

Excellent analysis, GT, and thanks for your comment. The shelves on Shelfari are slightly better than what they had before, but I agree: not at all flexible.

I guess since I am a bibliophile who cares obsessively about detail, editions, similar libraries and literary interests AND what my friends are reading at the moment...I'll continue to use both LT and GR. :-)

Tim said...

Hey, the LibraryThing guy here, Tim Spalding. I hope you don't mind me dropping a reaction. I liked reading this. It's hard to see things as other people see them. For what it's worth, I agree. Of course, I prefer my own site, but GoodReads is not bad--not bad at all. They have a slightly different focus--less data, more social--but we overlap a lot and they're no fools. So, until one of us convinces you by getting a lot better, I'm glad you're using both. Shelfari? I feel differently.

A few quick points?

*"[Shelfari is] a smaller operation, unlike LT, which has shares owned by companies such as AbeBooks, etc."

As the comment said, Shelfari is Amazon funded! They also got a slew of employee, admitedly, many are in "Marketing." LT is 40% Abebooks, 60% me. Seven employees, no marketing, two librarians :)

*I'm interested that you saw a difference between finding things on GoodReads and Shelfari. In theory, they should be the same. Both use Amazon as their only source, whereas LibraryThing provides 200 libraries around the world too (eg., the LC, the British Library, etc.). I think, however, that GoodReads searches its own manual-entry books together with Amazon. So that might explain it.

Rebecca said...

GoodThing and Tim, thanks for the information about Shelfari's Amazon funding. I'm floored. You'd think that the interface would be much better.

As for searching Shelfari, all I know is that I have not been able to find a few books, even using ISBN #s, that I was able to locate on GoodReads. The frequency of this occurring has seemed to lessen as Shelfari gets bigger.

Another point for LibraryThing (thanks for visiting, Tim!!) is the ease with which one can change covers. Shelfari has a bug where sometimes the cover does not match the edition you picked. It does allow you to change covers, but it is a hassle when you thought you picked the right one in the first place.

I keep up Shelfari which has a few friends on it, but really, I'm pretty much sold on LibraryThing. I use GoodReads for all the books I've ever read, and LibraryThing for the books I own (pace GoodThing's comment).

Sherry said...

I am really interested in your comments here. I've never looked at either Librarything or GoodReads, and I've sunk days of effort in Shelfari, so I doubt I'll be jumping ship. Still, I'll probably look at the other sites. I'm just happy t connect with other readers, and have a safe place off site to keep my lists of books read, and wished for.

Rebecca said...

Hi Sherry!

Thanks for your comment. Yeah, I also sunk quite a bit of time into Shelfari (although not as much as you),and I hate to stop using it. I think the easiest thing to do for me would just create a file which I can import to all three. Did you have any problems with the Shelfari importer?

Matthew Cornell said...

Thanks very much for the analysis, Rebecca. I should probably be using something like this...

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

Thanks Rebecca, I really needed a post like this. I've got accounts with all that you've mentioned but haven't added any books yet. I haven't found the time to play around and see which ones I really like. One day, I hope to get on board though.