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WEB REVIEW: Goodreads helps readers find their next favorite novel

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Jim Cota

As people head out for spring break and summer vacations wait around the corner, questions about reading material abound. Everyone, it seems, is looking for trusted sources to help them find the next great thing to put on their e-reader or in their travel bag.

There are several ways to do this, of course. Amazon (www.amazon.com) has a deep review system that seems to have information on nearly everything ever published. Other book sellers offer similar services on their websites.

But while the information is there, the problem is knowing whom to trust. Even reviews that aren’t anonymous afford only a small degree of comfort in the opinions. The issue is that we don’t have a context we can use to appreciate the point of view of the reviewer. This is precisely why word-of-mouth is the most reliable way to find your next favorite book to read.

Problem is, you can’t be certain anyone will have the time or availability to discuss these things when you’re ready for a recommendation. Which is exactly what Goodreads (www.goodreads.com) is trying to fix.

Goodreads is an online community for people who love to read. It compiles the ratings and reviews from users everywhere and has a powerful ‘recommendation engine’ that will help you find new things to read.

The recommendation engine is awesome. When you add a book to your shelf, you give it a rating and can write a review or add comments. Each time you rate a book positively, the site provides a short list of others you’re likely to enjoy based on this data. I found it to be pretty accurate: When I rated “The Killing Floor” by Lee Child, Goodreads suggested “Point of Impact” by Stephen Hunter, a book I had previously read and liked as well. Other recommendations felt similarly useful.

In some cases, Goodreads will recommend books you’ve already read. One click adds these to your shelf and improves the next recommendations. You can also identify books you’d like to read by adding the “To Read” label.

Once you’ve rated enough books, the engine begins offering suggestions in the form of a personal recommendation list, sorted by genre. The list presents five books at a time from each genre with a link to get more. When you hover over a particular recommendation, you’ll learn why it was selected, see a brief synopsis, and get some additional stats to help you decide if you’re interested.

The only drawback I experienced was an uneasy feeling that it might be promoting some books based on a marketing arrangement, but these seemed fairly obvious and easy to remove from the other, more useful suggestions.

One of the interesting features of the “Explore” area of the site is the trending statistics. With these, you can see which books are currently popular and are receiving the most activity—an interesting way to see emerging hits before they completely break out. 

All these features, while nice, don’t really seem to separate Goodreads from the competition. That’s where the social aspect of the site comes into play.

At its heart, Goodreads is a social network, providing you tools to connect with your book-loving friends by giving you the opportunity to integrate with your e-mail, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Once you have them connected, Goodreads helps you find your friends who are also using Goodreads. Connecting with them is a simple, one-click procedure. 

The real benefit to this is being able to supplement the site’s recommendation engine with the opinions of people you know and trust. So instead of just seeing statistics on what the general public thinks of a book, you can see what your friends think. For example, while I may agree or disagree with a friend’s claim that “The Godfather” is one of the best five books ever written, I understand the context and can use this to help make better decisions about what he recommends.

And just like a recommendation for a plumber, these personal opinions are far more valuable.•

__________

Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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  • Goodreads CEO
    "The only drawback I experienced was an uneasy feeling that it might be promoting some books based on a marketing arrangement, but these seemed fairly obvious and easy to remove from the other, more useful suggestions."

    We make sure to clearly mark all advertising. Curious what gave you this impression?

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  1. Cramer agrees...says don't buy it and sell it if you own it! Their "pay to play" cost is this issue. As long as they charge customers, they never will attain the critical mass needed to be a successful on company...Jim Cramer quote.

  2. My responses to some of the comments would include the following: 1. Our offer which included the forgiveness of debt (this is an immediate forgiveness and is not "spread over many years")represents debt that due to a reduction of interest rates in the economy arguably represents consideration together with the cash component of our offer that exceeds the $2.1 million apparently offered by another party. 2. The previous $2.1 million cash offer that was turned down by the CRC would have netted the CRC substantially less than $2.1 million. As a result even in hindsight the CRC was wise in turning down that offer. 3. With regard to "concerned Carmelite's" discussion of the previous financing Pedcor gave up $16.5 million in City debt in addition to the conveyance of the garage (appraised at $13 million)in exchange for the $22.5 million cash and debt obligations. The local media never discussed the $16.5 million in debt that we gave up which would show that we gave $29.5 million in value for the $23.5 million. 4.Pedcor would have been much happier if Brian was still operating his Deli and only made this offer as we believe that we can redevelop the building into something that will be better for the City and City Center where both Pedcor the citizens of Carmel have a large investment. Bruce Cordingley, President, Pedcor

  3. I've been looking for news on Corner Bakery, too, but there doesn't seem to be any info out there. I prefer them over Panera and Paradise so can't wait to see where they'll be!

  4. WGN actually is two channels: 1. WGN Chicago, seen only in Chicago (and parts of Canada) - this station is one of the flagship CW affiliates. 2. WGN America - a nationwide cable channel that doesn't carry any CW programming, and doesn't have local affiliates. (In addition, as WGN is owned by Tribune, just like WTTV, WTTK, and WXIN, I can't imagine they would do anything to help WISH.) In Indianapolis, CW programming is already seen on WTTV 4 and WTTK 29, and when CBS takes over those stations' main channels, the CW will move to a sub channel, such as 4.2 or 4.3 and 29.2 or 29.3. TBS is only a cable channel these days and does not affiliate with local stations. WISH could move the MyNetwork affiliation from WNDY 23 to WISH 8, but I am beginning to think they may prefer to put together their own lineup of syndicated programming instead. While much of it would be "reruns" from broadcast or cable, that's pretty much what the MyNetwork does these days anyway. So since WISH has the choice, they may want to customize their lineup by choosing programs that they feel will garner better ratings in this market.

  5. The Pedcor debt is from the CRC paying ~$23M for the Pedcor's parking garage at City Center that is apprased at $13M. Why did we pay over the top money for a private businesses parking? What did we get out of it? Pedcor got free parking for their apartment and business tenants. Pedcor now gets another building for free that taxpayers have ~$3M tied up in. This is NOT a win win for taxpayers. It is just a win for Pedcor who contributes heavily to the Friends of Jim Brainard. The campaign reports are on the Hamilton County website. http://www2.hamiltoncounty.in.gov/publicdocs/Campaign%20Finance%20Images/defaultfiles.asp?ARG1=Campaign Finance Images&ARG2=/Brainard, Jim

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