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Why Goodreads is no longer the website it set out to be

Humans are creatures that like to stick together. We enjoy finding tribes who agree with us, individuals who think in a similar manner. Living in an uncertain world, discovering those shared connections and beliefs provides a degree of security. The absence of this has been most notable during the pandemic.

However, some of the best (and worst) forms of social connection never took place in person. Long before anyone had heard of Covid-19, groups were forming online that allowed people united by an interest across the globe to connect, discuss and engage with one another. A prime such example of this was Goodreads, a website every bookworm, regardless of their opinion of the platform, will have heard of. 

Founded in 2006, Goodreads allows its users to find and review different books for their amusements. Like Facebook, individuals can follow authors, make friends and have books recommended to them. By December 2007, over 10 million books had been added. Tens of millions of members across the world have joined. An annual choice awards even takes place towards the conclusion of every year, where individuals can nominate their favourite fiction, non-fiction and fantasy books, among other categories. 

What a shame then that the app provides little satisfaction. The prime flaw, in my view, is the eternal spam of irrelevant content

The website is one of great influence. It is understandable why Amazon eventually purchased Goodreads in 2013, for there is no other competitor within this field. The fact a website would run such a choice awards which receives millions of votes each year demonstrates its clout within the literary world. When I joined a book club at my sixth form college, getting a Goodreads account was the norm among members.

What a shame then that the app provides little satisfaction. The prime flaw, in my view, is the eternal spam of irrelevant content. Whenever the app is opened, over 50 new notifications will be there. Usually, these have little to do with my personal interests. Goodreads forgets that using their app is only a tiny part of someone’s life; they are unlikely to dedicate hours every day. The time, if users also want to take part in reading, simply isn’t there.

Everyone likes receiving new recommendations. Whether from reading a review in a newspaper, word of mouth or stumbling across an advert, learning about a new cultural item that will provide a brilliant level of entertainment and education is always a pleasure. However, to be effective, the books must often relate to what humans already enjoy. Again, Goodreads fails in this aspect. Books recommended on the home page – which is no pleasure to navigate – are often from completely different genres. An individual would have to search for hours to find anything that is likely to provide interest to them.  

Goodreads has failed in its number one mission to unite readers and create discussion

I think Goodreads is used less as a social media hub but more for an individual purpose. In this sense, Goodreads has failed in its number one mission to unite readers and create discussion. While reviews are left on books, these are often insular. Only the most provocative will spark any debate, which could easily descend into nasty, personal anger. Instead, I mainly use Goodreads for monitoring my reads and logging my reading challenge. There is no consequence if I fail in my feat to read 60 books every year. But it does offer a motivation and reason to try and read often. Indeed, looking back at old reading challenges provides a dose of nostalgia. 

Goodreads is invariably affected by its ownership. Since Amazon has control, it means they will want certain books to feature more highly. After all, Amazon started out as a bookseller before expanding into every other consumerist desire. Its initially niche appeal has been commercialised and taken over any competition. Goodreads is allowed to have a monopoly on book reviewing; any other competition, that may try to avert the website’s flaws, may as well not bother.

That being said, despite being an extremely flawed website, I can appreciate its original owners for their concept. The idea of uniting book readers together and allowing people to find out about hidden literary gems is wonderful and should be celebrated – how sad that the reality has been so different. A confusing, irritating website, selective book recommendations, numerous notifications that only induce wearisome. While the best books become timeless classics, Goodreads has long past its sell-by date.

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