I love books. As Elizabeth Scott once famously quipped, “I like that the moment you open one and sink into it you can escape from the world, into a story that’s way more interesting than yours will ever be.” Books are my best friends; they keep me entertained and encouraged. Whenever I feel depressed or need a shoulder to lean on, I turn back to a book, be it Jonathan Livingston Seagull or Goblet of Fire. iPad has evolved into a powerful, mobile library over the years, thanks in large to iBooks.
I can’t imagine how I’d survive my long and tedious ride to my office without my iPad, but the problem is finding the right book. We often rely on critics like the New York Times, who heavily rely on sales numbers to measure a book’s quality, to find our next book. But, more often than not, we walk away disappointed. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to listen to your like-minded friends rather than a complete stranger? That’s what GoodReads is all about.
What is GoodReads
GoodReads is a thriving web-based Social network for books. It uses an engine that analyzes you and your friends’ reading patterns to recommend books that you are most likely to enjoy. Simply put, what Netflix does for movies, GoodReads does for books, without actually letting you read all of the books they recommend. With their recently acquired book recommendation engine, GoodReads promises to help you discover your next book.
How does it work?
Imagine yourself wandering around a huge Library on your own without any idea on which book to read. It you’re anything like me, you’ll probably find the Librarian and have him pick a good book for you from your favorite category. If you’re lucky enough, you might strike up a conversation about books you like, and discover more books that you’d like to read.
Likewise, once you login to GoodReads, you can search for your favorite books and rate them. Based on your likes (and dislikes) GoodReads then magically conjures up a reading list for you. With closely coupled Facebook integration, you can now follow what your other friends are reading anytime. You’ll have to rate 20 books before you start getting recommendations, but it shouldn’t be too hard to think of 20 books you like if you’re a heavy reader.
As the name suggests, a bookshelf is a personalized bookshelf where you can add the books you’ve read, reading and planning to read. This is a pretty cool feature and helps you track the books you’ve read over the years. Once you add a book to your shelf, you can simply rate the book with just a mouse click.
Another important thing to note is, every book has a personalized discussion thread where you can connect with fellow readers. One cool feature which took me by surprise was when you rate a book which is not in your shelf, it is automatically marked as read and placed in your shelf.
Getting a Recommendation list on your iPad is a bit tricky. You have to jump into the Explore section, where GoodReads shows the most popular reading lists available as well as the genres. When you jump into a specific Genre, it seems to be more interested in showing the books that you’ve already read first, followed by the list of suggestions.
It’s surprising that the reading world is quite small. Hardly 20% of my friends are avid readers. Lucky for me, most of my best friends are into it and it’d be fun to explore their reading list and see what they’re up to. GR has a wonderful way of updating you with all their activities. Frankly I can’t think of a better way to show off my reading prowess to the outside world. As an added bonus for Facebook Timeline fans, all your progress can be added to your timeline.
Bar code Scanner
Not to brag, but I’m a heavy reader; I buy more than a dozen books every month. After a while it becomes tedious to keep adding each of these individually. GoodReads’s iPad app is shipped with an intuitive bar code scanner to scan the ISBN of your book and add it to your library. This can also serve as an excellent platform to discover new books. Just pick a random book from the shelf and scan its ISBN to learn more about it. If you don’t like the reviews, you can always put it back.
If you ever run out of books to read, just tap into the eBooks section and download a few books. They have plenty of free books and lots of fan fiction worth checking out. Once you click on Read Now, the book is downloaded and you can carry it with you anytime. One interesting thing to note is that these books load in an internal book reader that comes along with the app. The reading experience isn’t that great when compared to iBooks or Kindle, especially for huge books.
GoodReads might not score marks for being the prettiest app, but it does top my list when it comes to usability. The home screen presents itself with a wide variety of options for you to choose from, with a neat Search button on top. Once you click on something, it takes you to the respective pages, as expected.
An interesting approach I’ve seen here is that all the important menus come with you on all the pages, residing neatly at the bottom of the screen, making navigation through pages a lot easier. Search in particular is absolute bliss. You can either search directly from the home screen or click the small lens icon at the bottom to get started. Other features like viewing updates from Friends, adding books to your shelf and updating your progress work like a charm. But if you’re trying to post a general status update, you’re in for a big ride. You’ve to get to the home screen, then view your profile and then post the update. It could be a small hiccup for most but, considering this is a social network, I feel they applied more emphasis on this area.
Their web application has a fun reading contest going on. It allows you to challenge yourself to read a certain number of books by the end of the year and monitors your progress. Surprisingly, that is missing from their iPad app, and we’re not even able to update the book completion date from here. Honestly, I’m a bit disappointed and I’ve stopped using the iPad app to post my book updates.
The iPad is my primary choice for reading, irrespective of this wonderfully written post by my fellow author Jorge. The iPad’s reading power lies within iBooks. Unfortunately, GoodReads failed to capitalize on this. They don’t seem to recognize the books that you’ve synced using iTunes. It would’ve been awesome if GR read my library automatically, put those books in the To Read shelf, and tracked the progress when you opened a book.
Another major setback is the built-in eBooks reader. Although it’s decent for small books, it gets weary as the pages grow and does spoil your experience. With iBooks and Adobe reader integrated very well with the ecosystem, it makes little sense to me to build another ebook reader out of the box.
GoodReads is a great service, and I absolutely love it. But their iPad app is a bit of a disappointment for me. It looked promising on paper, but it lacks several features that makes their web app so special. Then again, this is the first version and hopefully things will get a little better with the upcoming releases.
How was your experience with GoodReads? Are you a Shelfari fan? Do join us in the discussions below and let us know about your thoughts. Thanks for reading!