Shelfari logo

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I first became aware of Shelfari when they announced their integration with Amazon, so I decided to give it a try and ended up spending quite a lot of time with it.

Backing up a step – what is Shelfari?  Basically it’s a social network based around the books you read, like Goodreads or LibraryThing.  In 2008 Shelfari was bought by Amazon, but nothing much seemed to happen until recently when they announced the integration.  Basically now you can log into Shelfari using your Amazon login and fill your “shelf” (the list of books you’ve read) with your purchases at Amazon.  This is nice, but Goodreads has imports too.  There’s also a wishlist import hidden away1 (quite a lot of functionality is hidden), but it seems to be broken at the moment.

Visually Shelfari is a bit nicer than Goodreads, but it seems a bit weaker when it comes to discovery.  All books on Shelfari seem to be rated highly, even terrible ones.  Also I kind of expected it to do clever recommendation based on what books I own, what rating I gave those books and what people similar to me rated highly, but it doesn’t.  Amazon has some clever recommendation stuff but it doesn’t seem to have been integrated with Shelfari (yet?).

Shelfari has an unusually manual method of helping you decide whether or not to read a book – it lets you send a message to those of your friends who have read the book or to the whole community.  I’ve grown used to the algorithmic recommendations favored by Amazon and Google for its scalability – the “ask a human” approach seems foreign to me now.

One way that Shelfari is better than Goodreads is the shelf – it shows a graphical bookshelf with your book covers on it instead of just a list of book titles.  Where it really excels is that you can choose which edition of the book you have, so the cover matches.  I’ve always found it very annoying to look at a book I own in Goodreads or Google Books and not recognize it because they’re showing a different cover. This especially affects Terry Pratchett’s books, since the UK covers are so beautiful and the US covers are so horrible.

You can also create a widget to put on your website to display your shelf, like so:

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog

Another benefit of Amazon owning Shelfari is that the Public Notes people make on the Kindle are visible on Shelfari, and the information people put into Shelfari is visible on the Kindle.  Shelfari acts a bit like a wiki for books, which is presumably needed because publishers don’t give out as much detailed information about their books as people want.  So if you want a synopsis, summary, list of characters, quotes, settings & locations, organizations, first sentence, table of contents, glossary, themes & symbolism, series & lists, authors & contributors, editions, awards, classification, reading level, supplemental material, movie connections etc. or you want to edit any of this information for a book, Shelfari is the place to be.  I suppose all that information could be useful when you’re trying to decide whether you want to read a book or not, but mostly I think it’s useful if you’re writing a book report.

Shelfari also has a page of reading stats – how many books you’ve read per year, what kinds of books etc.  Strictly speaking not vital information, but since the data is there why not graph it.

Finally, Shelfari has discussion groups based on genre, specific authors, cities and a lot more things.  I don’t really have a lot of time to spend in the groups, but I can see that it could be fun if you wanted to discuss a book you just read or were considering reading or the state of Steampunk or whatever.

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  1. From your Shelfari home page (click the green Home tab), there is a Your Shelf drop down menu with a link to “import books”.  On the Import Books page is the option to enter your Amazon email address to import books on your wishlist. []