Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Organizing Tool: Shelfari

Drum roll please! Here it is! A long-overdue post reviewing the online organizing/sharing book site cleverly called Shelfari.

I'd been looking for a site like this after finding a similar app/website for DVD collections (which I've decided to review in a separate post, so I can go into depth the way I want to) called DVD profiler. Most of the book oriented apps/programs were ok but had some major flaws. While Shelfari is far from perfect, it's the best one I've been able to find so far. Plus, it's in beta so they are still actively developing it to improve the features. (That's also a downside since you're going to get all the bugs associated with a beta project). Now, let me jump right in to the review . . .

Features I Like

Here's an overview of some of what I consider the more valuable features . . .

  1. Tags
    Ok, if you have a site like that and DON'T integrate tagging, you're just asking for failure. Not having tags in this day in age is like being without teased hair in the 80's! I really like this because it allows you to put books into multiple categories. I know I've always had a hard time sorting books into just one category in the past because many books have more than just one thing going on that you might want to reference them by. Plus, you can make your own categories. Plus, if you are a fan of a particular genre, you can see what other people are tagging with this category. Unfortunately, for the time being, actually tagging all your books is time-consuming with a bit of a clunky and inelegant interface. Hopefully, that will improve over time though. I submitted feedback about this and got a reply that it was something they were working on.

  2. Reviews and Discussions
    This feature I think is great for it's potential, and not necessarily what is actively happening. You can read Amazon reviews as well as reviews from other Shelfari users. You can also submit a review from a book. Then there's the separate option to start a discussion on a book. So far, it doesn't seem as though people are really using this option to its full potential since it could form the basis for an ongoing book-club type of meeting place. This is something that I might try to explore a bit more in the future by starting some discussions about the books I'm reading.

  3. Blogging and Bucks
    Another cool feature they've integrated, is they allow people to create a widget to add to their blog so that they can share part of, or all of the books on their shelf. Not only does this allow you to share what you're reading with people who visit your blog, but it also allows people who affiliate with Amazon another way to earn some revenue. It's actually made me consider being an Amazon affiliate, because this seems an easy way to potentially earn some revenue without subjecting my readers to advertising. You'll probably be seeing this little widget sooner or later on my blog. I don't want to put it up quite yet since I don't have enough of our books entered on Shelfari yet. Plus, I'd like to go through and have some tags up there first too.

Now I'd like to show you a bit of what Shelfari looks like . . .

This is your homepage. One of the things I find kind of frustrating right now is that not all of the books we own have the cover art uploaded. It looks really cool when they all have the appropriate covers on because it's like looking at a book display. I'm also finding it difficult to find the same edition that I have. You can add your own edition to their list, but chances are you won't have any cover art for it. Hopefully more cover art will get added as the service expands. As it stands right now, you can't scan in your own cover art either.

This is how you build your bookshelf. I have several issues with their interface. You can search by several different factors: ISBN (what I use most frequently), title, author, or subject. But, you can't combine any of these into a more advanced search. So, if you don't get it by ISBN and enter author name, you could get tonnes of search pages that you need to click through to find your book. Plus, one of the things I've found is that the same book could have multiple publishing companies, binding types, etc. But, as it stands right now, you can't search by any of these methods. I've found that my particular edition isn't often found, so I have to add it. But you usually don't have any cover art associated with it then. I'm really hoping they improve this feature soon. It'd be really nice to search for a bunch of books at once too. I've gotten quite a few uploaded, but I'm not even through one bookcase and we have four (not to mention a few boxes of books still). This project may take me years, especially with all the tagging aspects of it. But, I still think it's worth it.

Once you've added a book to your shelf, there is no way to immediately tag the book at the same time. You have to go to your shelf, view the book details and add tags from there. Then go back to your shelf and start building to get the next book. In my opinion it takes way too many clicks. It'd be really nice if once you clicked the button to add a book to your shelf, a box would appear for you to enter the tags quickly, without ever really leaving the search/build screen. Hopefully they are also working to improve upon this feature.

When you are looking at the books on your shelf, passing your mouse over one will bring up a menu for actions for that book. Here you can add tags, assign books to lists (top 10, reading, or wish list), start a discussion, or read reviews. You can also see if a book has any activity surrounding it, either a discussion or some opinions on it. Unfortunately, the menus sometimes stick open making it difficult to navigate around the site or get to the book menu you want.

Now, as you can see, it still has a long way to go before being a truly awesome site. However, there are a few important reasons why I'm toughing through the early stages and getting my collection input on the site.

  • I'm really hoping the discussion aspect of the site will open up once people start using it like an online book group. I want to join a book group, but it's too difficult logistically to get everyone to meet regularly, not to mention the time constraints and differing opinions on what everyone should read. This may be a way of connecting with people who are reading what I am and discussion different aspects of literature with them.

  • I want people to see the kind of books I'm interested in. If I have a book that one of my friends wants to borrow then they'll be able to find out and ask for it. Shelfari also has a feature that allows you to 'lend out' books on the site. Basically you can track which books you've loaned out and which ones you actually have at home. Also, if people see what I'm interested in, they may get ideas of books to recommend to me.

  • I'm very paranoid and obsessive compulsive about lists. But this serves a practical function too. Imagine you are one of the people who had their house burn down. There were several I heard about this year alone. Yes, you'd be worried about your immediate necessities first, but wouldn't it be nice to be able to have a list of all the books you had, so you could replace some of them at least? This makes it ultra simple, as you'd only have to log on and place an order from Amazon.

Well, I think this post has been long enough. If you've made it to the end, thanks for sticking around. If you decide to try out Shelfari, or already are on board with it or another book organizing program, leave a message in the comments.


Kim said...

Hmmm, very interesting site. I may start using it in the future, but right now all the inputting of books (particularly with large collections like yours and mine) sounds a little too much like work for me!

Jenn said...

Yeah, I'm inputting slowly, one stack of books at a time. It's the tagging part that I'm kinda dreading. But, data entry stuff like this I find oddly therapeutic at times. I guess that might be why I like lists so much.