10 August 2008

aNobii vs GoodReads

I've recently signed up to two book-listing, social-networking, web-2.0 sites, aNobii and GoodReads. The fundamental idea is shared by the two: you list and rate your books, then hook up with friends and fellow readers. Thoughts:

  • GoodReads is quite English-oriented; despite being able to distinguish between languages, the amount of non-English books is quite small. aNobii's catalogue is much better, possibly because it's the biggest player and so it attracts a larger crowd. This is more or less why I switched from GR to aN: several books that I had to manually add to GR were already in aN, and my friends were also there already. As it turns out, this is just due to the specific audience: aNobii's population is overwhelmingly Italian, so Italian books are easier to find there because they have already been added.
  • Adding a book to your list is fairly easy in both systems, but aN has several different interfaces so it feels somehow more adaptable to your own style. However, if the book is not listed or you want to edit details for an existing book, it's a pain in the neck to do it in aN, whereas it's much more easy to do in GR.
  • Annoyingly, if you mass-import lists of books, both sites aNobii won't tell you which ones failed to be added, so finding them becomes a game of patience. I know there are at least 5 books which are now in my GR account but aN failed to identify. aN also has a webpage-scraping feature that fails miserably on GR's pages. GR will report the failed books, as long as you supply the books' titles in the uploaded file -- if you only send ISBNs, it will not tell you which ones failed.
  • Consistency in metadata is clearly a challenge for both. aN annoyingly differentiates between title and "subtitle", so "serial" books end up all over the place. For example, "Batman: The Killing Joke" (which is a self-contained graphic novel) could (and does) end up as "Batman"/"The Killing Joke", "The Killing Joke"/"Batman vol.XYZ", or "Batman: The Killing Joke"/"vol. XYZ" (and obviously "Vol.X", "vol. X", "Volume X"...). Since in several UI screens only the title is displayed, it can become difficult to differentiate (I have several "Batman" listed, but which is "The Killing Joke" and which is "The Dark Knight Returns"?). GR doesn't feature this split, so it's easier for users to self-enforce consistency, somehow. This said, GR encourages you to add random details in parentheses appended to the end of the title, for example the particular imprint (e.g. "Il Fu Mattia Pascal (Classici Moderni)"), or version, or what you feel like mentioning, so it also adds an unnecessary random element.
  • GR's metadata includes binding, but it's an arbitrary and case-sensitive field, so you can have "hardcover", "Hardcover" and "Hard Cover" as three different modes. It would be much more useful to have a pre-populated listbox with the most common values, plus an "Other" option that will allow you to enter an arbitrary value.
  • GR's rating is 6-levels deep (from 0 stars to 5), aN's is only 4-levels (from 1 to 4 stars).
  • They both allow you to tag books with arbitrary words. In GR, tagging (or "shelving") is everything: it's what you do to distinguish "read" from "unread", for example; there is no mass-tagging feature yet, which is annoying, but it's faster to tag a single book from the master ("your shelf") view than it is in aN. Vice-versa, aN is much better when you want to tag several books at once, but a bit laborious if you want to tag a book from the master view (you have to go in "book view" first). Also, you can see aN was not built on tags like GR, it's clearly a feature which was added later in the application life.
  • aN has loads of features to define how you got hold of the book (even listing shops and libraries), and has an in-built lending/trading exchange, whereas GR only has a generic checkbox to mark the book as "I'd be willing to send/swap".
  • Both allow you to review books. Somehow it feels a more central concept in GR, whereas in aN you are pushed to define when/how you read the book rather than reviewing it.
  • The "social" features are a bit different. In both you have groups and friends, but aN also has (presumably American) "Neighbors", which is an euphemism for "stalked": people you don't know but you want to track anyway. The social aspect seems really more "inbuilt" in aN, which will show your "compatibility level" with friends and try to match you with people with similar shelves.
  • GR gives more relevance to authors, who can have their own page (and presumably some extra features). Just to name one, Neil Gaiman uses GoodReads.
  • Both have some sort of facility for bloggers. aNobii lets you use your Amazon associate ID, which is nice; however it's up to you to do all the CSS magic to integrate the widget with the look&feel of the blog.
  • aNobii is broken in Konqueror. GoodReads doesn't officially support Konqueror, but it works nonetheless (probably because they tested it in Safari, which is very similar).
  • aNobii's API is ridiculously useless, it doesn't even return ISBNs. GoodReads' API is much better, easier to work with and more complete.
  • All in all, GR seems to be more about listing and tagging your books, whereas aN is more about matching you with people with similar books/tastes/favourite bookshop.
So hum, there is no clear winner. aN looks slightly more feature-rich than GR, but GR feels more "open" than aN. Currently, my profile on GoodReads is less complete than my page on aNobii, but I'll try to keep them synchronized as much as possible. I've abandoned aNobii, mainly because it's a dead-end: it's very difficult to get any info out of it, the API is just a joke, and feeds are incomplete.

5 comments:

Giulio Piancastelli said...

re social, what about the aNobii forum? Is there something similar on GR?

GiacomoL said...

Mor or less the same as aNobii (group-based forums), plus in GR you also have a facebook-like "wall" for each author.

GiacomoL said...

A few bits that I've noticed as seriously broken on aNobii: the googlemap widget to advise you on nearby bookshops, which insists in placing me somewhere in the Peak District or in Scotland; and "people with similar tastes" only includes profiles I've already visited.

GiacomoL said...

Oh, and the php-based infrastructure of aNobii really looks hacked, at times (all those ugly URLs), and slow. GR seems a bit more coherent and faster, even though the actual GUI is much less polished.

Giulio Piancastelli said...

I definitely second the hacking smell. Have you tried the aNobii search facility? That's another "not exactly working" thing. From time to time, it even logs me out of the system.