Friday, October 4, 2013

Blogging Books

I haven’t paid much attention to technology this year, focusing instead on publishing, podcasts, and—most of all—history. I stopped because I no longer had much to say. By now, I can get around Facebook, GoodReads, Tumblr, Pinterest, even Twitter—although I’m far from mastering any of them. Since I don’t aspire to the status of social media guru, the basics seem like enough.

But this week I joined a new site, BookLikes, devoted entirely to blogging about books. So I am back to reading help files, instructions, usage policies, and FAQs while puzzling over this feature or that and wondering how best to take advantage of this new service. I’ll talk about BookLikes itself in a moment. It’s a nice site—run out of Poland, near as I can tell, and launched only in May 2013. But first, why did I join? Am I addicted to social media? Cursed with the attention span of a butterfly? A glutton for punishment?

Xü Xi, Butterfly and Wisteria (970 AD)
Source: Wikimedia Commons
This picture is in the public domain
in the United States because of its age.

None of the above (I hope—the butterfly charge sometimes seems all too apt).  The journey that led to BookLikes started on GoodReads. About two weeks ago, GoodReads announced that it had changed its terms of service to prohibit shelves, groups, and even reviews that focused primarily on authors’ behavior rather than their books. Its staff had already deleted some groups and shelves and would continue to check members’ content and remove any that violated the new terms of service. Five thousand messages and counting protested this decision and the way the staff communicated and implemented it.

This is not the place to discuss the ins and outs of the policy shift, on which I have mixed feelings. I did not join GoodReads to promote my books; at the time, I didn’t know that was possible. I joined because a fellow editor suggested it as a good place to find book recommendations. After joining, I did set up an author profile and claim my books; I have participated in giveaways and group reads, including one of my Golden Lynx; and I have joined a number of groups, taking care to read and observe the rules. I enjoy talking with readers—and with other writers, if they want to discuss books or writing rather than relentlessly promote. And on GoodReads as elsewhere, I try always to remain professional, which means never attacking or insulting anyone. So the change in GoodReads policy does not affect me personally. I will maintain my presence there even as I move (most of) my books and reviews to BookLikes.

The decision to move has less to do with GoodReads itself than with a recognition that the site may be over-saturated at this point: too many self-promoting authors, too many members in a plethora of groups too vast to track, too much corporate patronage. A small, emerging site seems worth exploring as an alternative or complement to the big, well-established one. Yes, BookLikes, if it succeeds, may one day be snapped up by a mega-corporation and develop the same problems that affect GoodReads. But that day is not yet, and if it happens, I can move on. In the meantime, I rather like the idea of being present at the beginning of something rather than jumping on midway.

So what is BookLikes? At its heart, it is a blogging site focused on books. If you have used Tumblr, you will recognize the interface. Each user who registers for a free account receives a personal site that includes a blog, which that user can use to review books, report progress on challenges, and comment on whatever s/he pleases. You can follow people (and block those who misbehave), as well as like and comment on others’ posts. You have bookshelves, which you can import from various other places, add to, and edit. You can synchronize with GoodReads, Facebook, and Twitter if you like your social media working together—or keep them separate if you don’t. You can customize your blog template and add pages to it. BookLikes verifies author, publisher, and bookseller accounts and assigns them a green checkmark that confers certain privileges. The staff seems a bit overwhelmed at the moment by a massive influx of new members, so the verification does not happen instantaneously, but that’s understandable.

The one thing that is missing so far is groups, although these are supposed to be on their way. There is a certain geeky quality to the customization, which includes editing HTML, a frightening prospect for the likes of me. Fortunately, the early adopters have written helpful tutorials, although I have yet to figure out why my custom-designed wallpaper, which looks lovely on a computer browser, moves to obscure the page list when viewed on a tablet. The import of my books, shelves, and reviews went smoothly, though, and the site is on the whole easy to use and remarkably polished for a place that has spent only five months in the public eye. You can follow me there as cplesley.

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