Tech-Savvy Readers Are Designing Their Own, Better Versions of Goodreads
The dream of a better internet for book lovers is emerging on platforms like Glitch
Last year, I lamented the poor design of Goodreads — a much-needed platform where readers can review books they’ve read and track those they want to. Poor search functionality, ugly aesthetics, an embarrassingly terrible recommendation algorithm, and buried club and group features make the site unpleasant to use. Since the story came out, Goodreads hasn’t done much to improve its deficiencies. Instead, it seems content to rest on its laurels as a near-monopoly owned by Amazon, benefiting from its massive existing user base while being, apparently, deserted by its design team.
Tech-savvy readers, many of whom work in technology and design, have responded to Goodreads’ inadequacies by launching their own, personalized book sites. These sites are diverse, each one with its own particular focus: One might be a chronological list of books read by the owner in a year; another may be a complex map of reading material grouped by subject and theme. Some are totally personal, meant almost as private logs for people to track their own reading progress, while others are explicitly outward-facing, intended to offer recommendations and compel conversations.
What these sites have in common is a reader’s desire to engage more deeply with their reading than is currently possible by 1) merely reading the book and setting it aside; or 2) resorting to the shallow functions available on Goodreads. These talented readers are wresting control of the book-tracking market out of Goodreads’ hands, crafting the kind of reading sites they want to see, and infusing creativity and resourcefulness into an online landscape that has in many ways become uniform and bland.
Amanda Pinsker, a San Francisco-based product designer, has one of the most unique and beautiful book websites I’ve seen. The site, which she started in 2018, features large scans of the book cover next to the place where Pinsker spent most of her time reading it — such as “at Golden Gate Park” or “in my bed” — alongside brief passages that she calls “underlines” (since she marks up her books with pens, not highlighters, she says) and a brief review of her…