Quitting goodreads… to join my own platform.
Making the jump
I finally made the plunge, I have cut out Goodreads from my life. For the uninitiated, Goodreads is a massive (the only one I know) social reading platform with over 90 million users. It is owned by Amazon, the same company that runs the majority of internet and e-commerce. I had even read somewhere that amazon servers don’t run on electricity, but the souls of their customer base, which is an interesting bit of trivia.
I had joined Goodreads long time ago, pre-amazon-acquisition. I was a mildly active user for most of my time on Goodreads, though in the past 6 months, my activity had exploded due to my sudden reading upsurge post-pandemic. The upsurge occurred around the same time as my anti Big Tech transformation after learning about the harmful effects of this extreme asymmetry and centralisation1. This made me feel a little uneasy about being on Goodreads, though it wasn’t all that bad. I really had no other choice - that is until I came across the Fediverse, which we will come to in a bit.
Before I get into why I made the jump, it’s worth noting why I joined Goodreads in the first place.
- Cataloging what and when I read books.
- Seeing book reviews.
- Social reading, seeing what my friends were reading, discussing books, etc.
Apart from that, I loved idea of having Goodreads API available to me so I could extend and build upon Goodreads - that is until December 2020, when they deprecated it.
Goodreads cutting off my access to my own content
In 2 out of those 3 categories I mentioned earlier, Goodreads failed me. Here is why.
Seeing book reviews.
This may seem relatively unpopular, but over the course of the 30+ books I have read in the past 6 odd months, I have learn’t that the Goodreads rating is not a good metric of how much I would like a book. In fact, it has more often than not disappointed me. The reason for this is that the mean of thousands of ratings has no meaning or nuance left in it. None whatsoever. At the beginning of my reading, I used to rely a lot on Goodreads for book discovery. Very soon, I realised that this approach was giving me duds. I discovered a way more effective strategy was getting recommendations from real people. I found myself wandering subreddits and discussing book recommendations with strangers, and somehow these recommendations were far superior to me going off of Goodreads ratings.
Liking a book is very subjective in nature. I had given Antifragile a 10/10; you’d find thousands of folk calling the book unreadable. On the other end of the spectrum, I thought A Brief History of Time was practically unreadable. There a thousands of people who would call the book a modern classic.
Going off book reviews has caused me more harm than good, it made me avoid giving books a chance because their average score was a little below a 4 or some reviews were too scathing. I avoided most classics only because they hovered around the sub-four point mark. The Odyssey is a 3.78, sitting firmly below the Fifty Shades Freed and Fifty Shades Darker (with about the same number of ratings).
The point I am trying to bring across here is that I started obsessing over the score to the point where I was missing out on some excellent literature and books just because of a few scathing reviews, or a “sub par” score. On the other end of the spectrum, I wasted a lot of time reading books that I deemed okay or slightly above average at best only because they have super high Goodreads scores (Think like a rocket scientist, Volume Control, etc.
Organic recommendations based on your interests, and people you know are exponentially superior than average ratings. In hindsight, this is painfully obvious, but Goodreads had trapped me into this narrow minded 5 point scale up until recently.
Yeah, this was a clean failure for me. At no point on my presence on Goodreads did I have or felt any social interactions with other users. Nobody I knew was hugely active on Goodreads, and those who were rarely did anything outside of putting books on their “to-read” shelves. This was pretty much dead on arrival. From my point of view, the community only played a part in rating the books, the stupid number I used to go by while picking books. Now since I don’t look at that number either, the Goodreads community is meaningless to me.
I shall give credit where due, Goodreads was and is great for this. I could make lists of books I want to read, I could categorise lists, I could keep track of all the books I read, and when I read them. But, recently I had an epiphany; why should I let the corporate snakes over at Amazon lock up all my data -my ratings, reviews and reading preferences - all just for this cataloging feature? They had the gall of sucking me dry of my data, only to lock away easy access to it by deprecating their API. The ratings mislead me, the platform is run by vampires2, and I am contributing to another data silo (creating extreme centralisation) which is against the core ethos of the free internet. I had to find a better way, and I did.
Introducing the Tech Startup Book Club.
Check it out here right now. It’s a decentralised federated social reading platform that I host!
Let’s break down why this is better.
It’s open source.
The platform is possible due to the excellent work by Mouse Reeve on Bookwyrm. The code is completely out in the open, and anyone including you and me, can extend upon it and build whatever we feel like. There is no proprietary software here.
The maintainer of the project, Mouse Reeve is extremely friendly, and is extremely active in the development of new features.
The fediverse is an interconnected set of platforms that can talk to each other. An easy way to think about it is if you imagine that that there was no Goodreads, but many small Goodreads communities, each owned, hosted and run by separate owners. Despite being completely separate, they can all talk and communicate with each other. That is basically what federation is, a set of platforms that all speak the same protocol, yet are independent.
This allows every community to have it’s own rules and identities, while being able to communicate with millions of other communities using the same account. If you want to know more, you can read about it here.
My instance on the list of instances
I intend to build a community of like minded people on my instance. The idea here is to have a high trust, close knit community of people. My particular instance is themed predominantly around non-fiction books (the kind I read a lot).
I hope to have people who share similar interests to join the platform so that the social aspect that I had missed in Goodreads is achieved. Also, since the number of people on the platform are fewer and closer, the ratings and reviews are much more valuable since they can be interpreted with the context of who is writing the review which is as important as the review itself.
It’s got all I need!
It’s got great cataloging features, the ability make lists like in goodreads, and books can be imported from goodreads. I exported my goodreads library and moved it all to my platform.
The Dreaded Plug.
If you love reading and discussing non-fiction books like I do, sign at bookclub.techstartups.space. I am the owner and maintainer, will be easily accessible and active there. If this is not your kind of a thing, I urge you to drop goodreads and try out other platforms like OpenLibrary.
As I have mentioned in earlier essays, Big Tech and corporates are going to be the death of us. Decentralisation will help us become more resilient, and allow for a more free and open internet.
This is absolutely a topic for another time. I intend to write a yuuuge article on decentralisation and big tech in the near future. It will take time, but it’s going to be big. ↩
On a more serious not, I acknowledge the good Amazon has done, but nuance doesn’t make for good comedy. ↩