“You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine”. That just about sums up the whole web 2.0 thing. Sharing what you like, and hoping to discover something you didn’t know before.
I think I first saw the principle applied in Amazon. You know the sort of thing “People who bought X and Y also bought Z”. It was an obvious retailer’s trick but honed to perfection by Amazon. Then suddenly that idea was everywhere – for music with iTunes, for web bookmarks with delicious, scholarly web content with connotea, and even private book collections could get in on the act with LibraryThing . I loved LibraryThing when I first read about it mainly because of the name. It is so wonderfully unspecific but somehow apt. It allows you to create a personal catalogue of your book collection with minimal effort, by tapping into the bibliographic riches of library catalogues online.
When I first looked at LibraryThing a couple of years back I observed that there few science book collections in it, but that has definitely changed. Two years on there are also some other players in this book-sharing arena: Anobii , Book Rabbit , GoodReads and Shelfari .
I asked myself, which of them has a good network of scientific users? So I have taken a closer look at all these sites. Not a very close look mind you, but you can find a summary of LibraryThing, GoodReads and Shelfari
elsewhere. I noted recently that Tim O’Reilly recommends Goodreads .
I had an idea for a little experiment to test out a) the coverage of some biomedical topics in these catalogue sites and b) the numbers of users who have catalogued some key biomedical textbooks on these sites. This brief foray into experimental librarianship brought home to me that research is not always plain sailing!
The first results – to test the coverage of some biomedical topics – may seem conclusive but are not.
I grew suspicious at the large numbers reported in Shelfari. It wasn’t just that the search for “homeobox” included titles with “hump back whale” in the title, or that the search for “synapse” also brought up “clan apis” and “space sex”. It was also the fact that none of the scientific titles I examined on Shelfari seemed to have any readers on that site. The same seemed to be true at BookRabbit. Finally, I couldn’t help noticing the prominently positioned icons to “Buy this” by each title listing in Shelfari and BookRabbit. Both sites had much more the look of an online book retailer than a site dedicated to sharing and knowledge discovery. In other words, searching on those sites was just searching a bookseller’s catalogue rather than searching for items in people’s collections.
The second batch of results – to test the numbers of users who included specified key textbooks in their collection – also fell at the first hurdle. For a start, two of the sites didn’t seem to have any readers for these titles, or at least I couldn’t see them. The remaining three sites did report some healthy figures but I wasn’t sure they were all measuring the same thing – two showed the number of readers, the third showed the number of reviews.
The text came out a bit small here – the books in question were:
Molecular Cell Biology (Lodish)
Molecular Biology of the Cell (Alberts)
Principles of Neural Science (Kandel)
My overall conclusions:
- Both LibraryThing and GoodReads have a reasonable base of users with biomedical science interests
- Anobii is a little behind, but BookRabbit and Shelfari have very few
- You need to be very careful searching Shelfari as it broadens the search unhelpfully
- Proper research takes time
- Even half-baked research takes time
Interesting to note that Amazon own Shelfari and also have a major (but not majority) share in LibraryThing.
Also interesting – Google have just announced a new set of API tools that enable full-text search and partial browsing of books, embedding onto websites, and integration into social book sites.