2007 will go down as the year book social networking got shot out of the canon and as the year comes to a close we see Goodreads rising, Shelfari stumbling and LibraryThing coasting along.
Goodreads ended the year with an estimated $750,000 infusion via a group of angels consisting of "six influential Internet pioneers." Murmurings could be heard back in October when Marc Hedlund at O'Reilly Radar commented on how he and a bunch of his friends were corralled into joining Goodreads. Hedlund confessed his love for LibrayThing's blog but admits he isn't very fond of its product. Hedlund ended the year with a post that included this little turnaround "My friends keep joining Goodreads but my heart still lies with LibraryThing. Come on, peoples!"
With the new Goodreads investment the field is begin to show stronger parallels to the online bookselling world. AbeBooks invested in LibrayThing, Amazon with Shelfari and now GoodReads goes the VC/Angel route which mirrors the path that Alibris, the other major online book site, took.
Shelfari, on the other hand, ended the year on a sour note. Yes, they did go live with their new and improved redesign but they are still suffering from their uncalled for spamming and astroturfing campaign that made waves this fall. It is still to early to tell if they can bounce back from the damage inflicted by these expeditions but it is clear that these campaigns tainted their meteoric growth and has left a few of us scratching our heads as to what is going on over there. They are still; however, very well positioned.
Then there is LibraryThing which was first-in and continues to lead the pack in terms of traffic, books listed and good karma. Founder Tim Spalding continues to innovate and keep the process open and above board. LibraryThing is clearly the best thing that has happened to AbeBooks in some time though I am still not convinced that AbeBooks is best thing to happen to LibraryThing.
Tim O'Reilly leaves a interesting comment to Hedlund's year end post saying:
"what all these sites need to do is get together, so that you can share books (and friends) across all three services. I sure don't want to put books in multiple places."
I can't imagine LibraryThing, with its sizable investment from AbeBooks, and Shelfari, which has recently been sprinkled with a little Amazon money, will be open to sharing resources but there is a way for this to work. The model is already in place in the non-new book world where there are services where booksellers send one data file to one place then that file is sent in the proper format to the multiple sales channels. So ultimately you would maintain your library, reviews, comments etc. at one place then upload that file to your data distributor and they would send it to the other social book network sites.
This also raises another issue regarding sharing data between the sites. What if Amazon decides to really get behind Shelfari and not allow any of its competitors access to the vital data Amazon supplies via Amazon web services. As I far as I can tell all the book social networks use Amazon web services to feed their ISBN lookups. Might be a reach but it is a possibility.
Though 2008 promises to be a significant year as the field fills out, the lines get drawn, and the race to win the hearts and minds (and libraries) of tech-savy readers continues, we need to keep in mind that the whole social networking phenomena is a bit overextended in it's current state. And when it comes to the world of books it presents its own unique challenges, for the very act of reading a book is a solitary experience and any attempt to socialize it will have inherent obstacles.
I also believe 2008 will also be the year that these technologies become a little less 'social' as they explore potential applications for bookstores, libraries, OCLC, and collectors.