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On Social Book Networking

The Guardian reports on the rise of the virtual bookshelf on social networking sites.

For anyone with even a moderate interest in books, snooping at other people’s bookshelves is one of life’s great pleasures. Like music collections, personal libraries offer tantalising encapsulations of character; a quick glance at an acquaintance’s bookshelves or a scroll through their iTunes provides juicy fodder for all sorts of assumptions and judgements. (The students I knew at university who crammed their shelves with reams of avante-garde theory were far too aware of this.)

When these projections of personality are done online, they are what Christine Rosen calls egocasting – “the thoroughly personalised and extremely narrow pursuit of one’s personal taste”. This follows the same principle as the radio site Lastfm, which is based on tracking down music similar to your existing tastes by finding people who like the same sounds as you.

As we purportedly experience Facebook fatigue and Myspace exhaustion, web forecasters predict that the next phase of social networking will be all about specialist sites like these. And where music goes, books will follow, as a wave of new book-related social networking sites promise to do for readers what Lastfm did for inquisitive listeners.

I love these kind of things. I must admit, there’s something quite proud about the Virtual bookshelf. It also means you can choose who never to talk to based on their literary judgements. “What? You like [insert shite author here]? I’m sorry we can no longer be friends…”

If only real life was as easy.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

4 replies on “On Social Book Networking”

I use LibraryThing, and so far all it’s managed to make me do is waste even more of my life adding pointless data to something nobody apart from me will ever read. Why do I need to know when I last read a book, when and where I bought it, which edition I have? Why do I keep adding information to it?

I always get nervous when I go to someone’s house, and they have that one bookshelf near the front door. These are the books they *want* you to see, understand, the books that they feel comfortable admitting to or the books they want to impress you with. I’d rather paw through the rotty cardboard boxes in their back closet, to see what they actually read.

Which, when discussing virtual bookshelves, gets you to the question of virtual honesty. Are people posting their actual reads, or what they want you to know they’re reading?

This is true, and I confess to being the same to an extent. While I’ll never have books I haven’t read on main display, I will have books there that I think are amazing, and then I can bore people until they read them too. That is, if I’m brave enough to let anyone near my books…

I think re: the virtual shelves that people are less likely to fill them with books they haven’t read, since they’re more like a database – it’s more ‘look how much I’ve read’. Which is another danger entirely…

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