Shelfari Reviewed

Shelfari

I only heard about Shelfari recently when a friend of mine began his own search for a cataloging solution for his home library. He was enamored with Shelfari at first due to its speed and attractiveness, but I just couldn’t stomach this site. Nevertheless, the mere fact that it is (now) owned and ran by Amazon.com demands we give it some credence, so let’s begin the review.

Speed

Since I’ve already got all of my books in LibraryThing, it was easy to provide a good test-bed in Shelfari by exporting them in a tab-delimited format and bringing them over. The site is decently fast and importing my books was a snap that took next to no time at all, which is always nice.

Unfortunately, Shelfari couldn’t find all of my books. Because Shelfari only works with Amazon.com, its catalog is fairly limited, so expect to do some manual entry. In my case, there were over 60 books it couldn’t find, and the only option it presented me was to select from a list of other books on Amazon. On the plus side, it did tell me which books failed to be imported so I could go back and add them manually.

If you want to add a book, just search for it (which searches Amazon), hover over it, and click add. The site is stuffed with AJAXy goodness, so hover does a lot here in some very cool ways. As such things go, adding a book is decent. Editing is not.

To edit a book, you have to hover over each one, click a couple of different places, and type, and the only parameters you can set is a tag (by which you cannot organize; only used for browsing) and the date you read the book. Kind of clunky and weak.

Online

Of course, all three pass this test by default, but how’s Shelfari on mobile browsers? I don’t have an iPhone or 3G (though it seems most every site supports those now, mostly because it’s not a standard “mobile browser,” but rather an almost full-feature web browser), so a truly mobile version is a must for me.

Shelfari’s heavy interface comes at a price. It renders completely uselessly on a mobile phone, and no mobile version has been announced (though users have been discussing and asking for it for five months now).

Organization

This simply doesn’t exist in Shelfari, as far as I’m concerned. You can tag things, but you cannot search by tag. Rather, tags are displayed at the bottom of your shelf, and you can click on one to display books that have been tagged with that word. Worthless.

Cover View and Marketing

From what I can tell, these are the only two things that Shelfari really offers. Being owned by Amazon, there are advertisements all over the place, and I really feel like the site only exists for Amazon to try and get their hat in the home library game and make a few bucks.

If you want a pretty view of all your book covers on a digital bookshelf, Shelfari will do that. Unfortunately, that’s about all it does, and I consider Cover View to be completely worthless on any cataloging site. I’ve never seen it implemented in a fashion I can use, which would be actually displaying books as they would be on my shelf, with the spines facing towards me. That would be a useful tool to help me find books on their shelves, but what every site does just doesn’t serve any purpose other than as eye candy.

Final Grade: D

  1. Needs to be relatively fast. | C
    1. Speed/ease of adding books. | B
    2. General site speed. | B
    3. Speed/ease of editing books. | D
  2. Must be online, but furthermore must be mobile accessible so I can access my library from the bookstore to see if I already own something. | D-
  3. Should be displayable by how I organize my books on the shelf (Genre -> Author alphabetically by last name -> Publication date) so that I can better find things in my physical library. | F

Since it’s not mobile at all, number 2 maybe should be an F, but it is online so I’ll give it something. Shelfari scores a D, but there’s no way I would use it or recommend it to anyone.

Check back on Friday to read about Goodreads, which is nominally more positive.

Finding the right way to organize your books

Pile o'books

A couple of years ago, I read an article on Slashdot that asked the question, “How do you solve the home library problem?” A lot of people chimed in and, while following the ensuing discussion, I became intrigued. I’d always considered organizing my home library, but had never gotten around to it, and now my lack of organization was having negative repercussions.

I’d already found one book where I owned multiple copies, having forgotten that I owned it and therefore purchased it again. And I often found myself unable to find a book, having lost it somewhere among all the different shelves and stacks of novels littered around my apartment. Though it was a mess, it was a mess that made me happy because it was a bunch of books, but it was also time consuming and causing me to waste money.

So, I read through all the comments on the Slashdot article, investigated a few options, and settled on LibraryThing. I say “settled,” though that’s not really accurate; I really like LibraryThing, and enjoy using it a great deal. But in the last two (almost three now) years, I haven’t looked at any cataloging alternatives.

This article begins a short series where I will review three online library cataloging web sites. I’m leaving out Delicious Library because one of my requirements (which I’ll discuss shortly) was that it be online and subsequently accessible from most anywhere, but I’ve heard that DL is really great. So, we’ll talk about Shelfari, Goodreads, and LibraryThing.

Requirements for my cataloging system:

  1. Needs to be relatively fast.
    1. Speed/ease of adding books.
    2. General site speed.
    3. Speed/ease of editing books.
  2. Must be online, but furthermore must be mobile accessible so I can access my library from the bookstore to see if I already own something.
  3. Should be displayable by how I organize my books on the shelf (Genre -> Author alphabetically by last name -> Publication date) so that I can better find things in my physical library.

I’ll inform you of my bias now: After using LibraryThing for more than two years, I could add a half dozen other requirements to that list of features that I’m not willing to live without anymore, but those three were really all I was looking for when I first began my search. Therefore, to be fair, I’ll limit it to those and expound on the extras in the individual posts after the review.

Once the three reviews are completed, I’ll write an article with some recommendations on how you can best build and organize your home library. I’m not a librarian, by any means, but I’ve been messing with this for a while and want to share what I’ve found. I hope you’ll return over the next week and maybe learn something as well.

Image by: lusi