I first came across authonomy.com on Book Army’s closing down page, which was perhaps an portentous start. Given Book Army’s failure to attract a significant user base, it seemed there are numerous lessons that publishers could take away, but if my first impressions of Authonomy are right, then publishers still don’t get the Internet. Publishers seem to view the Internet through the same old media lens that they founded their businesses on, and while they understand user generated content and social networking are two faces of the new Zeitgeist, they fail to appreciate how exactly they can tap into the new world of media.
Authonomy suffers from the same problem that bedevilled Book Army, which is it lacks the passionate zeal that separates the great and good from the morass of mediocrity. Authonomy looks like an exercise in corporate expenditure, and while giving the site a fresh skin and adding some of the missing integration features would certainly help, the fact they haven’t pushed those features, suggests it’s a website being run more as a job than as a hard worn destination for the reams of readers and writers browsers.
To give Authonomy one last chance to redeem itself, I visited the site for one last time, only to be greeted by the site’s error page. While this could be taken as evidence that publishers don’t understand or appreciate the 24-7 nature of the Internet, what’s worse is it shows their lack of appreciation for a properly designed error page.
Publishers–and in particular HarperCollins–shame on you.
I’d been meaning to write a review of Goodreads.com for a number of weeks, although I’d been plagued by the thought that there’s really no point. That’s not to say it defies analysis, lacks quality, or is any way irrelevant, but rather that it is not the definitive book review site, and therefore is not the social book review site I’ve been trawling the web for.
When I reviewed Book Army I was convinced the idea of a social book review site was a great idea, and while Book Army’s execution is perhaps not as tight as it could’ve been, it promised an excellent place to share reviews. Of course there are plenty of other places to read or publish book reviews, some of them social and some of them not, including: the big names such as Amazon or Facebook’s weRead application; the traditional print media such as the New York Times; the genre specific sites, such as the Fantasy Book Review, or SF Reviews; professional review sites, such as BookPage or BookBrowse.com; and the reams of excellent review blogs, such as MostlyFiction or Becky’s Book Review. However, none of them had the combination of presence and social pulse to suggest they might ever become the de facto book review service, and thus none of them has the cachet to catch my interest.
While many of the book review services attract significant numbers of users and reviews, given the number of competing niche services, I’ve slowly realised my goal of finding the definitive service is actually just a misunderstanding on my behalf about what social media is. Although the idea of publishing reviews on more than one service was an anathema to me, it gradually occurred to me I’ve been baulking at the fundamental principle of social media, which is you need to mix communities if you want a diverse and healthy social network. And of course, there’s also never been a definitive source of book reviews, so after weeks of kicking around thinking all these social book review sites were inadequate, it turns out the inadequacy was in me. Oh well, Goodreads.com here I come.
With over 100 literary festivals flooding the UK’s burgeoning festival market, www.literaryfestivals.co.uk is devoted to publicising details about all the UK’s festivals, and is the perfect resource for anyone looking to indulge in their next festival fix.
Of course, if you were to try attending 1/4 of the available festivals you’d have no time for reading, writing, or even breathing, which raises the opportunity for a brand new kind of fictional death: death by literary festival.
Since the age of Web 2.0 heralded in the rise of social networking, there’s been an illimitable stream of social networking sites, each growing broad—and sometimes deep—social graphs, and most of them failing to think of one single interesting thing to do with their complex networks of users.
One website that tries to buck the trend is Book Army, a site sponsored by the publishing industry and looking to build an extensive library of book reviews from its network of keen readers.
The idea is impeccable. Since the majority of users are keen, amateur readers, the site is growing an army of reviewers, such as myself, who are unlikely to be swayed by publisher trends or kickbacks, and are more likely to provide honest reviews than traditional media. As the mass of candid reviews grows, the site attracts a larger group of users, which, coupled with the ability to favour reviews using the site’s social networking, allows users to tailor their experience to fit with their own social graph and ideals.
But while the idea is simple and exciting, I can’t help wonder if perhaps something hasn’t been lost in the execution? While you can read and post reviews on the site, the social features are limited, and the inability to link outside the site makes it difficult for blogs, such as this one, to work co-operatively with the site. Although BookArmy undoubtedly works and has promise, it seems to lack the passionate zeal that separates those truly successful websites from the throng that litters the Internet’s long tail.
Is Book Army the future of book reviews? Almost definitely not, although it does serve as an excellent illustration of the power that user-generated content and social graphs hold, as they go hand-in-hand and bash at the door of traditional media, a sign that someday soon the madmen might well rule the asylum.