GoodReads from a foreigner's perspective

After a sudden, unexpected closure of Living Social/Virtual Bookshelf (I believe they were bought by a company aiming to convert page hits to money with as little work as possible) I migrated to GoodReads for keeping track of my books. I also put some effort into it by copying my old Access database (that I haven't been able to access for a few years since I don't own Access and Microsoft discontinued their JET ODBC support) into it. Here I want to describe my discoveries and reactions.

First, I'm Swedish, Swedish is my native language and I've read a lot of books in Swedish. It is from that point of view a lot of my experiences with the site comes, because the site is very American, or at least English, something I doubt the maintainers are aware of themselves.

The site is organized around books, book editions and reviews of those editions. Each book edition is identified with its ISBN number, and then it's manual work by the community (I think) to group the editions into a book. Searching for a book by using words in the title of one edition didn't always work if that wasn't the "main" edition, and for some reason the English translation was often the main edition. I think there should be one "main" edition per language or no "main" edition at all and instead a dynamic choice based on the user's preference/location/IP number.

The search was also not happy to see non-English letters like the common letters used in Sweden: å, ä and ö. If I wrote "räksmörgås" (shrimp sandwish) it would answer something like "did you mean 'are ksm rug is'", clearly treating the å, ä and ö as non letters. An easy mistake to do if you are slightly ignorant of how text handling routines work. I would suggest that instead of using a language dictionary, build a dictionary (or multiple) from existing books and authors in the database.

The site is also able to directly pull data from some external sources such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but only for a few countries so it never worked for books published in Swedish and never translated, and not always when they had been translated depending on how easily accessible that translated version is. There are quite a few sources of book information, globally and nationally that could be used unless there is something that forbids that and I think that would be a good addition.

Finally there was one issue, maybe not directly connected to language, it was near impossible to use the import function to import my existing 500+ book database even when I stripped the data down to a minimum. I didn't have ISBN numbers recorded which was the main problem, but I did have exact book titles and author names and still it only managed to import maybe 10 out of 550 books and the rest had to be entered manually. I don't know why because there were no error messages. It might have been date formats, or the existence of non-English letters, or something else, but since the format was badly documented and without any error messages it's impossible to know. I know it broke down completely in my first attempt where I also included my review texts but it didn't really work better when I only had book title, author name, read date and grade.

So I didn't like the site? I did like it, it seems nice, people were helpful and I got sucked into some very interesting book discussions. I will stay and see what happens and maybe I can even help improve it, if so only by pointing out things like I do in this blog post. I was able to work around most of the issues I encountered by doing some manual work and with the help of some librarians (GoodRead's term for users with elevated permissions).