Just got back from the Facebook / iPad Application Seminar, where ten groups took turns to review ten different apps that are currently in the market. This is probably the first class where I had to sit through a series of ten presentations in a row — and yet, each one brings in fresh insights that are applicable and relevant.
The presentation on Goodreads was pretty clear and insightful, and I thought the group gave a really good introduction to what Goodreads is. My only encounter with Goodreads prior to today was brief — I actually stumbled on the little “g” logo while trying out the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite.
In short, Goodreads helps people find and share the books they love through book reviews by other users. Goodreads has a huge catalog of over 900 million books. It currently has 34 million book reviews, created by its 30 million users. With that many users, Goodreads’ most valuable asset is probably its large user-base of people who loves reading. This, in my opinion, could have been what pushed Amazon to acquire the company for $150M earlier last year.
“Powerful” Book Search
Throughout the presentation, the group highlighted the fact that Goodreads’ powerful book search is one of the key features that makes it stand out from its competitors. I disagree. While their search is undoubtedly good, such features like auto-completion and searching by ISBN seem to be a pretty standard feature in many other sites now, providing results that are just as accurate as Goodreads (at least in my own experience). In fact, I would actually expect to be able to search for books by Title, Author and ISBN at any decent book review site of today. What might be more unique about Goodreads is their book discovery feature. Drawing from their large database of books its users have read and liked, I believe they provide pretty good recommendations based on the books you like.
Cluttered User Interface
The group also made a point about the user interface of Goodreads being too cluttered. A user interface that is cluttered with too many things distracts users from the content they care about. As one who appreciates clean UI designs, I would really love to see Goodreads being redesigned to have a cleaner and more responsive UI.
During their presentation, the group also showed a screenshot and pointed out that there is no clear call to action on that page. They mentioned that the sidebar had too many sections with too many actions a user could possibly take. From the sidebar alone, users could:
- Input the books they are currently reading
- View personalized book recommendations
- Take part in a personal reading challenge
- View their bookshelves
- Take part in featured polls
- See the Quote of the Day
Although these content resides on the sidebar (where auxiliary and secondary information are displayed), they are still too much and may make a new user feel lost.
User Recognition & Gamification
The group also suggested implementing a point system to encourage more active contributions to the community. Since Goodreads’ content is primarily user-generated, this is pretty important. A good way to get more people to contribute book reviews would be adopting the user reputation system implemented by StackOverflow. I really love this idea and believe that a user-reputation system could greatly increase the quantity and quality of book reviews in Goodreads. After all, people who contribute good stuff want to feel recognized and important in their community.
Since I’m not an avid reader, I wouldn’t say I’m attracted to continue using Goodreads after this review. However, I feel that the site has a lot of promise for those who enjoy reading. While exploring Goodreads, I also tried out their mobile site (which happens to be an entirely different site optimised for mobile browsing). The UI was much cleaner with less clutter, although the look and feel of the page was quite different from the desktop version. I believe that Goodreads would certainly do well with a redesign, building a more consistent and familiar interface across devices.
To sum up, there were many learning points from the seminar. Not only did I learn about what to look out for when coming up with the UI for an app, I also learnt some interesting business models and strategies some companies use in order to monetize their business.