How Goodreads Works

Goodreads home page
The Goodreads member homepage features a feed that lets you see what your friends have been reading. See more pictures of popular web sites.
Screenshot by

What comes to mind when you read the word bookstore? Do you imagine a large, open room? Is it brightly lit with shelves spaced far apart and everything is in its place? Or do you imagine a dusty, dim shop filled with many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore stashed higgledy-piggledy throughout the room? Or perhaps you think of the Amazon Web site, where practically any book you can think of is just a couple of clicks away.

Searching a bookstore for a particular book is one thing, but walking into a store with no idea what you want is another. If you're lucky, the bookstore employees love to read and can help you find something that matches your interests. But if you're not lucky, you may find yourself wandering up and down the aisles, basing your purchases solely upon the cover art.


If you have a large book collection, you may even accidentally purchase a book you already own. It's frustrating to return home with a new book only to discover that not only have you read it before, but it's actually sitting on the shelf in front of you. Is there some way to leverage the technology around us to make the process of finding and organizing books -- as well as sharing your thoughts on them -- easier?

The answer is yes. There's an entire social network specifically geared toward bookworms and lovers of literature. It's called Goodreads, and its mission is to allow members to explore the world of books, discuss literature with one another, make contact with authors and even share some of their own work with the other members of the community.

Otis and Elizabeth Chandler founded Goodreads in December 2006 [source: Goodreads]. They envisioned a site where book lovers could make friends with others who shared their love of reading. Rather than rank books based upon the thoughts of strangers, the members of Goodreads can see what their friends enjoy reading. And like a book club, Goodreads facilitates discussions between members.


Using Goodreads

The first step in using Goodreads is to create a profile. All you need to join Goodreads is an e-mail address. When you register, you'll have the opportunity to add friends to your profile automatically by signing in with your member ID from sites such as Google, Facebook and others. This will save you time -- you won't have to search for all of your friends.

If you do add friends to your profile using this service, Goodreads will ask you to rate several book titles. This helps Goodreads determine your compatibility with your friends. For instance, if you enjoy reading bodice-ripping romance novels but your pal Steve prefers technically precise science fiction, you may not need to pay close attention to what Steve is reading.


Once you're through the initial phase of registration, you can set up your own virtual shelves. The default set of shelves are read, currently-reading and to-read. Your friends can see the books on your shelves and find out what you thought of the ones you've already read -- you rank books on a scale of one to five stars.

Goodreads allows users to create their own custom shelves, too. Do you want a virtual shelf that only lists books in the fantasy genre? It's easy to create one with Goodreads. Or maybe you are a parent and want to share your children's favorite books by creating a shelf just for them. It's easy to do.

Goodreads' search engine is tied to Amazon. To add a title to your shelf, you can search for it using the provided search bar. Goodreads will pull results from either its own database or Amazon's inventory. But what if the book you want isn't there? You can manually add any title to your shelf. Goodreads provides an online form. Simply fill out the form and the title appears on your shelves. You can even upload cover art.

You can flesh out your profile by uploading an image as your avatar. You can also list your favorite authors and quotes. If you've published any work of your own, you can add links to it on your profile. And you can create events and invite other members to attend. You can also join social groups on Goodreads -- these range from publishers to virtual book clubs. There's also a section that allows you to leave a comment on a friend's page.


Goodreads for Kids

While Goodreads is a great outlet for people who already love to read, it may be even more important for young children who are just beginning to find literature. With Goodreads extensive database, parents can find thousands of books for young readers. It's easy to rate individual books and leave comments.

There are several groups on Goodreads geared for younger readers. But parents should be aware that Goodreads' search engine pulls results from a huge database of books, some of which may not be appropriate for younger readers. Adult supervision is important. Just like any other social network, members can share information about themselves. After all, that's one way to make new friends and find people with similar interests. But parents may want to limit how much information people can find out about their children.


On Goodreads, children can find thousands of books appropriate for their age group. You can find everything from picture books for those not yet old enough to read to classics like J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit." Many Goodreads members have reviewed books for children. In some cases, a parent writes the review. In others, an adult may review a book he or she read years ago during childhood. And there are even reviews written by young readers themselves, giving their own unique perspective on the story.

While Goodreads is more for adults than kids, parents can use the community to find new stories to entertain their children and encourage an early love of reading.


Benefits of Goodreads

If you use Goodreads to its full potential, you'll find a robust community of book lovers and a nearly endless list of recommendations. You'll also be able to join in discussions about your favorite novels and authors. By finding people who share your interests, you may be able to uncover a book you otherwise never would have discovered. You may even read and discuss the next bestseller before it gains widespread attention.

Another benefit is that it lets you organize your personal collection of books. You can use Goodreads to keep track of what you own and look for gaps within your collection. You may discover that your favorite author has a book you never purchased. Or a friend might introduce you to a new series of novels that you hadn't seen before.


And while the site is called Goodreads, you can also use it to warn people away from books you don't like. Not all books are good reads, and it's helpful to have a community that can steer you away from the stinkers. If you like, you can create a shelf of guilty pleasure books -- stories that you think are fun to read even if they don't qualify as fine literature.

Because authors can create special profiles in Goodreads, you may even get a chance to talk about stories with the people who wrote them. Imagine discussing character motivations, plot points, settings and pacing with the person who put the words to paper. You might find that the author planned out an unexpected twist in a series three books ahead of time. Or you may discover that one of your favorite moments in a book was a happy accident.

If you are an author, you can use Goodreads to help people find your work. Whether you've published dozens of novels in your career or you're unpublished and just starting out, you can use Goodreads to introduce yourself to potential readers. And by fostering a reader community, you strengthen the ties between your work and the people who read it.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of Goodreads is that you'll have the chance to communicate with other people who love books as much as you do. You'll find virtual companionship and conversation throughout the site. And you might uncover an unexpected literary gem in the process.

For more on social networks and related topics, turn to the next page.


Frequently Answered Questions

What's the purpose of Goodreads?
The purpose of Goodreads is to help people find and share books they love.
Is Goodreads book free?
No, Goodreads is not free. You can create an account on Goodreads for free, but you will need to pay for a membership in order to access all of the features and services offered by the site.