In “Words with Friends”: Socially Networked Reading on Goodreads, Lisa Nakamura brings a few specific things into focus that stand out to me the most: The social processes behind digitized reading culture, the remediation of the catalog, how the millennial generation is reflected in the evolving consumption of books, and the commodification of reading that results from these other factors.
She points out that when it comes to the future of reading, many conversations surround the growing obsolescence of print books and the industry’s focus on materialistic aspects of digitization (Nakamura, p. 238). We have an incessant tendency to keep up with the upgrade of technological devices, but would also benefit in studying how the social networking affects reading culture.
We can study the way these social processes are created by using Goodreads as a case study because it is a platform in which the experience of interacting with books and other readers align with the way much content is popularly consumed. The interface is feed-based with social networking capabilities, and offers ways to stay connected with the outside world (e.g. sharing via social media and interactivity with other platforms). I think this allows us to validate our actions on a higher social level and helps us to position or measure ourselves against others by being able to bring our reading preferences and behaviours onto a public platform.
The author discusses the way in which Goodreads allows readers to share and provide visual evidence for the books they are reading – the bookshelves are presented to friends in a way that is “bibliocentric” and “egocentric”, as a throwback to the way print books on a physical shelf display one’s personality and social status (Nakamura, p. 240). The capability to track one’s taste extends further than this, because it also allows users to easily share their current literary endeavors as well as their wants in a compact and convenient way. The organization of interactions on the site mimic the social context surrounding print book collections where people can gauge and relate to friends and strangers by sharing recommendations, sharing said wishlists, generating literary dialogue, and so on. While the socialization aspects of reading have always existed, it is now easier and faster to connect with others through common preferences and feedback on posts. I also enjoy how Nakamura references and discusses the remediation of the catalog on platforms like Goodreads (Nakamura, p. 242). It is a popular form for which we organize and interact with content, and in turn, other people.
The article also compares the open-access, forum-like environment of Goodreads to the walled-up environment of academic publishing, and how conversations and experiences generated in places like Goodreads can be just as culturally valuable and intellectually stimulating as the latter (Nakamura, p. 242). Many users like myself look less to formal literary criticism in judging books, and instead prefer the opinion of the common masses. The community is informal, but people still care about having provocative discussions. This also relates to how Nakamura talks about the changes in author-reader relations (Nakamura, p. 238). The processes of reading and writing become arguably more collaborative, with a higher potential for interactivity when it comes to the digitization of reading culture.
While my encounters with Goodreads have mostly been limited to book info and review results on Google in the past, I have signed up for it to better understand its capabilities. The site seems a lot more appealing than the last time I visited it, for the very reasons highlighted in Lisa Nakamura’s article. I have become accustomed to consuming content in a certain way, reflected in the way the Goodreads interface is constructed. The site allows users to “follow” a wide variety of genres, and organizes recommendations on feeds similar to other social media platforms. As pointed out in the article, the level of interaction not only with other readers but with the books themselves creates convenience and is much more connected to a greater community. There seems to be more actions offered for interacting with a book – the ability to listen to and preview the book, the ability to purchase it through direct links to sellers like Amazon, and view a “Readers Also Enjoyed” section of recommendations in the sidebar – just to name a few. The familiar protocols from online shopping platforms (e.g. ratings, reviews, Q&A, comments, etc.) as well as social networking platforms (e.g. profile, inbox, status updates, community feeds, etc.) are both integrated into the Goodreads interface. Goodreads offers familiar tools of content consumption to provide an outlet for readers to “perform their identities in a public and networked forum” (Nakamura, p. 240).
Nakamura also describes the way Goodreads is a data-rich experience for both the user and the company. The user is both consuming and creating information. She draws a connection to the idea of controlled consumption and how our reading experience is commodified (Nakamura, p. 241). The data resulting from user interaction and behaviour on the site is given to Goodreads partners. Goodreads also controls consumption in the way they direct users to bringing business to certain companies, and perhaps has a hand in which books are more publicized through recommendation. On one hand they must make money in order to keep their service going, and on the other hand, people are being subtly manipulated. There is also another ethical issue here, as user data collection may be viewed as an infringement of privacy. However, users seem to be willing to trade off these issues for the service that the site offers and the exchange of personal information with others. I also believe the consumeristic features need not be so villainized, as those who are savvy with internet culture are also capable of recognizing and maneuvering around marketing/advertising strategies themselves.
Nakamura, Lisa. 2013. “Words with Friends”: Socially Networked Reading on Goodreads. PMLA 128 (1). 238-243.