This week our blog assignment is to write a brief history of a social networking site listed on Wikipedia. Seeing Shelfari, a virtual bookshelf-sharing site for book-lovers, on the list, I thought, “Oh good, I love Shelfari, I’ll pick that!” Much to my alarm, when I clicked on the Wikipedia page, I saw the following statement: “Shelfari continued to function as an independent book social network within the Amazon.com family of sites until January 2016, when Amazon announced on Shelfari.com that it would be merging Shelfari with Goodreads and closing down Shelfari.” Luckily, Amazon provided users an easy option to save their booklists for their own records, as well as to migrate their booklists to a Goodreads account. I quickly hopped onto Shelfari, saved my booklist, created a Goodreads account, and started the merge. My mini-emergency serves as an important reminder for public historians who use digital programs to store and share material that digital platforms often have short lifespans. But first, a history of the two sites:
Josh Hug, Kevin Beukelman, Mark Williamson, and Ian Patterson founded Shelfari, a social networking site where bookworms could catalog, rate, and discuss their favorite books, which they launched on October 11, 2006. Users can enter, rank, sort, and review books they own, read, and wish to read, as well as search for new reading options by title, author, tag, date, rating, or review. They can share their bookshelves with fellow users and start group threads to discuss books, authors, or related themes. Users may help improve the site by editing catalog information for books and authors. As the site grew in capacity, scale, and popularity, Amazon.com acquired the site, enabling users to place their Shelfari wish lists on their Amazon wish list and transfer Amazon book purchases automatically to their Shelfari shelf.
Otis Chandler II and Elizabeth Chandler founded Goodreads in December 2006 and launched it in January 2007. Goodreads, like Shelfari, invites readers and authors to create, share, review, and discuss books on their customizable digital bookshelves. Not only does Goodreads endeavor to “help people find and share books they love,” it has an even loftier mission to “improve the process of reading and learning throughout the world.” Goodreads acquired Discoverreads in 2011, which uses algorithms to recommend books to users. Amazon acquired Goodreads on March 28, 2013, allowing the two sites to interface in the same manner as Amazon and Shelfari. Goodreads offers interactive trivia and quiz games, popular quotations, booklists, and free giveaways, and enables authors to advertise their books on the site. Members can opt to receive a newsletter featuring updates, new books and recommendations, and author interviews. Goodreads links to other social networking accounts so users can post about what they’re reading or discussing, and can import contacts to Goodreads from their other accounts. Goodreads also features a mobile app and syncs with Amazon Kindle. Additionally, the site has an offline component that invites users to participate in book exchanges and “literary pub crawls.”
This past month, Amazon announced that Shelfari and Goodreads would merge, since they serve the same purpose. The merge and the March closing of Shelfari is an important reminder to public historians of the transitory nature of the sites they use. Many public history institutions share their collections material and their research to the world through online exhibits, catalogues, and databases, which rely on platforms created by external companies. They use social networking sites and other interactive media to connect to their audiences. However, as these sites lose popularity or are replaced by better-functioning media, they are prone to disappear. Public historians should keep in mind that the digital platforms they use often have short lifespans, and thus might not be the best means for long-term storage or display of information and material. When using a site like Shelfari, for instance, to share, review, and discuss works owned or published by a particular institution, or related to the information that institution conveys, public historians should maintain a separate, more permanent log and repository of the information, images, and other material they house online, so they can maintain ownership over, and access to, these materials once the site is no longer live. Additionally, public historians should periodically take screenshots, make backups and system images, or gather other records of the use of the site as it updates and changes, so that the institution may reference that material if it disappears. The bottom line: don’t rely on the site being available forever. Don’t entirely house your information there, but have master backup copies of what you share online somehow permanently archived so that you can make an easy switch or save the files if a site is about to shut down.
Check out my new Goodreads account!