Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Visual Bookshelf and False Recommendations

I use the Visual Bookshelf app on Facebook (part of LivingSocial) to keep up with my friends who read. I often wonder why I use this one; I think it's because this was one of the first reading apps released, and I'm too lazy to change, and if I do change, I'll lose all the data I've already entered into Visual Bookshelf. Yes, so much of my time online is spent traveling the path of least resistance (see: years spent blogging on Xanga).

One thing that Visual Bookshelf has been doing recently that I find annoying is offering pretend recommendations. Amazon is, to a point, disinterested in offering its recommendations; it doesn't care what you buy as long as you buy it from them, so their philosophy seems to be, why not buy what you like? They'll show you books that match your taste based on previous things you've purchased. And I have to say, they know my taste well.

Visual Bookshelf, on the other hand, no matter what book I tell it I've read or want to read, says, "If you liked _____, then you might like Loser/Queen by Jodi Lynn Anderson." If I tell it I like a trashy novel of today (presumably), it recommends Loser/Queen. If I tell it I like the great classics of Western literature, Loser/Queen, it says, is for me. Here's the book's description from Amazon:
Cammy Hall is what anyone would describe as a loser. She lives with her grandparents and has adopted their way of life… right down to the comfortable shoes and early bedtime. And can she help it that she actually likes to knit? At school, her skills with knitting needles and some yarn go completely unappreciated: people like Bekka Bell reign while Cammy and her best friend, the fearless Danish exchange student Gerdi, watch from the sidelines. Cammy’s used to being an outsider; after years of humiliating moments, her goal is simply to fly under the radar. Then she suddenly starts receiving mysterious text messages that lead her right to all the embarrassing secrets about the most popular kids in school. Cammy never expected to be able to climb up the high school food chain, and the agenda of the texter may be questionable—but how can she possibly give up the chance to be Queen?
Maybe I don't know myself as well as I think I do, but this does not sound like something I would be interested in, and it seems completely unrelated to the books I've entered into their system. I don't mind it if a Web site requires advertisements; I understand that it takes time to program apps, and "those who work deserve their pay." But, please, let's be a little more transparent about what's an advertisement. Let's not wrap up an advertisement in the guise of an algorithm-based, targeted recommendation (which in itself is a strange thing--perhaps I'll talk about book recommendations another time).

Thing that annoys me about Visual Bookshelf #2: They started tagging reviews that run over a certain number of words as "super reviews," which are given favorable placement at the top of the list. Of course, the designation "super review" only measures quantity, not quality, and more and more reviews on the site are unnecessarily verbose. There are people who write insightful super reviews (and sub-super reviews, mind you), but who would know when they are set adrift in this sea of words, navigable only by the designation bestowed categorically on the long-winded?

All this to say, for now, Visual Bookshelf is it. I tried Goodreads, but no one else is on it (at least as far as I can tell). And so I continue on the broad road.

1 comment:

  1. If you end up switching, I probably won't. That's not as important to me as the blog stuff. I just thought I'd let you know.