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Hi, I'm Daniela. Welcome to my personal lair on the Internet. This is where I write about storytelling, activism, technology and pop culture. Sometimes I post videos. I update my lair when the mood strikes me. Follow me on Twitter for daily updates (@dcap).

LibraryThing vs. Visual Bookshelf

Back in April I gushed about a new social networking site I had stumbled upon – LibraryThing (see Gen-Twitter Malaise: Salvation through LibraryThing?).

I am not going to give a bullet point breakdown of all the awesome features LibraryThing offers (I was going to but decided that was a little insane). Here are the major selling points for me that influenced my original membership:

– LibraryThing gives readers the rare opportunity to browse through their favorite (participating) authors catalogs.

– Schools can integrate LibraryThing’s social data into their catalog using LibraryThing for Libraries. LTFL lets you add tag-based browsing, book recommendations, ratings, reviews and more to your OPAC, by integrating with LibraryThing and its high-quality book data.

– LibraryThing is a full-powered cataloging application, searching the Library of Congress, all five national Amazon sites, and more than 80 world libraries (including Barnes & Nobles, Bookfinder, Booksense, Worldcat, Abebooks, etc.) Basically if there is a book you want to find, it’s there. No joke.

– Users can create a LibraryThing widget to display new books or featured books on their blogs, webpages, and other social networking sites.

– LibraryThing Early Reviewers (“LTER”) gives LibraryThing members the chance to read and review advanced copies of upcoming books from select publishers, in exchange for reviews.

– You can access your catalog from anywhere—even on your mobile phone.


Ok! That all sounds great, right? Everything a bibliophile could ask for. So how do I, someone who reads 1-3 books a week, feel about LibraryThing five months later?

I feel nothing. Nothing at all. I haven’t added a book there in over a month, I have made less than five friends, started a group that I quickly neglected, and only bothered to visit my account last night to do research for this post.


2 Major Reasons:

1 – I’m freaking busy, that’s why.

2 – I’m in a vacuum (not really, but will address that later in this post). “You’re in a vaccum? What are you talking about?” I mean in the context of my off and online life, LibraryThing (currently) places me in a silent abyss void of interaction. None of my real friends are on LibraryThing, even my most nerdiest of nerdonians. They are too busy actually reading books, and fine tuning their own mystical personal archiving processes.

So, even ignoring those tome-orgian extremists, the rest of my mostly literate social sphere also missed the boat on LibaryThing.

Why? I’ll tell you why. They found Visual Bookshelf through Facebook and went bananas.

Don’t get me wrong – I love LibraryThing even though I rarely use it anymore. It is such a great community filled with passionate users, and even offers the ability to import/expert as csv your ISBN numbers from other collections.

I know this because I used this feature to import most of my LibraryThing catalog into Visual Bookshelf (Doh!).

Here are the two LibraryThing Facebook Apps floating around:

The version above allows you to display your collection based on the settings in the tool feature on LibraryThing. The display links to your entire library… and that’s it.

The second version, below, does pretty much the same thing only with text.

Compare these two apps with my Visual Bookshelf display. Now let’s compare the Visual Bookshelf features with LibraryThing’s Facebook app features:

– 23,009 daily active users (LibraryThing – Less than 40)

– Search all Amazon sites (LibraryThing – Searches all Amazon sites + Library of Congress, more than 80 world libraries (including Barnes & Nobles, Bookfinder, Booksense, Worldcat, Abebooks, etc.)

– You can see friends with books in profile display mode (LibraryThing – No friend search feature. In order to use LibraryThing’s facebook app, you must first sign up at the LibraryThing website. Currently there is no user-friendly way to search for LibraryThing users on Facebook)

– Easy purchase options (LibraryThing – There is a direct link from each book to it’s corresponding Amazon page, but Visual Bookshelf offers this and other user-friendly options)

– Reading now/already read/want to read options (LibraryThing – Does not have this feature and in order to refresh your LibraryThing app display you must update it from within the app home page (more work, ugh).

– Easily view “most added books” within the app community(LibraryThing – Does not have this feature)
– Easily view “most reviewed books” (LibraryThing – Does not have this feature)

– Locate “Top Readers” (LibraryThing – Does not have this feature)

– Comments on book taste on public shelf (LibraryThing – Does not have this feature)

– Reminds user “you owe us a review” (LibraryThing – Does not have this feature)

– Import books from amazon wishlist (LibraryThing – Does not have this feature)

– Import books via cut-and-paste (LibraryThing – Does not have this feature)

– Import books from another site (LibraryThing – Does not have this feature)

The Winner? Visual Bookshelf. Maybe not in terms of intensive book search, but as a social networking App that extends the reader experience beyond simply cataloging and forum threads, Visual Bookshelf successfully exploits existing Facebook community activity and presents itself as a useful tool that serves as another extension of a user’s personality. Your bookshelf gives new and old friends a closer peek into your tastes and interests. LibraryThing does that as well, with one grave exception –

it counts on your friends to leave their primary social networking experience, to create an account, and it’s limited Facebook App does little in the way of integrating both experiences.

I am sure there are business/political reasons as to why LibraryThing hasn’t busted out with a more competitive Facebook App to give Visual Bookshelf a run for its money. In this LibraryThing topic thread, it’s clear that there are many LT users who are also on Facebook, and who desire a more robust app.

Until that happens, die hard LT/Facebook users will continue to import their collections into Visual Bookshelf and other cataloging apps, but for how long? Why continue to send business to Visual Bookshelf, LibraryThing? With such impressive search power and professional tools, why the delay in updating your Facebook App?

Until I am given a reason not to, I think I am going to continue updating Visual Bookshelf and neglecting LibraryThing.


  • livepaola

    Great post. I have a few hundred books on LibraryThing, so thanks for the tip about exporting in .csv in order to load the Visual Bookshelf. I’d be curious to hear your perspective on Anobii – how about a LibraryThing vs. Anobii post? When you’re not freaking busy, of course.

  • TjloDunka2

    Terrific analysis. I’ve been on LibraryThing for a year, but I am going to keep exploring all the options before making up my mind. Another post mentioned Books iRead as another Facebook alternative. Also, since music and movies don’t do it for me, I feel like Visual Bookshelf would divert attention from my true mission, to share what I am reading with friends. I also would like to be able to include my reviews, something apparently not possible with Visual Bookshelf.

  • danielacapistrano

    “I also would like to be able to include my reviews, something apparently not possible with Visual Bookshelf.”

    Visual Bookshelf does allow you to include your reviews, and reminds you when you are “due” to review an addition. You can also leaves comments on the book’s main page and view others who have added it to their bookshelf, along with all related reviews including your own.

    I think I’m going to have to write a blog entry comparing all known book cataloging sites/tools and their respective social networking features or lack of…. When I have some free time. Later. Maybe.

  • Jay

    There seems to be one thing that LT provides and not Facebook, and that’s the ability to deliver a public RSS feed of recently-added books. As many folks as are on Facebook, it’s nice to share up-to-date info with non-Facebook friends …

  • alex

    I don’t know – I tried to import my librarything books into visual bookshelf as a .csv and it crashed – five times! It doesn’t seem able to import more then 10 books at a time. Visual bookshelf, like most facebook applications, seems useful as a novelty the first time you spot a friend using it, but breaks down once you ask it to really work as an application.

  • Andy

    Useful information, thanks. I was hoping there was finally a decent LT->FB app, but alas, alas. I guess I’ll go with VBS.

  • Dave M

    I signed up for LT and Goodreads about the same time. I haven’t tried VB. Even though GR uses the same Amazon search as VB and lacks the search power of LT, you can establish an unlimited number of shelves and populate them using a drop-down menu. With LT, you have to add the tags each time. GR shows two books on FB on two shelves – Currently Reading and Read, so not as versatile as VB.

  • Adam W King

    The problem I have is that roughly half my friends use Visual Bookshelf, and the other half use the Books application on Facebook. Neither seem particularly better in usability either. If only one would buy out the other and merge!

  • AE

    Visual Bookshelf has stopped importing Lib Thing data. I thought I’d give them a whirl having read your review. I found the page where their import box HAD BEEN, but it ain’t there no mo’. Subsequently I plodded through their help system which is a bit of a modern marketing web 2.o house of horrors (you have to sign up to a seperate service, and they rate the likelihood of your ticket getting answered on whether you’ve chosen a nice picture to go on your query and a nice emoticon for how happy/frustrated you are with the whole Orwellian pipeline they’ve got you working just to get a question answered. It was the help system that really made me abandon the chase. Plus they kept the sign up data that got me that far,with no option to delete. (Can’t find that on LT either, to be fair). They need their hands smacked for being annoying and wasting 1/2 an hour of my time. When do you think they’ll send me my first friendly survey to ping the email I supplied? Urgh.

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