A better app for readers
How Would I Improve Goodreads?
published on 12.14.23
UI/UX - Modernize User Interface
Data / Discovery
I think I'd focus on the UI / UX angle first. First because this is such low hanging fruit. Goodreads is useful, but hideous to use. Way too many features all demanding your attention. Not just on a surface aesthetic level either. The actual experience of "making things happen" there (adding a book to a bookshelf, adding the date you read a book, etc) is annoying. In my experience, readers admire beauty. They want their bookshelves and their book software to be worthy of the beauty contained within the books they hold. And they should. I'd focus on making my software extremely good at helping users build their own digital bookshelves. A personal well-organized library would be prioritized over social features and "the feed" initially. Think of the success of Notion and Pinterest. Think of the power of Instagram and Twitter's bookmark features. That would be the focus, make it valuable simply as a personal library, then expand its value.
Along with that I'd probably get the Data / Discovery stuff up quickly. There are so many explorations to embark on regarding recommendations, "previews", "summaries", and tagging / sorting. Leveraging AI would help tremendously (I mean it would help users and raising VC funds). Again, see how this focuses on bringing value to the individual reader's space, not focusing on a "community" or social features until the software nails that?
Then again, I'd have to recognize that the integration functions would help growth and the ordering functionality would help revenue (affiliate links).
If we did advertisements, you could pay an insignificant amount more to not see them. And you'd only see ads related to print publications and other books.
I think you'd have to minimize the amount of "text" content within the software. It would be a largely visual platform. Reviews would primarily be wordless. If you allowed user reviews / notes they'd either a) only be visible to them or b) have character limits like Twitter. They'd be displayed "behind", "a swipe away from", or "within" the book objects. You would never show reviews or notes in the public area unless another viewer took an action to view those. It's like in a real library or bookstore, just spines or covers until you feel inclined to pick something up and investigate. You read the back maybe (AI summary) or leaf through the pages to discover a forgotten bookmark or notepage.
We'd have entire bookshops on our software. You could browse the stacks of City Lights from your favorite chair while enjoying a warm cup of coffee. You could see what books your favorite spot was currently recommending. You could drop a book in a friend's "mailbox" for their consideration. It'd be fun.
I'd either charge a one time charge at the time of purchase, or an acceptable reoccuring annual fee. Goodreads is free, but we'd be better. Maybe I'd even do it where you'd get the month free if you'd ordered a book that month. Exporting your library (book covers and all) would be delightfully simple, so if you decided to leave we'd actually help you.
If I launched this software the headlines would say "Finally, a better Goodreads", "A reading app as gorgeous as the books it contains", and "Finally, a digitial library worth exploring". They'd be a bit clickbaity, a bit ostentatious, but they'd be right.
I think I might call it "Penumbra", as an ode to Robin Sloan, or perhaps more precisely, to Ajax Penumbra. Or maybe "Borges". Or I could call it "Codex" or "Dewey". There are as many names fluttering in my mind as unread books in my library. But I need to tread carefully, because in my experience, once you have a name, code begins to write itself into being.
Collected reading on this topic