Readerly swept through book Twitter like a storm two weeks ago and like any good bandwagoner, I too signed up to snag a free premium account. Two weeks later, well, I haven’t heard a single mention of the new app.
Readerly, according to their own website, is marketed as a for the people, fuck Amazon Goodreads alternative. In fact, there’s very little on their website that isn’t about challenging Amazon’s influence over the book community, which for me is a massive red flag. For me, if a morally-preferable option also performs significantly worse. I’m still unlikely to use it (don’t ask me about StoryGraph, didn’t jump that bandwagon). Additionally, the one change they do highlight, removing the 5 star rating system for a percentage, doesn’t imbue me with confidence.
As someone who’s dabbled in UI design for internal company tools, some of these complaints will simply be, this button should be moved or this button should exist. This post was not written to bash Readerly, especially since the app has only existed for a couple weeks and their poor devs must be scrambling to put out fires. These are just personal observations that I’ve noted and wanted to share.
- The gists are nice. I’ll be honest, I usually write long 5 paragraph reviews on my blog and GR that I’m pretty sure most people don’t read. And it’s usually a quick, three-sentence blurb that gets someone interested in a book anyway, so forcing the 200 character limit is a pretty neat idea
- The Tags! Very ao3 like, always a good thing. Hopefully, as the userbase grows and more books are written, tags can start getting suggested like ao3 does. Personally, I run into mindblock where I know I want to tag things, but I freeze up on the spot and forget everything I should be tagging.
- A specific section for trigger warnings/content warnings. This is definitely something I wish Goodreads made more visible. Like tags, hopefully an auto-complete feature will be added in the future
- The groups. I made a test one with a couple friends just to see what they’re like and I like that you can share books specifically within a group, tailor gists to just a couple people. It’s nice to be able to make hyper-specific recommendations knowing it’ll only get seen by a select group.
- Why remove the star system. Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with 1-5. No one asks to get rid of it. Just make it 1-10 or add the half star option, Like/dislike for a book feels so reductive because there’s plenty of books where I’d say, I didn’t like this but X, but or I didn’t dislike this, but I didn’t like it either. I get that readerly tries to weight books by some arbitrary percentage, but to me, giving a single percentage number (determined by an algorithmic black box) just obfuscates the algorithm more. With a star system, I know the entire process. With stars, I know to ignore certain reviews, and can clearly see how much certain critiques affect a book.
- Warnings and Dislikes should be two separate pages. There are things I dislike (MC has no personality, pacing felt rushed, etc) that aren’t content warnings, just things that bother me but may or may not affect other readers. On the other hand, things like ‘sexual assault’, ‘animal death’, ‘bury your gays’, etc, are CW/TWs that would be important for any reader going in to know. The two really shouldn’t be conflated, and I’ve found myself not putting personal dislikes because I don’t want to clutter CWs/TWs.
- New/Recommendations tab only features reviews from ‘official’ reviewers, aka places like Kirkus, the LA Times, NYT, etc. I’m sorry, but I really could not care less what the Christian Science Monitor thinks about a book. This is a site advertised for crowd-sourced gists, at least include a user-written ones to throw in with the more ‘official’ gists. There’s been enough scandals with literary magazines giving blatantly biased reviews to BIPOC authors that I’ve learned to not give their reviews as strong a weight.
- Mobile Only. WHYYYYYY??? Perhaps its the boomer in me, but I’m still a primarily desktop user. My phone is for reading ao3 and browsing Twitter, my laptop is where anything important or productive happens. Mobile-only immediately makes me less inclined to use a service, and also less inclined to treat it seriously.
- Lack of databasing and information. This ties into the mobile-only complaint, but when I use Goodreads, the number one feature I use it for is to track the books I read and the various stats that come with that (does that make me an odd user? Not sure). The social media aspect is secondary, a nice addition at best. What Readerly offers right now in terms of finding basic information on a book (publisher, publication date, page count, etc) is basically non-existent.
Features I hope get added
- Block lists for tags → ie if I dislike ‘military romance’ or if I want to ignore books with specific TWs and a book has been tagged with that X times, it won’t ever show up on my feed
- Tag search. I’m basically throwing all the features I love about ao3 in at this point. Lemme search by books with a user-generated tag like ‘anti-hero protag’ or ‘Chinese setting’
- Hide by author/series → SJM has written over a dozen books. I have no interest in any of them and it’s seriously a pain to have to go in an manually hide them one by one. Also the rec feed keeps trying to rec me her books (reasons why I dislike this arbitrary percentage value system). This is equally applicable to any author/series with 10+ books to their name
- A back to top button → If i’ve scrolled for 10 minutes on my TL and I wanna check out a different tab, there’s currently no way to get back to the top without either a) scrolling all the way back to the top (annoying) or b) closing and re-opening the app (why).
- Let me comp more than books. TV shows, radio dramas, Movies, Anime, Video Games, etc should all be comp options. Recently, I wrote a Gist for Lee Mandelo’s Summer Sons where my #1 comp would be the NBC Hannibal TV show. But since that wasn’t an option, I was stuck using the unofficial Hannibal Cook Book instead.
- User-generated rec lists. There’s some kind of user-created list option in the bookmarks tab. I’d love to have a couple public-facing lists like ‘Fave Asian Authored Books’ or ‘Fave books with queer protags’ for followers to see
Frankly, I don’t see Readerly as a competitor for Goodreads right now. I see it as a competitor for Twitter. Specifically, Book Twitter. By the simple fact that Readerly is currently mobile-only immediately cuts its usefulness to me by 80%. The gists are neat, the ao3-like tagging system could be really cool, the recommendations are convenient. but those aren’t things I use Goodreads for. Readerly lacks the databasing and the information aggregation that gives Goodreads its value. And until then, it’s just another social media app to talk about books in 200 characters. Which Twitter already does.