Saturday, October 21, 2006

Librarything, Shelfari, and Gurulib: Social Cataloging Sites Compared

I have recently been looking at Social Cataloging Applications, and have previously looked (briefly) at Gurulib, Librarything, and Shelfari. I am now going to review these sites in unison and in a bit more depth, by looking at the following:

  • Features.

  • Look and feel / ease of use.

  • Data control and ownership (can you import and export your data?).

  • Community and Social Networking.



Utilises the Dewey Decimal system and many other classification schemes.

As Abby of Librarything told me:

'We get the data not only from Amazon but also from 60+ libraries around the world (using Z39.50), we have a lot of data. Dewey, LC Call Numbers, LCSH, etc. You can customize your display styles in your catalog to see data if it's not already showing up, but for most books, the classification is there!'

I think that's pretty amazing.

Librarything allows you to label a book as "received" from one of the 6 book swapping sites which the site supports.

Librarything Mobile (a version of the site designed to be read on a mobile phone or device) enables you to check whether you've got a book in your library when you're standing in a bookshop. Searches via ISBN, title, author, or tags.

Allows you to add your own tags.

Score: 7 out of 10


Shelfari (unlike Librarything) allows for an unlimited amounts of books on your Internet shelf (foe free). This could cause people to convert to it.

Also utilises the Dewey Decimal system.

Uses some nice Ajax, although the site isn't currently compatible with the Safari web browser.

Also allows you to add your own tags.

Score: 5 out of 10


Gurulib like Shelfari is a beta version.

Gurulib does books, DVDs, games, software, and movies. These added features are a real bonus.

Gurulib says:

'Search from over 530 Public Libraries. GuruLib can access over 530 public libraries around the world to collect cataloging information about hard to find books, movie, music, games and software. If your local library support Z39.50 protocol, GuruLib can search it.'

Thats pretty good.

You can add your own titles shelves. Another form of tagging then!

Allows you to scan ISBN or upc codes of objects into the system. Neat.

Gurulib also has a feature called 'Smart Price Watch':

'Set a target price for items in the wishlist, Gurulib will inform you through email when the price of the item falls beneath the target price. A graphical price history will help you know the current price trend.'

That's helpful if you want to buy a book.

Also allows you to add your own tags

Score: 8 out of 10

Look and feel / ease of use


No disrespect but I hate the header. Is it trying to be too retro?. Obviously, if they did change it, some users might be disgruntled.

Really easy to use.

Score: 7 out of 10


Shelfari looks a lot nicer. Out of all the sites it looks beautiful. Pity about not being compatible with Apple's Safari browser.

Again, really easy to use.

Score: 8 out of 10


Very basic look.

Also, really easy to use.

Score: 4 out of 10

Data control and ownership


Most importantly, Librarything allows you to import and export your data. That makes it easy to not only move your data into the site but also take your data with you, if you move elsewhere.

As Abby from Librarything explained:

'[You can] Import... your books (and many people do) from Delicious Library, Bookcollector, Amazon wishlists, Vox, you name it. Check out our "Universal Import" - or look on the Joy tab. You can also export your Librarything data (links also on the Joy tab) - we are firm believers that your data is yours - and that it should be flexible and easy to get to - to put in and to take out.'

Score: 9 out of 10


Only allows you to import your data but not export. Bad shelfari.

Score: 5 out of 10


Does not have either option that I can see.

Update: GuruLib supports exporting and importing data.

As Rana Basheer of GuruLib explained:

'Navigate to your profile page where links for exporting your entire books, movies, music, games or software will be available on the right hand side. The current export format is tab delimited and should open in excel software. The import feature was added recently. Import feature scans for ISBN/UPC/ASIN from XML/text files and then try to find the cataloging information from either Amazon databases or the public library list the user has selected.'

Score: 7 out of 10



Librarything has an advantage of having two blogs. The owner, Tim Spalding, usually adds regularly to his blog. Gives a real sense of community.

Librarything is also about Social Networking. Librarything's recent introduction of groups allows for the conection of like minded people TALKING to each other.

Score: 9 out of 10


Shelfari also has a social networking component. As one comment left on my blog said:-

'The thing I like about Shelfari is that it's primary purpose is to share your love of reading and book recommendations with others. Social interaction relating to books gives the recommendations a personal feel and it's easy to let your friends know what you're reading and why.'

However, the site doesn't have seperate groups or communities like Librarything.

Score: 6 out of 10


Gurulib has a basic discussion forum.

Score: 4 out of 10


The marks added together are as follows and (out of 40):

Librarything = 32

Shelfari = 24

Gurulib = 23

I think you can see that Librarything is my favourite. I think, in comparison to the other two, Librarything really gives you that extra. Its main area I like is being able to transfer your data both into it and out of the site.

I also like the community aspect. Librarything talks to its users. Great site. The only downside is that you have to pay to add more than books to your library. But with these services I think it's worth it. The other two contenders, (who were later entrants to this space) may struggle. I think Gurulib might struggle more than Shelfari, as it does not look so aesthetically pleasing. Shelfari does really look nice, I got to say that. Gurulib in adding DVDs, films, CDs etc is really good, but unlike Shelfari and Librarything, it has no community or social networking.

This is not to say librarything should rest on its laurels (and it hasn't so far). Gurulib and Shelfari are new, and need to get a sense of community. They allow you to add as much as you want. But librarything is being very vigilant. Adding new features, talking to its users and by allowing users to move there data out as well as in, means it has to treat its users well.


Rana said...

Hello Library 2.0,
I am Rana Basheer, co-developer of GuruLib. Thank you for comparing social cataloging sites. I would like to point out that GuruLib supports exporting and importing feature.
After logging in to GuruLib, navigate to your profile page where links for exporting your entire books, movies, music, games or software will be available on the right hand side. The current export format is tab delimited and should open in excel software. The import feature was added recently. Import feature scans for ISBN/UPC/ASIN from XML/text files and then try to find the cataloging information from either Amazon databases or the public library list the user has selected.

Anonymous said...

I'm a copyeditor, so I can't let it slide that it's LibraryThing not Librarything. Either way, I agree it's the best of its kind. I blogged about LT vs Shelfari last week here:


library2.0 said...


thanks for your comments. I've now updated the scores to reflect what you pointed out (that you can import and export your data). If shelfari see any thing wrong with this entry please coontact me and i'll look into updating it.

Tim said...
Hey, the LibraryThing guy here. Obviously, I'm glad things broke the way they did. Even so, here's some thoughts--I hope you don't mind:

1. When it comes to functionality, there's also the following:

(a) LibraryThing has MARC data (eg., language data, LCCs, LCSHs, etc.), detailed tag pages, author pages, subject pages, language pages, author picture galleries, personal tag clouds, personal author clouds, personal statistics pages, profile pages with all sorts of options, RSS feeds for everything, APIs and widgets for your blog. Most of these are not available on either of the others sites. Part of their ease of use is simply that you can't do very much. Ultimately, while Shelfari's one-box profile page, its lack of all social features except one-to-one comments, or its use of Amazon exclusively are certainly *easy*, this comes at a cost. Fortunately, it's particulary easy to move from Shelfari or Gurulib to LibraryThing ;)
(b) To take another example, Shelfari and Gurulib don't allow you to edit any of your bibliographic data; they're basically creating *pointers* to data, mostly Amazon data. As we all know, that's very unsatisfactory stuff, with marketing come-ons ("Movie tie-in edition," etc.) tucked into titles, etc.
(c) We've made a lot of progress recently on input. In addition to ISBNs and UPC/EANs, LibraryThing adds book based on LC Catalog Cards (the only system before ISBNs caught on), Borders product codes (useful since they sticker over the ISBN) and unmodified CueCats. You can also get stuff via Bookmarklet and a FF extension.

2. Price

LibraryThing does charge $10 (year) or $25 (life) for over 200 books. But charging has a flip-side. It makes you a customer, not a "user." Shelfari's stated goal is to float the company on Amazon affiliate revenue. I can tell you right now, that's a non-starter; LibraryThing makes peanuts on much higher traffic. They have also stated they're going to run ads on the pages. To float it on ad reveues, I suspect they will need a lot of adds, which ought to make them considerably less attractive. For either site to succeed, they need to figure out a real revenue stream. LibraryThing currently juggles more book records than all but the top 20 libraries in the US and has well over a million unique visitors/mo--that takes server power. We employ three people. You can't run something of that scale without revenue. Free services without a serious business plan holding your data?

3. Community

I call your attention to the Shelfari terms. Anything you contribute--reviews, tags, your catalog--becomes their property. They don't just get a perpetual, limitless license (a la Amazon; LibraryThing has a limited license), they *own* the copyright now. This seems the very opposite of the Web 2.0 spirit.

4. Community

I find your discussion of community a little unreal. Social software is not about a "features" for social interaction, but the actual society and what it's doing. That is, if you cloned eBay or MySpace--all the same features--but had no users, you'd have nothing. The value is in the society.

LibraryThing has over 95,000 users, who have cataloged 6.5 million books, added over 9 million tags, added 79,000 reviews and 189,000 user-contrituted covers. The community has translated LibraryThing into German, Italian, Danish--even Welsh. LibraryThing forums are hot, and over 3,000 blogs carry the LibraryThing blog widget.

It's telling that neither Shelfari nor Gurulib post the detailed statistics LibraryThing does. It's impossible to know how many users they have, or books in their system. But you can look at Alexa for traffic, Blogpulse and Technorati for blog mention, and they do post their largest libraries. The largest library on Shelfari (3,195 books) wouldn't make the top 100 on LibraryThing, and the next-largest (1,589) scrapes in just under 500th on LibraryThing. GuruLib's largest is 751, somewhere in the 2-3,000s. Given the data they DO show, and the shape of the curve, I'd doubt either site has 65,000 books cataloged. That's 1% of LibraryThing. And we add 20-40,000 every day. The same goes for data like tags. You need millions of tags before tag statistics become possible, and they start to mean something in aggregate.

We all have sympathy with the underdog. At one time, LibraryThing had fewer books than, so it might feel a little unfair for LibraryThing to use its size and popularity against these upstarts. But community is about these things too, not about features.

Thanks for the review! Sorry to go on so... :)

library2.0 said...

Dear Tim,

first off, thanks for your comments Always much appreciated.
secondly, as i said to Rana of Gurulib, i'll update this entry with the information you gave me.

Your point on communities, you say:-
if you cloned eBay or MySpace--all the same features--but had no users, you'd have nothing. The value is in the society.

I still think users want features. What i was underlining in my commentatury was that your FEATURES enable the community. Yup, you need people, but without the investment in the features people would NOT come. Note I gave librarything the highest score in community because you enable users to talk to each other easily. I hope this underlines my points at least more clearly.


Tim said...

Incidentally--since I slammed Shelfari, but am honest--it has an export feature. It's on your profile page under "export my library."

Rana said...

Tim, I would like to point out that GuruLib allows editing all cataloging information it is not just "pointers" to any amazon records. In addition, GuruLib also supports creating widgets which works for even sites that blocks javascript such as Myspace.

One feature that is unique to GuruLib for the time being is tracking borrowed items. GuruLib was created to keep track of items borrowed from your home library by your friends.

Tim said...

Rana: Thanks for the correction. My apologies for the pointers comment. I see it now. I think that makes you the only one, so congratulations. (I'm a little amazed you allow users to edit the publisher's synopsis. There's some murky water there, perhaps.)

I haven't played with your widgets, but that does sound nice.

Unfortunately, the lending feature is in at least one of GuruLib's 20+ competitors, Anobii, and--comparing blog entries--appears to have been in place first, on May 7. Yours works a little differently, however, allowing friends to request books, not just tracking them.

Incidentally, here's a competitor list:

LibraryThing, AllConsuming, Anobii,,, Reader2, ShelfCentered,,, ChainReading, Socialogue,, Gurulib,, Squirl,,, Stuffopolis,, Shelfari, Zestr, Reliwa, Bokhyllan (Swedish!)

That's missing two Japanese sites (at least), and presumably some others.

Anonymous said... - another one for the list above!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I am looking for a way to catalog and organize my home library of about 1000 books. Not interested at this point for the social interaction. What's the best site for this?

Kevin Lee said...

Have you checked out Amazon's Your Media Library?

It has a great interface for organizing stuff, and its not just limited to books.

Oscar Levin said...

Great information here - thanks everyone. What I would really like though is mobile access to these sites. LibraryThing has it (but the site is not free) as does (but the site is kinda slow). As far as I can tell, that's it! And neither offer cataloging of other media, like dvds and games. Honestly, I'm kinda surprised it isn't more popular; I don't think it's that hard to set up.

Does anyone know of a free cataloging site, for books and movies, that offers access via mobile phone? They would definitely gain me as a member.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article. Very informative.

I'm not affiliated with any of these sites. I'm a user looking for a solution.

Library Thing: The site is powerful from a features point of view. However, the user interface/design is a real turn off. I am an engineer of user design and if I am finding it hard to find things, I am sure others having similar experiences (the high user number may have to do with being the first serious kid on the block). The view for visitors is equally badly designed. For this reason, I am trying out the other sites.

aNobii: Very good design, but lacks cataloging information like Library Thing. Overall very good if you don't need Dewey etc. My private library is catalogued using the DDC so that information is important for me. This could be a non issue for other users.

Shelfari: Your article says that it has DDC info in it. Their design is also appealing to off to trying them out next.

Haven't tried out the others (GoodReads, etc.) so will give them a shot if Shelfari doesn't work out.

Niteowl said...

library2.0, I think you might have a few bots or just really rude commenters in this thread. The insurance and software links in particulary.

More on track, I quite like LibraryThing's neat 'recommend you a new book based on what you've read before' feature. I think that's rad. I also like the simplicity of adding new books. Sure, it could use a little face-lift insofar as aesthetics, but it's still the best book cataloguing site I've used.

No, I don't work for LT.

brista said...

Well, LibraryThing may have some nice features, but frankly, it's too ugly. And GuruLib is even worse. :(

Anonymous said...

I've been using LT for 6 months; its major drawback is being often painfully slow (I'm based in Italy)

Graham said...

I'm a happy user of GuruLib. As long as GuruLib stays afloat, I'm delighted with it. I noticed that it slipped heavily in your ratings for the lack of social aspects. You mentioned a basic discussion board. There's much more than this. You can see who's been adding what, who's been making comments about books, and much more. There are widgets available for facebook and other social networking sites.

Sure, it's a little clunky. It went down for a day or two just recently, and I never did hear why. But I'm also attracted to the homegrown feel.

Anonymous said...

I've just discovered LibraryThing. At the moment i'm using bookarmy I think its similar to LibraryThing: book lists, recommendations. However, it does have videos that i've found a nice little touch.

Anonymous said...

Shelfari is quite cool, not sure I like library thing - bookarmy is probably the best site i've been on in terms of books. The only social networkign site I really use though is gurgle for parents which is nice and easy to use and full of stuff I'm itnerested in, being a mum of course helps...

Crystal said...

the comment left by ghkj is a spam comment advertising selling online game money ect. Not that it wasn't obvious.

Anonymous said...

It's several years since this has been posted. I found it surfing for a site similar to Shelfari for music.

I love Shelfari. I have used it for 2-3 yrs now. I love that I can view my books on a shelf as if they were in my favorite bookstore The Tattered Cover. I enjoy reading and writing reviews. I especially love that I can give my husband my password and he can look at my Wish List at Christmas and my birthday. Last Christmas I received 5 books from my list :)
Happy reading!

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Molly said...

I haven't been able to access Gurulib all week. The page just won't load! So I'm going to switch to a more reliable service. Thank you for your post! I'm going to try out LibrayThing. Shelfari looks more appealing but if it's not compatible with Safari then I can't use it! I could just wait for Gurulib to get fixed but damnit I have a stack of new books on my counter waiting to be added to my library and I want to move them already!

John Baldauf said...

It's now July 10 2012 and gurulib has been down for at least 30 days. Is there any reason to think it will be coming back?


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