Every once in a while, a new platform pops up in the fediverse that legitimately surprises me. As the ecosystem continues to grow and shift and change, new apps emerge with completely new kinds of functionality that haven’t been seen in the space before. In this particular case, it’s social reading.
If you aren’t familiar with the concept, GoodReads is an Amazon-owned social platform that integrates directly with their Kindle offering. Users track what books they have in their collection, how far they are with reading a given book, and their respective reviews of said work. It’s also a place for people to discover new books, based on what their friends are reading.
BookWyrm is an open source, federated alternative designed by Mouse Reeve, and is supported by Patreon donations. It’s a completely different kind of fediverse app, and I’m really excited to review it today.
Getting up and running on BookWyrm is easy and straightforward. In my case, I chose to sign up on the flagship instance, but there’s some pretty good documentation available for people who want to self-host as well.
When you sign up, you’re initially greeted with a lightbox to fill out your profile, add some books that you’re interested in, and follow some people on the instance.
When I initially started, the app only let me put in a single book. This was probably because I was using a mobile browser, and the app hasn’t been fully adapted to a mobile form-factor yet. I wasn’t interested in typing up every book I had on my shelf, so I started looking at the Book Import feature.
There’s a really smart feature that makes getting started on BookWyrm a breeze – you can import your books and reviews directly from GoodReads, StoryGraph, and LibraryThing. Each of these services allow people to export their book data in CSV format, and Bookwyrm will try its best to pull in those books, along with your reviews, and properly apply timestamps to when you actually did things on other platforms.
This ended up being a huge relief for me, because I didn’t have to spend time building up my digital bookshelf from absolute zero.
One initial challenge that BookWyrm has regards an uphill battle: it can’t possibly know about every book that people are reading – when I attempted to use the importer feature, a fair amount of books didn’t get pulled in. This is partially because the platform currently depends on results from places like OpenLibrary and Inventaire, which offer a somewhat limited selection of results. As a result, it’s possible to have failed imports for certain titles.
Thankfully, BookWyrm offers a great solution: it’s possible to add books manually. For the obscure one-off titles that the system couldn’t find, I was able to manually enter entire GoodReads book entries with images, descriptions, and metadata for the particular editions that I owned, and even set a date to when I started or finished reading it. As a bonus, this manual entry becomes public data that can assist other people with their imports on the instance.
After taking a little bit of time to fill out my missing books with ISBN information and pictures, my profile ended up looking a lot more fleshed out!
Of course, we would be remiss to skip over the social aspects of BookWyrm. In addition to being a reading tracker app, the platform appears to be designed from the ground-up as a way for people to discover new books in an online community.
BookWyrm ships with a social timeline, and it has all the bells and whistles that one would expect from a social platform – you can track the books on your “Reading” shelf, see what your friends are reading and what reviews they’ve posted, and even write a review or post a book excerpt. It’s a little bare-bones at the moment, but honestly, it’s way cleaner that GoodReads, and probably doesn’t need more than what’s already there.
One interesting thing that BookWyrm does is offer lists for books to be appended to. These lists can be private, public, or collaborative, and allows people to put together book collections based on a given theme. As a science fiction fan and art lover, I was really interested in the idea of putting together a few collections of my own.
BookWyrm also features a basic “Discover” page, which showcases the latest book reviews posted to the instance. While I probably wouldn’t use this feature as much as the social timeline, it’s still an interesting way to discover new books, possibly from people you weren’t already following.
Finally, one of the most useful features I’ve found so far on the platform: BookWyrm takes a Wikipedia-style approach to the entries on books and authors. Not only can people manually add unlisted books, or new editions of said books, but they can update and modify any book or author on the instance to reflect inaccuracies that happen to get pulled in from, say, OpenLibrary.
I thought this was an amazing idea, because it meant that I could update books lacking descriptions or covers, add certain books to series, and also flesh out metadata for book authors as well.