Jan 16, 2008

[Social Networks] A Look at the New Shelfari

Shelfari: Header

In recent weeks, book-centric social network Shelfari has made a number of updates and improvements and it's about time like a geek like me settle down and talk about them. After all, this is the one of the few social networks that I still cater to, mainly because I use it as a virtual library.

First thing you'll notice is the overall new look with a cleaner header, a more thought-out series of tabs dividing Shelfari's various features in logical groups that stand out more in the current color scheme and a more integrated updates page covering any new friend requests, new activity related to books on your shelf, a more convenient view of comments called Public Notes left on your page and other items related to your friends and your groups.

Not a bad start to things, but the real treat comes in later.

Shelfari: Shelf

The biggest change definitely has to be the new look to the shelf, as was announced last December. Instead of just one view of things with slow-loading pop-ups and even slower navigation tabs, the shelf now features a rich wooden skin to make it seem like those nice old shelves at gran's place and new sub-levels to your bookshelf covering books you've actually read, books you're reading, books you plan on reading and books you own. It helps distinguish what books you really have versus those you just might have an e-book copy of or may have just read after having borrowed it.

Overall I have to admit there have been big improvements in page loading time. They've added a lot more options to the pop-up detail windows so you don't have to navigate away from the shelf view so much in order to change shelf assignments for a book or to write a review. These were newer bells and whistles just launched this January.

I still wish you could manage tags well enough from the shelf view, but then you can't have it all, I suppose.

Shelfari: Book View

The actual Book pages aren't that drastically different. You still get the same rich set of information about the book in question, links to members and reader groups that have the same book listed in their shelves and of course tagging options and reviews. I'm happy it saves changes a bit faster than before, although you can still feel the seconds ticking away as the "Updating" dialog continues. The best change I've seen so far, as subtle as it is, is the fact that tags are now organized alphabetically when you are typing out your tags, so it's easier to double-check what "standard" tags you have already used previously. I just wish they hadn't disabled the feature automatically marks used tags in bold, thus also helping you identify if you typed your tag correctly, at least based on past tags used.

Overall Shelfari has managed to release a wide array of performance tweaks and UI improvements that definitely give you more reasons to stick around with the site to see how far it'll go. As much as I have respect for LibraryThing, they still require you to pay for more than 200 books whereas Shelfari remains to be free and they're steadily working on design improvements. Kudos to Shelfari! Let's see what other features they might roll out this year.

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