MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
You know that you're a bibliophile if you check out people's bookshelves when you visit their homes, if you never pass a used bookstore without going in or if you have a giant wish list on Amazon.com. And if that's sounds like you, then you might want to explore one of the Internet's growing number of book lover's social networks.
WMRA's Martha Woodroof has this report.
MARTHA WOODROOF: On the more general social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, millions of people have posted online personas so that others may get to know them. But many readers believe you can really get to know someone by looking at what's on their shelves.
Mr. SEAN FLANNAGAN (Blog Owner, Deeplinking.net): People tend to define themselves by their books and they love to show off their book collections at home with their carefully arranged book shelves and I think book social networks act as an extension of that.
WOODROOF: Sean Flannagan runs a blog called Deeplinking.net where he explores art and cultural trends on the Web. Hundreds of thousands of readers are joining book social networks to keep track of what they've read or want to buy as a way to give and get book reviews and recommendations, or just for the fun of seeing what others have on their virtual book shelves, complete with cover art.
Flannagan says there are around 40 such book-focused sites.
Mr. FLANNAGAN: People call it the social cataloging phenomenon. It's a social network but it's focused around stuff that people are interested in, as opposed to just connecting person to person.
WOODROOF: Book social networking is considered to have begun in 2005 when Tim Spalding launched Librarything.com as a way to organize his personal books sprawl. The site took off immediately and so Spaulding added ways to socialize and exchange information about books.
Mr. TIMOTHY SPALDING (Founder, Librarything.com): So when you've entered your books on Librarything it tells you that this person shares 50 books with you and that provides a, sort of, possibility. You can look at their library. You can get suggestions from it. You can even engage them in conversation.
WOODROOF: If I had to stuck on a desert island with one book it would be Flannery O'Connor's letters "The Habit of Being." It would tell me who else has "Habit of Being" in their library?
Mr. SPALDING: Yes, and I happen to be looking it up right now.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SPALDING: Yes. And "The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor." Yeah, 278 members have it. There's two reviews, one of them in French.
WOODROOF: There are also suggestions of related books to read. It's a virtual feast of information. But Librarything has plenty of dotcom competition. Sites like aNobii, Shelfari and BookJetty.
Poet Jennifer Chang, who's also a PhD candidate in English at the University of Virginia, is a member of the fast rising Goodreads.com.
Ms. JENNIFER CHANG (Poet, Member, Goodreads.com): As a graduate student, whatever that can keep me off away from my homework, and still they can feel literary. It's little bit (unintelligible) Facebook because you feel like you're doing smart and it goes to your brain.
WOODROOF: When Chang's first book, "The History of Anonymity," was published, she used Goodreads to promote appearances and reach new poetry-loving readers. Otis Chandler, who founded Goodreads in January of 2007, says their authors program was created specifically for members who write books.
Mr. OTIS CHANDLER (Founder, Goodreads.com): If you know anything about MySpace and how they've gotten big by allowing bands to have profiles, it's the same sort of concept. We allow authors to have profiles; it's ending up being a really great way for authors, especially smaller, self-published authors to build a fan base.
WOODROOF: And many of these sites offer widgets that put your virtual bookshelves on your own blog or website. Otis Chandler says the Goodreads feedback group has about a thousand members who pepper him with suggestions.
CHANDLER: So half of my day I go in and then I just think about what they're asking and prioritize it and then sometimes if I know a feature would take half an hour to build, I'll just build it and then reply, okay, here it is. It will be live tomorrow.
WOODROOF: All these sites seem driven to mutate quickly in response to user suggestions, because if readers can't do what they want on one book social networking site, they'll take their libraries elsewhere.
For NPR News, I'm Martha Woodroof.
SIEGEL: And you can find link to a variety of book-centered social networking Web sites at npr.org.