Many of us have a love/hate relationship with social media. On the one hand, it allows us to keep in touch with a diaspora of friends and family, network for current and future jobs, and connect with communities that, just 30 years ago, would have been out of reach. On the other hand, it provides a platform for Pulitzer-winning journalism and “fake news” alike, allows us to disconnect from the consequences of our online speech, and can be an organizing tool for fringe, hateful groups. As educators and historians, how can we use social media to foster and encourage the positive aspects of this far-reaching, participatory culture–education, community, connection–while still maintaining a safe, authentic learning environment? This week, we’ll take a look at one social media site, Goodreads, and what it has to offer our “doing history” practice and publics.
What is Goodreads?
An older site by social media standards, Goodreads was launched in January 2007 “to help people find and share books they love.” Largely an unfunded operation their first year, Goodreads received several large investments over the next several years and, by 2011, acquired Discovereads, “a book recommendation engine that employs machine learning algorithms to analyze which books people might like, based on books they’ve liked in the past and books that people with similar tastes have liked.” After a user rated 20 books on a five-star scale, Goodreads could now recommend what titles those users may be interested in in the future. This was in direct competition with Amazon’s book-rating system, and Goodreads was eventually acquired by Amazon in 2013. Currently, users can “add books to their personal bookshelves, rate and review books, see what their friends and authors are reading, participate in discussion boards and groups on a variety of topics, and get suggestions for future reading choices based on their reviews of previously read books.”
Goodreads as social media resource
So, how do we tell the stories about the stories we’ve been reading? On Goodreads, we log our own reading lists and connect to those of our friends, hear from famous and not-so-famous authors, leave reviews, and join groups of likeminded readers. A mix of personal goals and public conversation, Goodreads often feels like a bridge between the analog reading experience that many of its users grew up with and the digital world of social connectivity and discussion. It is an accessible platform—with connectivity to other social media sites like Twitter and Facebook—which allows its users to stay connected across platforms, if they choose to. It is indeed an example of Web 2.0 technology, or software that “gets better the more people use it.” The more reviews and ratings a user leaves, the better the recommendations. From the vantage point of the professional historian, you could also use the site to mine the social traces of its users—the interactions with texts that we often don’t get to see, such as their reactions to significant quotes, online conversations about characters, etc. One can imagine that Goodreads users and museum goers are, if not one and the same, certainly good bedfellows, and following or participating in community groups on the site could allow local historians to get a sense of not just what people are reading, but how and why, data that could inform their own approach to participatory museum exhibits or classroom activities.
So, educator-historians, what social media platforms have you effectively incorporated into your own lessons/exhibits/public discussions? Which have been less effective and why? How does participatory culture and shared authority change the way we approach these tasks?
quotes from Wikipedia contributors. “Goodreads.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Sep. 2018. Web. 24 Sep. 2018 unless otherwise noted