Of Goodreads and Listicles

I’m a HUGE fan of Goodreads. I have been using it for a few years now, and I was depressed when the new Kindle Fire came out with Goodreads integration and my old Paperwhite didn’t get it for almost a year later. I mark every book I read (mostly the paper kinds, and yes, I’m weird like that) and rate them, though I rarely write reviews. Today, I was looking at the recent deluge of Facebook Book lists and it got me wondering why these lists were a Facebook thing, when all my friends seem to be on Goodreads too. When I started making my own list, I had this vague plan to link the Goodreads pages to the list, but then frankly, for a status message in FB it was just too cumbersome. It’s weird though. Many of my friends have books on their list that I want to read, but now, I have to go discover these lists (or hope that Facebook surfaces the ones I’d really like) and then keep adding on Goodreads.

I wondered why in these times of Buzzfeed and crazed listicles, Goodreads doesn’t have lists. Except, it does. I checked. But here’s my issue – I’m a longtime user and it took a search for me to discover this. I realize that in the interest of simplicity, there is no point in having lists upfront on the login screen. But, in times like this, especially when a book tag is doing the rounds, shouldn’t Goodreads be pushing users to publish these lists on Goodreads? Especially since the FB ones are going to die down, and none of us will ever be able to locate them later. It also looks like Goodreads believes the lists should only be of the format ‘Best Robot Books’ not “Michael’s Favorite Books’ – I wonder why. I mean, I may be far more interested in discovering something from A’s favorite books, than a list of her favorite thrillers, for instance. Maybe I’m projecting way too much of my self into the shoes of a generic user on Goodreads. Maybe people would prefer Goodreads be the way it is. It would be interesting though, to see if Goodreads could maybe create these list driven FB posts as a social media marketing campaign, where they get people to tag books on Goodreads or some such. I feel like all the virality should benefit them!

Goodbye, Landmark

Nostalgia is probably one of the biggest signs that you’re getting old. I feel old today, as I think about Landmark shutting down. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to feel this way, because I’m not from Chennai and Landmark wasn’t THE bookstore of my childhood. And yet, in the same way that Chennai has never been my hometown but was still my home, Landmark isn’t the bookstore I went to the most often but it was still the place that nurtured two of my hobbies, readingĀ and trivia.

It was one of the main stops during every trip I made to Chennai. Even though there were other stores closer to home, I still had to stop by Landmark, just because. It was one of those places that my grandfather took me to, as surely as we would go to Vandalur Zoo when I was a kid, or Eden for lunch when I was older. It was also the home for the Independence Day quiz, when trivia buffs all over India would show up at Chennai to try and win that coveted prize. I haven’t been in Chennai in August very much, but whenever I was, I’ve been at the Landmark quiz. I wasn’t a serious quizzer, so I never got as far as the finals but just watching the quiz was an experience in itself. I don’t know if I will ever be in Chennai in August again, but I do know that if I am, it will be weird knowing that there’s no Landmark quiz to go to. Just like I know that I can buy every book I think of online, on Flipkart or Amazon, but I still cling to paper books.

I now wish I’d stopped by Landmark the last time I was in Chennai, in December. I ended up going to Odyssey only because it was closer, and I didn’t have much time. I now feel like I missed witnessing the end of an era. Like I said, nostalgia is a sign of age – and yes, I feel old. Landmark is going to shut down, and I my kids will probably never understand why I feel the way I do about paper books.

5 Minutes of Fame

On the Internet, everyone gets a chance to be famous, even if it lasts for all of 5 minutes. Last year, me and a couple of friends from school worked on this visualization for a class project. Two weeks later, we were featured on LifeHacker, and we thought that was our 5 minutes of fame.

Now, almost a year later, the FlowingData blog (which I love), picked it up and featured it yet again. It has set off a domino-like reaction with multiple sites and people talking about it, and also referring to our creation as the ‘Pandora of Beers’.

What I find most interesting however is how there are multiple versions of our story, the most common of which is that we are Stanford students – even though we are Berkeley students who used a Stanford dataset (a fact clearly mentioned on the website). Watching this story get re-tweeted, and republished is an interesting study of viral effects, and how some inaccuracies get pushed far and wide across the web.

Ah, well – at the very least I can say that we did get more than our share of the 5 minutes of fame.

Of Designing for People

A friend recently shared this (http://insideintercom.io/the-dribbblisation-of-design/) article with me, and I found myself agreeing with every word in it. One of my biggest reasons for moving away from advertising, and into marketing was because I felt there was too much creativity for the sake of it. Trying to sell something to someone involves telling them why they need it, not pandering to a bunch of critics at an awards festival.

The same thing seems to be happening with UX now that it’s such a buzzword. It’s not uncommon to hear people interchange UX with UI (a fundamental mistake because then you are going to hire someone who is a great visual designer, but maybe not a great experience designer). Usable is not defined by beautiful, but by how well it works. Some of the most usable products are also arguably ugly. Steve Jobs said it best when he said that design is not about how something looks, but about how it works. UX cannot head down this path of pandering to beauty. It has to be based on an understanding of psychology, of human needs. We need to ensure that we make products that are usable and that do not create a cognitive overhead for our users. If that means we sacrifice our artistic sensibilities, then so be it.

Crowdfunded Travel?

The latest rage on Facebook is this website thats collecting email IDs for a beta test of what they claim will be a crowd-funded travel portal. A bunch of my friends have been sharing this link and ooh-ing over it. I, for one, just cannot understand why on God’s earth anybody would be willing to pay for someone else’s travel, even if it is an inspirational trip of a lifetime.

The argument that the same rationale that applies for crowdfunding a movie, or contributing on Wikipedia does not hold good, to my mind atleast. If I fund a part of a crowd-funded movie, I eventually get to watch the creative output and enjoy it. The same goes for Wikipedia, where I get to read on sujects I don’t know of (I don’t want to get into the depths of Wikipedia’s contribution mechanism because that will send me off on a whole other rant).

But if I fund a part of your travel, I get to be inspired by your, um photos? Given that research has shown that the biggest source of unhappiness out of Facebook is the envy caused by travel photos, does this mean that we are now paying to make ourselves unhappier? I am totally on board with the idea that someone should pay for my travel (hey, free vacation!), but do I really want to pay for someone else to see the Northern Lights (I’m picking this example cos a friend went recently and it was the most inspiring trip I’ve seen pictures of) and share a beautiful set of pictures, when all it does is remind me that I cannot go there right now because I’m stuck at school, or work or whatever? I don’t know, something here just doesn’t add up, for me.

I guess I’ll register and see how they take this product forward, and then decide whether or not I believe this behavioral intervention of sorts works.

PS – I discovered the reason for virality. The minute you give them your email ID to be a beta tester, they claim they will give you $50 toward your first trip if you get atleast 3 more people to join. This gets more and more interesting, given that you are essentially advocating an idea that gives you a delayed monetary benefit of sorts. Now the marketer in me is intrigued.

For those who don’t yet know this, I’m an info geek, who enjoys thinking about products, design and behavioral economics.