David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
"I Must Make My Witness": The Dizzying Array of Social Networks

January 10, 2011:  "I Must Make My Witness":  The Dizzying Array of Social Networks

My publisher, IUniverse, set me up with about a dozen social media to use for promoting It's All Academic.  Admittedly, I have only dabbled in a few, focusing most of my efforts on the It's All Academic Facebook page.  I also officially signed into two "reader" networks (I guess that's what I would call them) that seem less about promotion and more about connection (in and of itself this is not a bad thing).

If you've never seen them, check out LibraryThing and Goodreads

In essence, these sites bring together millions of book lovers (LibraryThing currently has 1,257,307 members) to share opinions about books, to post "wish lists" of books, to follow along with "featured authors", and, essentially, to catalog each member's library collection.  As of January 10, LibraryThing has cataloged 58,729,202 books, although, not surprisingly, only about 5 million of those cataloged books are "unique."  (I'm not sure I'm interpreting LibraryThing's statistics correctly, but I'm guessing that J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the most cataloged, or at least has 56,416 loyal fans). 

I know that Kamran3 (whoever he or she is) has the largest private collection of cataloged books (45,604) among the members, that Bluetyson has written the most reviews (35,612), and that Eromsted has 158,987 "tags" (I'm still not entirely sure what those are; as far as I can tell they are "identifiers" about books' content, genre, time period etc.).  In addition, there are un-quantified hundreds (probably more) of special interest groups (there are 8,388 members of "Librarians Who LibraryThing"; and a bunch of private or dormant groups of 2 members, including the intriguing "superprettygirls."). 

Finally, the community has hundreds of discussion threads, ranging from "book challenges" (what will be the 75 books you read this year), to a lot of "what are you reading right now," to games ("Book Titles:  Use the last letter of the previous posting to start your title.")

I look at all this and I wonder, where do I even begin?  Do I start listing my own collection of books (and does that force me to finally break open those fifteen boxes of books in my storage area that I can't find room for on my shelves?).  Do I start a discussion thread about "Best Lines from McTeague"?  Do I start an "Americans who love Peter Robinson group"?  Do I jump into the book title game and name some little-known work by some obscure writer just to show my pretentious literature-degree background?  Trust me, I feel lured by all of these options.

I admit that I have already succumbed to another network long before IUniverse set me up with these two.  If LibraryThing is BookTV, then RateYourMusic is MTV:  both the halfway decent MTV that showed Duran Duran videos at the same time as "Remote Control," as well as the completely non-music channel now devoted to what I call "RYP" (the reality of young people).  When I joined RYM (as the fanatics at the site like to call it), I had every intention of cataloging every cd and album I had.  I quickly realized it would take my entire life to catalog, with pithy reviews, as other members did, of 1500+ albums and cds.  In fact, at the moment, my collection stands at an embarrassing 16 albums/cds, with 16 reviews that tax my ability to discern 4-star albums from 3-star albums.

Having given up on the collection input, I still go to RYM frequently to check out its discussion threads, which encompass much broader topics than what appears on LibraryThing.  (At the moment, I can participate in, if I wish, discussions on "Favorite 10+ minute songs;" "Music Mags;" "Unintentionally hilarious bits of albums;""Was punk most dominant in the 80's;" "Partners with musical differences--what do you do?"  And I haven't even checked out the "off-topic" threads.)  If the book lovers I see on LibraryThing appear to be relatively congenial and polite, the conversation on RYM often veers into snarky and mean-spirited.  (God forgive the innocent 17-year old who posts the thread, "Is today's music the best ever?")

Where do all these people find the time to participate so much in these networks?  Is it just me or do these social networks seem the equivalent of killing time on long car trips?  Ooh, who can come up with 10 song titles from license plates?  Wait, I'll name a book and everybody give it a 2 minute review!  Are many of our lives the equivalent now of that cross-country road trip in our parent's Volkswagon Beetle, not enough personal space and too much need for distraction?

I know that no matter how much "fun" I had playing the alphabet game with my sisters as we flew through South Dakota, it was merely time-filler until we got to a place with a pool.  Now, I picture people at the pool playing these games via laptops and cell phones. Anybody else interested in checking out the deep end?