Pop Culture

Will Facebook Become the Ultimate Online Book Club?

James Wallace Harris

Staff Writer

James Wallace Harris is a retired computer guy. Jim dreamed of writing science fiction in his social security years, but discovered he loved writing essays more. Life is short and novels are long. He’s written over a thousand essays for his blog Auxiliary Memory. Jim wrote about science fiction for SF Signal before it folded, and now for Worlds Without End. BookRiot gives him the opportunity to write about all the other kinds of books he loves. Finally, he has all the time in the world to read and write, but he never forgets poor Henry Bemis. (Who also found time enough at last, until an evil Twilight Zone fate took it all away.) Twitter: @JimHarris28

I’ve noticed a trend that I’m not sure I like. Many friends are spending more time on Facebook and less elsewhere on the internet. If they jump out of Facebook it’s because someone shared a promising link.

Bookworms have discussed books online since computers were networked in the 1970s. It began with email, mailing lists, and forums. Usenet News and Bulletin Board Services (BBSes) always had groups devoted to book talk. Book clubs formed on CompuServe, Genie, The Well, Prodigy, AOL and other online services. After Mosaic, web browsers made virtual book clubs easier, more fun, and better looking, replacing those older technologies.

For sixteen years I’ve been book clubbing at Yahoo! Groups. Now those groups are dying. Once active book forums at websites are closing. Popular book discussion mailing lists have become inactive. Readers who want to discuss books online have gone to Goodreads or Facebook.

Two years ago my co-moderator of an online science fiction book club started a Facebook group to generate traffic for our club. It didn’t. But that Facebook group now has 3,500+ members. Our old group has less than a dozen active participants. Of course, most of the Facebook members are lurkers, but it’s still a thriving online book club. I found another science fiction Facebook group that had over 7,500 users.

Smartphones may account for much of Facebook’s activity. Facebook just passed 2 billion users. I knew Twitter, Facebook, and other social media services worked well from smartphones, but it never occurred to me that online bookworms were moving to those services in droves.

I expected Goodreads to become the ultimate online book club, but I might be wrong. My blog gets most of its traffic now from Facebook. It used to come from other blogs, websites, Twitter, and sometimes Flipboard. Facebook is how Book Riot gets most of its traffic. I assume most online newspapers and magazines get much of their traffic via Facebook too.

I recently joined Space Opera Pulp on Facebook, an online book club for readers who love the old pulp magazines. It’s enthusiasm and energy makes my Yahoo book club seem like a funeral where the coffin’s occupant had few friends. Is Facebook becoming the popular site for popular people to talk about popular reading?

Last week I joined a Facebook group with 25,000+ westerns fans and it answered a question in minutes that I had been Googling off and on for days. That same post got a bunch of comments, whereas my blogs and essays here get few.

Facebook can be the better search tool sometimes if you need a human to answer a question. I haven’t given up on Goodreads. Goodreads has features found nowhere else. Goodreads is a quieter place for discussing books online. You might say Goodreads is introverted to the extroverted Facebook. But if everyone stays in Facebook will Goodreads fade too?

Will social media sites consolidate around one company? Response to my tweets has fallen off this past year. They are usually about books.Will Facebook be the T-Rex that eats all the competition? What if Facebook gets to 3 or 4 billion users? Will there be any way to resist it then?

For a while, all the young folks in our families left Facebook. But now they’re back. It’s very hard to ignore a universally used tool.

If all your Facebook friends are talking about the same book will you want to read it too? Or if you’ve fallen in love with a story will you post about it on Facebook? Will you post to your news feed, or to a Facebook book club group? If unknown Facebook users click the like button on your review and then sends a friend request will you confirm it?

I made internet friends through my blog and Yahoo! Groups. I had two worlds. Friends I knew in person and friends I’ve never met. Facebook throws those two groups together, colliding my worlds! People I don’t know now comment on my wife’s posts. For years I’ve mostly got likes from family and friends. Today when I post something I get family, friends, neighbors, old coworkers, old schoolmates, internet acquaintances, and strangers liking and commenting.

I’ve always loved talking about books. Facebook is taking that activity to new dimensions. What will that mean for authors and publishers? They can have their own Facebook pages, making it easier than ever to communicate with your favorite author. It also means writers and publishers get to see their readers and customers, and Facebook can sell them statistical data about us too.

Do we need the old online book clubs? If every book published had a Facebook page wouldn’t it be the logical place to discuss that book and post links to reviews?

Facebook is efficient for finding people with shared interests and for sharing information. However, what people post usually lacks substance. Facebook users prefer clicking the emoticons rather than writing what they think. If they do write something, it’s very short. It’s hard to believe substantive book discussions will happen.

Does that mean we’ll all end up over at Goodreads after all?