Ode to Goodreads, one of the worst apps ever
Seriously, it's so bad and I love it
I’ve been a devoted Goodreads user for 13 years, almost as long as the site has existed. It’s barely changed at all since then.
In an age of slick apps for every conceivable 21st-century use, I harbor a deep affection for one that is happy living in the early aughts. An app that has no aspirations to be cool or easy to use. An app that is almost proud of how clunky its key functions are. An app that crashes regularly without apology.
You can’t save a draft of a book review, for instance, which should be one of the most basic functions of a book-reviewing platform. Instead, you type something and you have to either publish immediately or lose it forever.
Among other bad UX delights: The ability to organize books into shelves is very 1999, using hard-to-read tag terms and no easy sorting functions. The search engine is so atrocious it’s almost useless; you must type in a title exactly as it appears or it won’t show up, which causes one to wonder why even have a search at all. You’re more likely to see a 404 page for content on Goodreads than almost anywhere else. The recommendations algorithm is laughably poor. The mobile version is so slow and tedious that it’s basically unusable. It’s not surprising, in other words, that the Wikipedia section on criticisms of Goodreads is vast and well-documented.
But hear me when I say I’m not being sarcastic: I do really love it because of how terrible it is.
Goodreads is refreshing in its badness, in its refusal to improve.
I suspect part of its badness is due to the fact that Goodreads is the neglected child in the ever-expanding familial void that is Amazon, which swallows everything in its path like the super-scary slime monster from Fern Gully. Amazon doesn’t have time to even remember that Goodreads exists, which is perhaps why it’s still so slow, outdated, and imperceptibly wonderful.
For all of its flaws, there isn’t another competitor on the scene. Because of the dark-pattern-y way in which it emailed everyone in your address book when you created an account (yikes), Goodreads boasts 90 million users as of July 2019. I’d guess only a tiny fraction of them are lame enough to use it on a regular basis, like myself, but still. That’s a lot of people signed up for a patently terrible app.
I love it because of how little it has changed and because it does what I want it to do: Allow me to feverishly organize my books; glimpse what I own versus what I’ve borrowed; competitively track my reading for the year; and stalk the reviews of better-read people than myself. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Goodreads, please, hear me: Never change. Stay just as unpolished and uncool as you were the day you were born.
Dune, Frank Herbert
Love and Summer, William Trevor
The Road to Serfdom, F.A. Hayek