It's almost ready to go live, according to Kieron Smith (whose blog, Koob, provides a fascinating insight into the countdown to the launch and reveals the passion for books which lies behind BookRabbit). The idea is that it'll act as a kind of cross between Amazon and Facebook for the book reading/buying/collecting/blogging community, with multi-layered opportunities for networking based on interests, enthusiasm, buying habits or even simply by uploading photographs of your bookshelves and seeing who else's 'matches' yours.
Since I've studiously avoided having anything to do with Facebook, Myspace, Bebo and all the rest (which is the natural habitat of my teenage daughter but an alien and scary world for the likes of moi), the networking aspect of BookRabbit was slightly mystifying in many respects and I was left with the impression that it would - for me - be too time-consuming to get involved in very deeply and also rather 'exposing', in that it's all done on a transparent real-name basis, so there's no hiding behind genteel pseudonyms etc. But obviously there will be plenty of bibliophiles who'll leap at the chance to link up with readers with similar interests so I can imagine it taking off with a whoosh.
It is for online book purchases, however, that I can easily see myself getting the BookRabbit habit. And I can envisage it replacing Amazon as my primary destination. One of BookRabbit's essential aims is to nurture readers' involvement with their local independent booksellers as an alternative (or in addition) to buying online, so for every book you discover and select on BookRabbit, you will be able to check whether your local bookstore has it in stock.
I raised a number of queries with Kieron, and here are his replies:
Juliet: Forgive me for being dense, but I couldn't work out at all how the bookshelf thing worked. I assume one is supposed to upload pics of one's actual current reads, etc. How do the spines get 'indexed'? How does one update them? I would imagine that hurling oneself into it wholeheartedly could all become very time-consuming (simply blogging takes up way too much time, as it is!).
Kieron: You're not being dense at all - the site is still lacking explanatory text and we're adding help videos for those who prefer it. The bookcase tagging is a manual process currently - literally you click on the four corners of a book and search for the title below and the save the tag - we did want to go live with something more 'automatic'. As you say this is time consuming and probably appeals to a slightly different audience; that said, having your first match with someone else is quite fun.
You can of course be a consumer of bookcases rather than a contributor - and take a nosey at other people's - it is interesting to see the context of a title on people's shelves for example.
The bookshelf element is just a part of the broader set of tools that hopefully will work to open up the backlist somewhat.
Me: There doesn't seem to be an option to go 'private' in terms of having a user name which isn't one's own full real name (or at least I couldn't see such an option on the profile page). This is unusual online, and could seem, for a beginner especially, a little
intrusive or intimidating, I fear. Even in the blogosphere a great many people prefer to keep their real identity under wraps, and this is entirely understandable and not necessarily sinister. I'd like to see various 'levels' of identity, privacy and interaction available. Maybe there are, and I just didn't find them. Again, it may be because I'm not very familiar with networking sites that I found this all so impenetrable and a wee bit scary.
Kieron: We went with the 'Facebook' approach for this for the social networking side of the site, so yes real name this was for several reasons, but the principle one is to help with creating a site where people are responsible - sometimes where people can hide behind user names they can be more likely to post abuse etc, unfortunately. You only have to register at all if you want to take part in the community itself, just using the bookshop or looking at content can be done completely anonymously.
Me: I proceeded through the ordering process, partly to find out where the link to my local bookshops kicked in, but it never did. Is this something I missed, or is
it not available yet?
Kieron: This is a sort of halfway house at present - on every book title there is a tab which says 'selling' this shows a Google map of your local bookshops and contact details. What we want to do in the next couple of months is introduce proper ratings, online stock editing etc and hope to be working with the Leading Edge independent
booksellers on this.
Me: As a method of browsing and buying books, I am definitely attracted by the fact that it has a more intimate feel than Amazon. But in practice it is going to be a long time, I suspect, before you will persuade the entire blogosphere to link to BookRabbit rather than to Amazon every time they mention a book, and currently, virtually all my online book purchases are made as a result of a blog review or recommendation, so it's click, click buy. I know I'm not alone in this. There's also the Amazon
associates incentive which, on very popular, high-traffic blogs, can be a genuine earner.
Kieron: Yes you're right - we're introducing our own scheme in the next week - which will rival Amazon's in terms of commission, we also hope to work with bloggers to create custom categories for their particular interests which they can link to
directly. I'm under no illusions that Amazon are very entrenched in this space
and it will take some time!
You can see Kieron talking about BookRabbit and its aims in this short but inspiring video: