From Goodreads to The StoryGraph
One way to reduce reliance on Big Tech platforms is to find smaller alternatives and then migrate your data over. This is what I did when I learned that Goodreads, a social media platform for tracking reading, is owned by Amazon. After some exploration, I discovered The StoryGraph. I migrated my booklists, and I haven't looked back since.
The StoryGraph is an online platform that helps you track your reading and interact with other readers. Similar to Goodreads, on The StoryGraph you can add books to your 'to read' list, add books you are currently reading, and create reviews for books you have finished. The website can present your personal reading habits over time in helpful visual graphs. Finally, The StoryGraph uses an AI tool to recommend new books, a feature users have found effective and accurate.
One of the things I like most about The StoryGraph is that it is run by a small team. Their customer support is surprisingly efficient, considering my emails are mostly answered by one person. The tone of the emails are friendly, polite and personal, and they follow through until your issue is resolved.
The StoryGraph is free to use. The team is committed to keeping the free option for as long as the platform exists. You can also join a paid tier with extra analysis and other tools.
Similar to Goodreads, you can befriend and follow other readers. The social aspects are limited—the primary focus really is reading, not interaction. This helps reduce the negative side-effects that come with social media features, such as competitive comparison, virtue signaling, and a disproportionate awareness of status. The StoryGraph allows you to just focus on your passion for reading, while still keeping a device-synced record with some limited interaction with other readers. I like those aspects a lot.
The StoryGraph has an app, which looks good and works well. In particular, I like using the app to quickly add a new book to my 'to read' list, or to browse reader reviews of books I am considering reading. I do not use the recommendation feature much, but my partner has told me her recommendations have been excellent.
As a long-time Goodreads user, I felt some trepidation about migrating my reading list over to The StoryGraph. As I discovered when moving my data from Evernote to Standard Notes, migration between platforms can be a messy process.
Fortunately, The StoryGraph has a detailed, step-by-step explanation of the migration process, which is accessible under the 'Manage Account' section once you have set up a profile. They describe the process as follows on their main page:
We will import all of your currently-reading, read, to-read, and did-not-finish shelves. Any custom shelves will be mapped to a custom tag on StoryGraph.
I found the process easy to execute and had no issues with missing or mislabelled data. It is important to note that the migration process from Goodreads should only be executed once when starting your account. Repeating the process might result in cluttered or duplicated data.
While I do have the smartphone app installed as a web application, I mostly access my account via my browser on desktop. Once you have set up an account and imported your books, you'll see the following features on the main page:
- Home page - shows your 'Currently reading' books, followed by your 'To-Read' pile and then recommendations. Also shows the current 'Giveaways' (see below) and books that are popular in the community this week. The information is presented in a visually attractive way, using the book covers, similar to the way video or audio streaming services present films or albums
- STATS - this page displays your reading habits in several different graphs. You can adjust filters to your liking. The information is quite useful and gives insight into reading habits I may not be aware of
- READING CHALLENGES - here you can set personal reading goals, similar to Goodreads
- COMMUNITY - an overview of people you follow and friends you've connected with. I like that it shows which books they are reading. The page also suggests readers with similar tastes to you. There is a 'buddy reads' option which I have not yet tried
- GIVEAWAYS - a new feature in beta where you can enter your email address for a chance to win a prize. Currently, I see an interesting giveaway, an audio book version of Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, among others
There is a search function at the top which is my main way of engaging with the platform. Lastly you can click on your icon to see profile and account information.
I find The StoryGraph's take on writing reviews refreshing. You don't have to end your reading with a review, but you can give up to five stars for each title, where all your five star reviews are compiled in a separate list. You can also see other users' five star rating lists, which is helpful information. Unlike with Goodreads, The StoryGraph has introduced 0.25 increments, so you can add a bit more nuance to your own ratings, giving an almost perfect novel a 4.75 rather than a 4.
The written review is preceded by some selection options. You're first presented with a selection of moods that fit the text, an unusual approach that must mean something to the AI recommendation tool. Secondly, you're asked about the pacing of the book, followed by some plot-vs-character questions. All of these are quick to fill in. You then end with your star rating, and can add a narrative review, if you wish to do so. The page ends with tags and the option to provide content warnings.
In browsing other readers' reviews, you can select the option to only display reviews that have written explanations.
While The StoryGraph does not promote itself as a pro-privacy platform, it does have some features that I like.
The main privacy benefit of switching to The StoryGraph, if you are a Goodreads user, is that it enables you to stop supplying information about your personal life and preferences to Amazon, one of the 'Big Five' data hungry mega companies. That in itself is a plus for privacy.
Secondly, I like that The StoryGraph has a page that shows you how to create a web application of their site, if you are unable to access the Google Play or App Store, or if you are using an alternative operating system. This page is only relevant once you have created an account, but I will add the link under 'Documentation' below, should you need it.
I have noticed an increase in recommendations to use Web Apps or PWAs over store apps in the privacy communities. There is a discussion on Techlore's new discussion platform on that topic here, for example.
It is not difficult to find the tool for deleting books or your entire profile. Also, in the account section, you can adjust profile privacy settings. Published reviews do always connect to your profile, no matter how severe your privacy settings are.
I wanted to make sure I hadn't missed anything, privacy-wise, so I reached out to the team to explain I was preparing a review. Rob, the co-founder replied enthusiastically, saying he is active in the privacy communities himself. He added the following additions which I will share here verbatim:
Here are some points which might not be immediately obvious:
- We use Plausible.io instead of Google Analytics or any other intrusive tracking tool.
- We do not sell your data to anyone.
- We are an ad-free platform.
As usual, no platform is perfect and there a few minor issues with The StoryGraph which I'll outline here; however, my overall experience with the platform is positive.
- difficulty finding the list of books you've read
I want to be able to quickly see what I have read recently and before, to remember, for example, titles, authors, or my ratings. This feature is not prominently displayed on the home page, which seems to focus primarily on what you might want to read next.
The way to get to your 'Read recently' section is to click on your profile icon (upper right corner), then choose 'Profile'. Recent reads will be listed below your current reading list, followed by all your five star reviews and tags.
- limited search filters
You can search by title or by author intuitively, but beyond that, filtering is limited. When searching 'Stephen King', I see a list of 1128 books, which includes all graphic novels, spin-offs, etc.. That is a lot more than the 75+ novels he's written. I wanted to see just his novels in different orders: by date of publication, then by user rating. I was not able to do this and had to go elsewhere for this information.
- small selection areas on smartphone
Perhaps one of the reasons I prefer accessing The StoryGraph on my desktop is that the selection areas (author, title, review) in the app are really quite small, so you almost feel you need a stylus to select what you want. This can be quite frustrating, when, for example, you want to adjust reading dates you've set incorrectly earlier.
- editing errors
Related to the above point, editing information you've entered is not super-intuitive. It took me a while to figure out how to edit a review I'd published. I did something wrong with one of the titles which is now incorrectly listed as 'read twice'. I can't figure out how to fix that.
- limited reading groups features
I need to look more into the reading groups options on The StoryGraph, but it is not as straightforward as setting up a group on Goodreads. I used to use Goodreads in my teaching, and would create large reading groups for each of my classes. I reached out to The StoryGraph about this issue, and they admitted that, while there are some limited reading group options, it would not be possible to set up several large reading groups each year, like I was able to do with Goodreads. I think there are some grouping ideas under development, however, and I appreciated the honesty of the response.
I continue to use The StoryGraph today, and am considering paying for the extra data tools (and just to help support the endeavour). I deleted my Goodreads account long ago, and have never once felt that was a mistake.
Adoption of platforms like The StoryGraph is in line with my philosophy of selecting your platforms carefully and paying for services, if that helps create distance between you and Big Tech. Thankfully, The StoryGraph seems to provide that distance for free, which I appreciate. My family are on the platform, as well as a few friends, but I find I mainly use it as a personal reading list. I do not miss the hyped social features Goodreads offered; in fact, I prefer a bit more privacy around my reading list.
Replies from The StoryGraph
Soon after publishing this post, I received the following useful tips from the development team via Twitter:
- For fixing accidental reading progress errors:
Regarding the extra read entry, click on "view/edit read history" on the book page and then delete the second entry
- For tracking changes and plans for improvement:
You can keep track of what we're working on on our roadmap: http://roadmap.thestorygraph.com.
After this article was published, someone from the small team of Hardcover got in touch. At first glance, their reading tracking app has many similarities to The StoryGraph, so I hope to try it out soon. The person who got in touch with me requested feedback and displayed an openness to criticism about privacy concerns, a good sign.
The StoryGraph as web app
The StoryGraph team
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