The social network added new relationship options on Friday. Ostensibly intended to better define how authors and the hoi polloi interact, the new options are causing more problems than they solved.
Update: GR posted an update on Monday with the news that they fixed most of the problems described in this post.
Where under the old setup you could be a friend or a fan of an author (or both), the new system offers “three ways you can choose to engage with author pages on Goodreads” : friend, follow, or favorite.
While I’m sure it sounds like follow is simply a new name for fan and that favorite is a brand new option, it’s more complicated than that. The relationships friend:fan and friend:follow:favorite don’t match up cleanly.
To start with, the old system had members forming connections with authors, while under the new system members “engage with author pages” – and yes, that is the way GR framed the interactions.
Yes, authors are no longer members of Goodreads; they’re now pages. In other words, Goodreads sees authors as things.
Goodreads apparently made this change so that they could set up profiles for authors not on GR. Looking at how they talk about it in the FAQ, I think they plan to use the unclaimed profiles for marketing purposes:
Why would I want to Follow an author who isn’t a member of Goodreads?
First, we’re working really hard to get every author to join the Author Program. When an author you’re Following joins, you’ll automatically start receiving their updates. Additionally, we want this to be the way you keep up with the latest from all the authors that matter to you, regardless of whether they are on Goodreads or not.
Why would I want to Follow a dead author? Isn’t that kind of morbid?
Well, it’s not likely that Mark Twain is going to claim his author profile and start writing pitch-perfect reviews of contemporary novels (though if he did, that would be pretty cool, right? OK, it’d also be a little creepy). The short answer here is that we want “Follow” to be a way for all our members to get updates about all of the authors that matter to them, living or dead, in the author program or not.
So Goodreads snuck in a marketing plan in with an update to the structure of their social network.
I think I could have swallowed it, or at least I wouldn’t have noticed, had Goodreads not mucked up the change.
Numerous Goodreads members have responded to the announcement with complaints that the existing “friend” relationship has morphed into a mutant friend+follow engagement. Anyone who was a friend of an author is now both a friend and a follower of an author page.
Apparently it escaped Goodreads’ attention that a member might be a friend of an author because they like the person while at the same time not having any interest the books that person writes.
I don’t know why GR missed it (other than that GR sees authors as things and not people), but that makes perfect sense to me. I know several people who write stuff which I would not read to save my life, but I would still regard most of them as friends*.
This is beyond frustrating. I don’t want to “follow” dead people. I don’t want to “follow” most of my author friends, many of whom I all of a sudden realize are authors. I would be okay with substituting the word “follow” for what used to be “fan,” though I don’t see what that improves.
And even authors aren’t happy with the change:
I write erotic romance and erotica. When before I was able to “vanish” in the number of friends a friend had, without drawing attention to the kind of genres I write, now that is obviously over.
There are scholars, teachers and civil servants among my friends. Do you seriously mean to expose them openly like that? I understand everyone of them who deletes me from their list.
There are now some 400 responses to the announcement, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the people who like the change.
In any reasonable world, that would be enough to encourage Goodreads to revert to the old system. Then again, in that reasonable world Goodreads would first have tested the new set up before inflicting it upon users.
As it stands, we’re probably stuck with the munged together system. Goodreads has promised to reconsider the change, but I don’t have much hope that they’ll fix the damage they caused.
image by Appelez moi thibal