At last week's Tools of Change conference, held in New York, Goodreads CEO Otis Chandler provided an overview of how books get discovered on the site. The talk, summarized on the Goodreads blog by Patrick Brown, documents the many ways that discovery happens.
Some things are obvious but worth revisiting: the power of word-of-mouth recommendations, for example. Other things, like the site's recommendations engine, are just coming into their own and show significant potential.
Chandler's presentation also pointed out how social-media powerhouses are not great tools when it comes to discovery, at least for Goodreads members. Only 14% of those surveyed said they had found a book through Facebook; the Twitter number is 6%.
In a talk titled "Exaggerations and Perversions" (that alone should have drawn a crowd), Small Demons CEO Valla Vakili discussed "the obsessions that culture produces" as a way to improve both discovery and engagement with textual works. Where Goodreads works at the level of a title (and does that well), Small Demons operates in what Vakili calls the "storyverse" .. the disaggregation of story into the elements that connect us to it.
I'm not comparing Goodreads and Small Demons, at least not for the purposes of picking an approach and declaring a winner. I think we're still at the starting gate when it comes to understanding discovery. Averages are interesting but not always helpful. What works for fiction may not work nearly as well for, say, business or craft titles.
That the "devil is in the details" was ably demonstrated by the stories that Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, told about the data-driven experimentation that informed the development, design and publication of his book. In both a keynote address and as part of a five-hour executive roundtable held on Monday, Ries underscored the value of developing hypotheses and testing them.
You're right: I've turned this into another post about … Data. The breakfast of champions.