List and Shelves and Organization, Oh My!

Adam FortunaAvatar for Adam Fortuna

By Adam Fortuna

6 min read

Book organization is a core piece of any book tracking application. This enables easily seeing books organized in a bunch of different ways. Here’s a look at some of the ways we’re tackling this at Hardcover.

It takes much more commitment to read a book than to watch a movie. Add on to that peoples different reading speeds and a “reading a book” could take from hours to months. When I commit to reading a book, I’ve decided it’s the most important book that I should read at that moment. That’s a lot of trust in an author, but also in whoever recommended it for me.

Like a lot of people, I track what books I want to read on Goodreads. This helps me choose that next book carefully. If I’m going to be spending days or weeks with a book, I want to know I’m not using my limited reading time on something that I’ll regret.

One thing that plays strong into this decision is lists. We’ve been thinking a LOT about lists on Hardcover. In fact it’s going to be one of the core features. The more research and brainstorming we’ve done on this topic, the more excited I am about it! We’ve talked about status lists, manual lists, smart lists, request lists – just to name a few I’ll go over in this post.

In fact, if Goodreads were to disappear tomorrow, this is the top feature that most people would miss the most – according to a recent poll on Reddit.

From the readers we’ve talked to when starting up Hardcover so far, this completely matches up with what we’ve heard. Most people use Goodreads to keep an ongoing list of what they want to read. Eventually they move those books from “Want to Read” to “Read” (maybe through “Currently Reading” as well).

In the Goodreads world these are called “Exclusive Shelves” (something only about 1 in 5 people we’ve talked to knew). On Hardcover we’re calling them what they really are: your status on a book.

Your Status for Every Book

For every book out there, there’s some status that fits for your relationship with it. These include what you’d expect – “Want to Read”, “Read” and “Currently Reading”. It goes beyond that though: “Did not Finish”, “Ignore this book”, “Paused”, “No Interaction”, “Saw on a shelf but haven’t expressed interest in” and tons more.

When you go to your “Want to Read” list, it should show every book that is currently in that status. As soon as you move it to a new status, it’ll remove it from that list and move it to the new one. Every book will be in exactly one status – or none if you’ve never interacted with it.

We’re building Hardcover with the intention of having a few set statuses that anyone can use – including a “Did Not Finish” status that is sorely missing from Goodreads. Readers can decide which ones they want to use and (eventually) hide the rest. If you never track what books you’re “Currently Reading”, you can disable that option and you won’t see it anywhere on the site. Just want to use Hardcover as your “Want to Read” list and nothing else? We got you.

Others want much more fine grained control over what they read. They want to move books into “Currently Reading” and be able to calculate how many pages they read per day on average. Those who love stats and want to further use them to understand their own reading habits. As someone in this group myself, we got you there as well.

By having these statuses systemwide, it does allow us to better improve the experience. Let’s say we create an “Ignored” status that hides that book everywhere on the site. Having that deeper level of connection between the status and how it is shown on the site should enable a really personalized experience that the OCD book tracking nerd in me is super excited about.

Your Personal Lists

Manually created lists are exactly what you would imagine. These are lists created by a single person. They can have any number of books, and can include books across different statuses.

When talking to people who use Goodreads today, we were surprised to see how few people use manual lists. Status lists were widely used of course, but manual lists were a distant second. But why?

That’s something we’re still trying to figure out. We have a bunch of theories about why. For many readers, the “exclusive shelves” are enough to solve their biggest use case. They have their “Want to Read” list, and don’t need to much else.

Secondly, there’s not much you get by creating a list. How many books on this list have been read? What percent of pages have been read? Is this list from some outside source – a blog, news article or a TikTok video? Who knows?

That’s not to say lists aren’t used! What we suspect is that they’re used less for what people want to read, and more for sharing what books they’ve read in an organized way – or track books towards a goal. We also suspect there’s a LOT of possibilities here for people to show off what they’re reading, share favorites and discover books from other readers.

Looking at some of my lists in the above image, a lot of these are jumbles that I’ve mostly forgotten about. I share my “Recommendations” list when people are interested in my all-time favorites. I’m currently working through NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy books of all time and would love a way to easily track what percentage of that list I’ve read – a feature missing for lists on Goodreads.

Lists are used in so many different ways! You can have a ranked list – where order is important. You can have a private list of books you don’t want to share with other people. You can use them for organizing books you want to read, or for those you’ve already read. They’re versatile, and limited mostly by imagination.

One aspect of lists that I’m excited about is a Letterboxd feature we’re planning to adopt – the ability to copy a list. Did someone create a list that you really love? Copy it to your account so you’ll always have it handy.

This will be an amazing way to discover new books. We’re already planning dozens (hundreds?) of lists for launch. Things like “Hugo Award Winning Science Fiction Books”, “NY Times 50 Best Memoirs of All Time“, and even using lists as a way to elevate underrepresented authors.

We want Hardcover to be The Place you go for organized lists of books, whether we created the list, or we’re just organizing it.

Status lists and your personal lists are on our roadmap and are currently being worked on. The next two lists – smart lists and requests lists – are farther out, but are ideas we are crazy excited about.

Smart Lists

This is an idea we’re still batting around. The concept is simple: a smart list is a saved search of your books with any filter criteria you want. Here are a few easy example:

  • Books you read in 2021
  • All your 5 ⭐ books
  • Books on your “Want to Read” list with the genre “Fantasy”
  • Books released before 1950 that you’ve read

And a bunch more!

Let’s say you’re trying to figure out your next Nonfiction book to read is from your “Want to Read” list. On Goodreads you’d need to go to this list, and manually scan over everything to find books with that genre – without that genre ever being shown.

Being able to filter the books on a list is a great next step, and one we’re working on. It should be easy to filter your “Want to Read” books down to just the ones you’re interested in. The next step is to be able to save this search as a new “Smart List” and pull it up quickly and easily.

There’s still a lot to figure out about this. Would you only be able to create a Smart List with books that you have a status for? Or would you be able to create a Smart List across all books on Hardcover? To be determined.

Request Lists

This is firmly in the “idea” category, but it’s an exciting one. The idea is to be able to create some way for people to ask for book recommendations and get organized feedback. In a lot of ways this is similar to the /r/SuggestMeABook subreddit.

Another place that does this well is Facebook with their recommendations feature. You ask a question and people can respond with recommendations that show up on a map.

What about something like this for books? Something that allows a reader to ask for recommendations with a specific question and see organized recommendations with the most popular ones elevated to the top. If one book is recommended 10x more than all the others, that’s important information!

We have a lot of research and planning to do on this one, but it’s one we’re lining up work on.

There’s more we want to explore as well. Featured lists, author favorites and occasionally showing people lists that they might not otherwise discover on their own.

What List Features Would You Want? Join the Hardcover Discord and let me know.

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