Slice Bookshelf joins a crowded field of virtual book sites

Bookshelf Slice
Users of Slice Bookshelf can build virtual bookshelves and rate the titles they’ve read. (Slice)

UPDATE 3/2/14: Slice has announced that it will shut down on March 31, 2014.  Users may transfer their Slice data to Goodreads until April 30.

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With financial backing from Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Slice Bookshelf joins a crowded library of social reading sites Thursday. Like ShelfariLibraryThing and GoodReads, Bookshelf promises “a fun way to discover and share books with your friends” on the Web.

After several months of preliminary testing, the Web site officially went live Thursday morning. It’s the latest offering from Slice, a Palo Alto, Calif. Internet company whose flagship app helps consumers keep track of their online purchases.

Users of Bookshelf can create virtual bookshelves to organize their titles and share recommendations. The new site trumpets the thrills of “engaging with other book-loving friends by commenting on their activity, sharing your opinions and asking questions.”

The Grapes of Wrath may be a literary masterpiece,” the news release asks, “but what did you really think?”

Users are encouraged to rate books by choosing from a frowny face, a smiley face, or a really happy face. (Like starving wasn’t bad enough — now the Joads have to endure a frowny face.)

It was only four months ago that a group of New York publishers launched a similar-sounding site called Bookish. Big names such as Michael Connelly, Elizabeth Gilbert and Harlan Coben supplied material for Bookish’s opening day, but how many of these book sites can readers be expected to sort through, maintain or even choose from? The network effect would seem to be an insurmountable advantage for Goodreads with its 18 million members.

Slice Bookshelf tries to distinguish itself by emphasizing “social engagement” and “organic discovery,” which, I gather, has nothing to do with the farmers’ market. The site also claims to facilitate book lending. Users can add titles to a list called “Want To Read” and be alerted to which of their friends have read those books. The site “encourages you to send them a request to borrow it. You can pay it forward by lending your copy of Twilight to the coworker who shamelessly wants to borrow it. No judgments here!” Nor public libraries, apparently.

The one mildly novel aspect of Slice Bookshelf is that — for the moment, at least — Amazon doesn’t own part of it. But given company chairman Bezos’s successful efforts to invest in Shelfari, LibraryThing and  GoodReads, who knows how long that will last.

Still, users may give a frowny face to this new site’s Big Brother attitude: “Bookshelf automatically builds your library with books you’ve liked on Facebook.” Random House’s BookScout app already does this, too, but Bookshelf goes a step further: It monitors what books you’ve bought online by scanning “your email inbox to automatically pull information from your past book purchases.” Yikes!

Naturally, you can control all these features through the privacy settings, so there’s nothing to worry about.

“I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

@RonCharles

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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