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Shootout at the Goodreads Corral
October 10, 2013 6:02 AM   Subscribe

A couple of weeks ago, Goodreads — a massive social networking and cataloging site for books, readers and authors — announced a change in its moderation policy. From now on, the site’s administrators would be deleting “reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior.”

The impetus for all this is a raging feud between relatively small groups of reviewers and authors. (Goodreads has about 20 million members, although only a fraction of that number actively uses the site.) That conflict, mostly carried out far from the public eye, rose to a little prominence over the summer when Lauren Pippa (aka Lauren Howard), a self-published author about to release her first book, challenged a Goodreads member who had given her book a two-star rating.

[previously: Amazon buys Goodreads]
posted by Chrysostom (43 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
An outgrowth of this, probably.
posted by zabuni at 6:04 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


AKA the Orson Scott Card rule.
posted by CaseyB at 6:07 AM on October 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


The headline picture in that link looks like those two people are yawning. I know it's supposed to look like they're shouting at their laptops, but it just doesn't to me.

Maybe that because I've just joined GR and have actually kinda enjoyed seeing other people's books & reviews as well as building up my shelves of 'already read' and 'to read' books in a manner that's more advanced and usable than a google doc file or a scrap of paper saying

"Don't forget to read RJFME by KR"

(Yes, that's unintelligible, but it made sense in the moment and I like to think that it doesn't matter that I have no idea what it's referencing because I have a 95% loss of scrap of paper rate in general.)

So, yea, I guess this is crazy and potentially crappy but my experience has been pretty good so far. I guess if I lose the vested interest I have (a few hours of downtime at work adding in books and clicking on stars) due to a shift toward shitty site policies that really do impact me then I'll be ok with that.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:18 AM on October 10, 2013


I can't imagine why it would be a good idea for Goodreads to allow reviews that primarily focussed on author behavior. If people want to waste their lives trash-talking one another, then they can go do it on other sites - and wouldn't you know, they already do.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:26 AM on October 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


I can totally see how you'd eventually need to take action to keep a site like this from hosting a Coliseum for people who feel that their books are entitled to good reviews, or things like that.
posted by thelonius at 6:46 AM on October 10, 2013


Having seen lists labeled "authors-who-need-to-be-sodomized-with-garden-tools" and the like, I am completely behind this change.
posted by Sternmeyer at 6:46 AM on October 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, there's "I don't like this author because [irrelevant crap]" and "I wrote a bad review and the author went off on me" and they're rather different. I mean, yeah, "authors-who-should-be-dead" is a bad list name, but "authors-I-won't-read-because-behaviour" should be fine, and certainly GR deleting reviews without warning is not the best way to go about it.

I use it to keep track of what I've read, get recommendations from people I trust (by seeing reviews on books I've already read or from friends) and mostly to see what authors have new books coming out.

Reviewers seem to be slowly migrating away from GR in the wake of this.
posted by jeather at 6:52 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


But the " sodomized with garden tools" reference wasn't something a reader wished upon an author. The whole Pippa drama made me stop using Goodreads.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:09 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I learned the word "mishegoss" from this article, so there's that.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:15 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, there's "I don't like this author because [irrelevant crap]" and "I wrote a bad review and the author went off on me" and they're rather different.

Does either of those belong in a review, though?
posted by Etrigan at 7:28 AM on October 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Some people choose not to support other people who act like asshats with their hard-earned dollars. If I don't want to go see Ender's Game because I think the author is a homophobic asswad, and I don't want to give him any fraction of a cent belonging to me, I should be able to do that based on available information about his asshattery. If this other author is a jerk who attacks reviewers, well, there are plenty of other people I could be reading. (Such as Jenny Trout, who is awesome, funny as hell, engages her readers, and seems to be migrating away from GR as a result of this kerfuffle).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:36 AM on October 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


And also, jeeeez. I NEVER need to give cash money to any person who blames their shitty personal behavior on PMS. "I got death threats! I was bullied! ..... oh wait no, PMS." No. No. No.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:40 AM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I must be doing Goodreads wrong because I have no idea all this stuff is happening except when I see it on Metafilter. (And I have a "did not finish" shelf!)

Where are people going, so I can drag my social circle with me when and if Goodreads goes under?
posted by immlass at 7:41 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does either of those belong in a review, though?

I'd like it if the review contained whatever the reviewer liked, and then I was free to listen to the reviewer, or not. Because I'm thinking of the review less as a strictly defined analysis of the book, and more a commentary on it. I don't always want, for example, a review of a clown painting that ignores the fact that it was painted by John Wayne Gacy. I may support Orson Scott Card's position on gays, or I may not, and I may care about it when deciding to buy/read a book or I may not, but I'd prefer people not to decide for me what it's OK to tell me.

None of this means, though, that I think an implication that violence ought to be done to a reviewer or author is OK.
posted by tyllwin at 7:45 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


immlass: "Where are people going, so I can drag my social circle with me when and if Goodreads goes under?"

I've heard good things about BookLikes, and it seems to have synchronization with Goodreads, so you could keep them both going while you see what shakes out.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:49 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I recently read Names For The Sea, a book by British academic/novelist Sarah Moss about spending a year living in Iceland; I looked at the Goodreads reviews, and all gave her 4 or 5 stars, with the exception of one 2-star review. When I looked at that, the reviewer justified their low rating on the grounds that the author “obviously hates white culture” and people like her are the reason for the decline of Western civilisation. Having read the book, I have no idea how one could arrive at that conclusion from it.

Perhaps Goodreads reviews are on their way to degenerating into a YouTube comment-like cesspool of idiocy?
posted by acb at 7:53 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hrm I don't really use Goodreads aside from the shelving and discovery process. The entire social network part of it seems kind of redundant, especially given their tight integration with Facebook. Like YouTube comments, I probably won't ever read much of them.
posted by msbutah at 8:08 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a hard thing for some people to separate criticism of a work from criticism of its author.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:11 AM on October 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was glad for this change overall, although I think they did a very poor job of implementing it (deleting users' reviews and shelves with no warning, for example.)

I don't enjoy getting bad reviews for my books, but it happens. Oh well, not every book is for every person-- and when everybody dislikes the same element, it's illuminating for me as an author.

But what made me block Goodreads entirely were two reviews. The first was called "WHY ARE YA AUTHORS SO FAT?!"

Someone attended Houston Teen Book Con, where I was a panelist. HTBC is unusual in that they have a system where everyone attending gets to see every panel. For the authors, this means we sit on the same panel four times, with four difference audiences.

This particular "reviewer" took pictures at each panel, all day long. They caught us gesticulating, and photographed us from audience level, beneath the tables at the least flattering angles possible. And yeah, I and many of my brethern and sistern are heavy people because we sit all day at our desks.

But I have no idea what my ass being fat has to do with whether or not my or my colleagues' books are any good. But that was a "review" on Goodreads for my second novel. And people found it sooooo hilarious that for a long time, it was the very first review that came up on the page. WHY ARE YA AUTHORS SO FAT HA HA HA!

I finally quit going to Goodreads, against my publishers' wishes, when the very first review for a book that had been contracted, but not even written, was posted with a one star rating and a review that said only, "This bitch again?" The book didn't even exist yet, but the public face for its reviews for months was a one-star review, pissed off that I had the gall to keep writing and selling books.

In between, there were plenty of micro-aggressions. We have to put on a good professional face in public. It's lots of fun for a certain subset of trolls to tweet, "Hey @SaundraMitchell, I reviewed your book, check it out!" I quit clicking those links because those invariably went to reviews that were hateful and hurtful but just shy of ad hominem. They were brilliant displays of snark and macro. People like that continue to harangue you until they get a response of some sort. So most of us learned to say thank you and moved on.

The publishers want us to get on Goodreads. They encourage us to do giveaways and insist that we interact and put blogs there, and there's no way to avoid seeing this stuff. They're trying to figure out how to tap this online market that has gotten so savvy about getting early review copies, but haven't yet translated into sales. So they tell us we have to go, they push us to go.

So I'm glad Goodreads made this change. I'm fine with bad reviews, but I really don't think Why Are YA Authors So Fat? And This Bitch Again!? and Hey, What Did You Think of this Cruel Review!? and This author should be stabbed repeatedly in the face! are reviews.

Admittedly, I'm biased.
posted by headspace at 8:17 AM on October 10, 2013 [32 favorites]


I've seen a little of this in boardgame reviews on BoardGameGeek: game designers getting combative over negative reviews, reviews that get lurid and vindicative over games that are simply mediocre. This is the flipside of authors and audience having closer engagement: the slings and arrows will hurt more, and that's without even thinking of reviewers that are hyperbolic just for entertainment or deliberately trolls.
posted by outlier at 8:18 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just don't understand why an author, even an inexperienced, self-published author, would respond at all, let alone harshly, to negative reviews. It's such obviously-stupid bear-poking. But of course, purely-abusive non-reviews are worthless, too, so I say burn them all.

I just spun through my Goodreads read list. I have rated exactly three books with one star, one of which was Foucault's Pendulum. Take that, Umberto Eco; your extremely-well-regarded novel pleased me marginally less than Angels and Demons!
posted by uncleozzy at 8:25 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does either of those belong in a review, though?

Depends what kind of review. I would look very askance at a NYT review that included that stuff. But a review by a reader or a book blogger? Sure, why not? If I want not to support authors who are jerks, or to at least know about it so I can make my own decision, that's useful information, like people talking about how they don't read OSC because he's a bigot.

Is "Why are YA authors such fatties?" useful? No. Does the way the Goodreads ecosystem works need a lot of tuning? Yes. But "never mention a single [negative] thing about the author personally in any review" isn't the right answer, if only because it will kill what's good about the platform.
posted by jeather at 8:38 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe they should implement separate author reviews from book reviews? Personally, I get the idea of bringing ideology into reviewing, but my problem with that is that it's often worth knowing that an awful person wrote a great book, or vice-versa. There's also the problem of competing authors libelling or slandering each other escalating into a fan war. I'm sure the MeFi mods could say something about the size of the headache that results once you open the floodgates on that kind of behavior.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:44 AM on October 10, 2013


This may be unrelated but I'll just chime in to say that I thought it was odd that the Goodreads star system was setup and enumerated via the hovertext as it is. For those that may not know the rating system is, literally and exactly, defined as follows in said hovertext,

One Star - did not like it
Two Stars - it was ok
Three Stars - liked it
Four Stars - really liked it
Five Stars - it was amazing

And again maybe I'm the exception and this is a nitpick and perhaps the answer is 'because it works' but that system seems to skew reviews towards the higher star ratings because, as far as I know anyway, there's no way to give a book zero stars and have it count towards the rating system. Honestly the rating system, as an agregating feature, is a secondary concern for me since I'm not really all that worried about "Getting THE TRUTH out there" or anything but I look at it more with regards to how I can, thanks to their nomenclature/specs, convey my feelings about a book in question, for my records or for my friend's consumption, with a system that explicitly has three positive graduations, one neutral graduation, and one negative graduation.

Yes, yes, I know I could make a list/shelf of books called "awfull wastes of trees" but I mean it's kind of like a ruler that starts at one and ends at five... totally valid but still skewed a bit...

Don't get me wrong, I can see some argument from the point of views that might say 1) "well a book must have some sort of merit to be published so, with that baseline in mind, we at GoodReads don't really jive with zero star reviews" or 2) "if the book was so bad to you how/why would you even complete it or read so far into it as to give it a review at all and with that in mind we want to limit your, possibly biased/incosistent/ignorant negative viewpoint to a value of 1 in the average equation rather than a 0 and keep our authors from being shat upon in the process" or, and put on your tinfoil hats folks, 3) "Goodreads isn't a community service, it's ultimately about advertising and, hopefully, selling books. Higher book reviews generate higher opinions and, eventually, higher sales. That's why we keep the star values high."

I can see value in all of those, but I hope #3 isn't the case, but if it is, so be it, I'm mostly using the list as a means to finally remember what books to grab/request from the library or buy from somewhere like goodwillbooks.com or from a small used bookstore.

Again, again, again, this is nitpicky stuff and more of an academic concern for me but it did strike me as odd from the git-go (which was all of a week or so ago thanks to a mefightclub book thread list that finally got me to heed their good advice and join up).
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:46 AM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's absolutely true that "Paula Penname is a fat bitch," is a useless review. But I can filter that out as hateful noise at a glance. This person obviously has some weird hate for Paul and is obviously not worth listening to. But suppose we suppress that review. Now what does the nutcase that hates the author do? He writes "This novel is such a rare combination of cardboard characters, incoherent plot and dreadful style that around page 120, I threw it in the recycling bin." It's much harder for me to see that is a nutjob with a hate-on for Paula.

It's worth noting, though, here, I, as a user, get put a bit at odds with Goodreads the site. I'm better off when I can instantly see that the reviewer is full of crap. The site is better off not presenting that toxic crap as part of their public face.
posted by tyllwin at 8:57 AM on October 10, 2013


ZeusHumms It's a hard thing for some people to separate criticism of a work from criticism of its author.

These people aren't smart or objective enough to be reviewing books.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:04 AM on October 10, 2013


Amazon bought Goodreads in March.

Negative reviews hurt Amazon's sales.

Amazon has eliminated a category of negative review that it expects relatively little pushback from eliminating, and done it in such a peremptory and confrontational way that it will probably succeed in driving many of those it may see as the worst offenders away entirely.

Expect more efforts to limit and de-emphasize bad reviews in regular progression; this is very likely merely the first initiative in a planned campaign.
posted by jamjam at 9:17 AM on October 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


The thing is that "author's bad behavior" can be relevant to the reader's experience in the narrowest construal of the concept. One example is plagiarism.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:24 AM on October 10, 2013


One example is plagiarism.

True, although that wouldn't really violate the rules because it would also be relevant to the text. "This book is actually plagiarized" is relevant just in the abstract, separate from "the author is a plagiarist". (It would be tough to have the first without the second, although I guess it could happen somehow.) It seems like a bad review based on the first claim would be acceptable under the new rules, but the latter one -- in a very, very strict sense -- might not be.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:55 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Amazon has eliminated a category of negative review that it expects relatively little pushback from eliminating, and done it in such a peremptory and confrontational way that it will probably succeed in driving many of those it may see as the worst offenders away entirely.

I don't think it's necessary to see evil here.

I buy a lot of products - especially books - off Amazon. A lot. An embarrassing lot.
When I buy these books, I often look at their reviews. If a significant portion of them are "I hate the author because Y", it makes it impossible to tell what the book is actually like.

For example, someone cited Orson Scott Card above. His book, Ender's Game, is generally acknowledged as very good. It might deserve, say, four stars. But if the reviews are crapped up with people noting that the author is anti-gay, then I have no way of knowing what the actual book is like. If people want to make a social justice author-reviewing website, where you can go and see which authors are shitty, more power to them, but I don't think it's egregious that book reviews are required to actually be about the book.
posted by corb at 11:04 AM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


i like to know if the creator of a thing hates queers (for instance) up-front because i personally don't like to support people who hate me by consuming their shit, y'know? (like i felt really bad about all the anne mccaffrey i read as a kid once i grew up and read about her personal beliefs; made me regret having ever read it because upon reflection there's a lot of weird stuff related to those personal beliefs she holds which made it into the narrative in a way too subtle for twelve-year-old me to recognize but which is blindingly obvious in hindsight)

like i recognize that other people have other decision-making strategies that don't involve personal information about the author but then some people do have decision-making strategies that do involve it. if EVERY review speaks ONLY about what the author does and not about the book itself then that's pretty obviously a problem - but it's a noise problem rather than a problem with the idea of people being allowed to write reviews based on the author in the first place, imo
posted by titus n. owl at 12:05 PM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Amazon bought Goodreads in March.

They don't seem to have really done much with it in the meantime, though. It'd be a bit odd for their first toe in the water to be messing with the review system. My guess is that this change is coming from the Goodreads side, not the Amazon side.

Personally I'm really looking forward to better Kindle + Goodreads integration; I haven't been active on Goodreads since I started doing all my reading on Kindle because I've just been reading much more, and manually entering it all on GR is a pain. If my reading history just flowed directly to GR via an API and then I could go in and publish reviews later, that would be nice. (Right now you can do reviews for Amazon's site when you finish reading a book, but that doesn't have any of the community/social aspect of GR; it feels more like just doing Amazon's work for them.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:12 PM on October 10, 2013


But "never mention a single [negative] thing about the author personally in any review" isn't the right answer, if only because it will kill what's good about the platform.

There's a wide band of activity between "never mention a single [negative] thing about the author personally in any review" and "deleting 'reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior.'" I can see how "Orson Scott Card is a wackadoo, now here's what I think about this actual book" would be useful, but "I don't like this author because [irrelevant crap]" or "I wrote a bad review and the author went off on me" seem to me to be much more on the unhelpful side.
posted by Etrigan at 12:17 PM on October 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Remember, for everyone who one-stars a book because of the author's regressive public opinions, there's someone who will one-star a book because of the author's progressive opinions. I think this is a good move. It'll keep the site from becoming yet another political battlefield.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:27 PM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kadin2048, at least one person had a list of "Plagiarist Authors" removed from Goodreads. I agree that it shouldn't violate the rules, but apparently Goodreads disagrees.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:54 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


yeah. I do think changes were necessary, as I've seen plenty of outright abusive stuff on goodreads. but like headspace says, the implementation was lacking. and kinda condescending on on the author end, too. like when we're logged into our author accounts, this notification is now posted in the comment section of our books' 1 & 2-star reviews. (even though 99.999% of authors would never in a million years consider commenting on a negative review, that's author faux pas 101 and the only reason the freak cases get attention is because they're freakish)

Ok, you got a bad review. Deep breath. It happens to every author eventually. Keep in mind that one negative review will not impact your book’s sales. In fact, studies have shown that negative reviews can actually help book sales, as they legitimize the positive reviews on your book’s page.

We really, really (really!) don’t think you should comment on this review, even to thank the reviewer. If you think this review is against our Review Guidelines, please flag it to bring it to our attention. Keep in mind that if this is a review of the book, even one including factual errors, we generally will not remove it.

For more on how to interact with readers, please see our Author Guidelines.

If you still feel you must leave a comment, click “Accept and Continue” below to proceed (but again, we don’t recommend it).

Accept and Continue


annoying.
posted by changeling at 1:40 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


> twelve-year-old me to recognize but which is blindingly obvious in hindsight)

OMG Anne McCaffrey hated teh gay? Will reevaluations never cease? I probably should have had some Goodreads reviews to point this out to me because it went straight over my head too. When I read her stuff it was about the most free-thinking and openminded scifi/fantasy on the subject of sexuality that I had ever encountered. Nothing remotely comparable, though Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness did follow on very shortly after McCaffrey started getting famous. (For context, the first Pern novella was published in 1967, the first full Pern novel in 1968, and Left Hand in 1969.)


> I don't always want, for example, a review of a clown painting that ignores the fact that it was painted by John Wayne Gacy.

It almost goes without saying, though. All clown paintings were painted by John Wayne Gacy.
posted by jfuller at 1:53 PM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps Goodreads reviews are on their way to degenerating into a YouTube comment-like cesspool of idiocy?

Pretty much already there, in my opinion. I mean, when the average page of reviews on Amazon is more worthwhile, you know you have a problem.

Perhaps I'm a Grinch, but I just find fan culture so annoying sometimes - the polarisation this is having on reviews typifies this. Wading through endless panegyrics to find the precious few reviews written with a shade of objectivity, light-and-dark, and background that demonstrates basic literacy, if not reasonably wide reading in the genre is so hard. And then you get the one star reviews with no demonstration that the reviewer actually likes, reads, or understands this kind of book. Ugh.

At least with Amazon two and three star reviews generally give you a good idea of what's what - you can disagree with them, but they're often written by people who are not insane and at least have sensical reasons for their ratings. The "helpfulness" sorting metric can, sometimes, be helpful, too.

I wonder if publishers know whether meaningless five star reviews are actually helpful. I strongly suspect they aren't - but then, you see a lot of books with random quotes on them that are apparently an inducement to buy, so who knows?
posted by smoke at 4:25 PM on October 10, 2013


I must be doing Goodreads wrong because I have no idea all this stuff is happening except when I see it on Metafilter. (And I have a "did not finish" shelf!)

Where are people going, so I can drag my social circle with me when and if Goodreads goes under?


I felt the same way, I never saw any of this. I didn’t even know that you could add pictures to reviews for years, I’d never seen one. I think it all depends on the books you’re looking at.

I went to LibraryThing after the Amazon sale. Fuck Amazon.
posted by bongo_x at 5:09 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, Anne ("dragon sex telepathy forced us to make hot monkey love") McCaffrey? Really?

SFX: GOGGLE GOOGLE TAPPITY TAP

A tent peg?!

Oh.

I had no idea.

So Goodreads, yeah, about that. I totally see the problem with negative reviews coming from people who are not actually reviewing the book. This is a problem everywhere. But you can't have one thing and not the other: negative reviews balance out the positive ones and make them meaningful: stupid negative reviews often persuade me to buy a book, on the theory that if that's the worst thing about it, it must be pretty good. So Goodreads, I am disappoint.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:35 PM on October 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've heard good things about BookLikes, and it seems to have synchronization with Goodreads

Sadly, it's 'temporarily switched off'. The .csv import seems to work fine, though.
posted by monkey closet at 6:32 AM on October 11, 2013


I'm worried Amazon will merge their reviews with Goodread. It's not that Amazon reviews are automatically bad, but they are often more from the perspective of what the worth of the book is compared to books that cost the same price, rather than comparing to books that are in the same genre.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:17 AM on October 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm worried Amazon will merge their reviews with Goodread. It's not that Amazon reviews are automatically bad, but they are often more from the perspective of what the worth of the book is compared to books that cost the same price, rather than comparing to books that are in the same genre.

Ugh, I had not thought about that. I would think they'd want to add the Goodreads reviews and ratings to Amazon (and the moves to "clean up" reviews make sense in that context), but let's hope they don't go the other way around.
posted by immlass at 8:38 AM on October 11, 2013


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