My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book was the first one I finished on my new Kindle, a fact which, in combination with its contents, makes me feel kind of tainted, like knowingly eating dolphin meat or something; posting a sincere review of it here after reading about Goodreads and what happened a few months ago feels in turn like I’m writing about my experience of eating dolphin meat while giving it a star rating. But I’ll go through with this, because it’s not dolphin meat.
I knew that Amazon acquired Goodreads last year from the moment it happened. From the first second I knew what it would mean for Goodreads as a website, as a social network, as a resource. But I didn’t budge. I’ve seen this happen so many times before: great websites or ideas turn “evil”, my beloved CouchSurfing being the most prominent example I can think of right now; I went on, for what could I have honestly done as a single person to stop things, change things, make the guys at the head of CouchSurfing or Goodreads realise that what they had done meant turning on their community, the people they owed all their success to? Should I have changed my profile and alerted people of the fact? Shold I have jumped ship?
I’m still very far from being sure about what the best course of action should be, the perfect balance between convenienve and idealism, both in my offline and online lives. I have wanted to join BeWelcome, the best alternative to CouchSurfing, for example, but I feel as if I have invested too much time to the latter to make a change like that. At the same time, CouchSurfing has become so bad that it has naturally lost me as a user, something Goodreads hasn’t achieved -yet-, but then I’m not a social user of the site and I’ve never felt part of any community in it, unlike most of the people who contributed to this book and were alerted to and alarmed by the changes mostly because of that involvement.
I wasn’t even aware of the censorship before I stumbled upon an abandoned “beacon” profile which had most of its details replaced with anti-Goodreads messages and promotion of Off-Topic. You could say that it was an efficient strategy, because the message eventually reached me, the oblivious user – or I should say, I reached the message.
Having now read the book, I realise I’m supposed to do something with this information, right? But is there anything I can do which would mean anything? Should I make my small revolt against Goodreads, when it was on myKindle where I read this book – complete with Amazon-powered Goodreads integration that doesn’t work as I had imagined it would? Should I move my reviews to BookLikes, like some people did? Why use a social network at all, if I’m ready to give up the convenience of the site for some vague ideology? And at the very end, if to enjoy a free service online, you become the commodity, can there be any escape at all from the sudden-death ToU?
I have sadly become cynical over the years, especially about online activism. I see a lot of people being very sensitive and idealistic on the web but with a seemingly loose grasp of reality. They think that because CS or GR seem friendly and tailored to their own needs – social networks are made to give this impression, after all – that they, alone, can make a difference, just by spreading the message. Often, but not always of course – because there are some people whose character is such that they react very strongly to things like that from all sides – cyber-activists can double as happy, obedient citizens/consumers with a straight face, which boggles my mind. When people get so worked up about these changes that they actively quit sites, I don’t know what to think. On the one hand, their determination and bullheadedness is admirable – it really is. On the other hand, I don’t see what kind of alternative they’re imagining and, most important of all, how they can make sure that their alternative can remain as pure, idealistic and humble as they imagine their perfect social network to be. How they can make sure that the new place will stay better than Goodreads before the natural moral entropy of the web forces them to find their new digital Zion.
But I’m grumpy today. A storm in a teacup can bring about good things and I’m grateful that there are people out there who don’t overanalyze themselves out of any sort of action, meaningful or not.