Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Goodreads, This Is Not Okay

I've been away for a good deal of the past two weeks, so I'm coming to this a little late. And my prevailing emotion isn't anger, it's sorrow. I've been through the schisms and death throes of one of my online homes before, and it appears to be happening again. And I am saddened beyond words.

Let me tell you a little about why I loved Goodreads. It is and was the people. The community of reviewers, of supportive friends and witty allies. I got to talk about books to people who had intelligent things to say. I bared my soul in a few reviews, got very personal, and received amazing and supportive feedback. Hell, without Goodreads, I might not have ever discovered that I liked writing book reviews, let alone that I loved doing so. (Not to mention that ego boost every week when I got to check where I was on the "best reviewers" list. Let's be honest.)

The sale of Goodreads to Amazon worried me, and so I started a blog, to have a backup of my reviews if it became necessary to leave. But I hoped, truly and deeply hoped, it wouldn't come to that. Because I know from experience that when a group of people are scattered to the internet winds like that, you lose people. People you wanted to stay in touch with.

Goodreads' initial actions took their fairly reasonable terms of service on the subject of abuse being heaped on authors and greatly extended them, making it illegitimate to comment on author behaviour. Authors and their works are not easily extricable, and behaviour, I'm sorry, is perfectly legitimate as a source of reviews. If we're delving into libel territory, that's one thing. Acknowledging the public actions or political motivations of an author and saying that's why you choose not to read a book, that's entirely another.

But then their reaction to the dissent around this decision was even more troubling. Many creative, funny people have had innovative responses to the initial decision, and the response has been to crack down on reviews that have nothing to do with author behaviour, but which have been vehicles for dissent. They were deleted for being "off-topic." And we are down a very scary rabbit hole, brothers and sisters, when something as nebulous as "off-topic" is used as a tool for stifling disagreement.

I hadn't intended to leave, myself. And I'm not exactly leaving. I'll still be around to read the reviews of my friends who remain, and participate in the groups. But I won't be giving Goodreads my content anymore. Make no mistake, we are their content providers, and I will not have my reviews be beholden to the new policies they've instituted on both authors and on dissent and being off-topic. My own reviews might not be affected by the new rules, but these rules are not okay. Not even a little. Instead, I'll be posting my new reviews on my blog, and probably on Booklikes, which seems like the best alternative at the moment. I'll also gradually be withdrawing my older reviews, starting with the most popular.

If Goodreads takes a long, serious think about the damage they've been doing, reverses their recent policies on what can and can't be in reviews, and shows that they understand what the core issues here are, then my reviews will be returned to the site. But not until.

I'm so saddened to feel that I have to do this. I am going to miss the community, the comments, the "likes." And did I mention the community? If you want to see what I'm reviewing, please check out my blog, Smorgasbook and drop me a line. But I know I won't have the wonderful audience I have had. I hope perhaps someday we'll coalesce as a community once again, either at Goodreads or the new sparkly book site. If you want me to add you on Booklikes, please leave me a comment with your info.

But staying, right now, feels like tacit consent. And I can't do that.

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