Social media for bookworms
Two years ago, I posted a piece titled Goodreads and the self-published author. I had joined Goodreads towards the end of 2015 because I’d just self-published an ebook and I’d read online that Goodreads was the place to go to promote it. (Though I’ve always been a reader, I hadn’t heard of Goodreads till then, and I don’t think I’d have been interested but for the fact that I had an ebook to promote.) Shortly after that Medium post, I asked Goodreads to delete my author profile, having in the meantime signed up for Litsy to see how well it would work as an alternative. Not long after that, I decided that I no longer wanted to be a self-published author, at least in the ebook/Kindle ecosystem, and started instead to post my novel in instalments.
Litsy, if you haven’t heard of it, is a bit like Instagram (in that you can post square pictures there) but focused on books. I posted regularly on Litsy for a few months, but then got rid of my Android phone. (At the time, Litsy did not yet have a web interface.) I could have continued to use Litsy with the iPad app but it seemed to me that the proportions and colours looked wrong on the iPad as compared to Android, so I stopped using the app.
Just a few weeks ago and nearly two years on, I decided to take another look a Litsy, to see whether I was missing out on anything important. My conclusion (with apologies to those Littens who have followed me and/or engaged with my posts) is that I don’t think I have been. In fact, that engagement has been part of the problem. While I was away from Litsy, I had deleted my Twitter profile (then 9 years old) and began instead to post on Micro.blog, a platform for short posts. Micro.blog resembles Twitter in some ways. While posts can be long, only those of no more than 280 characters will appear in their entirety on the timeline. I’ve tended to use it as a Twitter alternative, though more inventive uses are possible.
One of the most significant things about Micro.blog is that it doesn’t display follower counts, even to the person being followed. You know how many people you are following but you have no idea how many are following you, or anybody else. There’s thus no incentive to follow anybody for any reason other than that you want to read what they post. On Litsy, I felt that the default expected behaviour was that you would follow somebody back, even if your reading interests were quite different from theirs and you had no particular desire to see their posts. That must surely be the quickest way to flood your timeline with irrelevance and reduce its usefulness to something approaching zero. It’s particularly frustrating because Litsy does not use algorithmic recommendation in the timeline, which therefore contains all the posts from everyone you’re following. This could be incredibly useful, if you were following only those people who were posting things you wanted to read!
The other thing I particularly like about Micro.blog is that it doesn’t have Likes (or similar canned reactions) or the equivalent of retweets. If you want to “engage” with a post, you effectively have to reply to it. (Of course, the reply might contain nothing more than the “thumbs up” emoji but even with such a gnomic response you could still be initiating a conversation.) Since I’ve been back on Litsy I’ve found it quite disconcerting to receive notifications that tell me only that somebody has “liked” my post. I’ve no idea what they liked about it, how much they liked it or whether they have any reservations. Yet, notwithstanding this lack of context and depth, these notifications make quite heavy demands on my attention. I find myself checking back repeatedly to see whether any more Littens have clicked the heart icon.
There are other things about Litsy that I think could be improved but it’s these two — the implied expectation of reciprocity in following, and the high importance given to “empty” Likes—that lead me to conclude that Litsy isn’t worth the effort it requires. It’s a pity, really. In some ways, it’s quite an attractive app/platform.