I decided to review and compare two online reader’s advisory tools Allreaders.com and FictionDB.com. I chose these two reader’s advisory (RA) tools because they are both free and seemed to be the most similar out of the ten tools listed in our text book. As the Cassell and Hiremath text states, RA tools should be evaluated based on five reference needs: content, scope, originator, format and purpose. I will base my criteria for evaluating these two sites on these five reference needs. Then I will draw from each evaluation their individual strengths and weaknesses.
The first RA tool I reviewed was Allreaders.com. This RA tool offers searching by author, genre, plot, style, setting, and characters of “detailed book reviews of all genres” (Allreaders.com). My initial reaction to the site and its interface is that is has a non-corporate appeal and a simple format.
From its homepage it appears to have a simple interface with helpful hints for searching its database. Across the top of the page is a navigation bar with links to popular book genres. The content covered by the site is general initially, it does not indicate it specializes in a specific genre. However, upon clicking on a genre, such as Sci-Fi/Fantasy, the user is presented with an alphabetical list of authors in this genre and long list of subplots to choose from to narrow their search. While my search results were limited to 100, being able to narrow my search by subplot categories was extremely helpful. This is one of its strengths.
This site seems to have a large scope, specifically regarding its offerings of adult and juvenile books and the genres it offers, based on the search parameters it allows you to choose from (18th-20th century period materials). This is another of the service’s strengths.
Allreaders.com looks to be user or fan/nonlibrarian centric with regard to the site’s target users, referred to as the originator in Cassell and Hiremath,. The interface is simple, there is no focus on collection development for librarians, and the search tools on this site do not offer advanced search functionality. However, the search forms for the different searching options do offer very specific choices related to appeal characteristics (Pg.302). As a tool for RA from the user’s perspective this should be considered a strength.
The site offers reviews for electronic and print materials. The only place I could find that allowed the user to indicate their interest in electronic materials was via what the site calls ‘detailed searching’ by the ‘Style’. Since this service offers both formats, this is another of its strengths.
The purpose of this site is most certainly as a reader’s guide, since its most powerful search tools and undoubtedly its most valuable asset is its ‘detailed searching’ service. This service is based on user appeal characteristics, where searching entry forms offer choices to users based on how the site has indexed the materials being reviewed.
Generally, the Allreaders.com RA service had an additional weakness. It was difficult to navigate its site when using the ‘detailed searching’ tools. If a user went to this page and then decided they wanted to go back to the home page, there were no links to allow the user to do this and they would need to use their back button. Also, I did not find the Gordonator Precision Search Function helpful, as Cassell and Hiremath had mentioned in their brief description of this tool.
Additionally, this tool makes use of images only for the materials being searched for and for advertisements. While this solidifies my perception of this site as strictly a finding tool with no frills, it also makes the site seem lifeless and not as much fun to use, as many of the other RA tools listed in our text make use of many images.
FictionDB.com offers similar RA tools and then some compared to Allreaders.com. This site offers RA tools based on author searches, and browseable lists of new fiction, popular fiction, and a news section. Even more notice able is the blog style used for the site and the social media being used on the site, along with being able to create your own account and booklists, adds a sense of community to this RA service.
The content on FictionDB.com appears to be general at first glance. However, by clicking on the search link on the top navigation bar the user is taken to what resembles an advanced search screen where one of the fields is for selecting specific genres. This could be likened to Allreaders.com’s subgenres. Also, this site seems to have a larger database of books and a greater number of links to other sites, including links to multiple vendors for purchasing materials found. Moreover, this service makes use of images for monthly picks and popular titles on its homepage.
The scope of the site appears to be broad. This is indicated by its great number of different genres, and both adult and juvenile materials. I could not tell if it possessed more or less scope than Allreaders.com.
FictionDB.com is for both librarians and nonlibrarians/fans. It allows both to keep up with those titles recently released, those released in the past, and those being released soon. It also allows for simple searching from the homepage or advanced searching. Additionally, this RA site has a blog that posts on new fiction news and book reviews of featured items. All can be considered strengths of the site.
Regarding format, the site offers information on books and many of the other alternative formats, such as cassette, and audio CD. This is definitely a strength and more than Allreaders.com.
FictionDB.com could be considered as both a reader’s guide and a good tool for collection development. It has features that benefit both functions, such as its simple search function from the home page and its more complex, advanced searching tools on its search page. This is a powerful sight and these two types of searching functionality are a huge step up from Allreaders.com
Both RA services are helpful tools for finding fiction materials online and could be useful to both readers and librarians. However, one RA site had more searching functionality, a larger database, a greater number of material formats, and overall tools. FictionDB.com outshines Allreaders.com for these reasons and also since it allows users to browse titles by the month they are released and it provides a blog with reviews and related commentary. Allreaders.com did offer to search for electronic materials, which I could not find on FictionDB.com, but Allreaders.com had a boring and antiquated Web site compared to FictionDB.com. While completing this post I completed registering with FictionDB.com and hope to use it in the near future for my personal use. I do not plan on using Allreaders.com.
The Future, Competition’s Role
Reader’s advisory tools are helpful, but they are not as easy to use as other sites, such as Amazon.com and Barnes&Nobel.com. These two sites should be considered the RA sites’ competition. They offer full descriptions of the same materials and in some cases have larger databases. Also, they are free for users to browse, unlike FictionDB.com, which requires a yearly subscription to use their premium services. Its actually surprising these sites have as much use as they do considering their competition. RA sites of the future will need to change to better compete with the Amazons and other free sites in order to survive. This is not shocking news and should not be a surprise. What is stopping Amazon from offering genre searching functionality to its site? The advanced search tools already offer ‘subject’ searching of areas that closely resemble genres already. I think we will be seeing a change in the way RA sites offer their services in the near future because of this.
What do you think? Do you see this issue the same way?
As always, thanks for reading!