We all know how powerful a word of mouth is. If it comes from someone you trust, then it has a bid deal of credibility. In a time where we are bombarded with commercials, infomercials, popup ads, spam, and nagging text messages, the valence of a word of mouth is even greater. Are we heading to an era where the individuals will replace institutionalized efforts? Where a friend's recommendation is more convincing than an expert's advice, or a critic's point of view? What we are sure of is that people knowledge sharing is valuable, not only because it conveys the intrinsic non-documented opinions, but because it –although not impeccable- sounds to be immune to commercial or ideological interests.
With the advent of Web 2.0 tools (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Goodreads, Librarything, Delicious …etc), where interactivity has been stretched to further horizons. People are now blab about the smallest details of their lives, how they feel, what they bough, post pictures, tag friends, even report their whereabouts (using such tools as FourSquare), upload videos of their daily lives, declare their occasions and e-invite people to them. Someone might argue that a dangerous overload of sharing is taking place, where people might get up fed up with details, or where too much personal information shared can lead to dire consequences.
Still, with the hustle and bustle, full cream comes out especially for booklovers. Collective words of mouth via web 2.0 social networking tools are qualified for a huge impact on reading decisions. A new sort of book-related grapevine is forming. We still do respect prestigious reviews, and we defiantly revere the press when it calls a book a best-seller. But we now also revere as much the two star review a bestseller gets, if it is the average of the reviews of some 500 readers! The oligarchy of book reviews is being threatened (I don't want to be mean and say undermined) by the masses that implement intellectual democracy. The lucky stars (authors and publisher alike) must be on their toes when it comes to the "stars" the book gets from the rating button on social networking website that specializes in books.
I know that many might argue that this is not new, Amazon for instance has been providing such a service (user reviews appear below publisher and press reviews though), and it is shaping buyers' decisions. That's true, but a user-centered experience is different. An experience where the user feels that he/she is the spearhead, and the master of the steering wheel, where users can show off what they are reading now or plan to read, what he candidly think of it, what tags the choose to add to it, vote on other users review and comment on their reviews, and most importantly, they can grant access to the less lucky works by adding books that are not on the database of the website. Here, they wear the hat of the librarian to some extent. Moreover, such tools do create a sort of competition (jealousy sometimes) and pushes people not only to read more, but also be outspoken about what they think of a book, they are being trained not to fear having a critical mentality.
The integration of general social networking sites (such as Facebook and twitter) with specialized social cataloguing websites (such as Goodreads, Shelfari, LibraryThing, weRead) via applications does help promote the good and sweet habit of reading, and also gives people a rainbow of reviews that comes from their "friends", the ones the trust, creating a big could of words of mouth.
Some sites have even more specialized integration. LibraryThing for instance offers likes to books available for free on Gutenberg Project (an e-archive with a plethora of public domain books), and also links to WorldCat (a renowned union catalogue).
Apparently, the global citizens of the e-world are going to blab more about their reading trends, widening the horizons and creating new avenues for books and reading in general to flourish in an e-context.