Research:Online Community Conduct Policies/Goodreads

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Goodreads is a user-submitted book review and rating community, launched in 2007.  The website was acquired by online retailer Amazon in 2013.  The primary activity on the site is composing book reviews, or rating titles through a “five star” ratings system. Users can also create user-curated lists of titles called “Shelves”. User interaction happens on the site’s “Q&A” sections, where users can post questions about a specific title, and other users can answer them.  As well, the Goodread Groups feature allows people to form groups around specific topics, genres, or authors, and interact on their Group’s discussion boards. Users can also interact with authors who have accounts on the site through the “Ask the Author” feature.

Goodreads requires registration to participate in the review and Q&A sections of the site.  Experienced users are granted the “Librarian” user right, which allows for more advanced curation tools, such as the ability to alter bibliographic records about titles in the system. Staff interact with community and receive reports of problems and bugs through the Goodreads Feedback platform.

Community statistics[edit]

  • Size of community - According to Goodreads, in 2016 the site has 50 million members, up from 10 million members in 2012.[1]
  • Gender breakdown - Alexa rates Goodreads’ visitors as “predominantly female”,[2] with this 2012 breakdown putting their user base at approximately 70% female.[3]
  • Age of community - nine years old (since 2007).

Conduct policies[edit]

See also: Goodreads' Review Policy, its Terms of Use, and its Guidelines for Authors

As book reviews are the primary content on the site, Goodreads' behavioural policies are centered around what is appropriate in a review.  To avoid personal criticism of authors couched as book reviews, Goodreads disallows reviews that are focused on an author’s identity or behaviour.[4] Their Terms of Use supplies a fairly long list of prohibited content and behaviours as well, including, "any information or content that we deem to be unlawful, harmful, abusive, racially or ethnically offensive, defamatory, infringing, invasive of personal privacy or publicity rights, harassing, humiliating to other people (publicly or otherwise), libelous, threatening, profane, or otherwise objectionable."

History of policies[edit]

On occasion, some users, labelled the “GR Bullies” by a prominent blog on the subject, have used reviews to engage in harassment of writers and authors. This took place in reviews, as well as through the Shelves function, where derogatory-named lists of books became a problem.[5] This practice led to a 2012 change in policy clarifying what type of language and criticism is allowed in reviews, and how reviews and Shelves would be evaluated.[6] Some users protested that these changes meant that the site was engaging in censorship and siding with authors over reviewers because of commercial interests.  Users raised concerns about authors themselves abusing reviewers, including aggressive posts and unsolicited emails.  The site has developed a set of guidelines for authors in order to address these concerns.

Enforcement[edit]

Goodreads moderation is largely performed by paid staff. Staff actions can include removing reviews, temporarily or permanently blocking accounts, limiting accounts to a certain number of posts per day, closing groups, and deleting shelves.  Most user-submitted content on the site, including Q&A topics, discussion board posts, and even Groups themselves, features a “report” button to flag it for review. Flagged content is reviewed and actioned by Goodreads staff. The company retains discretion as to what content is deemed actionable, and, outside of the Terms of Use, does not offer detailed rationales for what content or users it removes.

Flagging an “answer” in the Q&A feature brings up the following categories:

  • Spoiler Alert ("This answer contains a spoiler")
  • Spam ("This answer is self-promotional")
  • Irrelevant ("This answer is not about the book or the author of the book")
  • Inappropriate ("This answer contains an image with nudity or excessive violence, hate speech, pornography, or a personal attack on a fellow Goodreads member. For more on what we consider inappropriate, please see our Q&A guidelines.")  

Flagging for other content brings up similar categories.

Users have the ability to “block” other users if they feel they are being harassed; this function disables the ability of the blocked user to contact the user, and hides their public comments from the user’s view. Users are asked to escalate issues to Goodreads Support team if the problem persists. Creators of Groups also have the ability to control their group’s member list, and can block or re-add users as they choose.

Analysis of policy: strengths and weaknesses[edit]

Strengths[edit]

Weaknesses[edit]

References[edit]

  1. "Goodreads' Otis Chandler reviews growth". SFGate. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  2. "goodreads.com Site Overview". www.alexa.com. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  3. "Social media demographics 2012: 24 sites including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn". VentureBeat. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  4. "Review Guidelines". www.goodreads.com. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  5. Owen, Laura (2013-09-23). "Goodreads’ growing pains: Attempt to curtail author bullying angers many users". gigaom.com. Retrieved 2016-05-23. 
  6. "Goodreads Feedback - Announcements: Important Note Regarding Reviews (showing 1-50 of 6,403)". www.goodreads.com. Retrieved 2016-05-23.