Push-button book reviews: BooksILove app aims to simplify reading recommendations

screen568x568-6When recommending a new book, sometimes it can be hard to put a finger on exactly what makes it great. That’s where BooksILove, a new app for the iPhone, wants to come in and help.

The app is the brainchild of Elizabeth Dimarco and Kathy Weber, a pair of Seattle-area entrepreneurs who set out to find a way to improve the way people recommend books to one another.

“Our goal for consumers or readers is to be sure that it’s fun and simple to share books that we read and love, and it’s easy to remember book recommendations that we receive when we’re out and about — standing in line, having lunch with a friend or at a grocery store or at a business conference,” Weber said.

“We think recommendations happen all the time, and there’s nowhere to capture them yet,” Dimarco said.

To make that happen, they wanted to simplify the experience of talking about a book. Users of the BooksILove app first find the title that they’re looking for, and then choose from a smorgasbord of tiles that allow them to select attributes of a book, like the author, characters, and setting, and add adjectives that they feel describe those attributes.

That process then generates sentences like “The pacing is fluid and page-turning,” which make up a recommendation that can be shared over Facebook or via email. While users of BooksILove will get the recommendation in their app, people who don’t have the app will just get a web-based recommendation.

Here’s a video that shows how it all works:

While they were busy working with app-development firm Ratio on building BooksILove, Amazon was busy buying Goodreads, the leading social network for book lovers to track what they’ve read and share reviews with other people. But Weber says that there’s room for more than one app in the book recommendations space, and that BooksILove has a key advantage over GoodReads: it’s easy for users to talk about a book without having to spend time crafting a long review out of whole cloth.

Kathy Weber and Elizabeth Dimarco

Kathy Weber and Elizabeth Dimarco

“(For) many people, it’s hard having to do long-form reviews, and so by tapping tiles, they’ll go, ‘Yeah, I like those characters, they were sort of blood-curdling and cheeky at the same time.’ They get to remember the things that were interesting and drew them into the book, in a sort of fun and game-like manner,” Dimarco said.

The current version of the app isn’t without its challenges. Searching through a database of millions of books means that the app occasionally misses key results (for example, a search for Colson Whitehead’s “The Intuitionist” doesn’t turn up any results), but Dimarco and Weber say BooksILove will be getting new search functionality in January that fixes the search problems. Until then, though, there’s no way to manually input the title and author of a book that doesn’t show up in the search results.

Then, there’s the matter of the tiles. While they’re BooksILove’s defining feature, and encompass a vast swath of possible qualities, it can be hard to use the provided templates to define the experience of a particular book. According to BooksILove, the beginning of “Neuromancer” can’t be iconic, because there’s no tile for that. While it’s possible to write out an additional description to go with the pre-selected tiles, typing anything more than a sentence or two on the iPhone’s keyboard can be tiresome.

But for people who are looking to be able to get a quick recommendation down without writing paragraph after paragraph, BooksILove offers a novel approach to giving a recommendation to friends.

BooksILove is free and available for download from the iOS App Store.

  • Modern Talking

    It requires iOS 7! Could a future update support iOS 6 for all of us poor people using older iPhones?