What Is Shelfari?

An Intro to Amazon's Social Cataloging Website for Bookworms

Books and Laptop
Photo © Max Oppenheim / Getty Images

Everyone knows that Amazon.com is an online retail giant that sells everything under the sun. But back in the early days, it started out by just selling books.

What Exactly Is Shelfari?

Founded in 2006 by Josh Hug and Kevin Beukelman, Shelfari was one of the first social media sites devoted to books and book cataloging. In 2007, Shelfari received around $1 million in funding by Amazon. The company then acquired Shelfari in 2008, with the site aiming to create a global community of book lovers by encouraging users to discuss and share their favorite books with friends and strangers.

Users can sign up for a free account to create their own profiles, build their own virtual bookshelves, rate books they've read, discuss books with others and discover new books to read. Shelfari claims to enhance the reading experience by connecting readers and giving them the opportunity to have conversations about any and title they're interested in.

Why Should Anyone Use Shelfari?

The site is ideal for those who would like to combine the Facebook experience with their love of books. Devoted entirely to creating a community of book lovers, Shelfari allows avid readers to find like-minded folk and to share their love of reading with others.

It's comparable to reading reviews left on Amazon, but with an added community aspect. Every book has a Discussion tab in addition to its Readers & Reviews tab where users are encouraged to have more of a conversation about the book.

Using Shelfari

Shelfari has two major sections, which you can see marked as tabs at the top of the page: Books and Community. You don't necessarily need to be signed in to browse these sections, but it certainly helps for a personalized experience (and to definitely interact with other members).

To sign in, you are to use your existing Amazon account details. If you don't have an Amazon account yet, you can sign up for free at Amazon.com and then head back to Shelfari to enter those same account details to sign in.

In its book section, you can browse through books that are featured, the most popular, belonging to a certain subject, included in a series or list, tagged or written by a specific author. The community tab lets you discover other members who are worth following, find active groups, browse groups by category and visit the Shelfari blog.

Once you've signed in, you'll also see two other sections -- Home and Profile. The home tab will give you a personalized start page featuring summarized information from your shelf, groups and friends. Your profile tab is where you can access all of your personalized sections, including your shelf, friends, activity, groups and edits.

What Is the Shelfari Shelf?

Your shelf is your personal collection of books -- like a virtual bookshelf. Whenever you come across a book you'd like to add to your collection, either by searching for it using the search bar or stumbling across it elsewhere on the site, you can click the title and then click the Add button to easily add it to your shelf.

Once you've added a book, it will ask for some information. You can set the status for the book by informing Shelfari whether you plan to read it, you're reading it now or you've already read it. If you've already read it, you can add a rating and a review.

The site runs a little slow and shows errors on some pages. It still shows great activity from the community, but it's unclear how often Amazon provides the necessary maintenance and updates it needs to keep the site running smoothly. 

Updated by: Elise Moreau