Goodreads in the development of personal relationships on discussion boards through shared common interests

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This paper will explore the development of relationships through discussion boards on Goodreads by arguing that online discussions give young people who are unable to communicate offline a chance to connect with others through a shared interest. This paper will also argue how through anonymity and pseudonymity young people have a chance to create a personal persona that aids them in the development of self.



Online discussion boards, chat groups, and public groups offer a safe place for individuals to participate in a social activity without pressure. Without the fear of embarrassment in face-to-face situations, Internet use allows people to express and interact with peers and others in a comfortable situation (Yu, Tian, Vogel, & Kowalski, as cited in Ginsberg, 2013, p. 47). Having a safe place online where users can connect under a common interest is vital as too often young people may not have a safe place in the offline world, or may not be able to connect with others in face-to-face situations. Having an online presence allows people to develop a distinct personal voice as well as create deep friendships that will last online as well as offline. Thus, this paper will argue that the development of online discussion boards on Goodreads gives young people a safe place to interact with other users without offline pressures, which aids them in the development of deeper relationships through the use of shared common interests.

Internet culture has developed in a way that allows anyone with local internet access the ability to enter online networks and participate, either by blogging, connecting with friends on social media networks and sites, gaming, or answering questions on discussion boards. While member participation can range from helpful, to playful, to trolling, and some participants’ interaction can be negative, this paper will focus on the helpful participation of group members. Due also to limited research available on the Goodreads website and usage of the site, many of the articles present in this essay deal with the broader topic of online discussion boards not relating specifically to Goodreads. However, the research can still be applied to this essay and to Goodreads as Goodreads discussion boards function much the same as any other discussion board.

Goodreads is an online virtual bookshelf that allows users to create a page with brief details about themselves and requires at least a first name, email and password to create an account. Once logged in users may choose whether to reveal their real identity or remain anonymous. Some usernames are embellished with symbols to give their profile name a unique appearance. It is a convoluted site that allows users to fill out their virtual bookcase with the books they have read, are reading, and wish to read. Goodreads has a variety of discussion groups that members can frequent which focus primarily on the discussion of books and authors. However, there are also groups that can be found under the tag ‘Just for Fun > Totally Pointless’ that range in topic from name games, to role playing, to groups whose sole purpose is to gain members, as well as groups created to connect with other members (Goodreads, It is on this last section that this paper will focus on, the discussion in groups that focus primarily on user interaction on any topic.

Research has shown that commonly most social media users are young adults aged 18-31, and that three quarters of online users under 25 years of age have a social media profile (Lenhart, as cited in Ozguven & Mucan, 2013, p. 518). This means that in formative years young people have access to online content and the ability to traverse online culture and integrate themselves in an online community that will offer different aspects of social interaction and behaviour. This is due to social media websites being designed specifically to be easy to access and attract populations (Ozguven et al., 2013, p. 518). Ozguven et al. (2013) continue that therefore it is not uncommon to find on websites segregated groups united by common interests such as nationality, age, education level, and hobbies (p. 518).

How people react and participate online also depends on what technology they are using and how easy it is to use. Goodreads discussion boards and groups are not limited to just one mode of use such as a computer, but the site can be accessed across all mediums such as mobile phones and tablets. Because of the different technologies in place, interaction with social networking sites may differ. As Best, Manktelow and Taylor (2014, p. 28) state, both introverts and extroverts benefit from using social media technology and both may use different platforms depending on their ability. As an example, Best et al. (2014) suggest that extroverts may prefer the use of Facebook and the wide access and openness it offers, while introverts may prefer chat rooms due often to the available anonymity (p. 28).

Goodreads only form of communication between users is discussion boards and groups. Built as a virtual bookshelf it does not have an option for private messages like many social networking sites. However, many private conversations still end up taking place. Due to the openness of the site, all conversations that a person takes part in is shown on their own personal profile so that anyone may see their interactions with other users. This openly viewed interaction takes on a “glass bedroom” metaphor as Pearson describes it (2009, para. 11). The metaphor works as a bedroom with glass walls and doors, and inside the bedroom are private conversations. However, the people having these private conversations are seen by the people outside the bedroom. If viewers want they can participate, or they can see the conversation and move on. It is not a private space; however, users still use discussion boards as if they are. Pearson (2009, para. 22) argues that in virtual spaces, strong ties utilize performative behaviour by creating an accessible privacy where users are aware of the openness of the conversation and so behave in a manner that suits the environment. But Pearson (2009, para. 23) also states that because the space is mediated through written text, it allows also for mediated intimacy that allows users to develop stronger ties with other people that they may not be able to develop in person.

Donath (1999) explains how in communication knowing who the other person is is vital to the interaction and in understanding whom you are talking with (para. 1). However, in a virtual world, an identity is ambiguous and therefore cues about who you are talking with are absent (Donath, 1999, para. 1) as their chosen username may omit whether they are male, female, young or old, and their profile may omit the same. Goodreads users commonly submit their first name, so that understanding and a general cue of whom you are dealing with is there. There is still a possibility of fake accounts where the username, profile picture, and personal biography information are misleading. Alternatively, there are real accounts where the user has decided not to divulge that personal information about themselves. However, as Haimson and Hoffmann state, “What constitutes an ‘authentic’ or ‘real’ identity – both online and off – is a point of contention” (2016, para. 2). While common information such as gender and age may be false or omitted, through interactions with other online users a pattern of their behaviour will appear and an identity created. Anonymity online is a chance for a person to be who they want to be without the peer pressure of having to maintain the persona their friends and family know them as. Being able to be yourself in a safe online environment is pertinent to a young person’s development of self.

According to Ozguven et al., “In spite of the increasing importance of social networking websites, research into social media use in relation to personality traits remains rather limited. Nevertheless, there is some evidence of that differences in individuals’ personality traits determine their online behaviors” (p. 518).  Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) argue that the more times a person spends online, the more the social behaviour of others around them that they communicate with influence their own behaviour (as cited in Ozguven et al., 2013, p. 519). The use of social networks is generally to keep in contact with offline relationships or create new relationships (Ozguven et al., 2013, p. 519). The online discussion boards of Goodreads establish connections from all over the world and unite them through a common interest: books and authors.

Trepte, Reinecke, and Juechems (2012) claimed that “Similarity of attitudes, demographic characteristics, traits, interests, and hobbies have been shown to influence attraction and liking in offline, as well as in online environments” (p. 834). Studies on online use have reported that youth are more likely to upload their personal information online and in return this has shown that they have more emotionally connective communication than adults (Best et al., 2014, p. 32). Through their openness, they are able to connect better with other users because other users see them as “real” as opposed to fake accounts that commonly plague online website discussion boards. Continued research states positive feedback between online communication and wellbeing, with users receiving increased social support, lower social anxiety, with online communication helping their self-esteem and reducing their social isolation (Best et al., 2014, p. 32).  Thus, online usage and interaction on discussion boards on Goodreads helps young people in their development of self and to be self-confident in their presentation. The relational ties they construct through the opportunity to be the self they want to be without fear of judgement will carry through offline.

Despite youth being open to participation online and their willingness to upload personal data about themselves, there is no evidence to suggest that these habits fit specifically only with a demographic of males or females. Ozguven et al (2013) reported that different demographics were found to use and prefer specific sites. Extraverted and anxious males were more likely to use social media, while women who used social media were found to develop further extraversion and openness through usage (Ozguven et al 2013, p. 518).

The more times a person uses an online discussion board and creates relationships, the more times a person is likely to continue the interaction. If there is a common interest there is more chance of them influencing others who share their interest. Ginsberg (2013, p. 47), a high school English teacher, hypothesised that by incorporating technology into her teaching class it would increase students’ reading habits. She provided them with computer access and introduced them to Goodreads and set assignments and activities around the site to see their interaction. Ginsberg’s studies discovered that 25% of her students accessed the website daily while 60% accessed the site weekly (2013, p. 48) The assignments begun and introduced by Ginsberg eventually turned into letting the students create their own discussion groups on Goodreads to discuss topics and books of their own choosing (2013, p. 49). This allowed students to read their own books, give reviews, read the reviews of books by other students and in turn hear about books they previously would never have encountered. By the end of the semester some students had read over 50 books, and two years after the course ended, six out of the twenty students still posted weekly (Ginsberg, 2013, p. 49).

Throughout Ginsberg’s course, her students had the chance to interact with each other on a deeper, more personal level through common interests. This interaction carried across school hours into personal online time. Trepte et al. (2012) states that the more individuals socialise with each other, then the closer they get to each other and the further their relationship develops (p. 834). This familiarity with each other promotes closer relationships due to interacting over a similar theme or interest (Trepte et al., 2012, p. 834). Goodreads does not only help users interact with each other and deepen relationships, but it also helps users by opening up a world of opportunities in books. Levin, Walter, Appleyard and Cross (2016) argue that “stronger ties often lead to a greater exchange of useful knowledge. In particular, tie strength increases people’s motivation to be more easily available, treat each other well, and assist each other” (p. 419). Through interacting with each other on Goodreads, the students were able to strengthen their relational ties by sharing what they know which made them more open to absorb what other students had to say.

Ginsberg (2013) concluded her study by evaluating how her students boost in their reading confidence was not only influenced by the use of technology in the class, but also by the use of group discussion boards and achievement of reading goals (p. 51). Before taking the course, Ginsberg asked her student to rate their reading habits out of poor, fair, good, or excellent. Many of the students rated their reading habits as fair, but by the end of the course all but one rated their reading ability as good or excellent (Ginsberg, 2013, p. 48–51).  The common denominator, books, increased their interest in each other and in reading.

In conclusion, there is nothing terrifically special about Goodreads or the service it provides. On most any social media site there is a platform for discussion that users may participate in and interact with others on. However, Goodreads is a respectable site that allows, primarily, book lovers to get together in a safe, mediated place and interact with other book lovers. It allows youth who are generally shy or introverted to be able to talk about their passion unhindered by the possible judgement of peers. As the use of real names are not required on Goodreads, users can use that to create an individual identity by using the name of popular book characters, colours, book/movie quotes that resonate with themselves, and even use the space to update followers and friends on situations in their lives such as the changing of accounts. The anonymity that the discussion boards’ offer allows them to create their own individual, personal, persona that allows them to interact with others that sets their online voice aside from their offline persona. This experience gives them the chance to develop online a self that they are confident in that they can then easily transfer offline. Due also to the effort it takes to hold a conversation over different time zones on a public discussion board, stronger and more meaningful relationships may develop.


Best, P., Manktelow, R., & Taylor, B. (2014). Online communication, social media and adolescent wellbeing: A systematic narrative review. Children and Youth Services Review, 41, 27-36.

Donath, J. (1999). Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community. In P. Kollock, & M. A. Smith (Eds.), Communities in Cyberspace (pp. 29-59). New York: Routledge.

Ginsberg, R. (2013). Voices from the classroom: Young adult literature in the 21st century. The ALAN Review, 40(2), 47-52.

Goodreads. (2018). Most popular 99 reviewers this week in Australia. Retrieved from

Haimson, O. L., & Hoffman, An. L. (2016). Constructing and enforcing “authentic” identity online: Facebook, real names, and non-normative identities. First Monday, 21(6). DOI:

Levin, D. Z., Walter, J., Appleyard, M. M., & Cross, R. (2016). Relational enhancement: How the relational dimension of social capital unlocks the value of network-bridging ties. Sage Journals, 41(4), 415-457. DOI: 10.1177/1059601115574429.

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Pearson, E. (2009). All the World Wide Web’s a stage: The performance of identity in online social networks. First Monday, 14(3).

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9 thoughts on “Goodreads in the development of personal relationships on discussion boards through shared common interests

  1. Hello Peter,

    Being unfamiliar with many of aspects of Goodreads, I was interested in what your paper had to say on the link between this and social networking. I agree that sites which provide subject matter that draws like-minded individual like Goodreads are potentially more beneficial to introverted people, more so than a broader platform such as Facebook.

    The ‘glass bedroom’ principle was stood out as a point of interest to me as I can see that it would allow one to be able to assess whether they feel comfortable in participating in a discussion. I would also add that strong ties are developed when people are able to identify with characters from a book or the storyline, which would go further to establish kindred relationships. There are limitations as you mentioned, and I don’t believe this site would be of benefit to everyone, however, there are many sites like this that can cater to the individual. I do think that individuals communicating in this environment are not immune to rejection from lack of inclusion in a discussion on a forum or reciprocation from other parties. It is however easier to manage those symptoms in an anonymous environment. Online forums have proven to be a positive experience provided support for people to cope with such issues as eating disorders (Kendal et al, 2017) which is scenario that must pose some serious challenges when it comes to social interaction.

    I have argued that social networks were detrimental to friendships and relationships, however your paper along with a couple of others here have certainly broadened my perspective. Thanks for a great read.

    Kendal, S., Kirk, S., Elvey, R., Catchpole, R., & Pryjmachuk, S. (2017). How a moderated online discussion forum facilitates support for young people with eating disorders. Health Expectations, 20(1), 98-111.

    1. Hi Joel,

      Funnily enough with the ‘glass bedroom’ theory, it wasn’t until I read about it was I aware of the number of times I have had a really private conversation on a public profile’s discussion board that anyone could have read if they wanted to. At the time I was aware it was public, but at the same time the connection between me and the people I was talking to was private so it felt like the conversation was too. But that was the only way to communicate, so if you weren’t comfortable with the form of communication then the site wasn’t for you.

      And most definitely, as you said, people aren’t immune to rejection on the site. When I was younger I was on a similar site, and there were a great many RPG groups I joined where I wasn’t included into any of the games. But because there were so many other groups I just left and found a new one. It’s habit that has, for better or for worse, followed me offline.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my article and that it gave you something to think about. At the end of the day I think with any site, really, it all depends upon how a person feels personally as to whether or not it will work for them. Sites like Goodreads worked for me but it may not work for others. I’m interested to read your article and learn about a different side to the topic of social networks and friendships.

  2. Hi Peter,

    As a user of Goodreads I was very interested to read your piece. I must admit that I do not use the platform for socialisation as much as I do keeping track of what I read and when, so I am not familiar with the social side of Goodreads, but I liked a couple points you made.
    You state that extroverts are more inclined post on platforms such as Facebook, while Goodreads attracts more introverted posters. I believe this to be true to an extent. I am an ambivert, but online I tend to not post publically and mostly communicate via direct messaging on platforms that allow for that. However, I have had public conversations with other book lovers on other platforms (not Goodreads) about books which have lead to private/direct message conversations.
    I believe this relates to the purpose of you piece as some of these online conversations with bookish individuals I previously did not know have lead to offline friendships so I have personal experience in developing relationships online though common interests. I would even go as far to say that one of the friendships that began online has become a stronger relationship than the friendships I have made offline.

    You also mentioned fake accounts and hidden information which are major concern of mine in online environments – how can you be sure anyone is who they claim to be? I suppose that is why even platforms like Goodreads recommend you do not add users you do not know.

    Thank you for an interesting piece.

    1. Hi Amy, I’m glad you enjoyed the piece.

      I’ll admit that I’m not really active on Goodreads either, except to add the odd book. I was very active on a similar site called Shelfari once. It merged with Goodreads a couple of years ago and I think that is where most of Goodreads social life came from.

      I think, personally, that anonymous accounts are generally on the whole truthful. Some things described or said might be embellished, but that’s the confidence that anonymity gives shining through. I know when I was a teen posting solely under a username I could mold the persona I wanted by simply telling and focusing on all the interesting, exciting things I did and not acknowledging any of the boring stuff I went through on a daily basis. My persona was truthful to an extent, I just didn’t include everything about myself.

      As to how you can trust whether someone is who they claim to be, on platforms like Goodreads, I haven’t really met anyone who had a reason to lie about themselves. All the anonymous people I befriended turned out to be the same offline as they were online. Of course there are profiles of people that are fake, I don’t deny it. But I think on sites like Goodreads, just because of the environment it is there is less need for real deception. If that makes sense.

      1. Hi Peter,

        I had never heard of Shelfari before but I did a quick Google search and it sounds like it was a good site. I read that Shelfari had character profiles for the main characters in a book but got discarded when it merged with Goodreads, which is a shame because I would love that feature.

        Also, what you said does make sense and I agree that fake accounts would be less likely on Goodreads than other platforms. I also agree that some personas would be somewhat truthful in that the individual(s) are only sharing what they believe to be positive or like-worthy aspects of their lives.

        Kind regards,

        1. I had forgotten that Shelfari allowed editing of the books for readers to fill out character profiles, and interesting words and place settings. It was really useful to help you find a book you’d once read that had an obscure character that showed up in one chapter and wasn’t mentioned in the blurb. It’s a shame Goodreads didn’t keep it. It was another way of interacting with other readers to make sure book information was accurate. It worked a bit like Wiki, I guess. Also, the more edits you made you either got an Editor tag or a Librarian tag on your profile.

  3. Hi Peter, as a user of Goodreads, I found this paper to be of particular interest, thank you.

    The connection through a ‘common interest’ is very important on Goodreads and I very much agree that it has proven to be a safe haven for many readers who may be quite passionate about their particular favourite genre, author or series of books, but either are not able to connect with people of a similar interest in the real world or, for a variety of reasons find it difficult to communicate with others and become involved in meaningful discussions and even friendships, as they may do within some Goodreads discussion groups.

    The nearly 75% of publicly disclosed members at Goodreads being female supports the long-held belief of a gender dominance by females, when it comes to reading books (Thelwall & Kousha, 2017). Through my involvement, I have certainly noticed this to be the case. As suggested in your paper, I feel that within groups where the participants are all sharing a common interest, the user can allow the depth of their online identity be moulded by the degree in which they express their opinions, ideas, theories or beliefs regarding the books, authors or characters being discussed within the group.

    Interestingly, I have also noticed a couple of my Facebook friends liking my current reading list on Goodreads, demonstrating that there is also a possibility that some groups may possibly extend beyond the realm of Goodreads into other social media networks and, maybe, even into the offline world. I have witnessed this first hand, as a long-time fan of the Harry Potter books and have observed fan groups that have been formed outside of Goodreads, even to the point of holding regular gatherings and social activities – and yes, they are always Harry Potter themed.


    Thelwall, M., & Kousha, K. (2017). Goodreads: A social network site for book readers. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 68(4), 972-983. Retrieved from:

    1. Hi Natasha, thanks for reading.

      Thanks for bringing up the Thelwall and Kousha article. I wish I had found it for my research, it would have been very helpful. I hadn’t thought to include statistics of gender dominance on the site. Now that you mention it most of the book sites I am a member of are frequented more by females than males. I wonder why. Maybe males are more hesitant about interacting on a subject like books and fandoms because of how it might affect their perceived masculinity. But then that’s why I think it’s important to have the ability to have anonymous profiles sometimes.

      I definitely agree that some groups cross online mediums. I believe I was introduced to Goodreads on a writing site, and then when I created a profile quite a number of my friends on Facebook, that I wasn’t aware were big book fans, started interacting. It was a great way to ignite new conversations and get back in touch with people I hadn’t talked to in long whiles.

  4. Hi Peter,

    As soon as I saw the title of your paper, I knew that I had to read it. Being only 18 years old now and an avid reader, Goodreads has actually been one of the most influential social networking sites that I have ever been a part of. I began using the site when I was only 13; I found it because I wanted to find more books that were a part of specific genres so that I could go to my local library and hire them out. Goodreads helps readers find what they will like, and helps them avoid books that they may have wasted their time on through the public reviews made by both friends and strangers.

    After first discovering it, I soon learned all the other great features, such as the reviews, star-rating system, conversations, author contributions, friendships, genres, and the ability to put all the books that you have ever read in one place that can be monitored. I have always had a forgetful memory, so the ability to keep a record of every book I have ever read is absolutely fantastic. Instead of saying, “I’ve read hundreds of books”, when someone asks, I can say, “Let me check my Goodreads”, and it will give me an exact answer!

    The great part about Goodreads is that, unlike Facebook or Twitter, it is dedicated to one thing: a common interest, reading, that all users would want to share if they have signed up. The accessibility is great for readers, too! I remember when I was 14 my mum bought me a Kindle Paperwhite, and the Goodreads app was built into the system, so that I could access reviews and ratings on books I was considering purchasing at all times. It definitely helped in saving my time and money, and still does to this day!

    The ability to remain anonymous provides people with the opportunity to span out, and expose parts of their personalities that they may have never been able to show in offline life. I remember throughout my early teenage years, the biggest way that I was able to express myself was through the reviews of the books that I wrote. I would highlight my pages, and write notes, specifically for the review that I would write when I finished my books. I would put up updates on my thoughts throughout the stories, and comment on my friends updates at the same time. It was great for my growth, I think, because it gave me a space where I could be unapologetically me, discussing my favourite thing in the world. I definitely could not find that ease anywhere else in life.

    In regards to personal and professional growth, and building friendships, Goodreads was actually the kickstarter to the beginning of my career. I reviewed a book once, and gained attention from the editor of that book. He emailed me privately and asked if I had written anything myself, and since then he has been editing my stories and providing me consistent feedback. He got me in touch with the author of the book I reviewed, and when I met that author at a showcase she got me in touch with the editors over at Penguin Random House. This was the beginning of a massive opportunity with their team that I would have never been able to experience, if it had not been for that one small review I made on Goodreads when I was 15 and still in high school!

    In regards to private messaging on Goodreads, there is actually a feature where you can ‘Mail’ other users. No other user can see these messages. The concept of a ‘glass bedroom’, however, is still very interesting, and definitely applies to the review and public discussion area!

    Thank you so much for the great read, Peter!


    Josephine Gunther

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