Book Recommendations are Rubbish

27 Jul, 2011 | Written WordTdp

I've been thinking for a while that we need a better way to allow people to find similar books.  Authors obviously can't write them as fast as you can read them, so finding a similar book is something most avid readers are constantly on the search for.  Reading Lifehackers' guide to creating an 'awesome summer reading list' I thought I would check some of the recommended sites and give them a try.

I decided to try a search for a popular book, so went with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Philosopher's Stone in the UK).  I'd like to think most people would be able to find the other books in the series, so they didn't count.  I know some of the relevant books here, so I knew my topic well enough, let's see what they returned.

Taste Kid
The site allows you to search for things other than books, but the results for books where:

Results: A few Percy Jackson novels, which I'll allow, though not the first in the series strangely, the rest are useless.

What Should I Read Next?
Too many results to list, none of which looked appropriate and none of the ones I expected.

Results: Useless.

Your Next Read
I stuck with the US version of the site, as I tried to keep as consistent as possible.  For some reason I could only find the 10th anniversary edition.

The only non-Harry Potter book on the first page was Percy Jackson and the Olympians (not the first in series).  Hitting more book threw up The Hobbit, Eragon and The Deed.  Eragon I'll accept on the outside, but the rest are rubbish.

Result: Useless.

Under the relevant page, there were LibraryThing recommendations, which didn't really hit the spot.  Under the member recommendations we hit gold though. 

The top 10 were:

Points for Percy Jackson, the first mention of Artemis Fowl and The Amulet or Samarkand.  I'm familar enough with the The Dark is Rising to say OK.  Extra points for listing Magyk at number 12, possibly the closest thing I've read to Harry Potter yet.

Result: Not perfect, but a pretty good (for the members).

Good Reads
This doesn't really have a recommended books part, just a 'Readers also enjoyed' area, consisting of:

Ptolemy's Gate is the follow up to The Amulet of Samarkand, not really the same.  Again, Abhorsen, not bad, but not right, OK if you're looking for something older.  The others I'm not too familiar with, but none of the favourites feature.

Result: Next to useless.

Under the 'More Books Like This' heading were:

I'll give them Charlie Bone, no on the rest.

Result: Useless.

The Book Explorer
It returned a lot of results, including the rest of the HP series, Percy Jackson and some of the Eragon series (not Eragon itself).  There were plenty of irrelevant ones.

Results: Useless.

Get Glue
Gets ignored for requiring a registration and working out your likes/dislikes first.  It may be more accurate (I don't know) but it's a pain in the arse.

Result: Unknown.

Final Results

Well, by and large, completely useless.  The best seems to have been LibraryThing, although only because the members did a good job.  Manual processing, it seems, is the key, none of the automated services can tell you.  They seem to work on genre, so you're likely to get anything in the same genre.  Better than nothing, but far from right.

To be honest, it's not the first time I've mentioned this.  I still think there's space for a community to help build a better recommendation engine.