The problem with crowdsourcing, Goodreads edition

I was poking around Goodreads today (and you should add me there, by the way) and noticed the user-generated lists. More specifically, the best books ever and worst books of all time.

Here’s how Goodreads list works. For open lists (and most of the really popular lists are open), you can vote for so many books to be added. That number appears to be 100 for many of the lists, though this is probably customizable. You can also arrange your votes in a given order so your higher votes get more priority and therefore more points. This way everyone gets a say in the public lists.

This might also explain why the best books ever make me weep for humanity. Remember what ever means: in the course of all time, in this case taking every book ever published and consumed by the reader into consideration.

Then why are the Twilight books in the top four slots of the best books ever list? Even taking the top ten into consideration, three more of those books are Harry Potter books. While the Harry Potter books are great, they’re probably not the greatest books ever written when compared to every single book written. I do not think a lot of these voters know the meaning of “ever”. Luckily the list gets more reasonable after passing the top ten.

Now let’s look at the worst books list. You probably noticed the same thing I did: four of the top ten as of now are by Ann Coulter. No matter what you think of her, I have a sneaking suspicion that people put her books on the worst books list simply because they disagree with her. Honestly, I didn’t know she had written that many books.

There seems to be a common trend in the worst books list. I have a feeling people listed books whose writer or premise they dislike, which would explain why Mein Kampf is at number eight. The other half seems to be listing mainstream books or books they read in high school but disliked. Either way, there’s definitely a lot of grudge on this list. I haven’t contributed to either list yet, partly because I need to separate the ideas of “favorite” from “best” and “least favorite” from “worst”. This is something the listers seem to have difficulty grasping.

Goodreads is also a source of humorous lists. I found one list of books with fruits and vegetables in the title, a list my pumpkin novel will likely be on if it gets published. That’s a good goal, right?

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