In a stack of papers called Reading.

  • Sep
  • 17
  • 2006

I scanned around for cheap copies of The Scarlet Letter yesterday and came across some very trite and shallow reviews of the book. While those kinds of reviews hold no meaning for me, there might be a way to put them to good use.

MySpace For Books

What if there was a way for students to create an account on some site and write book reviews? With a little background about the reviewer’s reading habits built into the profile area and displayed on the member’s page, along with books they have both enjoyed and hated, a review like “DO NOT READ!” would mean something. If you share reading habits with someone and find the same books appealing, that exclamatory remark could do you a favor. Just as easily, it could be the call for you to certainly read the book if you feel that the member writing it is trite and shallow.

I wonder if I can build this kind of review into my blog assignment. My students already have blogs and are writing in them once a week (well, since the blogs are due every other week, they’re really writing in them twice every two weeks). What if an additional requirement is to write a review of the book read, giving reasons for or against reading it. But the power of these reviews lies in centralizing them all, making them searchable, and otherwise connecting them. For all those reviews to be on 120 different blogs is pretty worthless.

Elgg looks promising. I haven’t experimented much with it, but it looks like I could install that on my own server and open it up to my students. There’s a blog with each account, so students wouldn’t need a Blogger account to keep their enrichment reading assignment blogs (though I think Elgg would rob them of the ability to customize their blog). The profile template could likely be rewritten to focus on books, creating a social network based on the way, frequency, and things they read.

Tags could become phrases used to describe books, file storage could be used for anything they want, communities could be started based around reasons for reading, the list of “friends” could be automatically generated based on responses to a specific area of the profile so members are grouped by their reading habits.

Is anyone familiar enough with Elgg to picture whether all this is possible or not? Is there another bit of software you’d recommend for this? Does this sound interesting to you? Want to help make it happen somewhere safe, secure, and not banned (yet)?


1. Ben Werdmuller says:

[9/17/2006 - 5:21 am]


A few points on Elgg:

1) Elgg wouldn’t rob them of the ability to customise their blog – unless you wanted it to. Out of the box, each user can theme their own space down to changing the HTML and CSS, although administrators have the ability to switch this off if they want everyone to use the same theme.

2) Profile fields, like just about everything else, can be easily rewritten to reflect the focus of the site. Shortly we’ll be making this easier by sticking a front end on the profile field editor, rather than the current method where administrators must edit a configuration file.

You will certainly be able to run it on your own server (if it’s got Apache, MySQL and PHP), or you’ll shortly be able to get your own hosted install at Elgg Spaces.

2. Todd says:

[9/17/2006 - 8:36 am]

My problem with Elgg Spaces is the potential block because of DOPA or other fear mongering going on by the filter companies districts typically purchase plans from. I plan on giving it a shot, though and my email address should now be in your database for that.

Good to know that users can modify their own template. That means Elgg can easily take the place of Blogger in my classroom. Is there a way to automatically generate lists of “friends,” or what I might call common readers, based on certain fields of the profile? Is it convenient to make any of the connections drawn between users in Elgg visible in some kind of list? I’m sure it’s possible, but is that kind of ability already built into the system or would it take some doing to make it happen? Thanks for coming by, Ben. You’ve got a good thing happening over there.

3. Ben Werdmuller says:

[9/18/2006 - 7:43 am]

I’m not a lawyer, but DOPA should be circumvented: we’re just the infrastructure provider. The site is owned by the purchaser, and therefore they get to decide whether it’s commercial (and therefore covered) or not.

As for common readers, a simple example: you could create a keyword field called, say, “books read”. Let’s say I enter “Cat’s Eye”, which is one of my favourite novels; anyone can then click on Cat’s Eye and then get a list of everyone else who’s read it.

4. Ben says:

[9/21/2006 - 6:36 pm]

Funny you should mention creating a book review blog Todd. I’ve thought of the idea applied in two different ways this summer. Once while I was working at a small independent bookstore. The staff all writes up reviews on 3×5 cards and then tapes the reviews to the shelves by the books. Our customers always rave about it, and love that they get honest reviews from other average people, not from professionals that get paid to dissect books for a living. I thought it would be fantastic to do the same on the store website, but it has neither the technical ability, nor did I have the time to mention it to the owner. That and Barnes and Noble already has the whole user-review thing wrapped up.

The second thought was to do the book reviews in school in conjunction with the Media Specialist. She does a “battle of the books” with the kids at school and I thought it would help the teams out if they could blog about the books on their own spaces so that teams could be more productive. We’ll see if it comes to fruition, but honestly I’m not sure how I’m going to work it out yet as the battle is not mandatory and lots of kids won’t be participating. I’d still like to see what kids could do maintaining their own book blogs though. let us know if you get one going.

5. Debzanne says:

[9/23/2006 - 12:55 am]

This is less encompassing than what you’re talking about, but do you know about With an account, students can post their own reviews. I believe they’re only doing fiction right now, but the FAQ says (or said, when I read it in May) that they had plans to tackle non-fiction and other genres soon.

6. Tom says:

[2/21/2007 - 5:39 pm]

I’m messing around some with something similar. Right now all the reviews are audio but I’m hoping to have video and text submissions as well. It’s kind of amusing (although very small right now) and is based around one blog rather than a conglomeration.