Reading Between the Lines: Lightweight Models and Cost Effective Scalability on Goodreads

The concept of lightweight models and cost effective scalability, one of O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Patterns, is directly linked to the success and proliferation of many of the web 2.0 platforms that we use every day. This concept, in simple terms, is that the capabilities now possible, due to the world of web 2.0, such as open source software, cloud computing and businesses and brands being able to market themselves due to the network effect, that more can be done with less. This business model is suggestive that those developing web 2.0 platforms can now benefit from using these tools and resources to allow them to reduce costs and time because of what is already available. O’Reilly propose that this model is not only cost-effective, but scalable for changing demand and being able to adapt instantaneously in response to the market. This business model has been demonstrated by many of the major social media sites, like Facebook and Instagram, both of which were developed at a low cost and with a limited number of resources. The start of the platform that is now Facebook was designed and created by Mark Zuckerberg and his friends in their dorm room while still studying at college.

Another example that I think encompasses this strategy and several of its best practices is Goodreads. goodreadsGoodreads is a community-based book review and book recommendation website, where users have the ability to share books and book lists, see what their friends are reading, have books recommended to them based on their previous reading habits, as well as look over the 29 million book reviews. Goodreads was developed by Otis Chandler and his wife in 2007 for their personal benefit, and since then has gone one to acquire more than 25 million members.

Goodreads’ smart utilisation of sharing capabilities and feedback channels has allowed them to optimise on the ability to market virally at a low cost, one of the best practices and benefits from this web 2.0 pattern. Goodreads is able to benefit from ‘user initiated publicity’ and promote their site by allowing users to share books, book lists and reviews to their friends via their existing social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Amazon, which is available from every page on the site. This allows for a greater reach of people to see Goodreads and the information on their website, with the potential for this to benefit from word of mouth or to spread virally, without them actually having to pay for promotion of the site.  The platform also has the capability for interaction between users and the company itself, through their blog and help pages. This type of communication can assist in users feeling like they are a part of a two-way mutually beneficial relationship, which is important in maintaining loyalty and customer satisfaction to build a strong user base. The easily accessible widgets on Goodreads that any user can access and share on their website is another example of a promotional and marketing tool to advertise Goodread’s benefits without them actually having to spend any money or time.

The syndication of business models, another best practice of this web 2.0 pattern, has seen Goodreads collaborate with other businesses and platforms to offer users a better service by essentially building on top of the components each business already has to offer. Goodreads has an open API, meaning developers can access the data from the platform regarding books and book reviews and share them on whatever platform it is they are working on. Also, just recently Amazon acquired Goodreads and now has the capabilities for users who purchase books with Amazon to sync their accounts and information. By touching an extra button on your kindle when you purchase a book, you can now directly integrate your purchases with your Goodreads account and the social network you have on there. How easy is that!

These two practices are definitely not the only way in which Goodreads is benefiting from the lightweight model and cost effective scalability, it is also very obvious in their designs and ability to scale with demand as the platform has expanded over the years. It is amazing to think what the platform has achieved in 7 years with a company that has less than 70 employees, and definitely epitomise the idea that more can be done for less thanks to web 2.0 capabilities.

I am interested to hear your thoughts about the topic, especially in relation to Goodreads and what you think is or is not working well for them. Do you know of any other platforms that you think are benefiting from this business model? Do you think platforms like this will become even easier to develop as technology and software changes? I look forward to reading your comments and suggestions and thank you for reading my blog!

Reference List


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15 responses to “Reading Between the Lines: Lightweight Models and Cost Effective Scalability on Goodreads”

  1. mjjfeeney says :

    Great, thorough rundown of Goodreads!

    I think we haven’t seen the last of their scalability either. Amazon’s integration of Goodreads into the Kindle backend is certainly the first step, but now that the infrastructure for building, sharing, and browsing user collections is firmly in their grasp…

    I definitely foresee a future where the Goodreads will cover all the media under the sun. The platform is on a trajectory that follows an arc that matches Amazon’s own past–starting with books and winding up with everything.

    Expanding Goodreads to cover films, television, music etc. (i.e anything Amazon can sell) seems like a logical extension of sharing and curating a personal collection. Plugging a recommender/review/commentary system into other mixed-media on Amazon’s own tablets is something I fully expect to see before the end of the year!

    • brittsmith2014 says :

      Hi there!

      Thank you for your comment- I really appreciate it. That’s definitely an interesting idea to expand Goodreads to cover films, television, etc, I have never considered it, but you are probably right that, that is where it is likely to head. It will be really interesting to see what will happen with their partnership with Amazon, despite many Goodreads members saying that the day Amazon bought Goodreads ruined their life.

      Thanks again 🙂 Brittany

  2. nareshperumalla says :

    Hi Britanny,

    Nice post again. I really enjoyed while reading your post about Goodreads. You have explained very well about how Goodreads matches to best practices. I would like to add few more information about Goodreads which I think will match the best practices and useful to your post as well.

    Goodreads allows individuals to search the extensive user-populated database of books, annotations, and reviews. Users can sign up and register books to generate library catalogs and reading lists. They can also create their own groups of book suggestions and discussions. This is a nice idea because it encourages users to interact among them which will definitely attracts fellow individuals to join.

    Goodreads helps to build a online community by allowing users to add books to their personal bookshelves and also users can see what their friends are reading, participate in discussion boards and groups on a variety of topics, and get suggestions for future reading choices based on their reviews of previously read books. By this network effect will definitely increase which indicates the success of that website.

    As you mention syndication with Amazon is a cool feature as by touching an extra button on kindle when user purchase a book, user can now directly integrate their purchases with their Goodreads account. Goodreads has also presence on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and other social networking sites.

    Goodreads encourages users by conducting Readers Choice Awards.This is a yearly award program launched in 2009 where users are able to nominate books of their choosing, released in the given year. The final voting round collects the top ten books from twenty different categories. This type of activities will encourages users which increases the network effect as well.


    Jason’s 10 week slides

    • brittsmith2014 says :

      Hi there!

      Thank you for your comment and all the information you contributed about Goodreads! You have definitely listed many of Goodreads benefits for users and I think these are all a direct result of the capabilities that web 2.0 has allowed the site to have, which is so great considering the limited resources and actual staff that the company has.

      I did not know about the Reader’s Choice Awards, what kind of award do users get for participating? Is it just that their book is selected? I guess that this would be another way that they can market virally without any cost by having their users publicise and ask their friends to contribute, without them actually having to pay for promotion. What do you think?

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts and thanks again for your comment 🙂 Brittany

  3. mjeed2009 says :

    Hi Britney,
    I always like coming back to your blog ti fund more interesting stuff about every topic we have learned. I love the Goodreads as an example of lightweight model and cost effective scalability even though I’m not a big fan of reading. I think applying syndication of business models has a major impact to the Goodreads website for customers and businesses.

    An important point factor to the success of the platform is customer satisfaction, by expanding their platform and integrated with Amazon and other social media network. I think website are also benefiting from this model as well.


    • brittsmith2014 says :

      Hi there!

      Thank you for your comment and compliments- I really appreciate it! I definitely agree that Goodreads is an interesting example of this topic, even if it is not a platform that you use, it is really cool to see what they have managed to do with their limited number of resources.

      I was not familiar with until you mentioned it, but it does seem like it would be able to benefit from this business model just as Goodreads does. Do you know of any integrations or collaborations that this particular website has with other businesses?

      Thanks again for your comment 🙂 Brittany

  4. chrischen346 says :

    Hello Brittany,

    It is good to see your post up again. You have an incisive explanation of “lightweight models and cost effective scalability”. I think you had a great analysis about goodreads. O’Reilly defines lightweight models as those that use “lightweight business and software development models to build products and businesses quickly and cost-effectively” (O’Reilly, 2007). Based on this definition, I really agree with you. Goodreads provides 25 million members the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations by only 68 employees. They are really lightweight model. And even now, we can see their scalability. As mjjfeeney mentioned, I also think goodreads can provide more services, not only book recommendations, but also movies or music. It is worth to expect.

    Again, thanks for your share. I really enjoy it.


    O’Reilly, T. (2007). Web 2.0 principles and best practices. Retrieved from

    • brittsmith2014 says :

      Hi there!

      Thank you for your comment- I really appreciate it and I am glad you liked my post. I definitely agree with you that Goodreads fits O’Reilly’s definition for lightweight models well, especially from a cost-effective perspective.

      It is interesting that you also mention that Goodreads may change to also include movies and music in the future, do you think the target market may react badly or would this be resolved by the adoption of so many new users?

      Thanks again 🙂 I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Brittany

  5. sauravkhadka says :

    Hello brittsmith,

    A wonderful post for the lightweight model and cost effective scalability! 🙂 The present situation is such where, one can apply this web 2.0 pattern and take huge advantage; do less and achieve more. Goodreads is also one of the great example that can be related to this pattern. Like you have mentioned how they have applied the idea and where they have reached in their journey commencing from 2007. There are lot of other such sites which have reached success, like eBay and Amazon. Also, in near future more such web 2.0 platforms are likely to come up as technology is getting more and more advanced every single day that passes.


    • brittsmith2014 says :

      Hi Saurav,

      Thank you for your comment! I definitely agree with you that many newer web 2.0 platforms in the future will continue to benefit from the best practices of this business model. In what ways do you feel that eBay and Amazon demonstrate lightweight models and cost effective scalability? Do they follow the same best practices as Goodreads?

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks again 🙂 Brittany

  6. mohammedbadhurais says :

    Good post as all times, you have contributed in this post with an excellent effort as I can see the full understanding and clear explanations of Goodreads. I have increased my knowledge through your valuable information. For example, Goodreads developed is Otis Chandler and his wife in 2007 and more than 25 million members. Also, I agree that Goodreads has done several smart steps that leaded their success such as how to utilise feedback channels in a brilliant way to engage more readers who have red others opinions through their comments. I do agree also with nareshperumalla who’s mentioned very important fact is that customer satisfaction.
    Thanks for the lovely post as usual 🙂

    • brittsmith2014 says :

      Hi there!

      Thank you for your comment- I really appreciate it. I am glad you found my post useful in understanding Goodreads and I agree that customer satisfaction is imperative for web 2.0 platforms and their success, which is aligned to many of the best practices of this business model.

      Thanks again 🙂 Brittany

  7. nareshperumalla says :

    Hii there!!

    I agree with you that this is a way of promotion without spending even a single penny. Coming to the Readers Choice Awards, it is a yearly award program, in which users can be able to nominate books of their choosing, released in that particular year. The final voting round collects the top ten books from different categories.

    • brittsmith2014 says :

      Hi there!

      Thank you for your comment and for explaining the Readers Choice Awards. I guess that this too would be promotion for the site as it would assist in bringing traffic to it for the awards. That’s definitely a good marketing strategy!

      Thanks again 🙂 Brittany

  8. scrumptical says :

    Goodreads has such a lovely community of bookworms, I love it! By far the most vibrant place for readers to hang out. It’s also a great database for looking up books and getting a general gist of public perception on them. The Readers Choice Awards are a great way to gauge this interest. I love coming each year and checking which books are the top!

    My one negative about the site is its design is a little cluttered.

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