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Amazon.com to buy social network for book lovers

Move makes start-up Shelfari a stronger competitor to other social networks for bibliophiles

By Heather Havenstein
August 26, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Amazon.com Inc. Monday agreed to acquire Shelfari, a social network for book lovers for an undisclosed sum.

Amazon's acquisition of Shelfari means the site will likely make it a much stronger competitor to other social networks that focus on bibliophiles, according to some observers. In addition, Amazon earlier this month acquired online rare bookseller AbeBooks and gained its 40% stake in one of Shelfari's main competitors, LibraryThing. Thus, observers note, Amazon will have a stake in two competing social networks for readers.

Shelfari allows users to build a virtual bookshelf to display the books they have read or want to read, along with the ability to provide reviews and ratings for other users. The site also helps users connect with each other to form groups or provide book suggestions.

Josh Hug, Shelfari's CEO noted in a blog post yesterday that the site will benefit from Amazon's additional resources and expertise in building a platform where users can share ideas. Hug did not disclose the value of the deal in the post announcing it.

Richard McManus, a blogger at ReadWriteWeb, noted that Shelfari has an "innovative" user interface that allows users to display and read contextual data about individual books. "When the user mouses over a book, a contextual pop-up comes up containing information about the book and a set of associated actions," he said.

"Whether Shelfari goes mainstream will depend on how Amazon integrates it with its core business and with products such as the e-Reader Kindle," he noted. He went on to note that LibraryThing hopes to compete with Shelfari by providing a superior service to Shelfari. "However, it's very difficult to compete against Amazon's bulk," he wrote.

Stan Schroeder, a blogger at Mashable, added that Amazon turned its eye to Shelfari because it needed a book-oriented social network and acquiring Shelfari was the "easiest, fastest or least cash intensive" way to do it.

"I think that Amazon will actually help Shelfari to grow," Schroeder added. "It'll be much easier to build a community for book lovers if you've got Amazon's huge user numbers and book inventory to help you."

He also noted that the acquisition will be tough for Shelfari's competitors to overcome. "It's tough enough to build a niche community as it is; if you have to compete against a giant like Amazon, it's 100 times tougher."

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