Saturday, July 22, 2006

How to wreck a website in one page

Before reading this post, you must fill out the following form:

That's the sign-up page at, a new book-swapping service getting a huge bounce from CNET. According to Alexa, they are--today--the 6,834th most-visited websites on the entire web, around the highest LibraryThing's been. The site looks inviting, attractive and usable. It surely took a lot of skill and effort to make.

But look at how many books have been added—230! That's the worst conversion I've ever seen. It's hard to turn Alexa numbers into raw traffic, but Alexa 6000 is a fire hose. To get 230 books out of that is a disaster of Biblical proportions.

Surely the sign-up page is to blame. It's an object-lesson in how to wreck a website's chances.

Why does a book-swapping service need to know my gender? (Is there dating involved?) And my birth date?* And—good grief—my PHONE NUMBER?! I got to that question and closed the window. No, actually, I wrote an angry comment to the administrator, blogged about it and THEN closed the window. :)

Even if you take those away, I'm still not satisfied. Yes, they may need my address eventually, but why not let me play around a bit without giving them my address? Then, once I've determined I like the site and make a swap, they can ask me for shipping info. Doing this way is putting all the pain and risk up front, before you know whether it's worth it. Do stores block your way in and require credit-card validation and a phone number before you can enter?

And what about the email? They're not generating random passwords. (I hate sites that do that.) Is it for lost passwords? Why not trust me, and let me add an email only if I want that extra protection? My desire to look at a new site is NOT greater than my need to keep my email free of spam. Anyway, in this case, If I lose my password they can just call me up!***

The real kicker: they don't publish their own email address, or their mailing address or who runs it, etc.*** Privacy for me, but not for thee!

Let me say again, so far as I got—which wasn't far, obviously—there's nothing wrong with the site. LibraryThing is still looking for a break-out swap site to partner with. We are currently tracking fifteen book-swapping sites on Alexa, hoping one will get big enough to throw our energy behind****. Maybe this is the one, but it sure won't be if they keep the current sign-up page.

Hat tip to Steve Cohen of LibraryStuff.

*It's not COPPA; they already note that you can't sign up if you're under 13.
**As a former usability person I'd like to add that first-name last-name is culturally wrong, notably for Chinese people. On the other end, it might be culturally sensitive to have the list of countries sorted alphabetically, starting with Afghanistan, but it's obnoxious to 95% of the audience for an English-language site. Lists like that should start with a section including the United States and the United Kingdom, at least. Most people don't know to use keys to get to the end of menus, so they'll be scrolling down to the bottom, past hundreds of countries that will never contribute a single member to your site.
***You have to go to their WhoIs record to discover a post-office box in Moscow, PA.
****, Book Relay, PaperbackSwap,,,, Community Books, Swapthing, ReaderSwapIt,,,,,, If you know of others, let me know.


Blogger Debra Hamel said...

Hey, Tim. An interesting post. In case anecdotal evidence is of interest, I thought I'd add that I've used both and, and I'm a very happy customer of the latter: it's well run, easily navigable, gets a good selection of books. Ease of use is very good. I prefer it to, which has a price advantage but is not as easy to use. I also prefer the sites, like, that take care of all the interaction between the traders. Some on your list, I believe, require that users coordinate trades with one another.

7/22/2006 6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I about crapped myself with delight when I signed up for LibraryThing a month and a half ago! I couldn't believe that's all the information you wanted from me.

Well done Tim. Well done.

7/22/2006 6:56 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Thank you for the constructive criticism. WhatsOnMyBookshelf allows all users to “peruse” the site for as long as they like. Only when you are good and ready do you have to register with the site to request a book.

7/22/2006 7:47 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...


In response to your comment about whasonmybookshelf only having 200-ish books, that number is a dynamic list of how many books are available to be traded. This number is continually fluctuating up and down depending on the number of transactions. Whenever a book is requested it disappears from the site until it is re-registered.

7/22/2006 7:55 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Dan: That's an interesting point. I don't know how you keep track, but maybe you could list items in the various stages--it would show vitality.

Debra: That's interesting. From where I sit it looks like Paperbackswap is the winner. I do feel that, in the end, book swapping is like eBay--the site with the most members now becomes the site with the most members forever.

7/22/2006 8:14 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

RE: "I couldn't believe that's all the information you wanted from me."

Actually, we get that sometimes. People sign up and then they email us in frustration. I added a user name and password and then I was dumped into the add books screen. What went wrong?

7/22/2006 8:15 PM  
Anonymous Debra Hamel said...

But paperbackswap is limited to paperbacks! Surely that's a disadvantage?

7/23/2006 10:37 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Oh, is it? That's crazy! Truly bonkers.

7/23/2006 11:50 AM  
Anonymous paperkingdoms said...

... and is exclusively CD trading. :^)

7/23/2006 1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait! Maybe I'm wrong. The "about the site" section mentions only paperbacks, but I see a hardcover in the listings. So I'm not sure. Does anyone have any personal experience of this?

7/23/2006 2:46 PM  
Anonymous Debra Hamel said...

Sorry. I'm the anonymous who just posted. The children have stolen my wits.

7/23/2006 2:47 PM  
Blogger Anna said... is mainly paperbacks, because they tend to fall under the weight limit for the cheapest book rate, thus are the cheapest to trade. However, hardcovers are listed and traded, as well as audio books. In fact, audio books are two credit trades rather than just one. is an interesting model for a swap site ($$ back to the content producers), but I doubt they will be moving into any sort of book market. But, if you're looking at it because you're planning to do a MusicThing, by all means, keep an eye on them!

7/23/2006 5:55 PM  
Anonymous andyl said...

The other thing about is that it looks terribly oriented towards the US market. Of course is oriented towards the UK (as is

Also has some strange terms - no sexually explicit or pornographic works for instance.

7/24/2006 10:53 AM  
Blogger Keesa said...

Dead on, Tim! I signed up for your site right away when I saw how simple and easy it was, and I'll stick around, too!

Having even my email address optional was totally awesome. (I did end up including it...I forget passwords like you wouldn't believe! ;-)

7/25/2006 10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I personally can't get enough of! They didn't ask for much info until I was ready to make my first trade, they have SIX different categories to trade in, including DVDs and games, and their interface is really easy to use!

7/27/2006 12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a member of both Paperbackswap and Titletrader. Both are good sites for swapping, but I do have 1 complaint about paperbackswap. Anytime you have an opinion about something you don't like about the site, they kick you out! I had many credits built up and ran into a problem that I wanted to see solved and they replied and then I replied back and they didn't like what I had to say and so I got kicked out and lost my credits. Very unfair!

9/07/2006 1:38 AM  
Anonymous Dartha said...

'Anonymous' writes that "Anytime you have an opinion about something you don't like about the site, they kick you out!"

This is simply NOT true.

2/24/2007 5:29 PM  

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