Remember Reading Rainbow?  It was a television show…about reading.  Even though I was quite young when this show aired (we both premiered in 1983), I remember watching it and thinking, “There is something odd about this.  Shouldn’t I be reading books?”

But Reading Rainbow had the right idea.  The 1980’s were a great time for children’s television: Fraggle Rock, Inspector Gadget, He-Man and She-Ra all debuted in the 1980’s.  The founders of Reading Rainbow decided to leverage the increase in children’s television viewing to promote reading, instead of throwing their hands up and concluding that television was literature’s nemesis.

Goodreads, a social networking site that allows people to share what they’ve read and view what their friends have read, followed Reading Rainbow’s lead.  Founded in 2006, it jumped on the social media train just a couple of years after it started picking up serious steam.  The logic behind Goodreads is essentially the same logic behind the Facebook “like” button. (In fact, you’ll soon be able to connect your Goodreads profile to your Facebook profile.)  We are more interested in the recommendations of our friends than of strangers, and so if my friend has read a book, I might be interested in reading it too. Building off of the power of a good suggestion, Goodreads has made headlines in the last few weeks after it launched a Netflix-like recommendation system.

Goodreads takes advantage of the most popular features of social media, including “The Legitimization Effect.”  There’s something very satisfying about closing a book (or reaching the last screen on my Kindle) and then clicking “I’m finished” on Goodreads.  It simultaneously gives me a sense of accomplishment and lets me brag about being a fast reader (in your face, world!).

The site is also spot-on in making it easy for users to buy, buy, buy (something that Facebook hasn’t always been great at).  When a Goodreads user finds a book she likes, she can quickly click on clearly visible links to Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and eBay (among others) and even compare pricing without leaving the Goodreads site.

Even though Goodreads, like any business, has a commercial purpose, it is using new media to promote reading and the appreciation of literature, an idea that me, and around 6 million other Goodreads users, are firmly behind.

It seems like every time a news story airs about the damaging effects of excessive online activity, people get all fire and brimstone on social media.  Yes, it’s true, we shouldn’t be spending all day every day on Facebook, stalking people we barely know or posting every move we make.  But Goodreads is an example of how more traditional forms of learning and media, like literature, can peacefully and symbiotically coexist with new media.