An Interview with the Lead Designer of

by James R. Stoup Sep 10, 2007

For those of you who love to read but have never heard of Shelfari before, then you are really missing something special. Shelfari is a free social networking site whose only purpose is to help its users find great things to read. The site is very easy on the eyes, quite simple to learn, and amazingly fun to use. Check it out at Go to their “about” page and you will find this description of what Shelfari does for its uers:

  • Build virtual bookshelves to express themselves to their friends and to the world
  • Discover books that are popular in their trusted circles of friends
  • Influence peers by rating and discussing books online
  • Discover and learn from people with similar reading tastes
  • Participate in online book groups to further explore literature and share ideas
  • Interact with and learn from authors

If you want to see an actual user please check out my page; I currently have 179 books on my shelf. You will find me at and I encourage anyone who is interested in either History, SciFi, Fantasy, or classical literature to check out my shelf. Who knows, you might find something you like.

If, after looking around, you decide you simply must join then here is a little guide to getting started with your very own shelf. First, find books. The best way to do this is to find someone with similar taste, and raid their shelf. This means you look at their books, click on them, and then add them to your own reading list. After you have done that to a few users you should have a healthy sized shelf. Another way to find books is just to search for them via title, author, or ISBN. It hardly needs any explanation though, because the site makes things so easy.

In fact, I liked this site so much I decided to interview one of the men behind it. So, here is an interview with Mr. Timothy Gray, director of design at Shelfari.


Q: Mr. Gray, please tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background?
A: I’ve been in the design field for over ten years, starting as a print designer and then transitioning to web design and development about seven years ago. I feel like I’ve tried out every position in the industry, from junior-level designer to creative director to full-time freelancer. I’ve had a blast and had the opportunity to do a lot of different things and work with some great people and clients. Before coming to Shelfari, I was an independent consultant for Turner Sports, working on some of their sports properties like PGA, NASCAR, and NBA.

Q: And what about Shelfari? Where did the idea for this site come from? And how long did it take you to go from an idea to an actual site?
A: Shelfari was co-founded in 2006 by Josh Hug and Kevin Beukelman. I arrived in April of this year, so unfortunately I missed out on the early days.

Q: What language is the site written in?
A: Our development team uses ASP.NET, but I’ve focused on the design and am just now lending a hand with HTML and CSS.

Q: How does Shelfari make any money? And do you have any plans to charge users for using your site?
A: We’ve recently experimented with some unobtrusive advertising, but have no fear—we plan to continue offering Shelfari free of charge.

Q: Have you considered making similar websites for sharing movies or video games?
A: I wouldn’t rule out that possibility in the future, but personally I’d like to run out of ideas for improving our service before we look into expanding into additional areas.

Q: What features do you plan on adding before you take the beta tag off of your site?
A: We recently finished a great Facebook application and we’re almost ready to relaunch an improved blog plugin.  I think you’ll really like what we’re doing with it. In the next couple of months there will be some very noticeable changes in the architecture and design of Shelfari. We’re upgrading hardware, optimizing performance, improving our designs, and making the site faster, easier to navigate, and hopefully more fun!

Q: Did you use any Apple products in the creation of your site? If so, what?
A: When I arrived in April, there was a customized G4 Cube that served as a test machine, but Shelfari was almost completely Windows-based. I’ve been a Mac user since high school. I brought my 17” MacBook Pro and 30” Cinema Display from Atlanta and have been doing my best to convert the rest of the team (Microsoft decided to help out by releasing Vista). All of the design is done on my Mac (with Photoshop CS3 and Coda). Dave, our VP of Marketing, now has a 15” MacBook Pro, and I know the dev team would love to dual boot.

Q: What are your plans for the future? Where do you want Shelfari to be in 5 years?
A: We’re growing at an unbelievable pace, so who knows where we’ll be in five years. I want Shelfari to be the site that all readers can call home—a place to find the best books and connect with other readers around the world.

Q: It’s kind of off topic, but I have to know. What Macs do you personally own?
A: I’ve got two MacBook Pros, a 30” Cinema, iPhone, iPod Nano, Video iPod, AppleTV—you get the picture. I drink the Kool-Aid and love it!

Now, go over to Shelfari, find a good book, and get off your computer and go read it.


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