This week in the Guardian, writer Rachel Sigee pondered the question of why so many of us frequent sites like Goodreads and Letterboxd to log our media consumption, and came up with an answer that seems obvious in retrospect: It’s dopamine.
Yes, the same addictive brain chemicals that cause our neurons to fire every time our phones light up with a notification are what keep us marking our progress in the books we’ve read or assigning a star rating to every movie we’ve watched or tracking the hours we’ve poured into a particularly immersive video game. Or (and this is where things get slightly insidious), to build lists of all the things we want to—or feel we “should”—read, or watch, or play.
It’s worth considering (as Sigee does) whether it is healthy to “gamify” what is essentially a leisure time activity in this way, and as a hardcore media logger, I will admit to sometimes feeling a sense of exhaustion at contemplating the lengthy lists of all things media I want to consume that I will probably never get around to. Unless I figure out a way to live forever and also abandon my job and family responsibilities.
But I’m also not going to stop doing it. Even before technology presented methods to make it easier, I intermittently have kept lists of, say, the movies I watched with my then-girlfriend, now spouse. Like scrolling through photos in my phone, just seeing the name of a film on that list would trigger my memories of where we were when we saw it or the conversations we had afterward. So much of daily life is ephemeral; keeping a record of a given day—even if it’s just something as inconsequential as finally watching Weekend at Bernie’s (a surprisingly weird movie) can give you an anchor to cling to.
So with all that high-falutin’ nonsense aside, here are some of the best sites and apps around to help you start keeping track of your own media habits: books, movies, video games, and music.
The best apps to log your reading
Goodreads is by far the most widely used book tracker, but there are alternatives if you don’t want to serve up yet more of your data to corporate owner Amazon.
Goodreads. You know about this one. Goodreads has been around for going on two decades now, and since its acquisition by Amazon in 2013, the site has amassed a membership of some 90 million readers eager to catalog what they’ve read and provide status updates on what they’re reading. In many ways, it set the standard for these types of social cataloguing apps, allowing you to customize your books into various shelves, write and read reviews, befriend and follow other users, make recommendation lists, and more. It’s not perfect—the UX is basically unchanged from the site’s infancy, the design is cluttered and unintuitive, and the mobile app is incredibly slow—but you probably use it anyway.
LibraryThing. Founded in 2005, a year before Goodreads, LibraryThing has always been that site’s slightly stuffier, more serious competitor. Originally run via paid subscriptions, it has since switched to a free-for-all model, but still aims to deliver the goods without inundating you with ads. While it offers many of the same social features as Goodreads, it’s definitely tilted more toward the serious business of keeping track of and cataloging your own reading.
The best apps to log the movies you’ve watched
When it comes to tracking your movies, there’s a clear winner (which also happens to be one of my favorite sites on the internet).
Letterboxd. This app- and web-based movie tracking social network has amassed a user base of more than 20 million film fans, and with good reason: It’s incredibly easy to search and log every movie you’ve ever seen, add dates watched (I recently found a stack of old ticket stubs and logged a bunch of films I saw in the theater 15 years ago), pen reviews, and follow other users. You can build lists based on any esoteric, hyper-specific qualifier you can think of. Plus, there’s a view that shows you the posters of every movie you’ve logged on one screen, which is neat. (Stop by and say hi!)
SIMKL. This lesser-known Letterboxd competitor has many of that site’s features and strengths, with one big bonus: Its database also includes TV series and anime (Letterboxd generally eschews TV entirely, save for a few “event” miniseries like WandaVision). You can mark an entire series as watched, or keep track of which episodes you’ve seen and how many you have left, making it that much easier to manage the glut of streaming series you’re trying and failing to stay on top of. But the coolest feature is the Chrome extension that integrates with your streaming service watch history, allowing you to log your viewing history in SIMKL without ever leaving Netflix.
The best sites to log your video games
There doesn’t seem to be a definitive video game alternative to the likes of Letterboxd or Goodreads—and though I’ll discuss comparable options to those services below, neither has reached the same level of awareness. Perhaps that’s because…
Your system probably does it for you. Most modern consoles make the need to log your games obsolete because they already track what you play and when, though you may need to fiddle around in your system menus to find it. The Nintendo Switch, for example, keeps tracked of the games played by each user profile, but if you want the really granular details, including exactly how much time a particular game was played on a particular day, you’ll need to download the associated Nintendo Switch Parental Controls app. Here’s how to see your hours played per game on PlayStation 5 and Xbox.
If you want a more complete accounting than just the amount of time sunk into a given title, though, you’re better off with a separate service.
Backloggd. Backloggd is the closest thing I’ve found to a “Letterboxd for video games,” (hence the name, probably). Currently only available via web (though an app is reportedly in the works), the site allows you to catalog games as completed (along with whether you “mastered,” or “abandoned” them, or a few other options), backlogged (meaning you own them but haven’t played them yet), the games you are currently playing, or add games to a wishlist. You can log “playthroughs” (the dates you actually played a game), review games you’ve marked played, and browse other users’ profile pages and follow them if you choose. The site is continually adding new features, but it already offers most everything I’m looking for.
Grouvee. This one seems to have taken Goodreads as its inspiration. You can mark games as played, currently playing, backlogged, or wishlisted; write (and read) reviews; and mark your dates played. What sets this site apart is the ability to add status updates for games in progress, which is a nice touch if you want to keep track of when you beat a particular level or boss or what have you.
The best app to log the music you love
Like video games, there isn’t nearly as robust a music-logging infrastructure out there—again, probably because services like Spotify and Amazon Music mostly keep track of that for you. Still, there is at least one music-lovers social network out there worth considering.
Musicboard. Musicboard bills itself as “a social platform that allows you to keep track of all the music you listen to and grow your passion for music with friends” and, sure, it does that. You can use it to create a profile, keep track of the albums and songs you’ve listened to, write reviews, and follow other users. There are cool tools to show off your listening history, track forthcoming releases, and (if you’re willing to pony up $3.99/month for a paid subscription) view super granular stats about your listening habits.
Or just use a spreadsheet (or a notebook) to track everything
The most versatile, low-effort way to keep track of anything you’re reading or watching or playing is, of course, to just log it away manually in a spreadsheet (or a notebook, if you’re into that tactile, “real objects” shit). This is certainly a valid method—we love spreadsheets around here—but you’ll sacrifice the visual and/or social sharing aspects of other app-based options.
Maybe you’re OK with that—let’s be honest, there’s a good chance you are the only one who cares about your media habits anyway. Personally, I like the incentive of things like keeping up with a Goodreads reading challenge or filling out my Letterboxd diary to keep me on track; past pen and paper attempts have failed to stick, resulting in years of lost data. On the other hand, one reading site I used to frequent, Riffle, seems to have disappeared this year without warning, and there’s no chance your notebook is going to stop working.