or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

“Readers Advisory” on Hulu

   September 9th, 2010 Brian Herzog

I was watching a show called The Book Group on Hulu recently, and got a taste of how they recommend other shows to people.

The bottom of every show page always has a "You Might Also Like" section, recommending similar shows, which I have used that in the past. But because a couple of the episodes of The Book Group were rated TV-MA, and required me to log in, during one of the commercial breaks I got this ad:

Hulu ad

Which I read as,

Brian, not only are we violating your privacy, but we also think you have bad taste.

I'm sure the "27x more fans" thing is just to induce me to watch the other show (Peep Show, which I did watch a few episodes of and didn't really like). However, requiring me to log in and then using that to track me and "personalize" suggestions does feel like a violation. A different ad seemed more reasonable:

Hulu Ad2

This conveys the exact same message, but doesn't also imply a deficiency on my part. So, I guess a word of caution to anyone providing readers advisory or viewing suggestions on your website - careful how you word the message.

Also, this got me thinking about two types of suggestions: item-oriented suggestions and person-oriented suggestions. Item-oriented is like NoveList or LibraryThing for Libraries - basically, providing suggestions based on the characteristics of an item.

Person-oriented suggestion is more like a personal shopper, or saying, "based on our monitoring of your behavior, we think you'd like this" - providing suggestions based on the preferences (or past behavior) of a person (or people). Amazon's "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" or "Frequently Bought Together" sections are like this, as well as their "Recently Viewed Items." Which isn't a bad thing, unless the person being monitored don't know about it, or has no choice about it.

Hulu might be genericizing the data of what other people are doing, but it seems like they're still tracking what individual people do on their website, and I will always feel uncomfortable with that.

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Bad Advice Serves as Good Reminder

   May 25th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Erasing PrivacyA recent Miss Manners column gave advice to a library patron who wrote about a library employee repeatedly reading aloud the titles of the books patrons were checking out.

I, and others, commented (more here) to suggest better ways of handling the situation, but it is truly sad that this situation happened in the first place. From what the person writing in said, this staff person does this all the time - this behavior is certainly not appropriate for the circulation desk, and should have been corrected by the library administration long ago.

Even though the advice provided wasn't helpful, this is a good reminder for libraries to review their privacy policies - both to see if it is up to snuff and to remind staff why this is important. Check out the ALA's resources on privacy:

Somewhat related (in my head, anyway), is The Other Librarian's post of Ten Reasons Why 'Professional Librarian' is an Oxymoron. I don't completely agree with it, but they are valid points.

via LISNews, LibraryStuff

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Twitter Impersonator

   May 13th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Twitter Suspended logoA funny thing happened to me on Twitter - someone started impersonating me.

What? I'm not famous. I know there's more than one person with my name, so I wasn't too surprised to see another Brian Herzog start following me. But when I clicked into the profile to see read their tweets, it turned out that someone had duplicated my account. Their username was @syuhaedah, but were using my name, the same bio line and same location - the only difference was their website was a tinyurl (which I never clicked, but was able to preview).

It kind of freaked me out, so here are the steps I took:

  1. Click the "report as spam" link in the email from Twitter you get when someone starts following you
  2. Read their Privacy Violations and How to Report Spam pages
  3. Found Twitter's Impersonation Policy and opened a ticket to report it

Within a few hours I got a follow-up response from Twitter, and by the next day that account had been suspended. I feel bad bringing the hammer down like that, but it definitely felt like a spambot or other violation of both me and Twitter.

And how bizarre - I can see when someone sets up a fake Barack Obama or Conan O'Brien Twitter account, but me? So, be careful with both your own identity and that of your organizations.

I got lucky in that this account started following me, or else I may have never known about it. I guess I'll start to periodically use Twitter's Find People and Advanced Search (with operators) to check for this sort of thing.

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