31 March 2010

Facebook and the (dis)illusion of privacy

There was a time back when Facebook first began that people hyped what it offered over MySpace.  It was a cleaner looking profile, less spam accounts,  and more importantly there was greater control over who could view what...in other words privacy.  Over the last year or so Facebook seems to have forgotten about privacy.  They seem to have forgotten that privacy still matters to a lot of people and that they don't want the entire world to know everything about them.

Last year there was the brouhaha over the major changes that Facebook made to its privacy policy. And while some of the concerns didn't come to pass (such as the terms of service agreement  stating that Facebook would forever own your content [ Facebook's response]) other changes did.

While the focus seemed to be giving users more control over what they shared these controls were more hidden and made it easier to miss something and inadvertently share something with the wrong audience.  Such as this college professor.  Take a look at this post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation where they discuss the good, bad, and ugly of the new privacy terms.  Take a close look at what they say about the privacy settings...and how its more difficult to limit who has access.  While you do have more control over some settings it's an illusion in others.  Look at this quote from them:
Our conclusion? These new "privacy" changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before. Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data.
Facebook wants us to share more information, more than we may want to be comfortable with.  Especially in relation to what some "pre-approved" 3rd party websites and applications can do.  For example, if one of your friends accesses or uses their application then that company has access to your information.  Who are these applications/websites?  Don't know, Facebook hasn't released that information to the public yet.

Now some people are probably wondering what's the big deal?  Take a look at your friend list. Our differences define our friendships just as much as what we share in common.  Do you really share everything with all of your Facebook friends? I kinda of doubt it. Then why would you want some company or application to know stuff about you!? You should have the choice to let them get that information.

The biggest problem with these changes is that Facebook is making them the default setting. You have to opt-out of it or hunt through settings to change. This is not how privacy works. The default should be for people to opt-in to sharing more information with companies. People don't join Facebook to connect with products and placement ads, they join to connect with people! If Facebook gives out our information to any company that gives them money, then Facebook is no better than a telemarketer in my opinion, acting as a broker for our personal data. Facebook's motto seems to have become "We're evil, we don't care, deal with it."

Yes, the web is making the world more social and its easier to find things out about people, but YOU get to choose what you want to share. You are allowed to make the decision to post stupid comments on Twitter or upload embarrassing pictures to Flickr. You control what goes out there.

Am I going to delete my Facebook profile right now? No...not just yet.  But I am placing Facebook on warning.  They need to understand that they don't get to dictate privacy...the users do.

For more information on other lapses in privacy/security:
E-mail addresses made public for 30 minutes
Anger towards changes

Settings to check:
here and here

19 March 2010

Libraries facing closings and budget cuts...again

I'm going to try to be as non-political as I can with this post...

As many of you have seen or heard, libraries are once again faced with cut backs and closures.  Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library is forced to cut $2 million dollars which will close 12 branches and lay off 148 people, with the possibility of having their budget cut in half next year(article link.)  And they aren't the only ones.  NJ Public Libraries are also having trouble.  And others are suffering as well.

Now I'm not going to argue that libraries are the be all end all, nor am I going to get into the argument over what libraries should and shouldn't be but they are important for many people. They are a way of accessing computers, the internet, finding jobs, keeping in touch, learning, a place out of the cold and rain, and more for so many.

Yes, budgets need to be tightened.  Could libraries do without some of the funding they get.  Likely they could cut in some places.  But should they and education be one of the first areas politicians go too to "trim the fat?"  No, it shouldn't be. 

The first places that should be cut politicians need to look at themselves.  Start cutting your salaries, your extra expenses, start staying at the cheap hotels and fly coach.  I'm not saying that this would save the state or city from going into debt, but it would be nice if they led the way in cuts and set an example.

When libraries have to cut their budgets it is devastating for them to be able to catch up again, even after money comes back.  At MPOW our book budget was cut 10 or more years ago.  We're still playing catch up even now with new money.  It's not a criticism or a blame game, its just a fact.  When libraries have money cut it means branches and staff close, books and other materials can't be ordered and shared, equipment fails, and programing is cut.  Even when money comes back it takes a while to makeup for lost time.

You don't have to agree with me on where budget cuts come from or how to go about saving libraries.  But please do help save them.  Libraries are important to a community, whether they be public, school, academic, or other.  They deserve to live.

Ebooks and Interlibrary Loan

At my current job I'm in charge of the Interlibrary Loan Department and I got to thinking (and yes this is dangerous) ...if we can deliver articles electronically and almost instantly, why not books?  I know not everything is digitized yet or have ebooks companions, but there is a good bit out there.  What if we worked with the vendors to create a collection of ebooks that libraries could have access too and we could "borrow" books for our patrons?  

How cool would that be???  We could change the shape of research and provide almost instant access to materials our patrons need.  Clearly all titles wouldn't be able to be borrowed this way, but I think it would put a good dent in what a lot of libraries are looking for.  And it would allow us to provide faster and better access to our patrons.  Yes they would have to read the book on the computer screen or an ebook reader, but for some of them having instant access will mean a lot more to their research.

How would this work you ask?  My idea in simple terms would be that libraries would have access to a rather large collection of ebooks.  They select the title they need and the system would generate an access link, unique to each request of course.  They would send the link to the patron explaining how the process worked and that the link would expire after a certain time period, say three weeks to a month.

The bigger problem would be pricing.  Vendors of course would want to make money off of this and libraries would want something affordable.  So perhaps a compromise could be reached.  They could charge say $4 to $5 dollars for access to the book or they could charge based upon access to the collection, such as 100-200 books a year would cost $300.

Now you ask why would the vendor want to go with this?  Well I think in the long term they could actually make money off of it.  There could be a clause that after borrowing the same book 3 times the library either has to purchase the book or find other means of getting the material.  It sounds harsh, but the vendor needs something out of this arrangement.  It would also allow them to partner up with a wider range of libraries if the collection was diverse enough.  Public Libraries, Special Libraries, heck even School Libraries could join in, because the collection would be diverse enough to appeal to them.  They wouldn't be purchasing access to a collection that might only have one or two books that appeal to their users, but be able to purchase single access use of a book that would otherwise take a while to acquire (if it all.) 

Yes it would be a lot of work, but I think it would be beneficial to everyone.

So what do y'all think?  Anyone interested in helping me explore this?  Any vendors out there that would be interested in trying out this partnership?

11 March 2010

Alternatives to the PDF form

The other day I was looking at a library's website and noticed that they still use PDF forms for various needs.  And it kinda stunned me, because I'm so used to having things delivered by e-mail.  And no I'm not criticizing the library for using these, it maybe all they can do with their current system.

But I started thinking...what are some options?  What could be used so that you didn't have to fill in PDF's by hand or try type everything in that one small line in a fillable form (y'all know what I'm talking about)?  What could you do to help process information faster?  Or tabulate data?

And it came to me in a flash.  And I gotta admit...I really didn't want to write about it because I wanted to save this for something else.  But I realized ideas deserve to be shared (and heck someone else is probably already doing this...)  But the idea...use Google Documents.  It has a handy built in option for doing forms.

There are a variety of reasons for this, such as:
  1. It's free.  You definitely can't beat that price.
  2. It's easy to set up and doesn't require someone that can program.
  3. It's easily customizable from picking drop down menus to how the background looks.  It's also relatively easy to go back in and add new features.
  4. It makes statistics keeping a breeze.  No more trying to sort and tabulate by hand.  All of the forms are dumped into a Google Spreadsheet that can be exported as needed, sorted for specific needs. 
  5. You have access to the data anywhere.  So if you're at conference and have a few minutes you could start working on filling requests or processing data.
  6. It's easy to move and share the data that you have. 
  7. No more worries about deciphering handwriting!
  8. Saves trees
Are there security concerns for doing this option?  Sure, there is for anything.  You would be trusting Google with your data.  It's happened before where Google has accidentally made some documents that were private, public (this has only happened once to my knowledge.)   If someone hacks your Gmail account the information could be compromised.  And these sound like really scary things, because they are.  But there are concerns with any option that you choose.  You have to balance what you think will work best for you.  Perhaps PDF forms will still be a good option.  Perhaps something else will be. 

But the thing to remember is that you have some options.