Friday, March 31, 2006

Social Networks continued

To continue the list from my last post about the things students don't get about social networks:

When it comes to Facebook and other social networks, many students don't realize that not only do they need to be concerned about what they post on their profiles but also what other people post.
  • The Wall: Your Facebook profile has a "wall" where your friends can post whatever comments they desire. MySpace has a comment section for the same purpose, and I'm sure the other networks have similar things. You can, of course, delete these comments but they will still be up for some time before you see them and delete them.

  • Tag, You're It: As one of my students pointed out, people can post pictures of you on Facebook and tag it with your name. Those pictures then get linked to your profile as "tagged by others." And, of course, they don't need your consent to do this (at least, as far as I know). Just think of all the compromising photos that could be put up without your approval!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Social Networks and Privacy Issues

Today in class we discussed the issues presented in the articles my students read for their most recent batch of reaction papers. I assigned two separate topics, so half the students read about one issue, and half read about another. However, I wanted all of them to be aware of all the issues, so a class discussion seemed the best route.

I find it somewhat disconcerting that students don't always realize how available their information is when they put it on the web. This is only to be expected though, given that they are getting earlier and earlier exposure to the web. It becomes a natural part of life - something that you just don't question. But it needs to be questioned, and colleges need to do something to increase awareness of the issues surrounding the Internet and more specifically, social network sites.

For example, take Facebook. All but one of my students are on Facebook. I suspect the vast majority of students on campus are on it. And they Facebook constantly (including during class...). But are they aware of the following issues?
  1. Anyone with a campus email address can get access to Facebook. This includes faculty, staff, campus police, alumni, etc.

  2. Campus police (perhaps not on my campus but on others) have been known to use Facebook to catch students commiting various crimes - rioting, underage drinking, etc. For examples of this, read Think Before You Share (PDF) from The Chronicle of Higher Education about the rioting incident, and Facebook Face Off from Inside Higher Ed about several students bashing a professor.

  3. Employers may search social networks for information about potential candidates. They already Google them (see the article What a Tangled Web We Weave from the New York Daily News). This may not be as much of a problem with Facebook since you need a college email address, but anyone can sign up for other social networks like MySpace. One argument often raised is that what happens at college is part of a different world. People do things in college they probably won't do later in life. To me, that's true to a certain extent, but as one of my students pointed out, you can tell a lot about a person's character by his/her social network profile.

  4. Depending what information you include in your social network site, you are making it pretty easy on stalkers.

  5. Facebook actually has some pretty great privacy settings that could (should?) be used to hide information. Students should check those out! You can limit who sees your profile, who sees specific parts of your profile (just your cell phone number, IM screen name, etc), and whether faculty, staff, and/or alumni can see your profile. You can also block specific people or limit the parts of your profile that specific people are allowed to see.

These are all things I think students need to be made aware of. But how can we do it on a campus-wide basis? Maybe it's a topic for the First Year Seminar class that all new students have to go through. That seems the best option (perhaps also because I can't think of any other method to reach most of the students).

Just getting the conversation started among a few students makes a difference. I know at least one of my students said (of his own volition - i.e. without me suggesting or recommending it) that he would pass on the information to his friends. The grapevine is a good start, but is there a better way?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Facebook for Sale

Apparently, Facebook is up for grabs. The desired sale price? A measly $2 billion, according to a Business Week article entitled "Facebook's on the Block". However, it is "the seventh-most heavily trafficked site on the Internet." It will be very interesting to see who snatches up this popular social network site and what they do with it.

Let's hope it doesn't end up like MySpace. That site is always having problems - won't load, often down for repairs and whatnot, and just recently I've started getting lots of spam emails. It kind of makes me wonder why we put up with it at all. Imagine if our regular email service was constantly on the fritz. We'd just jump ship and find a new service. But we stick it out with MySpace. Why is that?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Things that Irritate Me

I have two things I feel like ranting about at the moment (who doesn't need a good rant every now and then?):

1. Disney's obsession with copyright: The issue of downloading coloring pages containing Disney characters recently was brought up on a listserv I'm on. Several people quickly responded that you should never ever use Disney images. According to them, Disney has a monetary rewards program for those that turn in people who use Disney's material without first obtaining copyright permission AND they have even attacked those using Disney material for educational purposes, which should qualify as fair use. Good grief.

2. The American Chemical Society (ACS): They charge incredibly outrageous prices for all of their products - journals, abstracts, databases, etc. I believe chemistry is the field with the highest journal prices, in fact. On top of that, in order to have an accredited chemistry program, we are required to have some of this material. And who are we accredited by? ACS. How convenient! Talk about ensuring that people have to pay your outlandish prices. That should be illegal.

Friday, March 17, 2006


My coworker just told me about the AnyWho search from AT&T that provides limited information on people for free and then more information for a fee. All you have to know is the person's name and the town they live in. It's creepy. First of all, it gives addresses and ages (although I found at least one age that has to be incorrect). Secondly, it really makes me wonder what information people can access if they pay for it. Identity theft anyone?

Some of the information you can have access for a fee includes (copied directly from the site):
• Relatives, roommates and neighbors
• Bankruptcies, Tax liens, Small Claims Civil Judgments
• Marriage and Divorces
• Home Value and Property Ownership
• Full name and possible aliases

But also entertaining. There are just some people who's ages you've always wanted to know, aren't there? It's okay, you can admit it. :)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Google Really is Taking Over

What doesn't Google do these days? And of those things it does not do, what does it not have plans to do in the near future?

They acquired Writely, which I love wholeheartedly (see Michael Arrington's post on TechCrunch). They acquired MeasureMap not too terribly long ago (and still have not invited me to join, even though it's been a few months, I think - GRRR to them!). According to TechCrunch, they are working on building a Calendar and something called Google Drive (which will let you store ALL of your data online so you can access it anywhere). And of course there are the new-ish tools like Google Base, Google Page Creator (which, of course, was only up for a few hours before Google took it down and now we are all once again waiting for the email invite), Google Desktop (which I have no interest in using), and all the other things I'm surely missing.

To fear them or love them? I use Blogger (obviously), I have a GMail account (which is my primary email account), I "Google" practically everything when searching for stuff on the web, I use Writely, I want to use MeasureMap, I've signed up to be notified about Google Page Creator, and I'm interested in the Calendar, although not positive I would use it. Let's hope they continue to "do no evil" because it looks like they hold a lot of control over me and my online habits. :)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Legislation to Support!

Disclaimer: I do not know all the details of this situation but from what I do know, I do not like it!

According to a New York Times article entitled "Senate Bill to Address Fears of Blocked Access to the Net" (and other articles I have skimmed elsewhere), network operators have gotten this brilliant idea of "charging companies for faster delivery of their content to consumers or favoring some content providers over others". This would not only "harm websites that are unwilling to pay for faster delivery" but also internet users who may want access to certain sites that are unwilling or uable to pay the premium.

The article keeps talking about "companies" and mentioning big names like Google, Amazon, and Time Warner companies. What about all the non-profits that have great websites out there? Good, reliable, research-worthy websites? What are they supposed to do? Will allowing other companies to pay for faster delivery have a detrimental affect on those high quality, non-commercial websites out there? Maybe I'm missing something here, but my response to that question would be, heck yeah it will! So many non-profits can barely afford to continuing providing their great services (see K. G. Schneider's post on the Librarians' Internet Index's financial difficulties for only one of many examples), let alone try to pay for their content to be delivered more quickly.

If you speed up the delivery of sites by companies willing to pay for the service, will that consequently slow down the other sites? Or will faster delivery of some sites just make other sites seem way too slow, regardless of the fact that they are not loading any slower than they used to? Given the fact that many of us were raised on dial-up, and since switching to broadband cannot even fathom waiting as long as we used to for websites to load, I would say that even if it doesn't slow the other sites down, it sure will seem that way.

So here's hoping the Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006 gets passed!

An Aside: For those of you who don't know about the Librarians' Internet Index, it's this great site that serves as a portal to tons of internet sites that have been reviewed by librarians for reliability and validity. Definitely a good place for trustworthy information. You can either search it or browse by category. Check it out! :)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

We had these in the Reference section?!

One of the big projects I am working on at my library is weeding the Reference Collection, something that hasn't been done in a long time, if ever. My coworker, who was the Reference Librarian before me, had started weeding, and I am continuing the project with his help. He has the almighty delete power (i.e. his password works), and I'd really prefer to get two opinions before deleting some of this stuff, anyway.

The process goes like this:
  1. I look at the books, and write up a little sheet on why they should or should not be deleted (these sheets can get rather amusing, based on my level of exasperation at the time).
  2. Coworker looks over the books and reads the sheets. He either deletes or keeps them.
Overall, we agree on the vast majority of books.

Anyway, all that is to preface the fact that we have some very amusing books in our Reference Collection:
  1. Books in Russian - we don't have a Russian program.
  2. A book professing to be "a guide to new ideas that might well save us from the old ideas"... from 1973!
  3. A book about safety equipment from 1968 (some of that stuff cannot be safe anymore!)
  4. A book about flowers that bloom on the roadsides of the Northern U.S. states in July and August. Can you get any more specific than that?! Only July and August? Only on the roadside? That is not a Reference book!
Some of my comments on the books have been:
  1. 33 years out of date - not exactly useful in a directory
  2. And the point of this would be.....?
  3. I'm sure internal medicine has changed a lot since '58.
  4. This is the 2nd edition, we have the 3rd edition in the regular stacks!
  5. I think they had money to burn in the 60's.
  6. Who would use this?
  7. Most obnoxious resource yet! (The title given in the catalog could not be found anywhere on the books - only on the gift letter that was still inside one of them. And I'm still not really sure what the purpose of that many-volume set was).
I think the above clearly demonstrates the need to weed the Reference Collection. Now if only I had more time to do it! And, I am still only a fraction of the way through the project, so who knows what other highly amusing books I will find.