[another edited post from a mailing list discussing digitally divided citizens. Some people were reflecting that their elected officials don’t remember being offline. In Vermont we have a different issue]
In Vermont where, at least where I live, â€‹our elected officials are themselves digitally divided and so can’t always make good choices for the populations they serve. So issues like:
- What does a good website look like?
- What is a “normal” way to use email?
- What is reasonable to expect people to do technologically in 2016?
Are all determined by people who do not have much of an idea of the normative expectations in the space and who have to make decisions about those things. So to these three points…
- We have Vermont Health Connect debacle, very expensive and costing the state a hundred million dollars. People managing the program didn’t recognize that a website without a LOGIN button was actually not a good website (among other things). I’ve written up my feelings at length here.
- I serve on a town board. We get notifications for dates and times of our meetings in postal mail.â€‹ We receive all of our documents in postal mail. This is inconvenient and wasteful (in both time and resources) but our town clerk is not that tech savvy and this works for her and the majority of the board. It won’t change until she retires.
Vermont recently changed their Open Meeting laws to tell towns with websites they needed to put notes from government meetings online within a few days of the meeting happening. Some towns opted to take down their website because they felt compliance would be too onerous. And all of these decisions happen at a town by town level.
People without a good understanding of the tech ecosystem are vulnerable to people who want to sell them things and can’t properly evaluate what they are being sold. I spend a lot of time just outlining what “normal” is to people and then getting a lot of aggravated “Well this way has always worked for us, kids today and all their electronic gadgets…!” pushback. So we do need to attack the problem of the digital divide from both (all) sides.
I spoke at a conference recently. I speak at a lot of conferences. Most conferences give me complimentary registration which I enjoy because then I can see other programs and hobnob with people. Only recently has this become a problem. A recent conference that shall remain nameless apparently gave my registration information [well, email address for certain, not sure about anything else] to their vendors. I know this because I have received ten emails from vendors saying “Good to see you at the conference!” Since I barely work in a public library, I am certain that I did not give these vendors my personal information. Getting extra email only ranks as a minor annoyance to me. I politely email companies back and asked to be taken off of their lists and they mostly comply. However, having to do this nearly a dozen times per conference should this sort of thing become the norm, does not scale.
I would like to make a somewhat open appeal to conference organizers to make the distribution of registrants’ personal information something that is only done if people specifically and affirmatively decide that this is okay. Every business best practice says that you can’t sell or give away people’s personal information without their consent. We are a profession that is big on privacy. I’d like to see us do this right as well. Here is the email that I sent to the conference organizers.
Hi — I spoke at the recent XXLA conference. XXLA is one of my favorite events and I’m always happy to support it and this year’s event was particularly enjoyable. I registered [and received free registration] as part of my agreement to speak. I stopped by the exhibits hall while I was there but did not give anyone my contact information. This is now the tenth email I have received from a XXLA vendor saying some variant of “Good to see you at XXLA” While I reply politely to these emails asking to be taken off of their mailing list I’m concerned that I never opted in to receive them in the first place and assume my registration information was given to vendors without my explicit permission.
I would like to politely request that registration for the conference is not seen as a blanket approval to receive marketing contacts from vendors. I understand that XXLA has to make ends meet, but not allowing people to opt in or opt out from these communications is a bad business practice. Additionally, and this is more my problem than yours, as someone who speaks at multiple conferences yearly, this small problem quickly becomes an out of control problem. I’d like XXLA to reconsider their practice of giving out registrants’ email addresses without giving people an option to opt out. Thanks for your time.
The reason I care about this at all is two reasons. One, there is a useful analog with libraries and how they handle their email lists of patrons. Obviously patron data is private and comes under whatever privacy laws a state has and whatever policies the library has. But is a library allowed to market to patrons? Or give these lists to peopl to market on the library’s behalf? This was the concern when the public library in Dixon California emailed patrons to let them know about ongoing library renovation plans and asked them to consider making donations. People who are not pleased with the library renovations, the Dixon Carnegie Library Preservation Society, is arguing that the librarian acted improperly when they gave patron email addresses to a consulting company without patron consent. Now let me just state I pretty well side with the library on this one, but it’s sure to be an increasingly contentious topic as libraries have more and more diffrent kinds of patron data to keep private.
And the second reson is just a cautionary tale. Many people with iphones are aware by now that the phone tracks where you go. I mean it has to in order to be a phone, but it stores this data in unencrypted form on both the phone and the synced compueter, forever. This means that anyone with access to a simple open source tool such as this one can make lovely maps like the one above. Good to know, and good to understand. As libraries move more towards mobile applications and mobile awareness generally, understanding how this sort of data works will be an important part of making sure we know how, when and why to keep it private.
Roy Tennant has a short reflective piece on the occasion of Web4Lib’s 15th birthday.
It may seem like this is a self-serving message designed to solicit “good job” replies, but that isn’t my intent. I started the list because I personally wanted help, and that’s exactly what I got. I’ve had 15 years worth of other people solving my problems and giving me useful advice. If there is a balance somewhere keeping track, I’d expect it to be sinking on the side of what I owe you all, not the other way around. Thanks for being here,
David Lee King shares his digital branch’s style guide. A little long, but all recommendations are simple, clearly explained and sensible. Oh look, they spell email just like normal people do, yay! Style guides do more than just help you be consistent, they also set a tone for best practices for people who don’t know as much about the online environment as others. Nice job, David.