our relationships with our vendors – selling contact information from conferences

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.

this week’s public relations onslaught

Something happened this week. Suddenly instead of the one or two spam messages I’d get a week from people who really “liked my blog” and wanted me to check out their new product, I got about fifteen in the last twenty-four hours. Most were from places that could be considered loosely library-oriented. All of them addressed me by name. None of them had an unsubscribe link in the email. All of them I replied to saying, fairly succinctly, “Please take me off of your email list.” Nothing worse. Nothing rude. In a few cases I’d mention that my blog didn’t actually review or mention the type of product that they were trying to promote. Then I click the “report spam” link in gmail.

A few times I’d hear back from people saying, somewhat defensively in my opinion, “Well your email address was right there on your website” or “I really am a fan of your blog” without additional specifics and with an address from prmarketing.com or something similar. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that suddenly today my inbox was full of PR pitches. I think my name and address was sold. So, I figured I should maybe write a little post about this phenomenon. There have been other posts made by more general topic bloggers like Matt Haughey, Gina Trapani and Chris Anderson. I am already using the PR Blacklist. My angle, library centered as it is, may be a little different.

I have a review policy for printed material, tightened significantly since I had a nasty exchange with someone who misinterpreted it. Since I do a lot of public speaking I often register, or am registered for, many library events annually. In almost no cases am I given the option of not giving my personal information — hey I need to get paid, right? — or even checking a box that says “Please do not share my contact information with your advertisers.” I am aware that I have the option of staying home. I think this solution is suboptimal. I am also aware that some of this is the cost of doing business. That’s okay with me too. What I’d like is for the people who are selling these lists and buying these lists to be aware of a few things

  1. Any time I spend reading and replying to these emails is time I can’t spend doing my other jobs, jobs I love and jobs that pay and jobs that are fun
  2. I do not think there is any deficit in my current awareness reading and I do not think sending me press releases with fake familiar overtures is a way to make me think otherwise
  3. My site is not even the sort of site that does the sort of thing you want someone to do for you.
  4. librarian.net has a budget of zero. There is a one in a thousand chance that a product or service that costs money will get any attention from me at all.
  5. I am aware that public relations is a numbers game and that you have chosen it for a job. Replying to my polite request to be taken off of your mailing list with defensiveness and a non-answer to the “where did you get my email address from?” question reveals that you are not really trying to have a conversation of any stripe with me.
  6. Part of the reason, in my opinion, that people respect my opinions is because I don’t shill. I’m aware that you don’t think that is what you are doing and if I could only see how awesome your product is, I would agree with you. You and I do not share that opinion.
  7. Conference planners, please give people a way to not have their personal information sold to your advertisers. This sort of thing only increases bad karma in the world.

I appreciate that times are tough and we all need to make money how and where we can. That said, unsolicited commercial email — even targeted unsolicited commercial email — is still spam as I see it and I wish people would not send it to me. Feel free to copy/paste this URL in a reply to any spammers who are plaguing you. That’s my current plan. Thanks for reading.

WorldCat’s meme requests

The funny thing about memes is you can’t force them. I mentioned this particular issue on Twitter a little bit ago but I find WorldCat’s Meme Request [update: link suddenly broken, see comments for text. another update: the post is now back. Huh.] post to be a little sketchy-seeming.

Maybe this is because of my particular perspective of not feeling that I get a lot of value for me or my library from WorldCat. Here’s the thing with this request. If this is a legitimate and okay use of Wikipedia — to add links to WC identities to applicable pages — Wikipedia has an open API, just go build a bot and do it, on the level. If it’s not okay, and my reading of the Wikipedia guidelines seems to indicate that it may not be, trying to end-run this by faking a grassroots movement seems to not be in the best interests of either Wikipedia or WorldCat. I don’t think WorldCat is trying to be shifty or sneaky here, I just don’t think their approach is as helpful as they may think it would be.

Also, let me state for the record, that I think the WorldCat identities project is really smoking hot. However there is still a huge difference between “all libraries” and “OCLC member libraries” and I’ll continue to raise these polite objections to the willful blurring of the line between the two until the point at which WorldCat can direct me to the actual nearest copy of Jane Eyre to my house.

OCLC Top 1000 on del.icio.us

OCLC, in the quest for total brand domination, has taken their OCLC Top 1000 to del.icio.us. While I applaud their use of social tools, this fills up the feed of the toread tag (which I’ve often used to see what other people have on their reading list) with OCLC WorldCat entries. Of course this happened last month so no harm no foul, but I’ve always liked del.icio.us because it was full of humans sharing links to content, not vendors pushing links to products. [web4lib]