Sunday, September 04, 2005

What's in a word?

I DEMAND that you read this. Not keen?

How about I ASK you to do so? Better?

Actually, I'd say I do neither. I write it, and you're welcome to read
it, but by inference I'd say I'm closer to inviting you than requiring
you to read, for free, and with no pressure, what I feel like sharing.

So I was a bit perturbed by the tone and words adopted by a BBC online
programme today, regarding anonymous surfing. It surrounded the age-old
debates about what a site can and should ask of its potential users.
It's public domain, so here is the URL to the online article:

I guess it was as balanced as any piece of journalism can be (they who
control the medium control the message, a fact is a objective as the
editor who oversees its inclusion... or not, and the writer’s choice of
adjective immediately confers a certain subjectivity to any sentence)
but I raised my eyebrow at some of what was written:

"We are not necessarily buying at these sites, and they do not charge a subscription, but they still demand we register our details before we take a good look around"

"They might want an e-mail address from you in order to send you the information you need in order to get onto the site; that's often quite a sneaky way of getting information out of you."

As this goes to the core of what is trying to do it hit home.
So as there was a request for feedback, I gave it. And in case it gets
consigned to BBC cyber-ether, here it is (aren’t blogs great!):

[] do not DEMAND details; to operate effectively we simply
need to ASK for them. It is an important distinction in terminology
worth making. The option exists to do some things without them, but to
use most of the site we do need them.

Why? Well for a start we have a localisation facility, and it's pretty
hard to tell you what's happening in your area if we don't know where
it is. To avoid any concerns about snail junk mail, we just ask for the
first block of the postcode to get a rough geographic area.

Other than that, we ask a name so we can greet in person on the next
visit, and an email address.

We need the latter because we invite uploads of information that can,
sadly, be abused. Hence our asking for terms and conditions to be
accepted, to focus minds on responsibilities and protect those taking
part for genuine reasons from those who may do so for those that are
less so.

Again questioning matters of terminology used, it is hard to see how
adopting a system to make sure you are who you say you are (at least
briefly) and are accountable for what you say or suggest is ‘sneaky’.

We are debating a few other requests, such as an age, primarily to try
and tune content more appropriately on subsequent visits. Doesn't it
make sense to deliver information to our different viewers in ways they
would enjoy and value more? And so what if the ads are complementary?

It seems odd that where money is involved there is less concern. eBay
is doing ok. And no one seems very worried about the ads in their
newspaper, or the commercials on their TV. How else does anyone imagine
one funds a free-to-user website? It’s not like we have a licence fee.
A few bits of personal information that are hardly intimate seem a
small price to pay. My spam filter deals with pretty much all unwanted
ads these days, and I can set it to accept newsletters that have
further information I do want.

At the end of the day, one just has to ask whether the value of what
you are getting, for free, outweighs the… er... what were the downsides

It should simply a matter of choice. But one wonders how long it will
be before minority agitation, legislation and fines follow (and not
necessarily in that order), and we end up all the poorer as a result.

I simply cannot understand the acres of scaremongering that gets
committed to putting off those less experienced on matters nettly and
emaily from enjoying the vast resources on offer. It simply falls into
the hands of those who seek more control by constraining those who seek
to offer as much as possible for free.

We'll do all in our power to make you want to use, and as
easy as possible to so. If there's an issue that's causing a problem,
tell us, and we'll change it if we can. But if, despite all our
efforts, you don't want to be part, then we're sorry not to have been
able to share all we'd like with you and sadly bid you a fond farewell.

Plus there’s always the ‘unsubscribe button or the 'delete' key.