Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Have e-Readers Arrived?

Last month, I tried my first e-Reader. I've read e-books on my PC for a few years, but hadn't tried a portable e-Reader until last month I took a Kindle for a test drive. Reading my comrade Bargainista's blog, she just got her hands and eyes on the latest e-Reader to hit Canada, the Kobo. Check out her blog post for an excellent review of Kobo.

I replied to her post about my first experience with portable e-Readers, which I included below. I'd love to know if anyone feels that my concerns have been resolved with other or newer tech, or any other thoughts about e-Readers.

I'd love to try a Kobo to see if the e-reader technology has improved. I tried a Kindle last month - granted it was a year old (so newer models might be better) - and I was really underwhelmed. I like to read with really high contrast, ie. black type on white is ideal. With the Kindle is was like black on grey. Also, the font size seemed to arbitrarily set a limit that was still not sufficient for people with visual disabilities. Trying to find a range of books (or any) in large print is next to impossible - so I thought these e-book reader companies would capitalize on that (literally - there's definitely money to made from people who need this feature).

The user experience was otherwise okay. I like the ability to add notes as I have never been able to bring myself to vandalize my own books by scribbling notes in the margins or highlighting.

I'm certainly running out of room in our house to store print books. As it is all pulp fiction we buy are given to Goodwill after reading as we have no room to store them. Now with my daughter starting to read, we're buying her lots of children's books. I can imagine it will be a long time (who knows, it'll probably be just five years) before e-Readers can offer full colour as the artwork in young kid's books is probably the most important criteria. Not to mention with comic books. Still, I'd love to have all the books we love without them taking up so much space.

But price is the big stumbling block for me (once readability improves, that is). E-books are roughly the same price or maybe $1 or $2 cheaper. But with print I have something I can share with friends and don't have to worry about the format becoming obsolete (like all our VHS movies).

Most importantly, considering my propensity to spill coffee, drop and lose thing, my accidents are not such a big deal when it's a $10 book vs. $150 e-reader.

I don't want to sound like a luddite curmudgeon or print fetishist, more like a poor-sighted cheapskate.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Facebook and the Problem of Collapsed Identity

Privacy controls in social networking sites seems to be endlessly discussed. Facebook seems to regularly tinker with its user privacy controls and many users routinely ignore them.

One thing that I feel is missed in privacy discussions is that it is not a binary conception - either I’ll keep things just to me, my friends or network or I’ll share it. Such decisions are a foundational privacy issue. However, the information I want to share is often more complicated. It’s not a question of whether a user is an online recluse or virtual exhibitionist.

There are some types of information that is suitable to share in some contexts and with some types of people and then not with others. The Internet collapses barriers that otherwise kept various aspects of our identity separate. There used to be a clear distinction between work, home, political or religious spaces, etc. These barriers are being further collapsed online as Facebook increasingly becomes the defacto platform for all online social networking. Almost everyone I know is on Facebook - from my young and old relatives, work colleagues, old school friends, casual acquaintances, etc.

The benefits of sites like Facebook are that everyone is using it (critical mass) but the problem is that everyone is using it. Problems have been found with this particularly when work and social life collide online (e.g. cases of employees fired for criticizing employers, prospective employers not hiring due to seeing drunken photos, parents learning TMI about their kids’ leisure activities).

I love the term participatory surveillance as it encompasses the desire many of us have to share our personal details, stories, images, and mundane status updates online. The accompanying term should be induced voyeurism, as it is hard to not take note as this parade of info passes by on our social networks sites. But just because someone wants to share information, doesn’t mean they want to share it with everyone they know (and don’t know) online and have friended.

Facebook is gradually improving its privacy controls, but they haven’t made much progress on allowing users to segment the various dimensions of their identity. I have made groups in Facebooks for my friends based on whether I know them from work, school, family, professional associations, or are essentially strangers (friended as they share similar interests or friends). Other than restricting the photographs I upload based on these groups, there is little else I can do to recontextualize the various elements of my social life.

Could website features or user norms mitigate collapsed identities? Could any such features be sufficiently usable so users actually use them? Already privacy controls are often seldom used, would this just be further distractions?

The rich context available offline and spatial barriers preserved distinct identities. This will be difficult to replicate online, so from a longitude perspective will user behaviour adapt. Will collapsed identities become the norm?