Amazon as Social Network

I was wandering about the Web the other day, researching a new people search site I learned about on Lifehacker. I used my maiden name to search, since it’s unusual enough that the results are usually manageable.

The first item that came up was Amazon.com and profiles. I couldn’t imagine what Amazon was doing with my profile, and why anyone could see it. I checked it out. It’s now a social networking site. You can add friends. You can add “interesting people.” It will tell you when one of your friends or interesting people do something.

I’m not sure if I like this or not, but it’s an intriguing development. One of the weird things is, I’m not sure how the “interesting people” came to be on my list. I know who they are, and I do find them interesting…..but I didn’t make that designation. At least, not consciously. In any case, I can see how this could be useful – especially at gift-giving time.

Certainly, the concept of social networking is becoming more ubiquitous. Perhaps it’s time for libraries to determine how we might offer this sort of functionality. We’ve traditionally been the guardians of personal information, but our users seem to be getting less and less concerned with their privacy and more and more willing to share. Why couldn’t we make this an option? If you want to keep your information private, fine. But if you want to share it with other library users, why not? It’s your record, after all. If you want to allow others to see what you’re reading and compare notes, why are we working so hard to stop that exchange?

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3 Comments

Filed under Customer Service, Libraries and Librarianship, Things that make you go, "Hmmm..."

3 responses to “Amazon as Social Network

  1. dbf

    I really dislike this practice. Most people have no idea these profiles are out there. Maybe everyone else lives in a more benign world than I, but the idea of total strangers knowing what I’m reading and buying, and who my friends are is just creepy.There is such a thing as too much information. This is just one example.
    (And yes, I know. It all sounds hopelessly old-fashioned. Come to think of it, I don’t like strangers calling me by my first name, either.)
    Crankily yours.

  2. Susan

    I’ve actually stopped using Amazon for personal things because I can no longer even recommend a book to a friend without logging in with my account. More and more, I find myself using sites that allow me to shop without having a profile and password and all that rigmarole.

    I think the real issue is choice. If you have no problems with having your profile stored out there, if you want to have social networking as part of your library experience, you should be able to do so. In a sense, insisting on patron privacy for people who don’t WANT it, and who want the Amazon-like experience, smells of “eat your peas” librarianship.

    Conversely, you shouldn’t have to give your life’s history to shop a site or to use your library online. People really need to be able to choose when and where they are public and private on the web.

  3. I’ll offer my usual offer: If you can actually give patrons a worst-case example of what maintaining their data means, then it really is informed consent–but I don’t see that happening. Otherwise, seems to me there’s a strong case for libraries continuing to be bastions of confidentiality.

    Actually, I suppose there are two different issues: 1. Libraries offering social networks, where the question would be what such networks would offer beyond the overloaded set now available, 2. Libraries offering added services based on stored circulation history. In the first case, the question is primarily Why? In the second, confidentiality and government datamining raise their ugly heads.

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