As a Goodreads user, I was intrigued by the growing data integration Goodreads is enjoying with the Kindle ecosystem now that Amazon owns Goodreads too. It would be handy, I mused, to be able to rate and review books right from the Kindle. But…I guess that if you weren’t a Goodreads user, all the unfilled in stars and the prompts to comment might just be visual clutter, wouldn’t they?
Two other recent episodes give me pause on the growing drive to merge all your online services into one uber-ecosystem. Call it Amazon, call it Google or Facebook or iTunes, it’s the same thing—services which once were separate now are not, and it’s not that this is a bad thing, necessarily. It’s just that these new uber-companies aren’t giving people the options to control how all of this looks for them.
Incident 1: Googletube
Apparently, Google owns YouTube now, because every time I went to YouTube, it prompted me to merge my YouTube account with my Google one so I could use my real name. I had no interest in doing that. I do use my real name on Google because I use that account for professional emails, but I am not interested in having said name plastered all over every video I favourite just so I can watch it later.
Finally, I had no choice. One day, I browsed over to YouTube and it wouldn’t let me click the box away. I had to merge my accounts, or I couldn’t even see the site anymore. I tried putting in a different name, and what did YouTube do? It made a whole new channel for me, with that name. And none of my playlists or favourites were there! I had to go deep into the internet help boards to figure out how to delete the superfluous channel and get my playlists back, and then I was left with the one channel as I wanted it—except that it had my real, full name.
I don’t post anything on YouTube; I just watch things. But even so, I didn’t appreciate how heavy-handed the whole thing was. I have relatives who post to YouTube and keep nagging me to comment and reply on their stuff. I don’t really want my name attached to every video I see. Now that Google has forced my hand on this, I feel more strongly about it than I did before and I’ve told my relatives and friends I will watch, but not participate.
Incident 2: The Overly Helpful Phone
The Beloved got himself a new Windows phone the other day, and one of the first things he tried to do was get his contacts onto it. The easiest way, he figured, would be to import his email contacts and go from there. He was shocked to turn on his phone again and be overwhelmed with a motherload of people, some of whom he only vaguely knew.
The culprit? Apparently, his email account somehow had access to his Linkedin profile, and the phone had ‘helpfully’ brought those in too without asking him. After a frustrating half hour trying to delete them all manually, I finally went online for him and figured out how to filter the contacts so the Linkedin stuff was ‘hidden.’ It’s still there, but he doesn’t have to see it anymore. The hide button was buried four layers deep, in the phone settings.
I am not opposed, in principle, to the one-stop profile. I think there are benefits to being able to review a book right from your reader app, or to remembering only one password for two sites you visit. But I think these companies are missing the mark by failing to offer people the customization options to easily control what they see and when. The Beloved should not have had to go through three levels of setting to ‘hide’ stuff he never even asked the phone to put on there for him. I am fine with Google knowing which YouTube account is mine, but I don’t see why they should force me to broadcast that information to everybody else.
What I need to see is more checkboxes for opting out of these data merge features. If you are not a Goodreads user, you should be able to turn that off. If you want customize the name people see when you post or comment, why shouldn’t you be able to? Bake the features in if you want to, just give people the option to enjoy them on the side, or to leave them off if they want to.
Image copyright: The Tolkein Estate