≡ Menu

“RECENT VISITORS” Invades Privacy and Is Creepy. Reader Community: FAIL


Are you in my “reader community?”

Some bloggers use sidebar widgets that show the avatars (or pictures) of recent visitors to the blog, along with the reader’s name and a link to the reader’s account (see picture).  These are reader communities, and I’m not a big fan.

I did use one of these services on Purplecar.net about a year ago, but I took the widget down.    2 things about it  disturbed me:

1. Not enough readers.  Only a few early adopters had registered at the one particular service to be in my community.  I stared at the same faces for weeks because the registered readers in my community came and went, and anonymous/unregistered users either didn’t show up in the timeline or a random blank icon showed up with the word “YOU!” and “JOIN MY COMMUNITY.”  Which leads me to reason 2.

2. Privacy.  What if the people in my reader community don’t want to be seen in the timeline as a recent visitors?  Am I really going to make them go to the service’s site, log out, then come back to PurpleCar?  Am I going to make them subscribe to PurpleCar via RSS?  Why would I want an unregistered surfer feel just the tiniest bit unwelcome?  Why would I make roadblocks like these for readers?  Let them come and read in peace.  If they want me to know they were reading, they can leave a comment or email me.

I can’t help but have a sinking feeling when I see reader community widgets on my daily travels on the ‘net.  Now they have community member counts at the bottom of the widget.  It screams “popularity contest.”   I can just picture the conversation between two social media friends:

MediaSnacker:”Oh did you see PurpleCar’s post?  I know you did, the one about auto DMs?”

Employee: “What?  You know I don’t have time to read blogs.  Come on. I thought you didn’t like her blog anyway.”

MediaSnacker:”Oh, yeah, I wouldn’t be caught dead reading that drivel, I just called to tease you.  You’re still reading it!”

Employee: “And how would you know? Did you hack my history?”

MediaSnacker: “No, I saw your icon on the reader community as a recent visitor.  BUSTED!”

Employee: “No, YOU’RE busted.  My avatar was last clocked there months ago.  You must have been there TODAY.”

While I’m a big fan of share-your-bookshelf type sites, I don’t share everything I read.  The public library is supposed to protect your borrow list, so I feel like I should protect my readers.  Let them read in peace.  Your reading material is sacred.  Seriously.  Drama aside, reading is a private endeavor.  I respect that.  I won’t expose my readers.  They can *ahem* expose themselves.

What do you think?  Do you use reader community widgets?  Why?  What do you think of them?  Do you know of any pros?  Please expose yourself by commenting.  🙂

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lydia 27 December 2008, 11:46 pm

    Great post. While I would love to “see” who reads my blog, I’d rather have someone leave a comment than to put that on my blog. I read a lot of blogs but if I saw one of those widgets I’d probably avoid that blog for good (or as you said, log out and then go back and read… but that’s a big headache). I am all for protecting the privacy of the reader.

    • PurpleCar 27 December 2008, 10:56 pm

      Thanks Lydia! Great points. Yes, exactly. I’ve often felt the same way, taken aback by looking at my own face when I am surfing the blogosphere.

      I feel like saying “Yes, I know I registered once, a thousand years ago, but I’m not sure I want to start up another conversation with you, the blogger, right now.” I also don’t want my dear friends to think I haven’t been to their site when I read via RSS, etc. etc. It just opens up so many social etiquette cans of worms as well as invades privacy, that it just isn’t even worth it.

      It’s interesting that you say you’d avoid a blog for good. I think people should seriously consider this. There are SO many blogs to read. It is easy to pass over ones that annoy you. Why take the risk? I can’t seem to think of the value these things add. I have a feeling people just don’t think about it.

      Thanks again!


  • Derek O'Brien 28 December 2008, 8:09 am

    As a web developer now for some years and more recently a teacher in multimedia, these types of widgets are often brought up by clients/students as ‘requirements’ for their websites.

    Websites are all about sales, whether selling actual items within an e-commerce environment through to selling yourself through indirect self-promotion on a blog, we all want something in return for our efforts.

    With that in mind my advice is always the same and based on winning the confidence of all users, as confidence drives sales. Privacy is the key to creating confidence, if a user feels secure within your websites environment they will interact within the website with more ‘confidence’ which potentially opens up more opportunities of sales as confident users will read more, click more.


    • PurpleCar 28 December 2008, 11:00 am

      Hey Derek!

      Thanks for that info. I’m perplexed and a bit dismayed that your students think the reader community widgets are necessary. Where did they get that idea? I’ve been on the internet since 1988, I’ve had a website on and off since 1994 and I’ve been blogging since 2004. I learned early on that self-promotion gets you labeled as untrustworthy quickly. People will come to rely on you to be your own cheerleader but they won’t turn to you for much else. This applies to real life as well as digital relationships. I totally agree with you that privacy is a huge draw for any customer of any product or service. I have a grocery store card but I hate that I have to hand over my privacy to save a few dollars every week.

      Privacy is changing, and perhaps your students are reflecting that. They probably wonder “what the big deal” is with a reader community widget. But in the end, all reader community widgets are just pathetic efforts to boast one’s own popularity. Count me out.

      Thanks for sharing that. Really interesting.



  • sawinkler 28 December 2008, 10:37 am

    I honestly had never thought much about the implications of those widgets. It seems to me that, along with the privacy issue, they also act as some sort of implied endorsement from the list of readers. No matter how much time you spend on the blog, or how many visits, your profile is up there and (as you said) for all time.

    • PurpleCar 28 December 2008, 10:42 am

      Hey Mr. Stephen!

      I owe you a 7 things post, I know. I owe @paisano one too! Maybe later today…

      Yes you are right, reader community widgets do imply a bit of an endorsement by the reader, and endorsements aren’t good forever. I may have signed up to be in a reader community before I realized that my face/icon would be posted up on the writer’s blog forever. MyBlogLog and other sites don’t give proper information regarding the logistics and implications of signing up to be a part of that blogger’s community.

      I suppose if you want your clickable icon all over the blogosphere, you’d sign up for as many communities as possible, but I think leaving a relevant comment in one of the posts is a better way to get pings. Leaving comments, of course, takes more time than just letting a page load and forget about it. I’m not in the blogosphere for fame and fortune, I’m in it for the conversation. My internet contacts are my co-workers. I’m a stay-at-home-mom/writer and Twitter is my watercooler. I am always quite annoyed at those slimey SEO types who just try to take advantage of the system. As a blogger, I’d rather not host piggybackers. So I really can’t see the use of these things. I’m baffled that it isn’t a more widely discussed issue.

      Thanks for weighing in! -PC


  • Bill Cammack 6 January 2009, 8:44 pm

    I just changed themes recently, and the new one came with a mybloglog widget, so I activated it. My goal in turning it on was to “pay tribute” to my readers and have them have a sense of my actively “pubbing” them for coming through. I turned it off while I contemplate this post.

    At this point, there are alternatives, like Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect, where you can log in if you want with those respective accounts. I think that’s better, because it’s decidedly opt-in insead of opt-out. Unless someone SPECIFICALLY logs in to YOUR site, they don’t show up, AFAIK. Like you said about mybloglog, it shows you by default when you go to a site, so you might go there to see something you disagree with, but end up looking like a reader of the blog.

    I personally stay logged out of mybloglog ENTIRELY for that very reason. People send out tinyurls or peaurls or whatever, and you don’t know what you’re clicking on until you get there. I suppose the way I was looking at it was that just like I “opted out” of mybloglog exposure, other people that cared about that would as well, leaving only the “eager to be publicized” to [sparsely] populate my sidebar widget.

    I haven’t actvated either of those services, and I don’t think I’m going to. Actually, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to have people send me avatars if they want to be in my sidebar. It’s the same thing as a “reader list” widget, except it’s completely opt-in. Like you said, there isn’t much turnover anyway, and this way, the sidebar space will be taken up by people that definitely want to be there.

  • Jim Vakuutus 28 January 2009, 12:29 pm

    I think such sharing is not working in the big term.. if you have many readers of Purplecar.net how can you then provide pictures of all the readers. I don’t understand it really – maybe I am stupid.

    • PurpleCar 28 January 2009, 3:29 pm


      you aren’t stupid! You read PurpleCar! 😉

      You are right, My Blog Log and community widgets don’t work in the long term, especially if one cannot opt out.

      Thanks for checking in.