Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thoughts on Privacy

I've been thinking a lot about privacy and blogs lately. No, I'm not going to make my blog private (. . . yet. But the thought has crossed my mind.)

Over the past year I've gotten a lot of traffic to my personal blog from my food blog via my profile. I've taken my personal blog off my profile, then put it back on, then off, then on, then off, then back on today. I can't decide if I should be paranoid that some random person searching for Applebee's Fiesta Lime Chicken (that's the most popular Google hit) wanders over through my profile, clicks on my personal blog and sees pictures of my kids. Most people who wander over are probably harmless, I'm sure. I can't imagine many pedophiles search for recipes online.

I'm usually good about not giving out exact locations or any identifying information about us. It helps having a Google-proof husband, too. (Try googling "Steve Perry" and see if you find him. I dare you.) And I think of the thousands, if not millions of blogs out there, many of which are family-oriented. With all those blogs out there is someone really going to search through my blog to find a slip-up or honestly try to find me? I doubt anyone would be able to find my blog if they happened to find a piece of garbage with my name on it, either. I've also had problems with spammers leaving comments, but all they want to do is advertise some lame website. Putting comment moderation into place elminated those entirely. But still . . . the unknowns sort of eat at my brain.

Private blogs drive me crazy, though -- mostly because you have to manually check them instead of letting a feed reader do the work. (I have over 200 subscriptions in my reader. There's no way I would be clicking on all those sites everyday if I had to.) And half of the private blogs that I have in my bookmark folder aren't even updated more than once every few months.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is . . . I want your opinions. If you have a private blog, why did you do it? Do you really feel threatened? If you're blog isn't private, do you feel completely comfortable that way? Why?


Bryan said...

I have some strong feelings on this issue, but I'll try to keep them brief. :)

I'm against private blogs on Blogger for all the reasons you mentioned. I also believe that private Blogger sites reduce traffic more than increase it, since you're effectively placing a cap on the number of visitors you'll ever have on the site. Locking up your entire site against uninvited visitors definitely keeps out the bad ones, but it also locks out a fair number of well-intentioned friends/family who weren't fortunate enough to get invited to the blog during the initial "private" phase. Yes, people can always ask for an invite later, but you have to feel pretty bold about your relationship with the blog author to do that.

Because private blogs draw fewer visitors than public ones, it becomes less and less appealing to go through the trouble of blogging at all. And thus most private blogs wither and die on the vine.

You're in a tricky spot because you have a blog which you'd like to be very public, and one which you'd rather keep privately public. My recommendation would be to keep the link to the family blog off of the culinary creations site. In fact, you may want to operate each one as if the other didn't exist.

The reason I emphasize Blogger blogs is because there are several Wordpress plugins that can allow you to make select portions of your blog private - for instance, pictures of your kids or other important details about your family's lives you'd rather the casual public not see. Even better, they don't disable RSS feeds! These plugins are not free (e.g., $50, but the authors provide excellent customer support) and require migration to the Wordpress platform, but in my estimation they provide the best balance of openness and privacy, and allow the author to establish those boundaries exactly.

I haven't updated my blog in a very long time, partly because I'm gearing up to make the very transition I've described. (The plugin I've purchased is called Your Members, and allows for both free and purchased memberships.)

Natalie said...

Thanks Bryan. I appreciate your insight on this (and I knew you would pop over and say a few things :)) I'm not too concerned about the number of hits I get on my personal blog, but I do worry about other friends and family members who might want to see it. I feel awkward requesting an invite from someone's blog, so I totally see your point.

I thought about making a separate Blogger account for my food blog, but moving my personal blog to Wordpress is something I hadn't considered before. Thanks for the info!

Cassia said...

Hmm... I wasn't aware that the transition was a planned one. :) I haven't updated in a while because I, well... just haven't. I don't have an excuse that doesn't sound lame. :)

I understand your position. I don't even have a very public blog, but there are still times I've wondered about it. I don't think about privacy too much, or at least not as much as I probably should - I guess there is the issue of the children, yet it seems a bit of a stretch for me to think of someone coming to our blog to stalk our children. At least right now. And honestly if someone wanted to find out where we lived they probably wouldn't have too hard a time just using the white pages. I mean "Cassia" isn't exactly a common name...

And then there's the idea of old friends looking us up. I've had a couple of cases where someone I've not talked to for a while left a comment, or a local friend who found our blog through another local friend. And I'm happy that they found us and were able to catch up a bit.

On the blogger private blogs - it really bugs me that the ones I've come across don't have a button or link or form you can use to ask the blog owner to approve you. That's what the Yahoo! groups does and that seems a better balance than what is on the private blogs now. In fact, in those cases you could still see the general welcome page - just not the files/documents/posts, etc. If there was something like that then you could still have a quick family update, maybe a family picture, and then anyone interested in more would need to let you know they'd like to look, and you could approve their request... But then would some still find the quick update idea too risky? Just thinking out loud here.

Too bad there isn't a filter that could sense the readers' intentions.

Bryan said...

Moving to Wordpress was easy for me because I had been on Blogger for only 2-3 weeks, and this was something like four years ago. The benefits of going to Wordpress are still completely worth it IMO, but you'll lose a few things like Google Friend Connect and other integrative elements with Google. That's largely what keeps people hooked on Blogger, even as they grow more dissatisfied with its limitations.

Sorry, didn't mean this to turn into an anti-Blogger rant. I just can't help myself sometimes. :)

Anonymous said...

Our blog is private because Rebecca wants it that way. I get around that by offering to send email updates of new posts to anyone who wants them. Just ask.

Beth schell said...

with a last name like ours it's hard to remain anonymous; I find myself slipping and adding too much information. And, I only want people on my blog I know (because I have had more than one awkward/scary experience lately. It might sound dumb, but, I prefer it that way. I use it mostly to show pictures to grandparents and family who live far away. If I didn't invite you to our blog, it's because I don't have your email address-- sorry! But I do love your blog!

Beth schell said...

I agree with the earlier comment that I wish you could see a family picture or something of the blog when you type in the url and have the option to ask to join the author. Maybe someday.

Chelsea said...

I don't like private blogs. I honestly think some people are paranoid. Honestly, what are the odds that someone is in the public eye enough to have them sought out and threaten kids/family? If you are one of those people, then yes, go private for sure. But how often is that the case?

Anyways, just my 2cents.

Brynn said...

We are private because I have an attorney husband who is all about privacy issues. He is not so much worried about pedifiles (sp?) (though it is sort of a concern because you NEVER know) as he is about future clients, employers, the government, etc. It sounds a little crazy, but, he has lots of really sound reasons for wanting to stay off of the internet grid. He is not on facebook, and actually has very little/no internet presence. On purpose. I know it's annoying to check private blogs, and I am way bad at updating, and have considered quitting the whole biz as your friend Bryan mentioned many private bloggers do...but it was important enough to Brian (my spouse) that we not make our private lives so accessible, so, I did it. Anyway, that is that. :)

Sarah Junsay said...

Nat, you're just so awesome, that's all! I personally don't like the private blogs--it takes 2 extra seconds to sign in--uh, don't have time for that!! Keep it public please! I so enjoy your funny posts.

Being Ausmus said...

So funny I had no idea people had such strong opinions about private blogs. I just feel like its each families choice. Whatever you feel comfortable with I say do. Mine is private. Its that way because plain and simple there are just certain people I don't want knowing about my personal life. Not just pedophiles but ex's or just people I don't know.
I agree that private blogs not automatically updating online sucks. I wish it did. I check my blog everyday and never miss anything because whoever updates their blog moves to the top of my list. I hate that it doesn't do that for me. But for us its worth it. I blog for us. Its our family journal so if others don't get around to checking it...oh well.

Being Ausmus said...

PS I agree with Cassie if blogger offered a "welcome page" or a place for people to ask to be allowed in I would totally do that...but they don't...yet anyway and until they do we'll just stick to what we've got.

Sare said...

I think private blogs are lame for the same reason, and I probably won't ever make our blog private. We aren't exactly that popular enough to feel like anyone is stalking us. I totally understand why some of our friends have private blogs (ie. when the husband works in law enforcement), but it isn't for me. We've had family members reading our blog for a while now that I didn't even know about (and have never met) from JD's side, until recently when they left comments. I think it is fun to find friends and family through blogging. Honestly, keeping the location information to a minimum keeps me from feeling insecure about our safety. I feel more insecure about the weird men who walk alone through playgrounds, don't you?

Sarah said...

I thought just a second about making my blog private, and then I thought about the people in the world that I'm scared of and the amount of ticks I get on my people counter on my blog, and I know . . . I don't offer anything fabulous enough to attract weirdo (most of which have to make the effort to go the be public library to check internet because they don't have a computer/internet access at their "place or residence.) There are some good reasons to keep a low profile online, and I like all of the ones that people have mentioned. But I feel pretty safe.

anonymous said...

Ours is private. For several reasons - I like a little privacy, I find it a little strange that I can know EVERYTHING about a family I've never met, (Their names, the city they live in, what their house looks like, where they work, the car they drive, what their kids look like, when they are going on vacation, etc.)I write for the sake of having memories, and I don't want to be careful of what I write, or that I may be giving too much information.

Having it private has created an issue for me in that I would love to have lots of readers, (since I AM a private blogger that is a frequent poster and puts alot of time into my blog.) but don't want to presume that someone has an interest in reading who really doesn't. I realize that some people are uncomfortable asking for permission to be invited because they may not know me that well. And frankly, if they don't know me well enough to ask, I'm okay with them not reading.

If you went private - I would totally understand! (:

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who has a private blog, and she set it that way because she's the kind of girl who wants to say what she wants and not be judged for it. Personally, I still read her blog even though it's private, it's still just as easy for me to access... since I've been granted, hehee... but, I think marking your blog private is a personal choice.

I for example, have my myspace page private because I really only use it to keep in touch with some old friends and a bit of family. Otherwise, I don't want every Tom, Dick and Harry stopping by to ask for a friendship. Go Away!

But, blogs are a little different. I haven't seen anything on your blog so far that suggests where you are and I know most of us are pretty careful not to give too much detail when it comes to things like that.

If you're loosing sleep over it though, mark it private. It's your blog, and it's your life, and I know you keep this personal blog for friends and family. So if that's all you want to see it, let it be. It'll let you sleep a little easier at night.

Kathryn said...

I don't mean to freak you out, but I was reminded of this news story when I read your post:;contentBody

I have mixed feelings about this subject, especially since my husband works in law enforcement. But I keep my blog public simply because I know how much I hate it when I want to see an old friend's blog and I can't because it's private. It's takes the fun out of blogging, IMO.

I just try to be careful about what I say, not give away specific information.