Web sites have a colorful history of fixing things that are not broke. One subject guaranteed to upset a large portion of users is then the site decided to change the users relationship with it, and each other.

Google got hung out to dry when it introduced its early attempt at social media, Buzz. There was an uproar when users realized that in an attempt to ‘kick start’ the service it was ‘pre-loading’ lists of friends for people signing up. It was a classic Opt In/Opt Out mistake. In simple terms, just because someone is in my address book does not mean that I wish to be their friend.

FaceBook has gone through similar Opt in/Opt Out problems, mostly concerning privacy issues.

The bottom line is that a Web Entity should always err on caution. It it better to make a new feature an Opt In situation rather than forcing the user to later Opt Out. If someone wants a feature they will go to the effort of turning it on, click a button, mark a check box, or whatever. Users like this, it puts them in control.

What users don’t like is having a feature added by default and then having to jump through hoops to find the usually obscure button or checkbox to make it go away.

This brings us to www.blogtalkradio.com. For those of you not familiar with it, it is probably the largest platform for ‘grass roots’ internet radio. The pure simplicity of it is its selling point. You do not need a lot of complex equipment, a computer connected to the internet and a phone, you are all set. You too can be the next Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, or whoever.

I have been using BTR for almost three years. It is a great and very adaptable platform, I use it for nice quiet one-on-one interviews with authors and musicians, and also rowdy panel discussions that include live call in questions. Technical problems have occurred, but they are few and far between, and have been resolved quickly.

During this almost three years of BTR I have amassed a group of people that for whatever reason want to have ‘follower’ status. What it means is beyond me. Likewise I seem to be ‘following’ a number of them. Again, what that means is a huge unknown. It was just two numbers that seemed to have no relevance at all.

That changed yesterday! My already very busy inbox just got busier. Someone has decided that what I need is to get an email from BTR every time that someone on one of the two lists (or possibly both) farts.

BTR has ‘Opted me in’ for a new free feature! Some digging around (no thanks to the help facility) has shown me a way to Opt Out. However it would seem that to this is going to be a long and tedious process.

It would have been so simple for BTR to have sent a message, If you want this stuff press yes, if you don’t press no. Instead I seem to have to do this on a user by user basis.

Even worse, it was never clear what significance Friends or Followers had, so I have no clue how Opting Out will effect my account.

I also feel sorry for those people that are getting messages on my behalf. I seriously doubt that people that follow my Sunday crime oriented program are particularly interested in a discussion about GMO crops, or an interview with the author of a book about the political climate in Europe in the months leading up to World War I.

I have been Opted in, and I don’t like it! This does nothing to help me, and much to potentially hurt my listener base.

Maybe the most troubling aspect of all is that I actually pay for this service! If it was free, well I would have no grounds to gripe. It is your ball, play it however you want. This new ‘free’ feature does not seem to invade privacy, but it is hell on wheels to people like me.

Simon Barrett

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