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Archive for June 13th, 2011

Is Smartr Getting Smarter or Am I Getting Dumber?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 June 2011

Reviewing Smartr

20110611-164658.jpgBack in February in a post entitled Who Needs Murdoch – I’ve Got Smartr, My Own Personalised Daily Newspaper I described the Smartr personalised Twitter-based personalised newspaper service for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

This is an application which I now use on a daily basis to view the contents of the links posted by my Twitter community. It has also provided the motivation for me to make greater use of Twitter lists – the lists I have created recently include JISC Services, UKOLN colleagues, IWMW 2011 speakers and attendees at a forthcoming UKOLN workshop on Impact, Metrics and Social Web.

The accompanying image shows the content of links to resources which have been tweeted by accounts on my JISC Twitter list. As might be expected this provides content which reflects the interests of the particular service and is often content published by the service. It does occur to me that JISC Programme Managers who wish to keep informed of project developments may find it particularly useful to use Smartr in conjunction with a Twitter list of their project Twitter accounts.  However in addition to providing a simple means of getting relevant content to a iPhone/iPad environment I have to admit that my initial use of this application when I am  on the bus in the morning is to view the contents tweeted by all of the people I follow on Twitter, as this can provide serendipitous benefits which are not provided when following official accounts.

Smartr Developments

Recently I updated the app to Smartr 2.0 and started to notice that various people had started to follow me on Smartr, perhaps having read the blog post and a followup post published last month which described how Ariadne Is Getting Smartr.

When someone starts to follow you on Smartr, as with many other social apps, you get an email which provides brief information about how the person is using the service.

As can be seen from the accompanying screenshot of a recent email I received Dave has 182 followers, 134 sources and 5,208 stories. You can also see the stories which Dave has recent read which seem to indicate that he has an interest in road racing – this isn’t of particular interest to me so I decided not to follow Dave.

But the links to stories (which I prefer to refer to as articles) which Dave has recently read, as opposed to links he has recently posted, shows an aspect of Smartr which I hadn’t been aware of when I first started using the application – and whether this is because I was using version 1 or because I wasn’t following anyone within the Smartr app (as opposed to on Twitter) I don’t know.

Is seems that when someone follows you on Smartr they can see the articles you have recently read. What might be revealed in my case?

It seems that the articles I have recently read within Smartr include a post which described how World IPv6 Day went mostly smoothly, with a few surprises, another which asked What impact are your resources making and one on Posterous, From SaaS to PaaS Using an API.

So the 19 Smartr users who are following me can see note only the articles I have posted on Twitter but also the articles I have read (and the time I read them). Is this:

  • A great example of sharing resources across one’s community which exemplifies the benefits of adopting a culture of openness?
  • A privacy intrusion which should cause concerns?

What are your thoughts?

Discussion

If you visit the Smartr Web site you will see an image of Smartr running on an iPhone with a link to the iTunes store which enables you to download the app. There are links to articles about Smartr but no obvious FAQ. There is, however, a prominent Smartr byline: “See what your friends are reading on Twitter and Facebook” which perhaps suggests that you are making your reading habits publicly available.  But this aspect wasn’t mentioned in the Mashable article when Smartr was first released.  There is not just a lack of an FAQ on the Smartr Web site, there is also no information provided about release dates and the functionality of the two versions of the software which have been released to date.

Smart does have a user forum which is hosted on the Uservoice Web site.  I published a comment on the forum in which I suggested that there was a need for documentation on the functionality provided by the service and the associated privacy issues.  Temo Chalasani, the founder of the company behind Smartr, responded and asked me what documentation I feel is required. Here are my suggestions for an FAQ:

  • When was Smartr first released?
  • What subsequent versions of Smartr have been published and what additional functionality has been provided?
  • What are the privacy implications of using Smartr?
  • Can I read the contents of articles posted by my Twitter followers without others being able to see what I have read and when?
  • Can I block others from following me on Smartr as I can do on Twitter?

Will I Still Use Smartr?

Smartr does raise some interesting privacy issues – and since this is a dedicated app rather than a Web service  the use of cookies is not an issue, so recent EU legislation in which the requirement for users to opt-in to accepting cookies is irrelevant. Here are some scenarios which may concern some users:

  • The parent who follows their children on Smartr in order to see what links the child has been following.
  • The child who follows their parents on Smartr!
  • The manager who follows members of staff to see what inappropriate articles are being read during work time.
  • The journalist who follows politicians and celebrities in order to write articles about their reading habits.

It should be noted that although it is possible for the parents, children or mangers to view the links which may be being posted, Smartr provides something different – the ability to see links posted by others which are being read.

Despite such concerns, I intend to continue to make use of Smartr as I find it such a useful service even though  I am aware that I could follow a link to a Web site which I would normally be embarrassed to be seen reading. But for me the important thing is user education so that users are made aware of possible risks.  I would therefore encourage Smartr to highlight possible risks.  The question though is “Am I being smart or dumb in using this tool?”

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