Saturday, November 19, 2011, which bills itself as a sort of Facebook for academics, completely weirds me out. Colloquial though that may be, it's the only way I can accurately describe my reaction to it. I don't, after preponderance, find it to be weird. No, it actively weirds me out every time it does something.

Whenever anyone googles a person with an profile and clicks on that profile as his chosen search result, the person with the profile gets notified that "somebody" has googled her. If the googlee logs into her profile it is possible to see what country the googler googled from, and what keywords got him there. It's just enough information to pique one's curiosity and be sort of agitating, but not enough to be useful. When somebody views my blog, I get a city, a service provider, the referring link, information about the computer being used to view it (OS, web browser, display properties), and even an IP address. So sometimes, I can tell exactly who's reading. (If I have only one Facebook friend in a particular city and a reader in that city has gotten to a post via my having posted it on my FB wall, then I know who it is.) And other times, I can at least tell if a consistent reader is back again or has been missing for a while. But this? Somebody in the United Sates? (Or even more puzzling, somebody in Tunisia?) Hm.

I'm also not crazy about the terminology that they use. When someone in effect adds your profile to their reader, you get an email that says "So-and-so is following you." And every time, I feel the urge to look over my shoulder.

And finally, I don't really like the fact that it posts a little thumbnail of your profile picture above the Scribd window of every paper that's been posted to the site that you've read. I like my reading to be a private act; I also so didn't like the fact that they made this change suddenly and without consultation (I did mention that they kind of see themselves as a specialized Facebook, didn't I?) that I did quit for a while.

It seems like it has potential as a tool for some of the self-promotion that I'm coming to realize is required of academics and, more importantly (when used correctly), as an aggregator for finding out about new work, so I'm sticking with it for the time being. But it wouldn't take much to convince me to drop the service, either.


  1. I have to agree about and its discomfiting combination of usefulness/creepiness. I think it's great insofar as it provides a forum for beginning scholars who might not want to maintain a blog and/or establish a twitter presence. And it's nice when more established scholars put their keynote lectures and other stuff up there for free. But I actively loathe how it tracks your every move, making otherwise pretty normal acts - like checking out the work of people you'll be on a panel with, or at schools you're applying for a position at, etc - seem weirdly stalkerish... I'm not sure what the solution is, though, although perhaps the powers-that-be will take note of these kinds of objections...

    Great blog, by the way! I'm an early-modernist/Hispanist and I love reading about your work and classroom activities. Thanks for sharing! - @fsharden

  2. Thanks for coming by and commenting! Hope to hear more from you!

    The one other thing that I realized I forgot to include in the post but which also completely baffles me about the site is that I can't for the life of me figure out the etiquette of following people. Are you only supposed to follow people you know? Can you just randomly follow big names in the field? Is it proper etiquette to follow your whole grad school cohort even if they're in really different subfields, or not? And why isn't there some kind of force-unfollow mechanism whereby I could get the couple of people I have no idea who they are and don't work on what I do at all and are obviously following everybody on the site with even a vague interest in anything Mediterranean? (They weird me out, too.)

  3. Yes! The etiquette of following is completely murky (maybe another reason why the site makes me uncomfortable: while your every move is tracked, there's no clear consensus on what constitutes good form). I've been sort of operating on the assumption that everyone wants to be followed, so I've been doing it as an easy way to keep up with the work of interesting people I meet at conferences and such. But, since most people I follow (with a few notable exceptions) never post anything, it's kind of a moot point!