Now you can decide who can, can't see what you post

On Blogs

November 12, 2006|By Troy McCullough | Troy McCullough,Sun Columnist

Many a blogger has learned the hard way that there are no secrets on the Internet.

Post a missive against your boss, and you risk getting fired. Publish intimate details of your sex life on MySpace, and you can be sure your parents will find it. Upload an embarrassing home video, and you might even become a global celebrity.

Perhaps because of these painful lessons in unintentional openness, a privacy movement appears to be afoot online. At least three major blogging platforms have rolled out new versions of their software over the last few months that offer users much greater control over who can and can't visit their Web sites.

Instead of sharing their thoughts, rants, photos and poetry with the world, bloggers using these services can choose to share their posts with a select set of friends and family members and shut the rest of the world out. One of the platforms even allows bloggers to decide privacy levels on a post-by-post basis. Bloggers can share their photos with the world, for example, but allow only their closest friends to read the post about their bad day at work.

While it's hard to tally just how many people are running private blogs - after all, they might not want to be found - the introduction of the privacy controls has been greeted with great enthusiasm by many, and the people behind the blogging platforms say they are not surprised. As bloggers grow up, so do their blogs. Bloggers over the age of 25 are interested in a more sophisticated and discreet method of blogging, they say.

Six Apart's Mena Trott, a co-founder of Vox.com, one of the leading new blogging services with enhanced privacy features, had this to say when Vox debuted this summer: "Since March, I've written about 60 posts on this blog. Most people will only see a fraction of that. And that's okay. Actually, it's definitely more than okay, it's awesome. And, it's what most people are used to. Sometimes you only want your five best friends in the world to see a post, and you should be able to do that."

Bloggers have responded with enthusiasm to Vox: "I can't wait for some of my `blogophobic' friends to dip their toes in the water," wrote one. "It's so easy and so far, has kept me in the mood to blog again," added another.

Following up on the enthusiasm for Vox, Google-owned Blogger released a new software version in August that also added more sophisticated privacy settings for its users.

And with great fanfare, the popular open-source blogging service WordPress rolled out new privacy settings for its users as well.

But even as blog platforms continue to enhance these services, online privacy should never be taken for granted.

Steve Rubel of the blog Micro Persuasion noted a severe flaw in Blogger's early incarnation of its new privacy settings. Rubel discovered that when he made his public blog private, the RSS feed generated by his site remained public for the world to see - essentially negating any of Blogger's privacy settings.

Blogger quickly fixed the bug, but Rubel's point had been made: Privacy settings are helpful, but nothing is guaranteed.

Would-be bloggers, repeat after me: There are no secrets on the Internet.

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs.

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