Miguel Guhlin is calling for a boycott on Bloglines based on their newly announced “Image Wall” feature which dynamically updates a page with fresh, user-contributed/posted images from the web. Before you actually view the imagewall, users have to agree to the following AUP:

Bloglines Image Wall AUP

As Audrey, the first commenter to Miguel’s post noted, clicking on any type of AUP with language about “adult material” is a red flag. The fundamental problems here seem to be:

  1. Bloglines, unlike a web-based resource like NetTrekker, is NOT explicitly an educational tool designed for the educational market. As such, it should not be a surprise that the developers have introduced features which likely wouldn’t pass anyone’s CIPA-compliant content filter.
  2. The objections to content included in the Bloglines Image Wall (as well as Technorati, mentioned by Mrs. Durff in the comments to Miguel’s original post) stem from the fact that UNFILTERED ACCESS TO DYNAMIC INTERNET CONTENT are provided with these tools. Are objectionable / offensive materials being published by people around the world every day and posted online? Sadly, yes. That’s the reason many school districts here in Oklahoma block the ENTIRE Google website, among many others. Should we encourage K-12 students and teachers to access unfiltered media streams–particularly visual media streams, like the Bloglines “Image Wall?” Definitely no. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone in a school setting show the Bloglines Image Wall on a large screen television or projected image for the class, or even access the website at all from school. Doing so is inviting offensive images to enter your consciousness and that of others viewing the display, and that is an irresponsible thing to do in almost every context– but certainly in formal educational settings.

That being said, I don’t agree that we should all boycott Bloglines immediately in a unified, knee-jerk reaction. The issue at the root of so many discussions about the DISRUPTIVE influence of the web is USER CREATED CONTENT. In K-12 education, we need a level of filtering when it comes to user-created content, but we also need to equip students to BE THE FILTER THEMSELVES when they are online. This idea is often missing in the ways many school districts approach web content and the use of Internet-based resources. Rather than communicating the message, “let’s learn how to responsibly, appropriately and safely navigate digital content,” the message from school leaders more often is “We’re going to ban all this content at school to protect you from a digital world we don’t understand and fear is inherently evil.”

I agree with Eric Hoefler who wrote in his own post:

…we must remember that the law in these cases is designed to protect free speech because we realize, as a nation, how important that right is and how dangerous restricting that freedom can be. I want my students to understand that, and I want to educate them in that direction. There’s a line we need to watch carefully between carelessness and empowerment, but we also need to watch the lines between education and programming, between protection and control.

So, while I agree with the rallying cry to teacher vigilance and student safety, I also request that we take a more thoughtful, balanced approached.

I appreciate Miguel’s heads-up about this, but I am not going to personally discontinue all use of Bloglines as a result. For several weeks now I have been double-subscribing to feeds in both Google Reader and Bloglines, and I have not completely made up my mind to abandon Bloglines. I’m sure their coders and administrators are monitoring the pulse in the blogosphere and will hear our complaints. Whether or not they choose to filter or otherwise change the Image Wall page, school administrators and network admins can make an easy but less reactionary change to their web content filter settings: block the Bloglines Image Wall URL (www.bloglines.com/about/wallofimages) but keep the root bloglines domain unblocked.

Of course making that decision would require an understanding of the issues and technology at stake, as well as a vision for digital literacy development in schools. Sadly in many cases, those qualities are in short supply on local school boards and in district administrative offices. That’s why a continuing focus on technology leadership is so important!

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  • http://www.genyes.com sylvia martinez

    Wes – I agree with you about boycotting. I’m not going to stop using Bloglines.

    However, I did post on their forum about the implication this will have to Bloglines use in schools. I’m not sure the Bloglines people realize what impact this seemingly minor feature might have on a segment of their users. I figured it was important to tell them.

    I just wonder if this Image Wall is that important to them, or even if they really thought it through. I have the feeling it was just a gee-whiz-look-what-we-can-do addition. Maybe it will spur them to try harder to filter the images for porn – it can be done…

  • http://tipline.blogspot.com Jim Gates

    Maybe in a perfect world we can filter ourselves, but I know that schools around here have already began the blocking process. And for what? As Sylvia says, maybe it was a proof of concept sorta “feature.” But, it adds NOTHING but it does make it unacceptable to many schools.

    While I won’t stop using it at home I did email them to ask that they reconsider keeping it, as it provides no real service and it makes it unusable to our schools who MUST do what they can to keep kids from being exposed to potentially sexually graphic images.

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